Jakob Nielsen at UseIt.com has devoted his last two newsletters to reviewing the usability of the Kindle. In the first he talked about the user experience and in the second how one should write for the Kindle. I have seen many articles that talk about the Kindle in terms of free speech issues and the publishing trade, but not too many that talk about how easy it is to use, which is really going to sell the thing.
Nielsen’s take is mixed.
Amazon’s new e-book reader offers print-level readability and shines for reading fiction, but it has awkward interaction design and poor support for non-linear content.
He generally likes it for reading fiction, but finds it clumbsy for non fiction or grahically heavy text.
Kindle works poorly for non-fiction books that have many illustrations or that require users to frequently refer back and forth between sections. Even if Kindle had a color screen, heavily illustrated books would still be better in print because moving around in Kindle is awkward. My own books fall into this category, so even though I’d like to sell more books, I can’t really recommend that you buy them for Kindle. My latest book is available in Kindle format, so you can download a free chapter and try for yourself (and then buy it in print 🙂
His biggest complaint is the way you move around the screen.
Interacting through the Kindle 5-way feels much like many mid-level smartphone user interfaces, though the 5-way is worse than a BlackBerry mini-trackball.
Furthermore, Kindle is slow. Every time you enter a command, it ponders the situation before acting. Even turning the page takes slightly longer than it should, and all other actions are definitely sluggish.
In short: Awkward pointing + slow reaction = a bad user experience that discourages people from exploring and attempting different tasks.
Ultimately it seems that personal privacy issues aside, the Kindle still needs some work and until the book metaphor is done away with, the e-books may be problematic.
The usability problem with non-linear content is crucial because it indicates a deeper issue: Kindle’s user experience is dominated by the book metaphor. The idea that you’d want to start on a section’s first page makes sense for a book because most are based on linear exposition. Unfortunately, this is untrue for many other content collections, including newspapers, magazines, and even some non-fiction books such as travel guides, encyclopedias, and cookbooks.
His articles are definately worth a look.