The Amazon Kindle has been the most successful e-reader on the planet for several years now, quickly outpacing consumer electronics giant Sony, mega-bookstore Barnes & Noble’s Nook and other smaller e-reader makers to become the most ubiquitous e-reader device in the world. One of the driving reasons behind the mammoth success of the Kindle is the huge library of content available from Amazon, which (as always) is delivered with such efficiency and value that it makes for an exceedingly smooth consumer experience to acquire the desirable media for the device.
That’s only part of the story, though. The other half of the equation lies in the fact that the actual hardware of the Kindle has provided an unparalleled reading experience, both for its thoughtful design – such as the non-backlit display that reads nearly identically to a printed page in a book (i.e., it’s easy on the retinas) – but also due to its very specific lack of unnecessary features. The Kindle is not, and has never been, a multi-purpose device aiming to solve a handful of problems fairly well. Instead, it’s a single purpose device that succeeds amazingly well at doing one very specific task – providing the best possible long-term reading experience.
The Reading Experience
I say, ‘long-term’, because there are certainly other devices that do very well at allowing you to access emails, web pages and documents quickly and intuitively (the iPhone and iPad come immediately to mind) – but the Kindle is not a multi-tasking device that you use on the go, in a pinch, to be productive, to be entertained five ways at once, etc.
When I’m picking up my Kindle it’s reading time…not time for skimming a barrage of items in my Google Reader, browsing the web with more tabs open than my browser will display at once, while juggling hundreds of emails…but the truly immersive form of reading that allows your mind to take you to other places and times, to savor every last phrase, nuance, twist and turn that an author can bring you through. No other portable electronic device offers such a focused and straightforward purpose – certainly not the iPad.
The Kindle allows the user to sink into a comfortable chair or couch for hours on end of uninterrupted, blissful escape into the world of literature. Once upon a time, (when all we had were books), this was not such an uncommon thing, but in our world of Blackberries, iPhones, iPads, portable DVD players and dozens of other devices competing for mind-share and attention span – it’s an absolutely welcoming sight to see the Kindle power on it’s beautiful and sophisticated e-ink reader display, knowing that I have a good book at my fingertips and that I’m about to spend some relaxing time with it. The Kindle is only as good as where you take it though – so, don’t leave it at home. If you’re looking to protect your shiny new investment with a svelte-but-rugged cover, check out the “everything-proof” OCTOVO cover for the Kindle 3.
The Media Library
Did I mention that the Kindle can store literally hundreds of books, magazines and newspapers at any given time? In a world of airline fees for every ounce we bring with us on our travels, being able to bring a small public library’s worth of books on a long trip, rather than merely one or two, is a huge deal.
Keeping in Sync
The Kindle also employs Amazon’s proprietary “WhisperSync” technology, which seamlessly and invisibly keeps you synced to the exact page you’re on in any book, across multiple devices. Wait, multiple devices you say?! Yes, your Kindle library can be accessed from any iPhone or iPad as well, using the Kindle App. I don’t usually read my books on those types of devices for long periods of time, but it is a nice way to read part of a chapter while you’re waiting in a doctor’s office or at the gate waiting to board the aircraft. Once you pick up your Kindle, you are automatically brought to the same page in the book where you left off. It’s amazingly simple to the end user, but powered by a fantastic technology that makes for a seamless transition between devices. Even your grandmother would be pleasantly surprised to find out her Kindle is at the exact page where she left off on her iPad.
Buying Books & Other Content for your Kindle
The Kindle Store has a gargantuan collection of books, magazines and newspapers – and is growing all the time. You can either browse for books, reading reviews and details about them on Amazon.com, or on your Kindle device, (which offers a simple but functional storefront), and purchase items that are delivered to the device within seconds. One of the best features of the Kindle Store is that you can buy a “sample” of a book, allowing you to read the first chapter or so, before committing to buy it. Also, most people do not know that many of the best works produced in the history of literature, classics such as Huckleberry Finn, Around the World in 80 Days, The Iliad and The Odyssey, The Art of War by Sun Tzu, and hundreds of other are available completely for free on the Kindle. Yep, Amazon is just cool like that.
I will backtrack on my assertion that the Kindle only does one thing and does it better than any other device – the Kindle actually has some lesser-known features such as text-to-speech (i.e., the Kindle can read to you in a Stephen Hawking-esque voice), basic web browsing and the ability to check email and receive documents by email (.doc, .pdf, .els). With the exception of the last such feature, which I find very useful, the general ease and experience of the others are just unfriendly enough so that you don’t end up using them all the time, (but they’re there in a pinch). I think that this design is intentional and I appreciate being discouraged from checking my Fantasy Football scores when I should instead be enjoying Warren Buffet’s precocious childhood antics in “The Snowball“.
