I finally got around to calling Amazon about this. They claim it’s “impact damage not a manufacturing defect” so I have to pay $200 to replace it. “Amazon trains us, we’ve seen a lot of reports of just this sort of thing, and they say when we see diagonal damage, this is caused by impact and we don’t replace it. If you had horizontal or vertical lines it’s a failure of the circuitry and that’s a manufacturing defect.”
Let me be the first one to call bullshit on this.
The when and where of failure
Up until this point, I carried the Kindle every day. I typically read on average maybe 500 pages/week on the thing. In this case, I was taking the Kindle on a flight.
Obviously the Kindle was a carry-on along with my notebook computer (having gotten my notebook stolen in 2003, I never am far from it). Also because this happened to me and that happened to Matt, I don’t check my Nikon camera.
So this means that the entire kit goes with me in my Think Tank Urban Disguise 50 messenger bag. If you’ve ever had occasion to put a MacBook Pro and a Nikon D3 into one of these you’d see that the only place safe to place the Kindle and not break it by introducing twisting forces from the camera is on the outer zip pocket. That’s exactly where I placed it, in the Amazon Kindle leather cover, of course.
I used the Kindle right until I got to the airport, put it away until I landed after which I noticed the photo above. It’s been like that ever since.
So what happened?
My suspicion is that it broke because in the requirement to lay your bags flat to go through airport security. The thing was being jostled on the rollers and might have been pushed against the plastic container boxes when the security dude pulled the bags through to hurry us up. That would be the most vulnerable moment because the only thing protecting the kindle at the time is the padded leather cover and some ballistic nylon.
While I carried the Kindle on a daily basis, it is effectively padded, not just by the cover, but also because it is placed between a notepad on one side and a MacBook Pro on the other—both having the property of being flat and much larger than the kindle. It isn’t going to get any torsion and any impact would transfer to the plastic frame instead of the screen.
So why am I calling bullshit?
Because there was no impact. The most likely scenario is a severe torsion with one point against the frame and the other one source against the screen itself (instead of the frame). If I had to guess, I bet one of those from above points was the last “a” in Agitha.
What does impact damage look like?
Like this. Notice that the shape is very similar but occurs in the corner. Why in the corner? Because that Kindle, unlike mine, was f—ing dropped and fell on that corner. Note that that person’s Kindle was replaced for free even though it was f—ing dropped!
You know what a circuit failure looks like?
Like this. Note that my Kindle was looking like that for about a month before this happened, but only in very bright sunlight when walking to work. I never did figure why that happened and it’s somewhat ironic to find that I was losing all contrast on an eInk display in bright bright light. (Yes, I read on my walk to work. Yes, I ran into a couple parking meters a couple times—hurts like hell, but not as bad as ramming head first into a street light pole.) Hmm, maybe circuit failure is a feature, not a bug.
But when you get right down to it, there is no such thing as “impact damage” and “circuit failure” because all Kindle screen failures are going to look like a bit of both. If you look closely at my Kindle failure above you can see a very strong horizontal region as well as a number of faded horizontal smears (looks like bad toner) in addition to the large asymmetric “tear.” Or, how can you explain the reversed diagonal “tear” in this Kindle that was never used?
The answer is that there’s no difference between impact and torsion, between screen damage and circuit failure other than the location. The entire circuitry apparently is not designed to survive any flex or any impact. My guess is there are a lot of bugs in the eInk technology specification vs. it’s capability under typical use.
Okay what am I going to do
I don’t know really.
Consider that I’ve been using Mac laptops since 1992. I’ve owned eight of them in those 16 years and all but one has been for an AppleCare replacement. I’m that hard on my equipment! Note, I don’t drop the computer, I just wear my stuff into the ground. I walk, cycle, and carry electronics every day for 16 years. Similarly my Leica has three lenses, two of which are broken (neither were dropped). I have a broken Leica flash now (never dropped). I have three broken Nikon lenses now (though, in this case, one of those three was dropped). I’m tough on my crap because I carry it every day and use whatever I have lying around as a weapon to fend off angry hordes of Ruby on Rails developers.
Amazon even admits this is a common failure…well multiply that by 10 and you have me.
