Well, this is one cost of early technology adoption. I bought an original Kindle in April 2008, and it has served me well, so I can't complain too much. Recently, I noticed a sort of smudge developing in the upper left corner of the screen, even when the machine was turned off. There were also slight streaks of white lines going vertically down the screen, with a washed-out appearance at the top. I could still read books, but it was sort of annoying. I decided to see if Amazon tech support could offer any advice.
I wasn't looking for a replacement, although I wouldn't have minded a sort of cash-for-clunkers trade-in discount on a Kindle 2 or a DX. Mainly I was hoping this was an easy problem that they had learned how to fix. If they couldn't, I would live with it. So, first I sent Amazon Kindle support a note explaining the problem, and got this reply from Bobby Chowdary:
I truly understand your concern in this regard. Please check to make sure your battery is fully charged or that your Kindle is plugged in using the power adapter. If your Kindle's low on power, the screen may not refresh properly.
You can also clear the screen by restarting your Kindle. Visit Kindle's Settings screen by selecting that option from the Home screen menu. When you're on the Settings screen, select Menu again. You'll then see a "Restart" option you can select to reboot your Kindle.
If restarting Kindle doesn't help, please give us a call so we can try some real-time troubleshooting.
As I had mentioned in my email, the Kindle's memory was full, so I deleted a bunch of old NYT Kindle editions, some books I had read and private documents I no longer needed. Then I charged it overnight and used the reset option on the screen menu. The smudge was still there the next day.
This time I called Amazon, or, rather, put my cell number on the Kindle support site, causing them to call me back in a matter of minutes. The support person on the phone walked me through a reset procedure that involved putting a paperclip into a small hole in the back of the device.
When the device reset, it was as if the e-ink had exploded. "Amazon Kindle" was now visible behind the text, and dark and white streaks were much worse (see picture). The text was basically illegible.
The Amazon helper explained that my device was out of warranty (it had been covered until June) but that I had two options: I could buy a Kindle 2 at full price, $299, or they could ship me a discounted original Kindle for $180. I said I was a bit reluctant to shell out money for a device that might not last another two years, especially with so many other competing toys being rumored. And I certainly wasn't going to pay $180 for a beta device that "had a lot of problems" that had been solved for the Kindle 2. We went around a bit, and I could hear her whispering to a supervisor.
When we ended the conversation, I told her I wanted to be marked down as dissatisfied.
By going public, I am tying my hands, ethically. Even if Amazon changed its mind, I couldn't accept a replacement unit or even a discount at this point, lest someone suggest I'm using my position as a journalist to get a better deal than anyone else. And that's fine. I just want to warn others who might face the same problem.
Today, somebody named Irshad of Amazon wrote in response to my follow-up email:
I'm sorry for any trouble that has been caused with regards to the Kindle device. I have reviewed your order, as well as the notes regarding your phone call to our Customer Service department on August 08, 2009. I know this may be frustrating; however, please understand that the One-Year Limited Warranty for your Kindle expired in June of 2009. We can't offer warranty support or repair services for this Kindle. However, as one of my colleagues mentioned, we can send you a refurbished kindle with charges. If you're interested in receiving a refurbished Kindle, please write back to us and let us know.
No, thanks. Kindle 1 prices on eBay range from $100 to $227, so I could probably get a better deal if I wanted another one of these.
I wrote yet another message to Amazon urging them to add some notes to their tech support guide on this problem. Customers should be warned that resetting an original Kindle with these symptoms might end up turning it into a useless brick. The customer might want to choose discretion and see if the device can be nursed through a few more months. (I am not the only one who has encountered this problem.)
(The following day, I tried resetting the Kindle again, with no effect. The e-ink problems persist on the screen even after the thing is fully powered down. I am tempted to disconnect the hard-wired battery, just for curiosity's sake.)
As tempting as the new Kindles (the 2 and the DX) look, the rumors of an Apple tablet-sized iPhone-type device have kept me from taking the plunge. A full-color computing device with an e-book reader and continuous Kindle-like wireless would be a category-killer. [Update: See this.]
For now, I'll live with the Kindle iPhone app. This morning, I canceled my NYT Kindle subscription, since that doesn't work on the iPhone. That and reading my wife's manuscripts was the main use I had for the Amazon device, though I am in the middle of a few books.
Oh, well. No doubt I would have moved on to some new device in the next six to nine months.
The fatal plane-helicopter crash over the Hudson on the same day put it all in perspective, too -- there are worse things than a broken e-book reader.
I thought the @replies from my followers on Twitter were interesting (a selection):
(Sept. 21 update: To my surprise, I find myself returning to print books, reading them faster and appreciating the superior interface. And several readers have recommended the observations on Kindles vs. books in this excellent New Yorker piece by Nicholson Baker.)
April 2010 Update: I bought an Applie iPad and wrote about my experience with it.)