Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Amazon Kindle: A Review

By Luke Hsieh, AT Advocate at the Community Access Center in Riverside

Let's get one thing straight—the Amazon Kindle is not the Apple iPad. For one thing, the functionality of the Kindle is not on par with the Apple iPad; it was designed for one purpose, assisted reading. Secondly, the durability of Kindle may arguably be frailer than iPad. I broke my Kindle within a week and had to return it to Amazon for a replacement. While you can leave the iPad on for weeks, you cannot do the same to Kindle without its LED display caving in.

However, considering its purpose and cost, I think it is a charming little assistive device. For $189 you get free Wifi 3G. To me, that already justifies the cost. 3G Wifi normally costs $40 a month, so if your kindle lasts a year or two, it would be economically justifiable. Kindle comes with text-to-speech voice navigation and also text-to-speech narration. Although its choice of voice engines leaves something to be desired, at least the functionality is there.

Another advantage Kindle has over iPad as an assisted reading device is that the Kindle is not touchscreen based. The learning curve for people who are blind would be less steep than the iPad. Theoretically one can operate a Kindle with just eight keys, and 4 of them are arrows. In short, despite being seriously outdone by iPad in terms of functionality, durability and versatility, I'd still recommend Kindle to students with disabilities who have visual and specific learning disabilities.  
Have you used the Kindle before? What is your experience of it as an assisted reading device?


  1. Don't get me started. While the iPad is yet another interesting piece of design technology from Apple its strength is also its weakness. Does design lead function or function design? For many years I was a brand-loyal Apple consumer until they turned their back on accessibility. Let's just say once they were leaders and now lag far behind in the pack. Accessibility as a real commitment was left behind years ago.

    And I have my beefs with Amazon and the Kindle, too. I'm still boiling over the lost opportunity not to include a single-switch port that would give print access to hundreds of thousands of people who would love to turn a page unassisted. Amazon and the Kindle, as with most current e-readers, just doesn't think its important enough. Believe me, the cost would have been minimal and it's too late in the game to say they were unaware of the accessibility opportunities.

    That said, I use a Kindle every day and it's my single most valuable piece of assistive technology. I have a significant reading disability that throughout my life has been difficult to measure, making it difficult to assess and therefore difficult to mitigate.

    To compare the iPad with the Kindle is like (pun aside) comparing apples with oranges. While the iPad is many things, including an e-Reader, part of the Kindle's strength is that it does one thing.

    For someone with a reading, learning or print disability, the Kindle's singular and dedicated design makes all the difference. No e-mail, no Internet, no apps, no YouTube, no Facebook, no Twitter, just reading.

    I won't even go into the details of all the benefits for someone with a reading disability but they include print contrast, adjustable type size, ease of use, and a visual footprint which for me is a big deal. The page size is static across all print materials (books, magazines, blogs, documents) which reduces the page real estate my eyes need to scan and track. The Kindle also has a dictionary feature that provides dynamic inline access without leaving the page. Very cool.

    With a reading disability rarely will one use one tool, strategy or intervention but rather multiple combinations. For me, the Kindle has been a big part of that combination. I've been reading with the Kindle for over two years and, yes, I've had to replace one under warranty and one because I dropped it. By the way, Amazon support for the Kindle has been amazing.

    The current generation includes text-to-speech capabilities that I don't use but clearly will be an added benefit for many.

    I think the simplest way to differentiate the iPad from the Kindle is that the iPad is to think of it as a multimedia devices with all the bells and whistles (what Apple does best) while the Kindle is not only more like a book, it is a book. With a Kindle one can read without distraction and without having to think too much about the device or its interface. The Kindle might not be as sexy as the iPad , but it will definitely take you "...to infinity and beyond..." the way only reading can.

    Now if Amazon would only include that single-switch jack!

    — Martin Sweeney

  2. Interesting comments Martin. Thank you! I really hope the next generation Kindle has a single-switch port. Maybe we should let Amazon know that this is an important and inexpensive addition. What do you think? Is anyone interested in writing a letter? I'm in.
    --Kim Cantrell