Amazon Kindle 3: the TechCentral review - TechCentral

Amazon Kindle 3: the TechCentral review

When Apple announced the iPad earlier this year, some commentators declared that it signalled the demise of Amazon.com’s Kindle e-reader.

Unlike the Kindle, which could do only one thing well — display electronic text — the iPad was a multifunctional device, allowing people to browse the Web, check their e-mail, read magazines, watch movies, listen to music and run a universe of applications.

How did Amazon respond? Many might have expected it to release a tablet computer of its own. But, no, its CEO, Jeff Bezos, instead unveiled a new line of improved e-readers, the Kindle 3 series. And he slashed the price.

The new prices — just US$139 for a Wi-Fi-only version and $189 with cellular wireless — have hit the sweet spot for consumers. The Kindle 3 is in such strong demand that if you want one, you’ll have to join a growing waiting list as Amazon’s suppliers can’t keep up with demand.

It’s easy to see why the new Kindle is proving so popular. This third-generation device has largely perfected what was already a very compelling e-reader.

Other than the same screen real estate (six inches), the new Kindle is significantly smaller, thinner and lighter than its predecessor. The 240g device also comes in “graphite” grey, a great alternative to the kitchen appliance-like white-only version it came in previously.

The white version is still available, but we much prefer the graphite option. One wonders why Amazon is so conservative in the colour department. Surely consumers would snap up red and blue and green Kindles, too?

The Kindle has been improved in other ways, too. The electronic ink display is crisper than previous versions. And buttons have been cleaned up so the whole package looks a lot neater.

Kindle 3 in graphite and white (click to enlarge)

The keyboard isn’t ideal, though, especially for people with chunkier fingers. It’s easy to press the wrong button, and the “joystick” navigation buttons are too close the “menu” and “back” buttons. Too often, we found we brought up the menu when we meant only to navigate up through a list.

The other big improvement in the new Kindle is the speedier processor, which makes page turning noticeably quicker. Skipping to the next page is quicker than turning a page in physical book, as it should be.

The Kindle 3 charges via a computer’s USB port. Charging takes about six hours or so. A wall charger, which juices the battery faster, is sold as an optional extra. Battery life is excellent. The battery will easily last several weeks on a single charge — Amazon says to expect up to a month. That’s long enough for most holidays and business trips.

Unlike the iPad, which has a backlit screen, the Kindle’s screen is designed for lengthy periods of reading. The e-ink means your eyes won’t quickly get tired as they do with backlit displays. And the device runs cool, so there’s none of the discomfort users experience from many tablet computers and laptops.

The page-turning buttons are located in good positions on both sides of the device, and have been reduced in size, which helps to prevent users from tapping them accidentally. You can flip forward effortlessly, no matter your favourite reading position.

The Kindle 3, which stores about 3 500 books — more space than even the most avid reader could ask for – also has the software features that made previous versions so popular, including a voice menu guider, variable on-screen text size, and the ability to e-mail PDF files and other reading material to yourself.

Kindle's cover, an optional extra at $60, comes with a built-in reading light (click to enlarge)

We sent a fairly complex PDF to our Kindle, and it displayed it effortlessly, images included. Of course, the Kindle doesn’t have a colour screen, so don’t expect the files to look nearly as drop-dead gorgeous as they would on an iPad or other tablet.

Kindle 3 supports PDFs; Microsoft Word files; HTML and plain-text documents; rich text format; and image formats such as Jpeg, Gif and PNG. Amazon warns, however, that some complex PDF and Word .docx files might not format correctly.

The company says its top design objective with the Kindle was to create a device that “disappears” while reading, so people can “get lost in their reading, not the technology”. On that score, the company has succeeded admirably.

The e-ink display remains the real technological marvel here. You can read it in bright sunlight, without the usual glare you get from paper books. But you’ll need a light to read in the dark.

A nice touch is the built-in Oxford dictionary (US and British English versions). That’s a valuable addition on a device that costs as little as $139. There’s also free, built-in access to Wikipedia, though you’ll need an active wireless connection to browse entries.

Experimental software, such as a Webkit-based Web browser and an MP3 player, is also included, though the Kindle is not designed for these tasks. If you want to listen to music on the go, rather get an iPod.

And don’t bother with the text-to-speech option. It still needs a lot of work and is more likely to put you to sleep, or drive you to frustration.

Remember, if you’re going to buy a Kindle, you’ll still be subject to import duties and courier shipping costs.

Our $139 Wi-Fi-only Kindle attracted import duties of $21,41 (you pay this money to Amazon, which then transfers it to the SA Revenue Service). Shipping and handling fees came to $13,49, bringing the total cost to $173,90 — that’s a very affordable R1 260 at R7,25/$.

However, you’ll want to include a leather case for the Kindle, too, not only because it protects the device from scratches, but because it makes it easier to hold, especially when lying in bed.

