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On this blog we will track down the latest Amazon Kindle news. We will keep you up to date with whats hot in the bestsellers section, including books, ebooks and blogs... and we will also bring you great Kindle3 tips and tricks along with reviews for the latest KindleDX accessories.

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September 2016
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Amazon Caps Kindle 3G Use at 50MB/Month

The Kindle Keyboard has been the overall recommendation of this site, and myself in particular, since it was first introduced.  It stands out from the current generation for a couple reasons, but mostly due to its unrestricted internet access.  The Kindle Touch 3G has its cellular connectivity restricted.  Apparently that sort of freedom was costing Amazon a bit more than they liked.  Users will now find their internet usage capped to a mere 50mb each month.

For the most part this will prove little problem.  The Kindle’s screen, while amazing for reading, is not well suited for most of the bandwidth-intensive tasks that people generally put their portable devices to.  You’re not going to have the option of watching a movie on your Kindle eReader, which is part of the reason the Kindle Fire was made.  Even music downloads, which make sense knowing that the Kindle has the ability to play MP3s, are largely difficult to manage except through storefronts and social media pages that the Kindle’s Experimental Browser is less than suited for.

The most likely explanation for this change to the service agreement is that too many people have caught on to the possibility of using the Kindle’s 3G access on another mobile device.  This hack was widely publicized when a reliable method developed and seemed likely to end up little more than a bit of trivia in the days that followed.  Yes it is possible to enable wireless tethering of a sort, but it is obviously against the terms of service and the practice is far from anonymous.

Apparently people have been doing it anyway.  Amazon has been cracking down on these Kindle abusers individually, limiting their device’s access to the Kindle Store and Amazon.com, but that takes manpower and there is almost certainly a waiting list as each abuser is warned.  Adding the 50mb per month cap prevents outright abuse in the meantime.

Given what we know about software changes from model to model, this may be the start of something more significant for the Kindle line in general.  By limiting the usefulness of the Kindle Keyboard, Amazon is setting things up to remove the device entirely.  This allows them to save on everything from firmware updates to 3G charges as customers move into the hardware we’re expecting to see in the next few months.  They clearly want to make some of the new features like X-Ray into Kindle brand selling points, but that’s not going to happen while so many users are still happy with their older model.

If you like to have your laptop hooked to a Kindle Keyboard for free 3G access, you’re probably going to be very unhappy in the days and weeks to come.  Amazon hasn’t commented, but this crackdown is likely to get bigger and stick around.  If you’re a normal user who just grabs the occasional eBook or website then you’ll likely never run into this new limitation.  Either way, keep an eye out for the hardware upgrade that’s around the corner.  Amazon is likely to be pushing upgrader incentives to build interest.

Kindle Keyboard 3G Tethering May Provide Emergency Options

Kindle Keyboard

Kindle Keyboard

The Kindle eReader has long come with unrestricted 3G access on its more expensive models.  This has been such an expected option that when Amazon stopped offering the feature on the newer Kindle 4 and Kindle Touch models it shocked many of us.  Fortunately, for those who are still interested in the service, there is always still the Kindle Keyboard 3G.  While they aren’t really being pushed as a current product any longer, Amazon still seems to have plenty of the older model with its unrestricted access available on their site.

The biggest problems with taking advantage of this feature for anything besides simply purchasing from Amazon have been tied to the shortcomings of the eReader itself.  The Kindle Keyboard’s 5-Way directional controller is nice enough, but can be incredibly tedious to use.  The web browser is extremely basic at best, and will almost certainly enough fail to load important pages or crash completely from time to time under regular use.  Still, it is a free lifetime 3G connection that accomplishes the goal of keeping you connected to the Kindle Store no matter where you happen to be.  It is hard to complain about that.

What was once just a convenience for people willing to spend some extra money on their initial Kindle purchase might now be a valid thing to keep around for emergencies, however.  You see, somebody has finally worked out a way to make this free 3G coverage available to more generally useful devices via a tethering hack.  While I won’t go into the details here (this is absolutely warranty-voiding and quite possibly illegal enough for action is abused), hacker Andrew D’Angelo has posted the complete method on his easily searchable personal web site.  Using this method, you can now get your PC or laptop onto the internet via the Kindle Keyboard’s cellular connection.

I say that this is an emergency tool specifically because every bit of data sent through this connection runs through Amazon’s proxy servers.  You are tagged with a unique ID number that can easily trace unusual activity back to your personal account.  Since this is, as mentioned above, rather blatantly in violation of the Terms & Conditions for Kindle 3G use, chances are good that both the connection and the associated account will be shut down before too long at the very least.

This could be great to have around for those situations where a storm takes out the local communications, and I can think of some flooding a while back that I would have loved to have it available for, but it is not a tool for daily use.  Still, it might be worth considering the 3G option on any new Kindle purchase now even if you have no interest in it as an aid to your eReader experience.  $40 added to the purchase price for a cell connection with no monthly fee running through a device that only runs out of batteries once every month or two is great by itself, but being able to use that connection so fully when you really need to have that available is invaluable.

Amazon Kindle vs Acacia: Patent Troll Tries Again

By now Kindle users have become familiar with the idea of sponsored screen savers on their eReaders when the devices are on standby.  They are generally unobtrusive, don’t get in the way of the reading experience, and can even offer some decent deals from time to time when you get lucky.  Not many people argue against them anymore, especially since Amazon now allows users to pay the price difference between a Kindle with ads and a Kindle without ads to have the whole mechanism disabled entirely.  Unfortunately, the idle screen’s ads have opened Amazon up to a claim of patent infringement from one of the biggest “Patent Trolls” in operation.

The company making the accusation, Network Presentations Solutions, is a shell company operated by Acacia Research Group.  Acacia Research Group, as some might remember from last October, has taken on Amazon before with regard to Kindle devices.  Last time it was a variety of issues regarding the Kindle Fire.  This time around, they have acquired the rights to a patent for any personal computing device that shows ads on a screen after a certain designated period of idling.  Naturally this would include all recent Kindle offerings, in addition to other companies such as Kobo that have followed in Amazon’s footsteps, one would think.

What are they hoping to accomplish with this suit?  The requested ruling would require Amazon to pay a substantial penalty, recall and destroy every Kindle device ever sold with the Special Offers screen savers, issue a copy of the court ruling along with an admission of wrongdoing to everybody who has ever owned a Kindle, and generally appear contrite and humbled.  More realistically, Acacia is hoping for a substantial payday when Amazon settles to avoid the potentially huge ramifications of losing.  Patent Trolls are not held in particularly high regard at the moment, but that doesn’t mean they always lose in court.  Amazon isn’t exactly the most beloved company around at the moment either, after all.

While there seems to have been no word as to what, if any, progress has been made on the last Acacia vs Amazon lawsuit, it is a fair assumption that Amazon is not in the habit of quietly accepting this sort of thing.  They have placed a great deal of faith in the Kindle line, both eReader and Tablet offerings, and such vaguely applicable patents have questionable standing when held up to scrutiny.  Remember that a software patent holder needs to be able to prove that its patent involves a non-obvious solution to a problem.  It is hard to say whether or not advertisements in place of screen savers would really qualify in the eyes of the court.

Chances are good that this is not the last time we’ll be seeing Amazon hit with patent litigation.  Patent Trolling is huge money and there is a lot of profit to be made in anything somebody can make stick to the Kindle.  With the next generation of Kindle Fire just around the corner and the possibility of a Kindle Phone being whispered about in vague rumors about the distant future, Amazon is just going to be even more open to these things.  Hopefully the added expense of an occasional settlement or legal dispute won’t be enough to scare them off of ongoing hardware development.

Updating Kindle DX or Kindle 2 to Kindle 3.x Firmware

Having discovered an already functional jailbreak for the Kindle Touch recently thanks to independent developer Yifan Lu, I was also pleased to note that there is a way to get your older Kindle devices somewhat more up to date.  It turns out that the hardware improvements in the Kindle 3 as compared to the Kindle 2 and Kindle DX, particularly the processors, were not significant enough to make it impossible to run the newer version.

To get this update installed, you will need a few things.  The most important, and possibly the hardest to get in some cases, is a working Kindle 3 (Kindle Keyboard) that has been jailbroken.  Assuming you have a spare Kindle 3 laying around, the same site linked in the instructions to follow contains detailed instructions on the jailbreaking process under the “Projects” tab.  You will also need a minimum of 900mb free on your Kindle 2/Kindle DX and 720mb free on your Kindle 3.  Naturally a USB transfer cable will be important as well.

Assuming you have all of these things, check out this page on Yifan Lu’s site.  The included instructions are simple to follow and while it will probably take you anywhere from one to three hours to complete the entire process, there is little room for error if you follow the order of operations correctly.

