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Amazon Kindle 3 review

Post image for Amazon Kindle 3 review

January 16, 2011

in All Articles,Ereaders and ebooks

One of the most interesting things about this technology is that it’s so new and so revolutionary, the market hasn’t even agreed what to call it yet. And of those who seem to have settled on a name, no one agrees how to spell it. The Amazon Kindle sales pages call it a “Wireless Reading Device”, but make reference to it being an “ereader”.

This review was written for the Kindle 3 Wi-Fi Wireless Reading Device – at the time I got it, the device was $140. It’s Amazon’s cheapest model and has built-in wireless, but does not have built-in 3G cellular capability. I specifically picked the base model because I knew I really wouldn’t take advantage of the cellular: My house has wireless Internet, and that’s where my Kindle resides the most. I can purchase and load up any new books before I take the Kindle on a trip. Since it can hold thousands of books, requiring that itmust get online via cellular is not as important. The Kindle Wi-Fi works just fine for me, and connected up to my WPA2-encrypted home network on my first try.

If you have no convenient wireless Internet where you live, then definitely consider the Kindle model with Wi-Fi and free cellular service.

While larger Kindle models are available, I also liked the size of the base Kindle 3 device (the display is about the same as looking at a large trade paperback, though you can also adjust the text column width, font size, line spacing and other factors).

Kindle ebook reading

I’ll say it right now: The Kindle is the best ebook reading device on the market. And I say that after having played with all of its biggest competitors. Others have more features, but the Kindle was designed specifically to read ebooks, and it does it very, very well. Amazon’s Kindle instruction manual says that they designed the Kindle to give you a reading experience where the ereader itself is forgotten. Meaning you can start reading, and the Kindle device fades from your active perception, allowing you to do what you’re supposed to do – focus on what you’re reading.

Other devices are better at web browsing. And they’re faster. And they’re in color. But if you’re going to use your ereader to primarily read books and text? The Kindle is the one you want.

Primary Kindle features

Electronic Ink: The electronic ink (or “E Ink”) display is one of the big standouts for the Kindle. It makes the device extremely easy to read. No squinting from a glare, no having to shade the display if you’re in bright light or direct sun. It’s very easy on the eyes, and does really appear as if you’re looking at a display consisting of ink printed on paper.

Battery life: The Kindle battery life is excellent. Remember that the Kindle isn’t using the battery when you’re reading an ebook: It only uses the battery when you’re turning the page! Apart from looking nice, that’s another advantage to “E Ink” – it’s very battery-friendly.

My Kindle can go 2-3 weeks of heavy book reading without needing a charge. And that’s with the Wi-Fi turned on. It would be noticeably better with it off (when this is done, Amazon claims up to a month between charges).

The dominance of the Amazon store: Amazon has the market share right now, with the biggest store available and the most ebooks. Second to no one, it’s currently followed by the Barnes & Noble store (and the Nook ereader) and the Apple Store (and the iPad).

Kindle blog subscriptions: Ereading means more than just books. As of 2010, Amazon Kindles can subscribe to blogs and provide them for you automatically on the Kindle! The downside is that as of now (early 2011), all blogs cost money for a subscription and the authors of the blogs can not set prices – it’s currently up to Amazon. On the upside, blog subscriptions are cheap ($1 to $2 per month). You can also subscribe to magazines and newspapers (prices vary for each).

PDF reading and a free PDF conversion email address and the “Personal Document Service”: The Kindle can read most PDF documents. Your Kindle also comes with an email address – sending documents to this email address will convert them into PDFs and deposit them on your Kindle! (The convert-to-PDF service is free if you transfer via Wi-Fi. There is a small charge if you transfer via the 3G cellular network.)

I say the Kindle can read “most” PDFs. Some documents with complex formatting – and those with DRM or similar copy-protection in place – might not be readable.

The Kindle’s file compatibility

Here are the kinds of documents the Kindle can read natively:

Kindle (.AZW, .AZW1).
Text (.TXT),
Unprotected Mobipocket (.MOBI, .PRC)
Audible (.AA, .AAX)
MP3 (.MP3)

Here are the kinds of documents it can read and convert to PDF using the above-mentioned “Personal Document Service”:

Microsoft Word (.DOC, .DOCX)

Secondary Kindle features

(The three features below are listed on the Kindle as “Experimental”, and as such are available but may not be intended for prime time.)

Web browsing: The Kindle has a built-in web browser. It’s fine for quick trips to Wikipedia and the various free book archives besides those on Amazon (I recommend Project Gutenberg, a massive library of Kindle-compatible ebooks from which the Kindle can search, download and install).

Note that the browser is pretty limited. It’s pretty slow, and navigation is a little difficult since there is no touchscreen and no mouse (just the 5-way Kindle “joystick”). It’s not yet ready for regular use, but I believe it’s fine for specific tasks like information lookup and non-Amazon ebook downloading.