Though pricey at $60, the “Kindle Lighted Leather Cover” is a great option. It includes a retractable reading light — great for reading in bed without disturbing your partner, or for anywhere where it’s a little too dark to read comfortably. You can bet Amazon is making a fat margin from selling this cover, but it’s really worth the money.

Would we recommend the Kindle? Without a doubt! At the price, it’s a no-brainer. Even if you read only moderately, this is a gadget worth having. It’s not an iPad. But it’s not trying to be.  — Duncan McLeod, TechCentral

21 Comments

  1. Interesting article,would like to know the availability and price of latest books i.e.
    are they easily obtainable and how is the download speed etc.

  2. The Kindle 3 is great, but it’s a shame that the Kindle store is somewhat crippled for people outside the US.

    Books are $2 more expensive across the board and quite a few are unavailable in “Africa.” Non-US users can’t subscribe to blogs and newspapers are $5 more per month. The additional cost is supposedly for roaming costs, even if you have a wifi only Kindle. There really should be a cheaper delivery option for books as they have with the personal document delivery system.

    Calibre does a really good job of scraping news off most news sites and packaging them for reading on your Kindle.

    Despite all this, I love my Kindle!

  3. @palenative – Prices vary. There are several 100 000 books available for free – usually books out of print and out of their copyright periods (ask google about those) but prices start at $2 and go up from there to several thousand dollars for some technical material.

    An example:

    Kalahari.net offers “Unseen Acedemicals” by Terry Pratchett for R 254 in hard cover or R118 in paperback (without shipping of R35) and from Amazon in Kindle format it was $10.55 which worked out at a shade under R75. Once I had purchased it with Amazon’s 1-Click order, I immediately turned my Kindle’s wireless on, selected Sync from the menu and the book was on my Kindle within 20 seconds.

    I have only had my Kindle 5 days but I totally love it and as someone who already owns several thousand books and was initially a bit doubtful I can certainly say I am converted!

  4. I’m very happy with mine. Books are delivered instantly. For items not available in South Africa setting to a US address means no restrictions (use a spoofed or legit forwarding address). The device will pay for itself after 20+ purchases (thumbsuck) compared to mailing printed books here, and all books are available on my computer, phone and the Kindle itself. The integrated dictionary & lookup for a word on the page I’m reading is really useful.

    I do have slight buyer’s remorse over not getting the DX which would be better for my large collection of PDF files. Also feel the page turning buttons could he higher/lower for greater comfort. Lastly the lovely Moleskine cover I purchased was somewhat of a waste – the Kindle just slips out of the mounts – whereas one of those silicone covers may better?

  5. Steve Sylvester on

    Should be receiving my Kindle on Thursday. Looking forward to it. It’s interesting to look at reviews and read about the revolutionary Ipad. In what way is it revolutionary? It’s basically an overpriced and underpowered laptop with less functionality and no base to prop the screen at a handy angle, meaning you have to hold it at the right angle in your hands. Excuse me, but “yawn”. Nice to read a review on the Kindle that looks at it for what it is, not what it’s not.

  6. I have been testing and using the larger Kindle DX for the past four months and can confirm that comapred to lugging around a ton of books, whether it be for leisure, work or study, it makes life really easy. I think Amazon has missed an opportunity to appeal to a younger reader/learner by not producing the latest version with a few more attractive features like different colours etc but that segment would probably want to plump for an iPad anyway. New titles downlod to the device in less than 60 secs. and are considerably cheaper than the paper version in most booksellers. Now if only Amazon could include a proper browser and a decent way to annotate on pdf’s and docs and we’d have a perfect device for students and scholars.

  7. @JohnsonZA got a link for Calibre?

    The one aspect missing from the article the KDK (Kindle Development Kit) – it is in closed beta but games are coming and I expect to see more apps being developed which should resolve a number of issues. Doubt it will compete with Apples mighty appstore, but it is the last missing piece in what is otherwise a perfect device.

  8. I love my Kindle. I have the Kindle 2 and it is awesome. Being able to surf the Amazon store for a new book from my couch, download a sample and then buy the book in a matter of minutes is great. The savings on the cost of books pays for the device.
    Also love the fact Amazon refunds you money on the import duty once they have established the actual cost.

  9. Can we get the Kindle from Amazon directly? I thought that they no longer shipped to SA due to theft at the post office? Do they charge import duties on the cover as well? Thanks!

  10. @Kiren…yes you can. I got mine delivered within 4 days of ordering. The price you pay online includes all duties.

  11. @Steve Sylvester

    Go do some homework on the iPad. It has never confessed to be a laptop. Regarding the lack of “base”. Again, go do your homework.

    “Yawn” @ people who don’t do their homework.