There are several things that you must be aware of before starting in on this:

  • Should you allow either of your Kindles to lose power while they are in use, it is likely to cause some major problems.  Charge them before you begin.
  • Once completed, you will have to repeat the process for any future firmware updates.  The Kindle 2 or Kindle DX will not be able to automatically access the files released for the Kindle 3.
  • While the hardware difference between these Kindles is not large enough to make the process inadvisable, as it would be if going from the Kindle 4 to the Kindle 3, there is a difference.  You will experience slight lag as the downside of your improved functionality.
  • Active content such as Kindle games will not work as a result of the update.  The developer of this update process doesn’t know exactly why, nor does there seem to be any major fix for this.  Be aware.
  • Sound/Music playback on the newly updated device will be flawed.  Since it will have been jailbroken it is possible to install an alternate music player to fix this, but it is an additional step for people who make much use of the eReader’s audio playback abilities.
  • There have been some unconfirmed reports that extremely large PDF files have issues on devices updated in this fashion.  This is likely the result of slightly inferior hardware and will probably not be an issue compared to the greatly improved PDF handling, but it is worth noting.

We can’t quite say why Amazon chose not to update these older Kindles, although it has been speculated that they were consciously abandoned to drum up business for the Kindle 3.  Also possible is the idea that faster processing simply opens more doors to new features that couldn’t be productively implemented otherwise.  Either way, at least now it is possible for owners of older Kindles to get the most out of their devices.

While the newer Kindle 4 and Kindle Touch are great, eReaders are made to last and there is no reason for a satisfied owner to throw away their perfectly good Kindle 2.  With the Kindle DX it’s an even more obvious choice, since there is yet to be a hardware update to the larger form and it looks increasingly like there never will be.  This update makes it even more desirable for those who need the 9.7″ screen.

Special Offers Now Available For All Kindle eReaders

The addition of advertisements to the Kindle line is what has allowed Amazon to drive prices down as low as they have on all eReader hardware in the US.  It’s really the only reason that the eReader was finally pushed down to the $99 and beyond.  While many people were initially upset about the idea of advertising intruding into their reading experience, something that has in recent decades proven fairly inefficient and therefore been disregarded, the way Amazon tackled the problem has left most people satisfied.  No ads in the books themselves is the most important part, of course.

The most surprising thing, in a lot of ways, is how effective the Special Offers have been in providing genuine value for customers.  Among other things, Kindle w/ Special Offers owners have had the chance to buy $20 gift cards for $10, $1 Kindle Edition eBooks, and more.  Amazon has been their own best customer when it comes to these ads despite having some big name partners join in from time to time, and recently there have even been some great local deals springing up as a result of their attempts to take on Groupon.  Naturally this has left some owners of older Kindles, as well as people who avoided the opportunity due to suspicion over the ads, feeling rather left out.

Recently an option was introduced to remove these ads from the Kindle by paying for the difference in initial purchase price.  Definitely an appealing option since it effectively allows new buyers who are hesitant to accept the idea of ongoing advertisements buy into the device now and get the rest of the experience they want when it’s affordable.  It doesn’t hurt that this makes it that much more appealing for new customers to give Amazon’s Special Offers scheme a chance to prove its worth.

The fun flip side is that they quietly introduced the option to turn Special Offers on for Kindle eReaders that either never had them in the first place or decided to buy out of them at some point.  By going into the “Manage Your Kindle” section of the Amazon.com website, most of the work is already done.  Find your eReader in the list (which may include no more than one Kindle depending on how invested you are in the line) and, under the “Special Offers” heading, choose the Edit option.  Turning the ads on and off takes place almost instantly, requiring nothing more than that you turn your Kindle on and connect it to the internet.

I no longer have a Kindle 2 to test out this process with, but I think it is safe to assume that it would not work.  The Kindle 3 (Kindle Keyboard) definitely works, and all newer devices should handle it without any trouble.  If you haven’t had a chance before now to check out the options, it might be worth a try.  Just today I’ve seen a couple tempting ones flipping my Kindle off and on.  I especially recommend if you are in an area covered by the AmazonLocal deals.  Amazon is clearly not pushing people into this, nor do they make it hard to change your mind.  If there’s value to be found, why waste the opportunity?

Kindle Keyboard 3G On The Way Out

In the past several months, especially since the announcement of the Kindle Touch, I’ve mentioned regularly that I expected the Kindle Keyboard to be a thing of the past by early 2012.  While nothing concrete has happened just yet, there are beginning to be small indications that this is beginning to happen.

The most obvious early sign was the fact that the Kindle Touch’s 3G option did not include the same freedoms that we have come to expect in previous models.  Where up until now you could browse freely, albeit in a limited fashion due to the nature of the Kindle’s screen and experimental browser, now users are stuck with only Wikipedia and Amazon’s own store.  Given the size of the ongoing 3G bill that Amazon has to have been racking up over the past several years, this change should be no surprise.  Lifetime 3G for free is going to be hard to keep going without limitations.  What is surprising and makes this stand out is the fact that the Kindle Keyboard did not start having the same restrictions.  If this was really the direction that Amazon has chosen to go, the only easy explanation is that they were waiting to run out existing stock.

More recently, the Kindle Keyboard WiFi w/ Special Offers has silently disappeared from the Kindle Store.  You can still get the more expensive ad-free model, but somehow I doubt that is because Amazon has suddenly decided to drop their advertising subsidized eReader plans.  Not only is it gone, but the newer versions of the sales banner for the Kindle Family are now focused entirely on the newest devices and don’t display the Kindle Keyboard at all.

It would not be surprising to find that even more signs have been given that were just too subtle to be noticed at the time.  I seem to recall there being white versions of both WiFi and 3G Kindle 3 models, for example, but now that is only available for the 3G model.  Hard to say for certain at this point since the graphite frame was so appealing at launch that I didn’t bother picking up a white edition.

Will this be the end of eReaders with physical inputs?  Quite possibly!  The major competition has already moved to entirely touchscreen, though the Nook Simple Touch eReader still has some actual page turning buttons.  The virtual keyboard allows for a lighter, more compact device that is even less intrusive than previous Kindles.  I’m still dealing with mixed feelings regarding this move, having gotten used to my keyboard and not quite having had the same amount of exposure to the new design, but it does seem the way of the future.

If you are still interested in the Kindle Keyboard (formerly Kindle 3), now is really the time to buy.  Lefties will find it especially valuable since the Kindle Touch requires swiping if you want to flip a page forward with your left hand. It offers pretty much everything that the Kindle Touch does aside from X-Ray and the ease of use in highlighting and annotation, but you get the reassuring presence of buttons.  The option won’t be around much longer, I’m sure, but for now you can get either the normal Kindle Keyboard or the Kindle Keyboard 3G w/ Special Offers for just $139.

Amazon Kindle Special Offers Still Picking Up Steam

One of the ways that Amazon has managed to bring down the price of their Kindle eReader to a point that nobody else has been able to match is through their Special Offers.  This feature saves customers $30 – 40 on their new Kindle by displaying advertisements in place of the otherwise uncustomizable screen saver images that the device carries by default as well as on the bottom of menu screens.  In doing so, Amazon makes enough off the ads, in theory, to offset the discount and maybe even get word out about useful offers they could be interested in.

One of the most notable initial offers was that of a $20 Amazon.com gift card for only $10.  This was only available to active Kindle w/ Special Offers owners and got a fair amount of press at the time as a smart move on Amazon’s part.  Other ads have included Buick, Olay, Visa, ABC, and more.  There was, and for some still is, some question as to how effective this advertising method would prove to be in the end, but responses are coming in from Advertisers that put that to rest for the time being.

For example, while Buick was mainly concerned with building a connection in customers minds between their brand and what they viewed as an innovative new product (the Kindle), they have been reported as noting that their customer engagement matched what they’ve come to expect from other, more established media.  ABC’s promotion also went well, with over 24,000 people taking advantage of their free script offer in support of new show “Revenge”.

In the past month, however, people in supported areas might note having seen a focus on the new Amazon Local service.  This is meant, by all appearances, as Amazon’s own competition for the popular Groupon site.  Nationwide offers in such areas have been somewhat scarce as a result.  This has led some to jump to the conclusion that Amazon has been having trouble finding people interested in advertising via Kindle.  One Amazon advertising VP, however, was able to come right out and say that there has yet to be a drop in the number of interested advertisers.

In spite of the fact that this appears to be a fairly narrow media venue to exploit, the Kindle has brought reading back to the front of peoples’ minds in a way that many wouldn’t have believed possible five years ago.  Millions have been sold and, while Amazon does not and is unlikely to ever, release sales numbers for the Kindle, it is safe to say that several of those millions had the Special Offers included.  These devices are cheap, allow for an unhindered reading experience wherein ads will never appear to disturb you, and can even come in handy when bringing deals to your attention.  Personally, I was just glad to stop seeing the same dead author portraits over and over again.  It seems clear that while there is expansion to be done and experience to be gained, this was a smart move on Amazon’s part.

