Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Kindle 3 : An Owner's Review

Hi All,

My new 3rd Generation Kindle arrived yesterday and I've had a day to play with it and read a little bit. First let me say that I was a very satisfied owner of the 2nd Generation Kindle. (I'll just call them Kindle 2 and Kindle 3 from here on out) I had no complaints about the Kindle 2, so why would I upgrade to the Kindle 3? Simple. I love new gadgets. Particularly black ones. Particularly with a host of upgrades. When Amazon announced the new revision of their fantastic little e-book device, I decided that I'd go ahead and buy in. Though I had no complaints with the Kindle 2, I am even more impressed with the 3. I thought I'd do a quick blog and outline my impressions and perhaps do a bit of comparison for those of you who already own a Kindle 1 or 2, and are trying to decide if the newest version is for you. I'll hit the most important features for me and I hope that if you're curious that it answers your questions.

For those who don't know, The Kindle is Amazon's e-book reader. Having previewed other devices like it, in my opinion it's the best at what it does in the market. It reads electronic books. Very well. The current Kindle device comes in a Wi-Fi only flavor for $139 and one for $189 that uses a network technology called Whispersync allowing you to download content (Being books, magazines, newspapers blogs and so forth) anywhere in the world that you have a cell signal. It can use 3G/Edge/GPRS. It weighs under 9 ounces, and has a battery life that means taking it on a three week trip to Europe and not worrying about charging. The device is first and foremost an elegant and usable e-book reader, but also has a slew of other features that make it an incredible little travel companion. I use and highly recommend this device to anyone who loves to read and wants to save room in their home library and their carry-on.

The Kindle 3 is smaller than the Kindle 2. I don't believe the Kindle 2 was too big. It felt right to hold. In comparison to the Kindle 2, however, I like the size of the 3 better. It isn't too big or too small. The 6" screen is the right size for a paperback page. As I read at one point on the Amazon website, a good book disappears in your hands when you read. The Kindle, like a good book, does this as well. It gets out of the way and lets you experience your story.

The Kindle's screen is a technology called electronic paper. It is not back lit, and doesn't display in color. You might think at first that this is a step backward, but on the contrary, in the e-book world, these screens are not only the norm, but they are advantages. Many, including myself, find reading on a backlit screen to be an eye straining experience if done for very long. And the monochromatic nature of the screen more closely resembles that of an actual book, which I feel lends to the experience. After all, how much color do you need to read anything other than a picture book? This technology is common, as I said, on other devices like the Sony reader and the Nook. I think perhaps a built in reading light would be something to consider, but truthfully, I have never missed this feature. I use a light like I would while reading an ordinary book, and I have found that the screens of both the Kindle 2 and the Kindle 3 are excellent even in full sunlight. This is something that a backlit LCD based screen has difficulty accomplishing.

Edit: I also would like to mention the fact that the contrast level on the Kindle 3 is notably better than the Kindle 2. I never had a problem with the contrast on the 2, but next to my wife's 2 , the 3 is much more crisp and clear.

The two schools of thought on storage are fixed size and expandable. The Kindle does not have expandable storage. Kindle 2 had about 1.5GB and the Kindle 3 doubles that to 3GB. I am not of the opinion that expandable storage is an important feature of an e-book reader. At first, I considered that I might want the option, but decided when I bought my Kindle 2 that I just wouldn't be using that much space for books. I ended up being correct in that I read a great number of books on the device, and never came close to even half filling it. With the doubled space on the Kindle 3, I can't imagine reading so much that I'll ever need the room. I could of course use the device to back up files, or carry pictures, or music or anything else I desired, but the bottom line is that a flash drive or MP3 player is more convenient for such a task and first and foremost, the Kindle is a book reader. I think this focus has led to the device being as usable as it is.