Text to speech: For the ebooks that allow it, the Kindle can also perform a text-to-speech service, where the Kindle itself will read the book to you! You have a few options for changing the speed and tone of the voice, and the sound can either be pumped through headphones or the Kindle’s built-in speakers. Pretty cool.

While the text-to-speech voices are okay, I personally don’t think I would use them regularly. Word pronunciation is good, but not stellar – some speech mistakes are annoying. Plus you don’t get inflection for question marks or exclamations, making for a “wooden” reading experience. However, it’s available. It’s currently winter where I leave, and I look forward to testing the text-to-speech at the beach with my headphones on during the coming summer!

MP3 player: In the same vein as the text-to-speech, the Kindle can also be used as an MP3 player, presumably for listening to music or podcasts. However, the process for putting MP3s on the Kindle requires you plug it into a computer – it’s not capable of browsing to an MP3 online and downloading it there, for example. I personally don’t use this feature, and don’t see how it’s competitive with devices like iPods. However, it’s not hurting the Kindle to have this function, but it does need to be more user-friendly before the average user will be convinced to play with it.

Kindle limitations

Keeping in mind that this is an ereader device, I’m not going to criticize the Kindle for features not critical to an ereader. (For example, it doesn’t play movies, but then it’s not supposed to.) The limitations below may or may not be a problem for you, given your situation and the way you intend to use your Kindle, but they still should be mentioned.

No library lending or DRMed PDFs: Almost all ereaders support borrowing ebooks from public libraries. It’s the best of both worlds: You can borrow new popular books from your library and other places for free, and the books then disappear from your ereader after a set expiration date. The Kindle does not support this, and this is the biggest issue for me. I was disappointed when I realized the Kindle does not support library lending, particularly since it seems important enough to be a show-stopper for some buyers, and all of the big-name Kindle competitors do support this feature. If enough people complain, I’m sure Amazon will build this feature into current or new Kindles.

Black and white display: The screen is black and white only. No color. If you’re reading ebooks and other text, you’ll be happy. But if you want to purchase a lot of children’s books, or subscribe to magazines with a lot of artwork, then the Kindle may be more limited than you’d like.

E Ink not visible in the dark: There is no backlit screen, and so you can’t read anything in the dark unless you have a separate light to shine on the screen. But there are solutions, anything from a flashlight to what I’ll soon be purchasing: A Kindle case with a built-in, Kindle-battery-powered book light.

E Ink refresh time: There is a slight delay when “turning a page” in an ebook. When I read, I now subconsciously hit the Next Page button just before I finish the page I’m on. This doesn’t bother me, but realize that the page turn is not instant – there is a small delay of a half-second or so.

Hacking the Amazon Kindle

Hacking the Kindle? I did it myself, and it’s easy. One of the features of the Kindle is that when you’re not using it, it drops into what I’ll call screen saver mode, where it displays a picture on the screen of a famous author. That’s nice enough, but I wondered if I could instead have it cycle through pictures of my family. And it can, with a little effort.

There is a pretty large hacking community for the Kindle. The personalized Kindle screen saver is only one example of what you can do. Other possibilities include changing the default fonts and other layout options on the Kindle display.

The specific methods of hacking the Kindle depend on your specific Kindle model, and are too complex for this review. But I can get you started.

For the record, hacking and “jailbreaking” and “rooting” your Kindle is not supported by Amazon, could interfere with normal Kindle software updates and are potentially dangerous. If you break your Kindle in the process, your expensive ereader probably won’t be covered under Amazon’s warranty. And I can’t help you either.

– The Visual Kindle guide (and the Kindle screen saver hacks)
– This is the section from the Visual Kindle guide that I used to hack the screen saver for my Kindle 3 Wi-Fi

Kindle education and resources

There are many communities that support all aspects of the Kindle line. I don’t mean just hacking the Kindle, but learning about it in order to best improve your experience. Here are good places to start:

– How to do (almost) everything with a Kindle 3
– Kindle 3 shortcuts, hotkeys and hidden features
– A Kindle World blog

Kindle 3 review conclusion

The Kindle is a fantastic ebook reader that gets everything about reading ebooks just right. There is more functionality beyond the primary job of reading, and these extra features have varying amounts of fit and finish. If you’re looking for more than an ereader and want to venture into netbook, smartphone or iPad territory, then you may want to consider a different device, because that’s not what the Kindle is for. It’s an ereader, and it’s an excellent one. Its strengths with screen display, ease of use and battery life are the primary reasons I love it.

I received my Kindle 3 Wi-Fi for Christmas, but wife has used it even more than I have. I fully expect that by this same time next year we’ll have purchased another Kindle.

If you want the best ebook reader on the market today, get the Kindle 3.

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