Kindle Fire vs Kindle eReaders: Interface Differences and Why They May Matter To You

With the Kindle Fire opening up whole new avenues of entertainment in the product line and the Kindle Touch providing the affordable touchscreen eReader that people have been asking for for years now, there is a sense that both the Kindle Keyboard (Kindle 3) and just plain “Kindle” (Kindle 4) are superfluous.  Sure the low price on the basic Kindle is great, for example, but for only a $20 difference over the touchscreen model you are asserting that you will never need an audiobook and don’t have much interest in note taking.  Sometimes it is nice to retain those capabilities just in case, even if you have no interest in them from day to day.  This absolutely does not mean that there is no situation where that is the smart move to make, it just means that being aware of your needs is important.

I think that the obvious contrast will be between the Kindle Fire and the Kindle products with mechanical interfaces.  While I will maintain that there is a definite difference between the new tablet and the eReader line it is billed as a part of, Amazon’s association of the two types of hardware under the same brand name makes the comparison important.  It’s true that much of the argument also goes for the Kindle Touch, right now we can look at the Kindle and Kindle Keyboard hands-on.  That makes things a bit simpler.

Naturally I could go on again about the superior reading experience to be found in an E INK Pearl screen over pretty much any LCD we’re ever likely to see.  Fortunately, I think most people have come to accept that already.  The battery life issue is also a big one, but not worth dwelling on.  It is not likely that people would fail to see the benefits of only having to charge a portable device every few weeks.  What I will contend is that there is an advantage to be found in the simplified experience of the Kindle and Kindle Keyboard over that we can expect from the Kindle Fire.

Since the Kindle is traditionally associated with reading and I’m talking about the virtues of the less expensive members of the Kindle family, it’s only natural that a great deal of weight is to be placed on the act of reading.  For example, I consider it a great advantage to be able to read without the distractions offered by a multi-functional device.  I won’t deny this owes to my own easily distracted nature, but that’s hardly an uncommon trait.  Reading a book should not generally be an act of willpower overcoming the urge to do something else.  That detracts somehow.  With a Kindle or Kindle Keyboard, not only can you do little besides read, most of what else you are able to do revolves around acquiring more things to read.  It is a cohesive experience.

The fact that both of the Kindles in question make use of mechanical controls rather than a touch interface can also be an advantage.  Aside from any risk of fingerprints being left, many people will prefer to be able to navigate their eBooks via the page turn buttons on the sides of the device.  When using a Kindle Keyboard, for example, you can adjust your grip to allow for page turning with nothing more than a light squeeze of the thumb.  Even assuming this is possible on a touchscreen, it would involve covering part of the display.  You may only save a small motion, but when Amazon is looking to save on even the effort of a swiping gesture in their touch interface there is obviously a preference for conserved effort in the user base.

The Kindle Keyboard in particular also offers the distinct advantage of being able to interact with your device without tying up screen real estate.  Normally this is not a big deal, I will be the first to admit.  When it comes to making in-text notations, however, it is useful to be able to see as much as possible while forming your thoughts.  I do think that the Kindle Touch and Kindle Fire will offer a greater speed to the notation process since selecting text is a bit clunky with the more basic directional control, but it is useful to be aware of the tradeoff.  Losing the keyboard was worthwhile in terms of reducing size and weight, but for some people the keyboard is still a useful part of the Kindle experience.

This is not a claim for the overarching superiority of the older Kindle Keyboard or even the equality of the Kindle 4 (there is a reason that it is priced lower than all the other Kindles).  What I am claiming is that they each fill niches separate from the Kindle Fire and, to a lesser degree, the Kindle Touch.  Yes the newer, more powerful device can do basically all the same things that the eReaders are able to do as well as many other things that people will find useful, but that does not mean that it is a direct upgrade.  For an affordable tablet, the Kindle Fire is great.  For an eReader I would recommend any other Kindle without hesitation.  There is no more reason to disregard the Kindle or the Kindle Keyboard than there is to ignore the situational usefulness of the Kindle DX, which is an issue I have also gotten into recently.  Know your options and your needs when you decide it is time for a new Kindle.

Nook Color vs Kindle: Does B&N Still Have A Shot?

The Nook Color was not the first color eReader by any stretch of the imagination, for all it beat out the Kindles to that point.  Even if you exclude all of the PDAs, Blackberrys, and smartphone types of devices in general that gave the Microsoft LIT format a space to thrive in, there were others that came before.  Credit where credit is due, however, B&N created the first reading tablet that was worth owning.  Its value might just not come as much from the pure quality of reading experience as it could need to to remain competitive as an eReader.

Analysts have regularly indicated that the appeal of the Nook Color, for the average consumer, is in its ability to access magazines and casual games along the lines of the ever popular Angry Birds series.  The portability, full color display, and Android based operating system make it great for short periods of interaction and immersion, even if the screen is less than ideal for extended reading.  Now, with the release of the Kindle Fire, there is reason for Barnes & Noble to be concerned over their device’s future.

What it comes down to is a practically point by point feature trumping on Amazon’s part, plus a superior media distribution base to draw on in the areas where a tablet is most useful.  The points of comparison stand out a little bit when you consider the Nook Color’s superiorities over the Kindle 3 (Kindle Keyboard).

Kindle Keyboard Nook Color Kindle Fire
Display 6″ Monochrome E INK 7″ Color LCD 7″ Color LCD
Interface Keyboard & Directional Controls Capacitive Multitouch IR Multitouch
Dimensions 7.5″ x 4.8″ x 0.34″ 8.1″ x 5.0″ x .48″ 7.5″ x 4.7″ x 0.45″
Weight 8.5 Ounces 15.8 Ounces 14.6 Ounces
Battery Life 2 Months 8 Hours 8 Hours
Storage 4GB Internal 8GB Internal, Expandable Memory Slot 8GB Internal, Amazon Cloud Storage
Browsing Capabilities Basic HTML Experimental Full Browser w/ Flash Support Silk Browser w/ Flash Support
Price $99 – $139 $249 $199

That comparison is based on what features Barnes & Noble has chosen thus far to highlight on the device specs section of the Nook Color sales page, in an effort to present things fairly.  I’m ignoring the majority of software concerns, especially in terms of file type compatibility, since apps are theoretically able to make up for most any deficiency.  These would still, however, favor the new Kindle.  While the Nook Color is the only one of these with an expandable memory slot, which would seem incredibly useful to many users, this has proven a mixed blessing for the company since it provides people with a simple and effective way to bypass the Nook’s proprietary Android build.

Basically it appears that with the Kindle Fire Amazon has looked at what the competition was doing and improved on it.  No surprise, that’s what competing products are supposed to do.  They’ve essentially got a slightly smaller, slightly lighter 7″ tablet that they’re not hooked on the idea of presenting as an eReader.  Overall the technology behind the Kindle Fire is newer and more powerful in every way that matters and still comes in at a lower price for the end user.  The only real question now is what B&N does with this information.

We can take as a given that Barnes & Noble is not in a position to provide the same sort of robust media library that Amazon is bringing to customers.  Even if they were to start pulling in video streaming deals and other things along those lines to fill in the gaps, the time factor would be a problem.  What they can do is work to get Netflix, Hulu, or any number of other streaming services on-board as partners.  With Amazon poised to make a move into that market in a larger way than they have so far, it shouldn’t be too difficult.  It would mean giving up on potential media sales revenue, but it also eliminates the need to build up the infrastructure to support that media.  We know that rooted Nook Colors are able to access services like Netflix already, so it would only make sense to cash in on it given how easily root-able these devices have proven to be.

There is also the rumor of a new Nook Color that will bring hardware upgrades.  Now, this is pretty flimsy in spite of having seen posts declaring it would be released “any day now” since early September, but it could make a big difference to their presence in the device market.  While a price drop in the current Nook Color is a given, having a newer more powerful model available would work well whether it was a more expensive option or as an outright replacement.  In the former scenario it would highlight the fact of the low price point while providing options.  In the latter, there is room to hope that in some way the Kindle Fire will be inferior.  If the hardware option is going to make a difference, however, it needs to happen soon.  Once people start getting their hands on the Kindle Fire, barring major issues with them, the momentum is likely to increase leading into the holiday season.

What we do know is that the Nook line as a whole is pretty much the only part of Barnes & Noble that is growing right now.  They need to keep things going.  As a result, you can be sure that something is on the horizon to keep the situation competitive.  Tablet PCs just tend to be the most useful when it comes to things that aren’t reading, so it might take a bit of a shift for B&N to really make their presence known now that there are comparably priced options available.  Whether or not they manage remains to be seen, but hopes are high.  While the Nook Color has not been my favorite device personally, it did provide us with one of the first reasonably priced yet fully functional tablets almost by mistake (rooting is essential in a way that many are hoping will not be the case with the Kindle Fire).  It would be a shame to seem them fall aside now.

Kindle Touch vs Kindle Keyboard: Is It Worth An Upgrade?