The Kindle 2 and 3 both have a full qwerty keypad, and a simple array of buttons for navigation. There are a few changes to the Kindle 3 that I believe are an improvement over the 2. First, the joystick has been changed to a directional pad, which so far has been much easier to use. Also, the buttons for turning pages have been mirrored on either side of the device, making it possible to turn backward or forward in your book regardless of which hand you're using. It is also worth mentioning that the number keys have been removed from the keypad and added to the symbol menu allowing for a smaller device.

Other Features:
The Kindle hosts a lot of features in addition to simply being a book reader. There is an experimental web browser, which is not nearly as functional as a full browser like Internet Explorer, Safari, or Firefox, but manages quite well and does the trick when you need it. I recently spent two weeks in Italy and used my Kindle to check my mail and update my Facebook status for those interested in following my trip. The device becomes a kind of travel guide in its rudimentary internet function. Wikipedia and Google become tour guides in downtown Rome, or a good way to find a recommended restaurant on the go. The Kindle 3 introduced a new browser, supposedly more robust than its predecessor, and with more potential for the future. I have not had the chance to put it through its paces, but in the short test I performed, it did load my email like a champ, and seemed faster and more capable next to the Kindle 2. There is also social integration in the latest Kindle 2 and Kindle 3 software. Users can highlight and post book passages to Facebook and Twitter, and can also see popularly highlighted passages from the books they are reading. A fun feature, but all in all, I could take it or leave it. My hope is that they will allow you to actually post your thoughts on passages easily and perhaps discuss them with friends and so forth. Perhaps a kind of social Kindle book club using Twitter or Facebook integration. So long as Amazon maintains the first and foremost function as a reader, the rest is just icing on the cake. Other features include the ability for the Kindle to read a book with text-to-speech (which I find a little too unnatural to be enjoyable, but interesting all the same) and the ability to play music and podcasts. The bottom line is that the Kindle will do a great many things, but the one thing it will do very well is allow you to read a book, and enjoy yourself doing it. That said, the Kindle is also stuffed full of neat little featurettes that will have you saying things like, "Huh! I didn't know it could do that!"

In comparison to the Kindle 2, the 3 is essentially the same well designed device. In the way of most upgraded devices is it smaller, has more space, and does its job faster than its predecessor. As I mentioned before, I believe that the Kindle is the foremost e-book reader on the market owing to an excellent design, truly elegant functionality, and a focus on the reason the device was created. It doesn't try to be more than it is, and for that reason is it good at what it does.

Unanswered Questions:
I have pitched the Kindle to a number of friends and colleagues. I've often joked that Amazon should be paying me a commission. There are a couple of things that I've come across that come up rather often that I'll close with.

1. Touch Screen - People often mention that they'd like the Kindle if it had a touch screen like the Sony reader. Had someone mention that just this evening as a matter of fact. The touch screen, I feel, is largely a matter of preference. I, for one, don't like to touch my screen because I like it to be as clear as possible when I'm reading it. The Kindle has a fairly smudge resistant matte finish screen, but it does show prints if you handle the screen. A touch screen has to be cleaned fairly regularly or oil builds up, and I'd rather my screen simply be a screen and use button navigation. Also, the tactile sensation of button presses makes me happy. To each his own, but that's the way I like it.

2. What about the iPad - I'm not certain what the argument is over the iPad, but in talking about e-book reading, it seems to come up. My response is always the same, which is that the iPad is not an e-reader killer, but rather a netbook killer. It is in a different class of devices and an apples to oranges kind of discussion. This isn't to slight the iPad and what it is. It's a cool device, and very capable (if notoriously missing a few features I'd call needed) of doing many things well. This does come back to the shiny, backlit LCD issue mainly. Not to mention the extravagantly different price points, battery life and weight that I think make pure e-readers so attractive. If you love reading, then an e-book reader is the way to go. I would add though, that owning a Kindle doesn't preclude you from owning an iPad. I for one would buy one, but I'm waiting until the price drops significantly.

I hope you've enjoyed my review. Please feel free to post questions or comments below! Thanks for reading!


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