If this happens, there is no way a Kindle 2 is going to survive the way I use it, even if I never drop it. I wouldn’t mind paying $200 every couple years for a replacement, but another $200 after 90 days?!?
So I don’t know. If I get a replacement, it’s going to have to sit at home like my desktop computers (which almost never fail), which sort of ruins the point of owning one.
Hopefully future designs of the Kindle or competitors will fix this. Too bad I already have too much stuff locked behind Amazon’s DRM. Publishers better wise up to this reality or they’ll find Amazon Kindle in the same position the Apple iPod is now.
Off to cancel my New Yorker subscription now.
The net result is don’t believe the reports on the internet about Amazon’s generous Kindle warrantee. It’s bullshit. The truth of the matter is that I suspect that if the damage occurs within a small window of purchase, they replace it no questions asked. After that, it depends on who is on the other line if you can get it replaced.
Because this seems to be a popular article, I thought I’d update things.
First, the same Kindle was replaced free later simply by calling again, this reinforces my above point that I find the inconsistent policy a worrying Amazon business model (from the comments below you’ll see similar inconsistencies and that it is a constant source of consumer frustration).
Second, because it was obvious that there is no such thing as impact vs. “electronic” damage, I stopped using my Kindle 2 and sold it to someone who can use it better. I use Amazon’s Kindle app on my iPad now, which corresponds to a reduced purchase rate through the Kindle store. So it goes.
Third, about some of the other damages I suffered over the years that I mentioned:
Crush strain on my MacBook Air under AppleCare ended up with a one-time full replacement recently. Apple re-iterated that they would not being doing this again and that it was not their policy but they replaced it anyway. I found out the reason for the damage was that there seems some manufacturing variance on the screen edges so by squeezing different models (at Apple Stores) you will see that they exhibit differing results to the sort of strain. The solution was to not accept a new model until it didn’t act that way. It’s been almost a year now and my amount of traveling has gone up by 5x since that incident and I haven’t had a problem with the new laptop. Caveat emptor but Apple’s policy is remarkably consistent and has been in the 25+ years I’ve used Macintosh products (which was the point of my article).
Of the two Leica lenses and a flash I mentioned. Cosina-Voiglander took one back and determined that it was impact damage that caused the aperture failure, which I find believable (I didn’t drop it, but I was pretty sure I bumped it against something during an expo—or rather, something bumped me). It was repaired with a minimal fee which was waived because my Voigltander dealer, Cameraquest, owed me a favor when I corrected a $1100 mistake in my favor on a previous order. Zeiss corporation took the other one back and determined it was a manufacturing defect and immediately sent me a new one (really, unbelievable customer service! Kudos to Zeiss USA).
Leica took the flash back and determined that it was not a manufacturing defect (I have since deduced the issue was flashes do not have limiter circuits on them and it probably failed due to overuse). It was replaced at a discount. I think I had the nearly-same failure with an Olympus flash (I’m not sure, it was borrowed from me and returned to me failed), and they wouldn’t do a warrantee repair but were willing to replace at a discount. Unfortunately their discounted price was well north of what it would cost new on eBay—and besides, I never wanted the flash anyway which is why I was lending it out. A Nikon SB-800 failed in the same way, Nikon determined that besides being out-of-warantee the flash failed due to overuse in succession and kindly sent me a highlighted copy of the manual page noting that particular failure mode possibility as well as repaired it for a fee much south of any replacement cost.
With the Nikon lenses, there ended up being four, two due to being dropped. Of them, the third party lens was repaired by the party that borrowed the lens, the other three were out of warranty (and two were impact damage, the other was damage due to the TSA so it wasn’t a manufacturing defect). I had all three repaired for a fee much south of any replacement cost.
Overall you can see the policy differs from company to company as well as the particular results. Other than Amazon, no company pronounced knowledge of the problem before examining it as a return beforehand. Nor did any, other than Amazon, have an inconsistent policy from any other customer’s experience with them.
(Later-dated comments on this thread show that Amazon is slowly settling on becoming more consistent in their return/replacement policy. The policy seems to be much harsher for recently purchased Kindles—I suspect it is because they’re much cheaper than when I owned one.)