Some of the longest running customer demands for the Kindle line have been a touchscreen, a color display, and a price under $100.  The Kindle Touch and Kindle Fire each manage a different combination of two out of those three.  The big question now is what this means for Kindle owners.  Is the addition of these features worth the cost of purchasing a new eReader, even as cheap as they’ve become?  For that matter, should people just now coming to the eReader experience jump on the newer Kindle Touch or the Kindle Keyboard being sold for the same price?

In order to facilitate a more informed decision, let’s take a look at what differentiates the two devices:

Kindle Keyboard
Kindle Touch
Display 6″ E INK Pearl 6″ E INK Pearl
Connectivity WiFi + Optional 3G WiFi + Optional 3G
Battery Life 2 Month 2 Months
Weight 8.5 – 8.7 Ounces 7.5 – 7.8 Ounces
Dimensions 7.5″ x 4.8″ x 0.34″ 6.8″ x 4.7″ x 0.40″
Storage 4GB (3,500 Books) 4GB (3,000 Books)
Features Full Physical QWERTY Keyboard IR Touchscreen, X-Ray, EasyReach
Price $99 – $139 $99 – $149

Not quite as much as one might think, really.

Kindle Touch

The Kindle Touch is the newer device.  As might be expected in the portable electronics field, it is smaller, lighter, and faster (if videos posted to highlight the device’s anticipated user experience can be trusted).  Removing the physical keyboard seems to have saved about an ounce, which while equaling a weight reduction of over 10% still means little enough to not factor into any decisions.  At that point any case you get will probably render the point meaningless anyway.  It is also slightly smaller than the Kindle Keyboard, for obvious reasons.  You save almost an inch on the vertical and all other measurements are comparable. For a direct comparison, check out the device overlay here:

The real differences that come in stem from software improvements.  As you might notice in the table above, though the two Kindles share the same storage space measurement they have different listed book capacities.  This is because there are a couple things going on in the Kindle Touch software that the Kindle Keyboard does not have access to, which decreases the available area of the device’s storage a bit.

The less significant, though still quite useful given the interface, is the EasyReach system.  This partitions off the touchscreen so that the majority of the screen can be tapped for paging forward while the leftmost edge of the screen will work as a backward page turning button.  This eliminates the need for finger swiping.  Swiping was certainly a fine idea and emulates the page turning experience found in a paper book to a certain extent, but it gets old after a few hundred pages as anybody who wore out their original Nook can likely attest to.

More importantly, the Kindle Touch will be coming with something called X-Ray.  The X-Ray feature is basically intended to be an intelligent extension of the search function, based on Amazon’s description.  Not only will it find instances of word use, though, it will supposedly find all instances of a character, idea, place, or topic throughout as well as linking to relevant articles on either Wikipedia or Amazon’s own Shelfari service.  How successful this feature is remains to be seen, but Amazon clearly places a lot of confidence in it and emphasizes their own expertise in machine learning and data processing in explaining how they can make such a bold claim.  The product page literally says that “The vision is to have every important phrase in every book.”  An intriguing, if highly ambitious claim.

Kindle Keyboard

The benefits of a Kindle Keyboard are a bit more modest.  Aside from it being a proven device with very few shortcomings attached to it at this point, you also get physical buttons, more application/game options, and a slightly different experience in 3G usage.

The keyboard isn’t the most wonderful thing in the world, but it does the job.  This will be a benefit for anybody who prefers feedback on their button pressing.  It also means that more of the games and other applications currently available will work for you.  For the most part developers have been able to assume the presence of these controls up until this point and it is unlikely that many will be able to adapt to a touchscreen display.  This is not to say that there won’t be plenty of games and such that exclusively use the touchscreen in the future, but for now Kindle Keyboard owners have a clear advantage when it comes to non-reading eReader usage.

The 3G coverage that I mentioned is also noticeably more useful than that on the Kindle Touch.  Unlike the newer device, the Kindle Keyboard remains able to access the entirety of the internet through this connection (albeit in a sub-par browser), while the new Kindle will be restricted to the Kindle Store and Wikipedia.  Anything more is going to require access to a WiFi network, in which situations you will generally be able to access a more internet friendly device anyway.  Of course, I am personally taking this as a sign that the Kindle Keyboard is either going to be phased out in the near future or blocked off in a fashion similar to the Kindle Touch, but it is safe to say that current owners and near-future adopters will not be affected.

Conclusions:

When it comes right down to it, there isn’t enough difference between these two to really justify an upgrade.  If you own a Kindle Keyboard already and have no particular attachments to touchscreens or potentially super-smart text searches, you shouldn’t feel too bad about waiting a while before getting another eReader.  If you’re new to the whole eReader scene, I would probably recommend the $99 Kindle Touch.  It is the newest and most likely to be supported in the long term, especially in terms of firmware updates.  In addition, you get the touchscreen interface which is certain to be a bit more versatile for most users when compared to the directional control on other Kindles.  Completely worth it considering both devices are the same price anyway.

Kindle Comparison By Screen Contrast

With Kindle 4 being released, some people on forums started arguing whether Pearl eInk screen is the same in $99 Kindle Keyboard and $79 Kindle 4 “Non-Touch”. Both sides have posted side-by-side photos to support their claims. Having recently obtained a Spyder 3 Print SR colorimeter for purposes of calibrating my printer I decided to do my own research.

Telling whether two colors are the same or not is a tricky business. Lighting, our eyes and brain can play tricks on us that can be best illustrated by this short video.

Different colors may appear the same under different lighting conditions or if they are positioned in a certain way. The opposite can also be true. The biggest factor is the context – what is around objects that we try to color-match. It can make things appear darker or lighter or even change tint. This is where precision colorimeters come in. Precision colorimeter is a device that contains calibrated light source and calibrated color sensor that measures color of a very small spot on an object. This eliminates effects of external lighting and takes our eyes out of the equation. It produces 3 numbers “L”, “a” and “b” that precisely identify a color regardless of its origin or context. “L” stands for lightness. It measures how bright the color is. This is what one would care the most when evaluating grayscale device such as Kindle. “a” and “b” contain information about color – whether it is green or blue. Ideal neutral gray color has both “a” and “b” equal zero.

In the past I did some very crude measurements to compare Kindle 2 and Kindle 3 with my DSLR by trying to keep lighting consistent across exposures. This time I used the Spyder colorimeter to compare Kindle 4 and Kindle 3. I also threw Kindle 2 and Kindle 1 I had in the mix to gather more data and validate my DSLR measurements. I created 16 PNG files that contain monotonous squares ranging from #000000 to #ffffff with #111111 as a step. I copied these files on Kindle devices and measured each square with colorimeter. To make results consistent I refreshed the screen by pressing Alt-G before each measurement (Keyboard+Back on Kindle 4). If I weren’t lazy I would measure each color multiple times and average out the results. However after some testing I found little variation in measurements of the same color so I let it slide. Below is the table with measurement results and a graph to illustrate it.

Kindle 4
Kindle 3
Kindle 2
Kindle 1
L a b L a b L a b L a b
00        17.87        (0.74)        (3.91)        18.17        (1.18)        (3.16)        22.67        (1.30)        (2.07)        28.52        (1.17)        (2.59)
11        20.22        (1.10)        (3.93)        22.56        (1.33)        (3.32)        24.95        (1.01)        (2.19)        28.52        (1.17)        (2.59)
22        23.56        (1.35)        (4.17)        23.43        (1.17)        (3.41)        28.11        (1.40)        (2.33)        29.05        (0.98)        (2.57)
33        26.41        (1.17)        (4.44)        27.54        (1.23)        (3.29)        30.70        (1.08)        (2.22)        32.08        (1.35)        (2.54)
44        28.12        (1.66)        (4.14)        31.95        (1.54)        (3.40)        34.45        (1.11)        (1.95)        37.06        (1.42)        (2.34)
55        32.60        (1.61)        (4.14)        34.75        (0.87)        (3.50)        36.71        (1.29)        (1.80)        39.31        (1.14)        (2.05)
66        35.87        (1.49)        (3.75)        36.90        (1.80)        (3.58)        39.96        (1.36)        (1.62)        39.31        (1.04)        (2.17)
77        38.45        (1.78)        (3.98)        40.38        (1.82)        (3.59)        42.93        (1.33)        (1.52)        40.89        (1.60)        (2.11)
88        41.18        (1.76)        (3.66)        43.40        (1.75)        (3.55)        45.21        (1.24)        (1.57)        44.21        (1.78)        (2.11)
99        45.63        (2.11)        (3.43)        46.51        (1.79)        (3.33)        48.38        (1.56)        (1.59)        51.48        (1.77)        (1.82)
aa        49.13        (2.04)        (3.22)        48.99        (1.96)        (3.16)        50.56        (1.56)        (1.34)        51.48        (1.77)        (1.82)
bb        51.86        (1.92)        (2.98)        50.94        (2.14)        (3.03)        53.11        (1.67)        (1.34)        53.62        (1.69)        (1.50)
cc        54.81        (1.85)        (2.50)        54.06        (2.01)        (2.77)        56.20        (1.42)        (0.83)        59.75        (1.49)        (0.63)
dd        57.36        (2.01)        (2.17)        57.28        (1.76)        (2.19)        59.14        (1.59)        (0.54)        65.91        (1.23)          0.51
ee        60.86        (1.60)        (1.54)        60.09        (1.60)        (1.98)        62.33        (1.38)          0.24        68.20        (1.20)          0.91
ff        63.73        (1.34)        (0.56)        64.02        (1.24)        (1.09)        64.49        (1.05)          0.66        68.20        (1.20)          0.91

Dynamic range of the screen is ratio of brightest and darkest color that it can display:

  • Kindle 4 = 3.57
  • Kindle 3 = 3.52
  • Kindle 2 = 2.84
  • Kindle 1 = 2.39

As you can see, Kindle 3 and Kindle 4 have very similar response curves and dynamic ranges, even despite the fact that I’ve heavily used my Kindle 3 (Keyboard) during the last year, while Kindle 4 is brand new. Perhaps if I had a specimen of unused Kindle Keyboard, measurements would be even closer. On the other hand measurements of Kindle 2 and Kindle 1 are very different from K3/K4. According to Amazon these devices use different screen technology and it shows. These results are also very much in line with my rough DSLR measurements from last year. Kindle 1 supports only 8 shades or gray (as opposed to 16 in later models) and it can be seen in a non-linear character or its transfer curve.

