This is a draft that I wrote years ago and never published (for reasons). I thought the moment passed, but you know what, new information has come to light. So I will publish the original draft with no or minor modifications, and then add some followup thoughts at the bottom.

Summary: In the year 2023 there is no good reason to buy a Kindle. Buy something else. If the reason you feel stuck with Kindles is the collection of books you bought from Amazon for years, a) that sucks, and b) you can do something about it.

Original draft

Years ago, I wrote

Anything could be better, but some things should be better.

The Kindle has been mediocre for a long time. At some point, we crossed the line from “fine” to “please fix this, it shouldn’t be this way”.

I own a second-generation Kindle Oasis. It’s not the newest one, but it’s an otherwise top of the line Kindle. This fortifies me in my arguments below since if I have the following complaints about the top model, imagine the experience with the middle and bottom ones.

The best Kindle is overpriced

Present-day me interjection: The iPad Mini isn’t that affordable anymore. I still think the Kindle is overpriced.

This complaint is exclusive to the Kindle Oasis, which is $269.99.1 For $60 more, you can buy an iPad that has four times more storage (32 GB to the Oasis’ 8), a larger screen that’s amazing, a whole OS that lets you do close to whatever you want including read books, and everything else that makes the iPad effectively 100% of the tablet market.

The Kindle and iPad are devices that serve different needs, I get that. The iPad is significantly heavier than the Oasis, and the iPad’s screen doesn’t provide one of the primary reasons to use an e-reader: E ink screens that are easier on the eyes. But is that a reasonable price difference? Has the Kindle Oasis earned that price tag? My argument here is that it hasn’t, because the Kindle has hardly changed or improved for years.

It’s too slow

I don’t read as much as I want to. I know I’m not a power user of the Kindle and I don’t think I push it to its limits in terms of storage or usage nearly as much as other readers do. Why does it take 2.5 to 3 seconds to go from power button push to text on screen?

Present-day me interjection: this was one of the complaints I felt funny having because who was I to know that I _could be faster? Well, now I know._

The Kindle’s UI is sluggish. This was understandable years ago, E ink was a new technology that not many customers had prior experience with, and since it wasn’t a tablet you were willing to sacrifice some performance to get good battery life. I could be wrong, but I don’t think we have to make that tradeoff anymore. Pages should turn faster. Settings pages should refresh faster.

The ergonomics are terrible

For a light device, the naked Oasis is impossible to hold with something less than a kung-fu grip without it slipping. For a while I used the Kindle in a case until I realized that I didn’t use the case to protect it – it did not… – I used it because it made holding it easier.

At some point I ditched the case and covered the contact points with gaffer tape which improved the experience at the cost of aesthetics.

I don’t think I have abnormal hands. Is this a failure of testing during development? Did they not notice this? Did they notice and not care?

Library, highlights, and notes management is archaic

The library view on a Kindle is one big bag of all the books you’ve added or read sorted in descending order of date.2 You can create collections and add books to those collections, but that painful process is made even more painful by the sluggish UI I mentioned before. In addition to being one of the largest vendors of books in the world, Amazon also owns Goodreads, which is like saying “I fear my ocean of data is not enough, pray pour another ocean of data on top of it lest I expire from thirst.” None of this has trickled down to a better library management experience for the Kindle.

For many years, the Kindle saved every highlight and note to a plain text file on the device called “My clippings.txt”. I’ve always thought that was a great thing, and even played around with building my own highlight review system on top of the plain text file. But it’s 2023 and the markup is still plain text. Any text formatting in the form of bold, italics, or hyperlinking is lost. Could they consider migrating to a Markdown format? Or a side rich text file?

Typing notes on the Kindle Oasis is brutal. As far as I can tell there is no predictive intelligence to the keyboard at all. The lag and friction are way too much. I end up writing stinted comments that lack nuance, and that’s not good.

Reading anything other than an ebook is a bad experience

I want a fast, clean, Instapaper-like experience of reading online articles on the Kindle. Send to Kindle feels like a service its owners forgot was still live. You need to use Chrome or Firefox to install their plugin.3 Or you can install Mac or PC applications, and if you’re going to require desktop operating systems in the decade we’re in, take inventory of the situation.

Instapaper has a “Send to Kindle” bookmarklet they generously make available, but 1) you have to use Instapaper, and last I checked 2) you have to disable “Prevent cross-site tracking” in Safari for it to work.

I’ll give them a bit of a pass when it comes to PDFs, but the zoom and scrolling experience is a non-starter.

People don’t complain about things like this unless they care, and I care. I like the Kindle and I want it, desperately, to be the device it ought to be.

When something is not the way you want it to be, there will be reasons and it behooves you to think about them. Why isn’t the Kindle better?

I’m afraid it’s for the same reasons Goodreads has been sad and stuck for years. The Kindle doesn’t exist for the beauty of reading, it exists to sell books. If you’re the only game in town, are you going to sell more books if you keep pushing the hardware’s performance and user experience envelope, if you push its performance to make it instantaneous, if you remember that the Kindle has an OS and oh maybe we should, like, make it better and add some features and stuff?

I think the people who run Kindle think the answer is No, but I believe it’s short-sighted. No experiment or A/B test will tell you how many more Kindles you might sell if you revolutionize it just like no user survey could have told Apple how much the money machine would go brrrrr for the iPhone if they made it.

Having written all of this, I’ve convinced myself that the Kindle is Blackberry of ereaders. It’s still the default device to get, but not even its customers realize what they would do to have the iPhone of E ink reading.

I just learned that Kobo works with Libby, and Readwise has Kobo highlight sync integration in beta. Given that, the probability that I will buy another Kindle is practically zero.

Back to the present day

My thoughts haven’t changed much. The reason I decided to publish this draft is that I just got a Kobo Libra 2, and I am a big fan. Turns our I was correct, you can make an E ink based reader more responsive.

Even today, the Oasis costs $60 more than a Libra 2. Why? There is not a single reason about the device itself that justifies this. The only reason I can think of is that Amazon knows people are locked into the library and the ebooks they’ve already bought, and because the books have DRM, you need a Kindle to read them.

All I’ll say here is if you’re somewhat tech-savvy, I highly recommend you research how to download and strip your Amazon ebooks of their DRM and never look back.

It gets better

If you want to get even fancier, look into KOReader. It’s a little hacky to set up, but it gives you a lot more control over your reading view, device settings and functions, and even lets you send books to your device wirelessly straight from Calibre.

Even more proof that E ink devices that suck can’t blame the hardware. They suck because no one’s making them not suck.

See also

  • [How Kindle Promotes Bad Book-Reading Hygiene Big Think]( “Article on things we lose in connection to books when we use an e-reader.”)
  1. (This is still the price) That’s the “Without Ads” version. The “Ad-supported” isn’t proper for comparison and is just… can we stop putting ads in every fucking thing? ↩︎

  2. I wrote this draft in December of 2021. I thought I might have to chuck it but I realized that everything here still stands with one addition: at some point the Kindle OS was updated to show a more organized library view than a simple list of books. It looks better than before, but also half the page above the fold is dedicated to Amazon pushing other books to you. ↩︎

  3. I do not use those browsers and therefore haven’t confirmed if this works. ↩︎