We have a total of 6 Kindles in our household, that’s between two people. I know this sounds excessive, but believe me every single one of them has their specific purpose.
Recently I added a lightly used Kindle DX to my arsenal, making up the 6th one. I’ve had a few weeks to play with it now so let me tell you what I think of it – and why I think it’s extremely sad that Amazon aren’t making the Kindle DX anymore.
It feels weird to write a review of technology that has just been taken off the market – but looking at several message boards this device has a cult following – myself included. I can understand why people love it so much.
Currently I have a lot of reading to do: not your ordinary bedtime reading, but more like 200 page strong Apple Developer Manuals. These bear exciting titles such as “Predicates Programming Guide”, “UIViewController Class Reference” and “Core Data Versioning and Migration”. They can be a bit tough on the brain, but some of them are very well written and informative. Most importantly: they’re free.
All of them are available online to registered Apple Developers, either as part of Xcode, a website or in PDF form for easy offline reading. They look great on the iPad in iBooks and other PDF apps, but as every iPad owner will tell you this magical device has one slight flaw: you can see fuck all when you take it outside.
Even in overcast conditions it’s a struggle to read on the iPad outdoors. My work gets done somewhere between an outside table at Starbucks, dangling my legs over Biscayne Bay, catching some rays at South Pointe or sitting on a bench in Flamingo Park – which means I need equipment that can cope with such conditions. Even more so when you have over 300 days of strong sunshine to enjoy every year.
And as much as I love my iPad in indoor conditions, it’s just not cutting it outdoors until after sunset. I don’t quite understand this, because even my Mac Book is relatively capable of displaying its screen OK-ish when I’m outside. Be that as it may: my point is that I can’t use the iPad to read outdoors, which is something I currently need to do a lot.
Naturally I’ve tried using my Kindle Keyboard: the display is fantastic, text displays crisp and clear even in the strongest sunlight. But because these documents are PDFs, the font is extremely small and not very easy to decipher without looking like you need some serious reading glasses:
Sure, there’s the very helpful Amazon Conversion option which turns pretty much any personal document into a proprietary Kindle format so you can adjust the font size and everything – but the converter really gets confused with code snippets and somesentenceslookliketheydon’thaveanyspace in between the words.
Obviously this sucks. So reading like that isn’t really an option in the long run – not if you actually need to understand what these manuals want to convey (which isn’t always the easiest thing to understand).
I have often looked a Amazon’s other e-ink devices and have always had the Kindle DX on my radar. It’s much like the Kindle Keyboard, just twice as large. The DX has a very similar form factor as the iPad, perhaps a bit taller and thinner, and about half as thick, weighing about a third.
This should display all my developer PDFs beautifully – so what was I waiting for?
There was always one rather significant downside about the Kinlde DX: it’s ridiculous price tag. $379 when I last checked Amazon – you can get a new iPad 2 for less! Alas, when the Kindle DX came out back in 2009 the iPad didn’t even exist, and by the time iPad 3 was released Amazon were already working on their larger Kindle Fire devices.
To cut a long story short: the DX wasn’t as big a seller as the smaller Kindles. It hasn’t seen a software update in years, and I guess it wasn’t a massive surprise when in October 2012 Amazon have taken the Kindle DX off the market. According to The Verge, Amazon’s Jay Marine made the famous statement “We’re pretty much done with the Kindle DX” which speaks for itself.
This was a bit of a shock to me: I had seen a DX in Best Buy on display once and really liked it. What I didn’t like was that steep price tag. Had it been around $200-$250 I would have bought one right away – but it wasn’t and I didn’t. Now that I was ready to seriously look at it again the opportunity was seemingly gone.
Well not quite: Best Buy were still selling it online for $350 when I looked into it, but by the time you add tax and shipping you’re spending well over $400. This was about a month ago, and those units have gone out of stock now too.
Next stop: eBay, where a used Kindle DX is going for about $200, perhaps a bit more. Apart from this one guy who had a new model for sale at $2500… not sure if there were any takers at that price.
After looking at a few models I found a listing I liked by “countrybobforpresident” which stated: “Gently used Kindle DX, with box, charger and cable, comes with original Amazon leather cover”.
I bought it there and then for just over $200 and couldn’t be happier with the service I’ve received. A few days later it arrived at the Miami Beach Post Office where I collected it just before closing time. I was thrilled!
Very First Impressions
We grabbed a Trenta Cool Lime Refresher from Starbuck’s, borrowed one of their plastic knives and made our way back through the park. We sat down on one of those green metal tables to open the new arrival – it would have been rude not to do so. And just like the man said: there was the like-new condition Kindle DX.
The first thing you’ll think when you see a DX for the first time is: this thing is MASSIVE – probably because you’re so used to the smaller standard sized Kindle devices.
The second thing we both noticed was the build quality: rather than the usual plastic, the DX has a graphite metal back. The buttons are not round like on the Kindle Keyboard, but elongated instead. Pressing them tells you that they’re made to last. That’s got to be a good thing!
Besides the back looking and feeling a lot more expensive, the entire outfit reminds me of the Kindle Keyboard – just a lot bigger. We still find the on/off slider (at the top, not the bottom), a headphone jack at the top, stereo speakers at the bottom, volume rocker on the side and a micro USB connector for charging and transferring data. And of course the “old” Amazon Kindle Logo at the top of the device which has since been changed.