Bottom line: Kindle 4 and Kindle 3 have very similar screens to the point of being identical. While point is the same in Kindle 2 and Kindle 3/4, but Kindle 2 has lighter darks. Kindle 1 has lighter whites but also even lighter darks than Kindle 2.

A Kindle 3 vs Kindle 4 Comparison

While the new Kindles have been announced, right now all we have to choose from if we want to read something right this minute are the Kindle Keyboard (formerly the Kindle 3) and the Kindle (or Kindle 4 as we were calling it to differentiate).  While neither one is a bad option at all, it wouldn’t have been worth announcing new versions of the Kindle if the old ones weren’t going to be exceeded in some ways.  What makes this launch unique, however, is that rather than simply improving on just about everything, such as in the jump from second to third generation devices, here we have a variety of different feature sets to choose from, each with some merit.  It seemed worth a look at the two we can get our hands on for comparison.

Superior Reading Experience: Kindle 4

As might be expected, the Kindle 4 definitely seems to offer the better reading experience.  It is smaller, lighter, slightly faster, and somehow just more comfortable to hold.  This is not to say that there is any problem with the Kindle Keyboard, but if all you care about is the feel as you flip from page to page, the Kindle 4 has an edge.  This is especially noticeable in the reduced page refresh time, though even on the Kindle Keyboard it is fast enough to be a non-issue.

Book Browsing: Kindle Keyboard

Whether you’re talking about searching your library for a particular book you’ve been wanting to read or finding a passage in that book that you were hoping to share with some friends, it is simply easier to do on the Kindle Keyboard.  Being limited to nothing more than a directional controller and an on-screen keyboard makes that sort of thing quite tedious on the Kindle 4.  If you have a particularly large library then navigating without searching might take you quite a while. This is also, incidentally, the case when it comes to annotating your books as you read them.  Obviously, anything involving text will be simpler when you can type, though highlighting is about the same.  Of course this ease of use will likely be surpassed by the Kindle Touch, but that’s a whole other blog.

Shopping & Internet Browsing: Kindle Keyboard

This essentially comes back to the same point as before.  While it is certainly possible to use the Kindle 4 to do all the things that the Kindle Keyboard can do, it is slower and more obnoxious.  Unless you are prone to buying nothing but bestsellers, for example, you’re better off hopping on a computer to do your Kindle Store shopping rather than using the actual eReader.  The Kindle Keyboard also offers optional 3G coverage with full internet connectivity for life (albeit in the rather limited experimental browser) where the Kindle 4 does not, which is worth taking into consideration.

Battery Life: Kindle Keyboard

Battery life is an important factor in some ways, but might be trivial here.  If I were comparing the iPad and any Kindle device, it would be a major difference since the E INK screen allows for battery life measures in weeks rather than hours.  When comparing the Kindle 4 and the Kindle Keyboard, however, it’s the difference between one month and two between charges.  I don’t know about anybody else, but if I only have to charge once a month my biggest problem becomes remembering where I put the charger rather than getting the most possible life out of the battery.  I only point it out because the Kindle Keyboard is supposed to last twice as long, making it slightly superior for heavy readers or long term travel.

Adaptability to User Preferences: Kindle 4

Not only is the Kindle 4 the smaller, lighter device, it is also available to a wider audience right out the door.  By doing away with the English keyboard, Amazon gave themselves an opening to allow language changing in the device’s OS.  If you like to enjoy non-English books for any reason, this can make a difference in avoiding jarring language switching while navigating.  Also, perfect for non-English speakers.  Sadly Amazon has not yet found a good way to allow customers to move from one country to another with their Kindles, which really removes some of the appeal for this feature.  We can hope that this is on the horizon, though.

Price: Kindle 4

This one is probably a bit obvious, but the Kindle 4′s ad supported model is 20% cheaper than the Kindle Keyboard’s.  While they are both incredibly affordable, it’s a factor that many people will want to take into account.  Also, be aware that should you decide to remove the Special Offers feature from your device, it will be $10 cheaper to do so on the Kindle 4.  You are required to pay the difference between ad supported and normal models when you make the switch, which in this case makes a bit of a difference.

Summary

When it comes right down to it, these devices are hard to compare feature for feature because they are essentially the same thing.  The keyboard is nice if you’re the sort of person who uses it (once you get used to it), but most people won’t need it at all.  Unless you have a good use for it, need to use your eReader via 3G due to lack of WiFi connectivity, travel enough (and lightly enough) to have trouble charging more than every 6 weeks or so, or just plain hate the new aluminum casing on the Kindle 4, there isn’t a compelling reason to prefer the Kindle Keyboard.  That said, if you truly want a stand alone device for reading then the Kindle 4′s lack of ease in shopping might be a major problem for you.  Trying to find the book you want using the directional controller to peck at an on screen keyboard is painful and will likely put you off entirely unless you know in advance exactly what book you want to purchase.  There are definitely good cases to be made on both sides of the comparison.

Kindle Touch, Kindle Fire – New Amazon devices announced…

Today, on September 28th, 2011, during Amazon press conference in New York, Jeff Bezos has announced several new versions of the Kindle Device: Kindle Touch, Kindle Fire and Kindle 4 mini.

Kindle Touch

 

Kindle Touch 3G

Will have a 6″ latest generation eInk. There will be no keyboard, not even page flipping buttons, with all features accessible via “easy reach” system touch interface. Touchscreen uses the same infrared technology as latest generation Sony eReaders. Kindle Touch is made of silver plastic (again similar to latest Sony eReaders). It will be available on November 21st with pre-orders starting today in two flavors – WiFi only for less than a $100.00 (!!!!) -$99 and 3G for $149. Amazon is pretty consistent with charging $50 for “lifetime unlimited 3G access available in over 100 countries”. It seems like the software has gotten an upgrade as well with the new X-Ray feature that lets you do rich text lookups that go beyond looking up single words in the dictionary. It seems to pull Wikipedia description of general concepts mentioned on the page you are currently reading.

Features and specs:

Kindle 4 (mini)

Kindle 4 mini

Same 6″ screen, but no touch, no keyboard, only with page flipping buttons. Because of this the device is both very compact and inexpensive. It is 18 smaller than Kindle 3 and weights under 6 ounces. Priced at only $79 with Special Offers and $109 without and shipping today. The device is actually called just “Kindle”, with Kindle 3 being creatively renamed into “Kindle Keyboard”.

Specs and feature:

  • Latest generation eInk Pearl screen (600×800 16 grayscale) – same as Kindle 3
  • Size: 6.5″ x 4.5″ x 0.34″
  • Weight: 5.98 oz. This is 2.5 ounces lighter than Kindle 3, and only 0.5 ounce more than Sony PRS-350
  • Storage: 2GB internal flash, with 1 1/4 GB available for user content
  • RAM: 512MB SDRAM memory
  • Battery: 1 month battery life
  • Wireless connectivity: 802.11b/g/n WiFi. No 3G option available at this time
  • Wired connectivity: micro-B USB 2.0 connector
  • Audio: headphone jack and built-in stereo speakers
  • Pricing:
  • Available: Can Order Now!

Kindle Fire

Kindle Fire Tablet

Amazon’s entry into the tablet market, currently dominated by Apple iPad. Kindle Fire features:

  • 7-inch color backlit LCD display based on IPS technology that allows good viewing from wide range of angles
  • LCD is protected with extra-strong Gorilla-glass.
  • Dual core ARM CPU
  • Weighs 14.6 ounces
  • Runs heavily modified version of Android operating system

Kindle Fire will have direct and easy access to a broad range of content:

  • First and foremost – over 1,000,000 (and counting…) of Kindle eBooks
  • Color versions of newspapers and magazines
  • 100,000 movies and TV shows streaming from Amazon. 11,000 of these are available for free to Amazon Prime subscribers
  • 17 million DRM-free MP3 songs
  • Amazon’s own Android app store.

