Thursday, December 16, 2010

Amazon Kindle in Israel: Nice, but Not Ready for Prime Time

As I wrote here, a while back we ordered the Amazon Kindle in order to easily access English reading material for our children. The Kindle itself is a wonderful device: I'm happy that it's only a book reader, without a color touchscreen or a web browser. (Actually, it does have a browser that almost immediately crashed the device. I wonder why they even included it.) The kids immediately took to the Kindle, reading books at their level. My daughter likes to enlarge the font until there's about three words on a page, but it works for her. She's reading Henry Huggins wonderfully. Sounds great, right? Not really.
1. The device started crashing. A lot. While Amazon promised a month of use, we were regularly getting far less than a week. On more than one occasion, we brought the device for reading in the car on a long drive, and it simply wouldn't start. Plugging it into the computer solved the problem, but it was annoying nonetheless. Rena finally realized that Amazon only promised a month of battery life with the wifi off (and in our bedroom, where we normally keep the Kindle, the wifi signal is quite weak). So we shut off the wifi, upgraded the software, and are now hoping for the best. So far so good.
2. Another minor pet peeve. The device is registered to my email account. Yet, over Chanukah Rena received a gift book to her email address. I got one to a different email address - my hotmail address that I almost never check. Simply put, different people have multiple email addresses, but there was no way for us to (a) know that we'd gotten the gift to another email address and then (b) for Rena to link the eBook to my account, as she herself had a separate Amazon account. Sounds confusing? You're right. She had to return the book, then send my account the book as a gift, and only then buy the book again on the "right" account. That's a lot of work, and needlessly confusing.
More concerning though, is the fact that many of the more popular books are not yet available in Israel. On the face of things, that's just annoying. But from my perspective, it's also dishonest. I'll explain.
Simcha and Bezalel have been pining for a very popular book called "The Lost Hero" by Rick Riordan, so we put it on their wish list. Their aunt, a very generous and loving woman, bought them the eBook, to their great excitement. But when I clicked on the button:

 I found myself looking at this message:

Here's my problem: Amazon knows that we live in Israel. Our Kindle was shipped here, and is registered here. Yet, when our relative bought the book for my kids, instead of getting a message from Amazon that the book is not available where we live, they happily sold it to her. Now we have to exchange the book for a gift card. Another problem: most of the books my kids want are also not available in Israel. What are we supposed to do with gift cards if my kids can't get any of the books that they want. It seems to me that if I can't get a book on my Kindle, Amazon should not allow me to add it to my wish list, or at the very least tell us before someone buys it that they won't sell it to me.
To me, it would be like my buying a physical gift on Amazon for someone to be shipped to, say, Mineappolis, not knowing that due to the severe weather there, Amazon no longer shipped packages there. But instead of telling me this, they went ahead and sent my recipient a gift card. Is it stealing? No. But it's also, to my mind, really, really slimy.

Bottom line: We really like the Kindle. If Amazon worked out the kinks and made every book available here in Israel, it would be amazing. If Amazon was at least more honest and up-front to gift-givers about which books they should or should not buy, I'd at least be a little less upset.