The buttons for turning pages are found on the right hand side in a very comfortable position for my hands, together with Home, Menu and Back buttons, plus a little elevated joystick called The Five Way. It’s easy to operate, but since it’s elevated it does get moved by the cover when it’s closed. That’s not a problem if you put the device to sleep first, but if you don’t it sometimes selects things…
Just like on 3G versions of the iPad, the top inch of the back is made of plastic rather than metal to let the radio signals pass through undisturbed. Speaking of wireless connectivity, one thing is slightly odd about the Kindle DX: it doesn’t have WiFi… it only has 3G. While it’s great to have 3G, this has small usage implications of which I’ll tell you more later.
Once last thing of note is the built-in auto rotation sensor: spin the DX from portrait to landscape, and it will adjust within a few seconds. This is new, all other e-ink Kindles need to be tilted manually. If it’s annoying (which I find it is) you can switch it off too.
I had already read that the DX is a mixture of second and third generation Kindle hardware, with half the RAM of the Kindle Keyboard (128MB) even though it has the same processor. Due to this limitation it can’t quite run the Kindle Keyboard software, and instead runs that of the older Kindle 2. Hence what I’m used to from my trusty Kindle Keyboard doesn’t quite match what the DX does.
The DX still has all that we’ve come to love from Kindles: text-to-speech with a Stephen Hawking like voice (I love that), MP3 and Audible Audio Book playback, experimental web browser with free international data usage, wireless shopping in the Kindle store, bookmarks, notes and syncing with other Kindles.
You can build collections to file away books and PDF files, but unlike the Kindle Keyboard those items do not disappear from the home screen – which means it always looks a bit cluttered, no matter how good you are at housekeeping. There is an option to synchronise collections from my Kindle Keyboard, but not my other Kindles (Fire and Fire HD).
PDFs display beautifully, and I couldn’t be happier with the way it works. It does exactly what I wanted it for, and it does it extremely well.
Performance is just like on the Kindle Keyboard, so the missing 128MB of RAM doesn’t make a difference. Battery life is slightly less, with just over a week (I’d say 10 days) on a full charge with moderate to heavy use. I’ll probably get a bit more out of it once I stop playing with it every 30 seconds.
The “No WiFi” Implications
One thing that all my other Kindles can access at any time is my collection of what Amazon call “personal documents”. Those are PDFs or Word/EPUB/Whatever documents that you can email to a dedicated address, convert to Kindle format on request, and then they’re stored in the Amazon Cloud. If you need one you just pick it and the device downloads it for you, no which device you’ve sent it to originally. This service is free when you’re connected to a WiFi network, but if you’re on 3G then they charge you 15c per MB of data. Such a charge does not apply to content bought on Amazon.
I have quite a collection of techie documents sitting in the cloud and I was looking forward to accessing those with my DX – but sadly that’s not possible. I can see all the Amazon content I have purchased over the years, but not my personal documents.
I can however email a dedicated address and receive content for 15c per MB on my DX. This content is then stored and available on my other Kindles, but once the DX receives it there’s no way I can re-download it on demand from the device. If I accidentally delete one, I’d have to re-send it (and get re-charged for it). It’s an odd little peculiarity that’s unlike my other Kindles. Nothing major, but odd.
My PDF library consists of several hundred megabytes so I opted to use the USB cable instead – works just as expected.
The Reading Experience
Obviously the reason I bought this device was to have a better reading experience with my small print PDF files. And just as I had hoped: every Apple Developer PDF now reads extremely well, no scrolling required as it was with my smaller Kindle (I had the option to zoom or hold the device in landscape and split a page across two halves). I’m thrilled that I made this purchase!
It gets better: opening up my favourite Poirot novel makes written content shine like never before. It’s like reading a proper hard back, with large long lines of text, printed on expensive paper. It’s so much fun reading on a larger screen and it makes you want to read just for the sake of reading. I hadn’t anticipated this really, but it makes a huge difference.
Will there be another Kindle DX?
Naturally the question I’m asking myself: if this is such a great device, and if it has an apparent cult following, is Amazon perhaps working on a NEW device of DX proportions? Possibly with a Paperwhite back lit display? One that would be cheaper, have touch screen, have WiFi and just be a larger version of the Paperwhite, aptly titled The Paperwhite DX?
And as nice as that would be, I very much doubt that it’s going to happen. I’m thinking ahead here for once I’m so attached to this device that it would be a disaster if something were to happen to it. I may have to buy a NEW one at some point in the future.
Realistically Amazon now do a large version of the Kindle Fire, and since the DX didn’t sell so well I bet it’s just not lucrative enough for them to stock them. Or develop new hardware. Or even dedicate a couple of hackers for a simple software update. Because otherwise we would have seen this by now.
Besides, you don’t just tell FoxConn “Can we order 100 devices this month?”
Even though it’s crazy to have yet another tablet device in the house, and yet another Kindle, the DX fills a very specific gap that I have a need for: reading PDF files without the need for conversion. And if you have a lot of those to read it’s a worthwhile investment – especially now that a DX is available for half what it once cost. I absolutely love it – it makes the most boring text a pleasure to read.
Sometimes the latest innovations aren’t the ones that truly innovate. Instead it’s the things that have already been released and taken off the market that can make your life better than the latest fashionable shenanigans [cough iPad Mini cough iPhone 5]. I feel reminded of the original Polaroid SX-70 cameras for example.
Perhaps in 40 years we’ll think of the Kindle DX as something equally precious, something that we wish had remained in production.