Kindle Fire seems to rely heavily on Amazon Cloud Storage.

Same WhisperSync technology that synchronizes book reading position across multiple devices now works with movies and TV shows – it automatically remembers last watched position. You can resume watching the movie on your TiVo or any other Amazon-connected streaming video device.

Touch UI supports swipe gestures to bring out extra controls, very similar to Windows 8 concept. It looks nothing like vanilla Android. Homescreen features 3D carousel of most recently accessed content regardless of it’s type: in the demo Angry Birds game is shown right next to the latest issue of Vanity Fair magazine and Kindle eBooks. OS supports multitasking. So you can listen to music while you are reading a book. You can pin any kind of content (including a website bookmark) to your Home screen bookshelf. Full color magazine display seems to be much smoother than with original version of Nook Color.

Browser user interface has tabs at the top. Kindle Fire features Amazon Silk – “cloud based mobile browser”. The browser automatically off-loads part of the page parsing and rendering to Amazon EC2 servers, helping the mobile device to load desktop oriented websites heavy with dynamic content and javascript quickly.

Price point is $199 as was previously announced. This includes 30-day trial of Amazon Prime service that normally sells as $79/year subscription. Kindle Fire ships on November 15th, 2011 with pre-orders starting today.

Specs and features:

  • Screen: 7″ backlit IPS LCD with multi-touch and gestures. 1024 x 600 resolution with 24 bit color
  • Size: 7.5″ x 4.7″ x 0.45″
  • Weight: 14.6 oz. This is 1.2 lighter than Nook Color
  • Storage: 8GB internal flash memory. No expansion slots (SD/MMC/etc) are available. It does however have access to Amazon Cloud Storage which is unlimited for Amazon content
  • Battery: Up to 8 hours on a single charge. Very similar to Nook Color. There is no cheating laws of physics there.
  • Wireless connectivity: 802.11b/g/n. No 3G option at this time
  • Wired connectivity: micro-B USB 2.0 connector
  • Audio: headphone jack and built-in stereo speakers
  • Data formats: on top of supporting the usual bunch that Kindle 3 supports, Kindle Fire adds native support for DOCX and a number of DRM-free audio-formats
  • OS: heavily modified Android
  • Sensors: Accelerometer
  • Digital content:
    • 1,000,000+ in-copyright books. 800,000+ of these are priced at $9.99 or below. Millions more – out of copyright
    • 100,000+ movies and TV shows available for streaming
    • 1000s of Android apps. This is only a subset of what’s available for Android. On the other hand, acceptance criteria is much higher so overall app quality is much better than you average Android app. Nook, Kobo app availability… I’m guessing not.
    • 17,000,000+ DRM-free Mp3 songs from Amazon MP3 store
  • Email client that works with major providers like Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo, AOL, etc. Additional email support is available though apps that can be separately purchased.
  • One month trial of Amazon Prime.
  • Pricing: $199
  • Availability: Ships on November 15, 2011. Pre-orders available now.

Amazon Kindle Fire TV ad

Size comparison

I’ve added these new devices to the eReader Size Comparison page. So now you can visually compare how they stack.

  • Kindle Mini is smaller than Sony PRS-350 while featuring same buttons and screen size.
  • Kindle Touch is smaller than Nook Color again while featuring the same screen diagonal.

AmazonLocal, Meet Amazon Kindle

Anybody remember not too many months back when I speculated that the coming of the Kindle w/ Special Offers meant a strong possibility of an Amazon move against the Groupon dominated local offer business?  Yeah, I’m definitely taking full credit for the idea and feel that I am sure to be getting royalty checks any day now.  Well, maybe not…

Anyway, as was previously speculated would be the case, the popular ad-supported Kindle will now be playing host to a series of locale specific deals through the AmazonLocal program.  The AmazonLocal program, for those who have yet to get any information about it, is a local deals web service that offers customers as much as 75% off of various goods and services in their areas.  They launched it earlier this year, and have been spreading the service’s influence throughout the US.  So far, 44 locations across 15 states are covered and more are popping up all the time.  While it is separate from the Amazon owned LivingSocial deal site, many deals sourced through LivingSocial can be found in both places.

The initial Kindle deals will be limited to New York City customers.  Kindle owners in Downtown, Midtown, Uptown, and Brooklyn will get to take advantage of a few offers over the next couple weeks that should make the idea of ads on the Kindle even more attractive.  According to the recent press release, the first few big offers for New Yorkers will include:

  • $7 for a one-hour bike rental in Central Park ($15 value)
  • $5 for $10 at Dangerfield’s Comedy club
  • $59 for one month unlimited yoga classes at Bikram Yoga Grand Central ($180 value)
  • $5 for $10 worth of ice cream and ice cream cakes at Coldstone Creamery
  • $45 for lunch at City Winery ($98 value)

The major attraction of the Kindle integration with AmazonLocal will be the completely computer-free access to the service.  Not only will potential customers be able to encounter new deals as a matter of course without going out of their way, just by closing their books and glancing at the screensaver, but even the purchases will be taken care of.  Customers wanting to make the purchase offered through this program will be able to grab it through the eReader and present the redemption voucher as an item displayed on the screen to the business in question.

This functionality, while not yet a part of the Kindle experience, will be included in an upcoming software update.  Once again, it seems that devices that do not have the integrated Special Offers will be left out of the promotion, increasing the overall appeal of an ad supported eReader.  Given the unobtrusive nature of the advertisements while reading, and the value of the advertisements that have been and will soon be offered, it will be no surprise if the Kindle w/ Special Offers is appealing for far more than simply the associated price cut.  Should you be somebody who is both interested in the offers and uninterested in ads on your Kindle, make sure to check out www.AmazonLocal.com!

Is Now The Right Time To Buy A Nook?

With the knowledge that a new Kindle is on the horizon there are reasons that it might seem to be worth holding back on your new Nook purchase to see what is coming, but is it worth the wait?  At present there are a lot of great products on the market and as tempting as it is to wait for the next big thing, there comes a point when holding off gets silly.  With that in mind, is it worth the risk, however slight, of picking up what may soon be an inferior product?

The biggest thing to decide right off the bat is what you are looking for in your eReader.  Right now, the Nook Simple Touch and Kindle 3 (no matter which type you choose) offer very similar experiences.  The best E INK screens available, page refresh far faster than you could reliably turn pages in a paper book, light and comfortable to hold, literally months of battery life, and a direct connection into each’s respective amazingly comprehensive eBook store.  Aside from a couple very small particulars, neither one is physically superior to the other.

If you have to choose right now, based on nothing but the hardware, then you’re essentially on even ground with these two.  The Nook Simple Touch is newer, slightly faster, has a touchscreen display, and is a couple inches shorter.  The Kindle has the option of 3G coverage, a physical keyboard, and external contacts that can power a book light should you be inclined to use such an accessory.  None of these factor in much when it comes right down to reading a book under normal circumstances.

There is always the fact that the new Kindle is coming out soon and will certainly have upgrades that make it stand out, but what real point of superiority is going to put it over the top right now?  Short of having a non-backlit color screen to make color eBooks a better choice, there isn’t much room to grow.  The Kindle 3 is perfect for reading on, in that once you get started you can forget how you’re reading and just concentrate on the book.  The new Nook does the same thing just as well.  Chances are, the new Kindle will accomplish it again.  As much as I’m looking forward to picking up the new model, and would recommend avoiding any Kindle purchases until it comes out since it is only a couple months away at this point, it does not factor into a Kindle vs Nook decision.

The most important thing in deciding is going to be who you want to do business with.  As I pointed out recently, it is definitely possible to jump from one platform to another if you have the patience to deal with file conversion.  Nobody really wants to bother with that, though.  Since pricing and selection are pretty similar no matter where you buy your eBooks right now, there isn’t a compelling reason to go back and forth between them.  It is likely that wherever you amass your first collection of eBooks is where you’re going to stay.  If Barnes & Noble is the eReader provider for you, don’t let speculation about new Kindles scare you off.  There might be some room for the Kindle to advance right now, but to think that it will be enough in the near future to completely knock competition out of the ballpark is a bit far fetched.

Refurbished Kindles Cause Customer Dilemma

I am unable to really express how often over the last year or two I have heard from people the idea that the Kindle will never hit it big until they get their pricing under the hundred dollar mark.  This has not stopped the Kindle from becoming overwhelmingly popular, but it makes a great talking point for people who want to argue for discounts or claim Tablet PC superiority in eReading.  Finally, however, we can have an end to the idea’s repetition.  There is now a Refurbished Kindle available for just $99. There are other factors involved that might make this a deal worth waiting on, though.