Notable changes from Kindle 2
- Greatly improved display contrast and sharpness, which was already great to begin with.
- Reduced size, (and weight?).
- Generally improved ergonomics.
- Back buttons on both sides, (Kindle 2 had the Back button only on one side).
- Smaller page Back and Forward buttons.
- Intuitive and comfortable multi-direction control with a finger-fitting Select control, recessed in the center.
- The keyboard Home, Menu and Back buttons have been refined for better ergonomics.
- The sliding Sleep/Power button is now at the bottom of the Kindle rather than at the top, and is lit, (green).
The general construction builds upon the already great standard set by the Kindle 2, which was a significant upgrade of its own over the original Kindle. The fit and finish of the device is exactly what you’d expect from a top maker of fine electronics, (i.e., Apple). It should be noted that Amazon did away with the metal backside of the Kindle 2 in favor of a non-slip plastic instead. Undoubtably, this was to reduce costs and I don’t think it was a big loss, as most people spent 99% of the time looking at the front of their Kindles.
- Reduced price, ranging from $139 – $189 for the 6″ display model, (price depends on whether you buy one with 3G service), available in Graphite or White.
- Fantastically sharp display with high contrast which allows for easy reading in even dimmer lighting as well as in bright sunlight.
- Faster page loading and operation.
- The 3G Kindle models now include international coverage by default, with no-recurring service fees for using WhisperSync over the air – for a list of countries with coverage, click here.
- Improved battery life over the Kindle 2, which was great to begin with, (Kindle 2: almost 2 weeks of average usage with wireless on – Newest Generation Kindle now operates for well over 2 weeks with similar amounts of usage).
- More intuitive and easier to use.
- Smaller, lighter and more portable.
- Ever-expanding body of available content via the Kindle store.
The naming of the new Kindle, ‘Latest Generation Kindle’, is confusing to consumers – they should just call it the Kindle 3Amazon is now calling the device “Kindle 3”.
- The smaller size, (display size is identical), may take a little while to become accustomed to for Kindle 2 owners, some of whom may prefer a larger device to grip.
- The new Kindle is not backwards compatible with cases and other accessories – when buying a cover, make sure that it says, “for latest generation Kindle”, not just “for 6″ Kindle”, as they are different sizes and older cases do not fit the newest Kindle. For example, instead of searching for a Kindle cover, browse covers by device.
- Limited selection of covers and accessories, (at the time of the writing of this review) – I tried to buy an OCTOVO slip cover, but it wasn’t yet available for the latest generation Kindle, (according to OCTOVO they will begin shipping in October 2010).
- The new Amazon-made cover doesn’t fold backwards easily, for easy one handed holding, as the previous Amazon Kindle covers did. Instead of the OEM cover – try out the OCTOVO Splash-Proof Sleeve.
- Despite the improvement in performance, the new Kindle is still laggy when performing operations, such as turning the page, browsing menus, etc. I almost bought today’s edition of The Seattle Times twice because I thought the Kindle was hanging and didn’t get my selection. To their credit, Amazon’s system figured this out and wouldn’t allow me to buy the same thing twice.
- Kindle owners cannot “give” books to one another, (for example, once they’re done reading a book) – I see this as the only remaining drawback of the Kindle over hardcopy books and one that Amazon just might fix someday.
Breakdown of Models and Pricing
- WiFi & 3G – $189
- WiFi Only – $139
- Kindle DX – $379
(Kindle DX has a larger, 9.7″ display and is better suited for reading large documents, such as PDFs, than for portability)
The Bottom Line
The Amazon Kindle is simply the best device of its kind, and among the most useful consumer electronics products across any category. My Kindle is my travel companion when I’m on the road and never leaves the bedstead when I’m at home. I am nearly as attached to it as I am my mobile phone (and it gives me a lot less grief than iPhone 4/AT&T does).
In an age when people and technology are increasingly intertwined, it is perhaps enlightening to think that a person can be in any number of moods when they interact with their various devices. In fact, the devices themselves – due to the very nature of their functions – may even affect your mood. The reality of this product is that you will probably always find yourself moving toward a great mood when you pick up a Kindle, knowing that you’re in for a relaxing, intellectually stimulating break from the fast pace of modern living or filling the time with enjoyment and edification during a boring 10 hour flight to Tokyo, like I am currently on.
Related reading: The Kindle 3: Amazon.com’s best selling product of all time