  12. @Andre P – indeed, Steve said it would replace netbooks, not laptops. It’s just a pity that Apple delivered it with a mobile operating system, and not a laptop operating system. They definately went the wrong way there.

    @Steve why do you need a base for it? Just prop it up against anything. A pillow, a cup, half an uneaten pie. It’s really a non-issue. I think the iPad form factor is a great netbook replacement, I cant wait until the win7 ones come out. It REALLY needs a desktop OS on it.

  13. @Greg – Excuse my ignorance, but why does it need a laptop operating system? As iOS4.x it does everything it needs to do very well. With one exception, it doesn’t have a actually file system available to the user. All files are accessed through their respective apps. So, is a file system then really needed? I don’t own one and have spent all of 10 mins fiddling with one, so I am open to correction here. The one thing I think it does really need is a USB or Firewire port. Thankfully with iOS 4.2 printing is coming to the iPad.

    I think they’ve done a splendid job with the first generation iPad. Can’t wait for the second and third generations to see what they going to be adding.

  14. @Andre P – As His Jobness said, it sits between a phone and a laptop; he also explicitly said it’s gunning for the netbook market, which is squarely desktop OS territory.

    I do have an iPad, and after using it for a while, it’s apparent that the long-term game of tablets is to replace laptop functionality, not phone functionality. And a device used for that purpose is horribly crippled by such a watered-down OS.

    You want to be able to install what you want on it. It *NEEDS* multitasking – without this it’s hard to take seriously as a productivity device. I’m talking Windows/Linux/OSX multitasking, not the half-baked iOS4 app-switching, or as Steve says “the best multitasking solution ever made!!!!!”.

    > All files are accessed through their respective apps. So, is a file system then really needed?

    BIGTIME! It’s a toy without it. Think of what you do on your desktop/laptop; you grab files from usb, www, emails, etc – edit them in apps, then move them to other apps, print them out, attach them to other emails and so goes the average workflow. All really basic things you’d expect an OS to provide.

    >Thankfully with iOS 4.2 printing is coming to the iPad.

    Yes, only on a handful of brand new HP printers. Lovely. Again… desktop OS needed to do real work.

    >I think they’ve done a splendid job with the first generation iPad. Can’t wait for the second and third generations to see what they going to be adding.

    For what it is (a big iPod touch), it’s great, but I hope that iOS/Android isn’t the future of tablets. I’d happily sacrifice half the battery life of my iPad to be ablet o put Win7 on it. Then I could pop on a *REAL* browser, not the watered down Safari Mobile browser, and get the full web experience with (the necessary evils of) flash and silverlight, etc. There are arguments against having that freedom on a low power device, but frankly it should be my decision, not someone else’s.

  15. Ah, got it.

    Like I said, I’ve spent 10 mins on one. So really looking forward to getting my own when they eventually launch here. Then again, maybe I should stick it out until the next one.

    I still can’t help but think that you wanting an iPad to perform more “truck”-like functions?

  16. @Andre P

    >I still can’t help but think that you wanting an iPad to perform more “truck”-like functions?

    I just want an iPad with the power of a Netbook, like Steve promised 🙁 Not a big ask, I don’t think.

    On a side-note, I loved Ballmer’s reply to Jobs’ “truck” analogy, he said “There’s a reason they’re called MAC trucks.” Oh snap. Stupid analogy though, saying that iOS is like a car, because trucks are more general purpose, and then in the next breath saying iOS is awesome cos there’s an app for everything. Um, what?

  17. I’m trying to buy the new kindle 6″ 3G + WiFi , shipping to south africa, but I only have the option to buy a graphite one. How do I get to chose a white one?

    I follows the link on amazon.com for “To ship Kindle outside the U.S., view important information specific to your country”, selected South Africa and clicked the link that said I had to use to ship to south africa. On that link, I don’t get an option for a white one, just the graphite one.

    How do I go about getting a white one?

    Thanks,
    Ryan

  18. I live in Europe, and want to buy & deliver a kindle to my mom in South Africa. I have chosen the 3G plus WiFi. My problem is the import fees deposit comes to $ 122! Did this happen to you, and was it then decreased to actual import fees of $21 (I realise you bought the WifI only, but cant imagine that there is such a discrepancy in the import fees between the two)? Hope you can help.

    Thanks

  19. Hi Duncan ,

    great article. In on of the last ZA tech shows you talked about the WIFI version being the better option for you as you create WIFI’s on the go.

    How exaclty does that work?

    Thanks

    Ben

  20. Hi Ben, you can create ad hoc Wi-Fi hotspots with most modern smartphones. Devices running Android 2.2 have one built in. On other platforms, you can download apps to do it for you. On Symbian smartphones try JoikuSpot. It’s pretty good. Not sure what’s available for the iPhone, but I’m sure there are some options available in the iTunes Store. Duncan

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