The $99 pricing seems appealing and probably will sway a few people.  I seem to recall that discounted refurbs toward the end of the Kindle 2′s life cycle did the same.  Still, before you jump on it, it is important to keep in mind what this move is likely to imply.  Rumors abound, both substantial and completely speculative, about the upcoming next generation of Kindle products.  We can be almost 100% sure that they will be showing up in the next three months, but beyond that there is little total certainty due to the expected overlapping release of the first Kindle Tablet and the difficulties inherent in trying to pick through the bits of information we have to determine which bit goes to which device.  Given competition in the eReader marketplace alongside some business moves that Amazon has made lately, though, we can make some pretty solid assumptions.

Amazon will, it can be assumed, be releasing a new touchscreen Kindle.  It is very, very likely that it will run Android in some form.  There are certain to be several incarnations of it to allow for choice between WiFi, 3G, ad support, and the combinations thereof that we have become accustomed to.  It is very unlikely that the new Kindle baseline model will cost more than the $114 currently being asked for the cheapest brand new Kindle on sale right this minute.

The question potential customers have to ask, then, is what factors matter in their choice.  If this is meant to show Amazon that you will not support Kindles over $100, then it is a good way to put your money into making your point while still getting a great product.  If you are in a hurry and don’t feel like waiting to get the new Kindle, then it makes sense to pick up one of these.  Never any harm in grabbing a refurbished product from a company that is known to have excellent customer service.  If you don’t have a point to make and aren’t in a rush, however, I can’t see that holding back to see how well the Kindle 4/Kindle Touch/Kindle Whatevertheycallit stacks up compared to the competition.  There’s no reason to believe that there won’t still be Kindle 3 refurbs and back stock sitting around by then anyway, probably discounted even further or sold through Woot.com.  While there are rumors going around that many customers will be getting brand new Kindles labeled as refurbished in order to be sneaky about their official new product announcement, it is hard to see Amazon running out completely in the next couple weeks.

How Much Do You Have To Read For The Amazon Kindle To Be Worth Buying?

There are any number of reasons to pick yourself up a Kindle, from convenience of transportation to instant 24-hour delivery of all new book purchases, but let’s take it down to the basics for a moment.  Assuming that you have absolutely no concern besides the direct tradeoffs with paper, how much do you have to read before your Kindle has justified itself?

Pricing

We’ll make the somewhat depressing assumption that you read nothing but current bestsellers.  I sincerely hope this isn’t the case, of course, but it makes the price estimation easier for me and negates the obvious point of free books that you should already be aware save you money.  Looking through the top 15 bestselling new hardcover book releases in the Amazon.com store(not the Kindle Store since that might indicate a customer predisposition toward discounted books), there are 13 books that the Kindle saves money on, one where the price is even based on pre-order discounting, and one book that is not available in Kindle format.

The actual average savings on those books that are available is around $2.47(ranging from $0.98 to $5), but for the sake of argument we can round it down to $2.  Always better to err on the side of caution.  This means approximately 58 Kindle books purchased during the life of your Kindle device before it has saved you money, if you pick up the $114 Kindle WiFi w/ Special Offers.  Now, I’m aware that reading five books per week is abnormal so my average doesn’t really play into this.  For the sake of argument, it seems safe to assume a conservative pattern of finishing a book every two weeks.  That would mean that you have to own a Kindle for a little over two years before it saves you any money, assuming this level of consumption and no taking advantage of special offers or hunting for savings.  Not unreasonable, if perhaps more than some would like.  These things do work pretty much forever if you take care of them.  It also might be worth knowing that Kindle owners are said to buy books at more than three times the rate of paper book customers, which speeds things up a bit.

Impact

Another major concern that has come up before is the environmental impact of eReading.  While there is definitely a lot more that goes into the manufacture of an eReader like the Kindle than ever would in a paper book, there is more than that to take into account. Between production, transportation, storage, shipping, and all the other associated fuel costs, each book creates a noticeable amount of pollution.  The question is where these numbers cross over.

Last year, in reference to Kindle 2 production, a report came out on the impact of producing Kindles compared to that of books which said that a Kindle creates a bit over 20 times as much pollution as a book in its creation.  You could always assume that Amazon has gotten more efficient in their production with the next generation of the device, improved processes being good at that sort of thing, but let’s ignore that speculation and focus on what numbers we actually have.  Round that first estimation up to 30 books worth if you want to account for the impact of charging your Kindle and I would be willing to bet that there are still very, very few people ever to own an eReader who didn’t manage to offset these totals.

Putting aside used books and libraries, since if you buy used books then you already know the advantages and the interaction between libraries and Kindles is in flux at the moment and hard to judge in the long term, picking up a Kindle, or any eReader, is just generally a good long term investment for you and the planet.

Office Max Gets the Kindle

Starting August 7, Office Max will start carrying the Kindle. It is the latest major retail chain to offer the e-reader. It joins Best Buy, Target, Radio Shack, Staples, and most recently, Toys R Us, in selling the Kindle.

It is not clear whether the office supply retailer will be selling both the Kindle 3 and Kindle DX. The Kindle 3 with special offers is the bestselling version, so that is a shoo in.

Only July 30, Office Max started carrying the Nook, which just lowered its price to $139 for its touch screen e-reader. This puts the devices in direct competition and gives Amazon the nudge to get a touch screen version of its bestselling e-reader out there.

The Nook has given the Kindle a pretty big run for its money in recent months, beating it for the first time in sales ratings. I can’t wait to see what Amazon has in store for the new Kindle lineup. I’m sure they will amp up their efforts to take the lead back.

So now we have the Kindle hitting a variety of consumers: business, education, parents and children, and of course online shoppers.

Office Max will offer the Kindle just in time to hit the back to school crowd, which is perfect considering this retailer sells school supplies.

Head Back To School With A Kindle

Well, it’s August again.  That means it is definitely time to get things ready for the upcoming school year for all those parents out there.  Normally, this is where I would come right out and say “Hey, buy them a Kindle and save money in the long run!”  We’ll consider that a given for all the usual reasons like pricing and saving on precious and increasingly overused bag space and move on to why this year provides some interesting factors to take into consideration.  It’s also a great way to encourage a little bit more reading in kids who are otherwise bombarded with far too many other attention draws to consider it time well spent without something extra to make it appealing.

The pricing on eReaders has gotten to the point where, pretty much across the board, they are affordable as replacements for the sort of fiction that usually comes up in schools.  When you are used to paying $7.99 per book for something you can get on a Kindle for a dollar or even for free, the device pays for itself pretty quick.  The same is true of the competition as well, naturally.  Right now, as far as school use goes, I would consider both the Nook Simple Touch and any of the Kindles as ideal for the purpose.

The most important factor, aside from text pricing and availability which are fairly universal as relates to what might be required in these circumstances, is durability.  Ideally, you don’t want to have to replace whatever you go for any time soon since it can take the better part of a year for the savings to offset the purchase price unless your child is a big reader. The new touchscreen Kobo isn’t bad, but it feels a bit flimsy by comparison with others.  Both the Kindle and Nook at this point are pretty equally rugged and have a large variety of cases available for protection and personalization. Do not skip getting a case, if you can help it.  These are generally solid devices, but even an inexpensive case like those in the Marware Eco-Vue line is enough to save from most wear and tear taken in transit and even buffer against short falls that would otherwise destroy the screens.

If neither eReader option is quite what you are hoping for, it might be a better choice to hold off on a purchase entirely, for once.  Amazon has two new Kindles on the way, according to seemingly accurate reports.  While they will not be making it in before the beginning of this Fall Semester, being October releases, there promises to be an introduction of touchscreen technology and possibly even a price drop even beyond what has been happening recently with the Kindle in general.  We may even see the first in the new line of Kindle Tablets, making possible all sorts of new uses including the replacement of textbooks.  That latter point, of course, won’t apply to most pre-college students, but it might be important for kids who are near to graduating and moving on.

Can The Kindle Be The Future Of Newspapers?

While a great deal of effort has been put into supporting a supposed opposition between eReaders like the Kindle and traditional paper publications, there are some places where paper just wasn’t really cutting it even before the eReader came along.  Specifically, I’m thinking about newspapers.  It’s practically become a cliche to point out that most people get their news from the internet these days, when they aren’t just watching TV, because why wait until tomorrow to learn what’s happening today?  Deciding what needs to be done for traditional news vendors to stay relevant will probably be difficult, but it seems inevitable that things like the Kindle will play a large part.

Now, I can’t claim that this is a new thought, exactly.  The New York Times has found what appears to be one method for making the most of new technology.  Kindle subscribers, as well as Nook subscribers and anybody who wants to pay to get this benefit a la carte, can not only get their regular issues delivered but access the paper’s website in its entirety without any of the annoying restrictions that the average non-subscriber has to put up with.  While they have seen a decline in overall subscribers and ad revenue recently, the NYT reports a noticeable jump in Kindle subscribers.  There would seem to be other options, though.  There practically have to be since not every paper can leverage the kind of reputation that the NYT brings to the market.

My favorite theoretical idea, which I admittedly have no idea as to the practicality of, is inspired by the Barnes & Noble in store Nook experience.  Location based subscriptions that allow access to a publication or collection of publications, especially local ones, while on the premises.  It offers the same sort of benefits to the business doing the subscribing that having paper copies on hand would, which is not uncommon in coffee shops, libraries, etc, but without the bulk, waste, opportunity for damage, or potentially outdated news.  Just bring your Kindle or Nook in and read your paper over a drink.

Ideas aside, since as I mentioned I can’t really judge the practicality of the many approaches that are available, one of the biggest issues will probably be a change in mindset.  Newspapers are traditionally reliant on their advertising revenue.  On something like a Kindle, you don’t have nearly as much space for that, even if you have an eReader-specific edition of your paper.  The native web browser even offers an impressively effective Article Mode that will remove them from anything a reader happens to be looking through on a paper’s website.  It isn’t like this is unique, given ad blocking extensions available for pretty much every web browser on the market.  About the only place that people are forced to look at ads when they don’t want to anymore is on paper.  It is a complicated problem, but the Kindle offers more potential than most options.  Something like the WOWIO eBook advertisement wrapping around a daily package of news delivery might just do the trick?

The Amazon Kindle’s International Future

At the moment, and in spite of some admittedly impressive competition, the Kindle is pretty much the biggest thing in eReading.  In a given review or opinion, another eReader might come out on top as the new Nook Simple Touch Reader has managed to do lately, but nothing else has managed the level of distribution and quality of content that Amazon has pulled off so far.  The margin isn’t all that it used to be, though.  In order to keep on top of things, they are going to have to do more than we have seen in the past couple months.  While it would not be entirely out of line to assume that the current focus on the upcoming Kindle Tablet might be drawing attention away from the existing product line, I think there may be more to it than that.

The Kindle, as it stands right now in terms of both the physical eReader and the platform as a whole, is limited in a number of ways.  The current level of control being exerted by publishers prevents any one-upsmanship in terms of pricing.  Amazon has some of the smaller names experimenting with sale offerings, but we have to assume that even if companies start buying into the idea of discounted eBooks it will not be a platform specific thing.  That avenue is closed for now.  They’re doing a rather good job of getting a lot of self publishing authors into their stores, which helps, but assume that at the moment there is not much that can be done to fix up the store as we know it.

The device itself is also pretty much at the peak of what we can hope for.  It has the best screen technology available, amazing battery life, whatever connectivity options you want, and a lot more.  About the only thing left to complain about is the physical keyboard.  I think this is the first place we can expect major change is here.  We know that one of the new Kindle options we can expect in October will be a touchscreen eReader.  Not only will this reduce the size of the Kindle without losing the functionality of the admittedly difficult to use keyboard and appease the crowd of people who really don’t like physical buttons anymore, it will allow true localization.  Hard to really pull that off when every device you sell has a built-in English keyboard.

This also brings up what I believe will be the next big stage in Kindle expansion.  Right now, while a hit in some places, the Kindle platform seems to only be dominating in the US.  Amazon has the experience and resources to spread out a bit.  I would anticipate, following the release of the Kindle Touch and the first generation of the Kindle Tablet (and, of course, the initial patching stage to iron out the bugs), a big effort to get the Kindle out to any market that Amazon thinks is large enough to be worth tackling.  Possibly even before localized firmware is a reality, but with a promise of fully integrated language selection as a later option.  There isn’t any reason to hold back now, and stagnation would lose them the edge.  Amazon has to keep moving and this is the only way that really makes sense as far as eBooks go.

Kindle Textbook Rental Service Not Really Meant For Kindle

In the early days of the Kindle, especially after the initial release of the Kindle DX, it was pretty clear that Amazon had high hopes of it being the biggest piece of portable electronics to hit college campuses since the graphing calculator.  Sadly, this didn’t work out quite how they had hoped.  The Kindle, especially the original Kindle but to an extent even now, was simply unsuited for optimal use in even its most obvious settings.

Of course a 7 inch black and white screen would work out poorly for displaying a chemistry textbook that uses full-color diagrams and often takes up approximately fifty square feet of desk space when opened, but when they couldn’t compete with cheap paperbacks in literature classes, it was time to consider backing off for a bit.  The Agency Model of eBook pricing just drove that ideal moment even further away by removing the element of student savings from the equation.

Now, they’re going back to school and taking a new approach to things.  Not an original approach, per se, but perhaps more effective than what came before.  Even now, the Kindle is perhaps not best suited for the college text, but the fact that the word Kindle appears in the program name might be a bit misleading in this case.  It is hard to see any indication that the Kindle eReader is meant to be an important part of the new program.

Electronic book lending is becoming a big thing on college campuses already.  It makes a lot of sense compared to physical book rentals since the provider isn’t left with stacks of last year’s editions when the release cycle rolls out a new, marginally updated text.  Companies like Chegg and CourseSmart have made names for themselves in this area, though Chegg still seems concentrated on the physical rental option.  Renting saves students money, decreases production/transportation/storage overhead, and has the potential to become the next big thing on campuses.  Of course Amazon would want to get in on this.

Now, you can rent a textbook (assuming the publisher has chosen to make it rentable) for anywhere from 30 to 180 days and save significantly over the purchase price.  The selection isn’t strong yet, but it seems to be growing and the savings can be as much as 80%.  Very few of these books will be worth picking up to read on your Kindle, however.  All of the old objections to textbook reading on a small black and white screen still apply.  That does not make this a silly move for Amazon so much as a possibly mislabeled effort.

When people think of the Kindle Store, they generally associate it with the Kindle.  This makes sense.  In the case of textbooks, however, the target audience is the Kindle App user.  Be it on a PC, Mac, or iPad, a textbook is just going to be more useful on a larger color display.  While I am personally seeing just about everything Amazon does lately as a move to get ready for the upcoming Kindle Tablet, and this would certainly help, even without that they have a solid customer base and freely available software that pretty much everybody knows about.  If they can just find a way to point out to people that the value of the program is not connected to its integration with their Kindle, it could be a huge thing in months to come.

The Unexpected Perks of Kindle Ownership

When you decide to pick up a Kindle for the first time, there are a lot of factors that can play into it.  The first ones that come to mind are also probably the most important.  You’ve got instant access to any book you want to buy no matter what time you want to buy it at.  You can carry around hundreds or thousands of books at a time in your pocket.  Chances are good that you’ll save money overall on your book purchases, if you’re a regular reader.  That sort of thing.  There are a few things that have come up that one might not expect, however.

Something that many people perhaps don’t expect is an actual reduction of clutter.  Many Kindle owners find themselves replacing paperbacks with Kindle Editions over the course of their ownership.  The eBook is more durable and harder to lose.  This can result in a great deal of space saving over the course of dozens of book replacements, many of which can be at least partially subsidized through resale of the used copies unless you’re a fan of library donations.  eReading can come to mean that the only books you actually have to keep track of are the ones you like enough to want to display proudly in hardcover.

Another plus I’ve encountered, though I probably wouldn’t want to put it to the test in any major way, is the durability of the eReader.  I’ve heard plenty of arguments that consolidating to a Kindle means that if you break one thing then you’re out of luck until you replace it, but they have proven difficult to damage in a number of situations.  Moisture generally isn’t a problem, kids can’t tear their pages, and short falls do no damage.  On that last point, maybe it is just me, but every time I drop or knock down a book it seems to fall in just the right way to bend half the pages.  Anybody else find that annoying?  Moving on…

The most outstanding example that I am aware of is probably restricted to the Kindle 3G.  In the aftermath of the string of tornado that made their way through the US in the past few months, many people found themselves without power, let alone internet connectivity.  Thanks to the long life of the Kindle’s battery, there were a number of people that I’ve heard of who were able to find information that they needed and reassure friends and family of their safety in situations where doing so would otherwise have been very difficult.  Cell phones simply don’t often last that long, no matter how conservative you are with their battery life.

Now obviously these aren’t selling points.  The extra functionalities, if you can even call them that, are highly situational.  I’m always interested in perks that can make what was already a great acquisition even more valuable.  There’s more use to be found things like a Kindle than you can generally find on a spec sheet, if you look for it.

Kindle Tablet to Hit the Market in October

I haven’t seen an official Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) announcement yet, but according to the Wall Street Journal, the Kindle Tablet and two other Kindle upgrades are set to arrive in October.  The Kindle Tablet that has been under speculation for months will directly compete with the iPad, while a new touch version of the Kindle will compete with the Nook and Kobo Touch editions.

To be honest, in a matter of personal preference, I am more excited about the possibility of a touch version of the Kindle because I’m not a big fan of the keyboard.  Whenever this does get release, I’ll be ready to upgrade my Kindle.  The keys are way too small and somewhat difficult to press.  However, when the touch version does arrive, there will need to be some kind of audio enabled to make sure it is accessible for people with disabilities.

As for the tablet.  This is exciting news, but the iPad has a pretty solid hold on the tablet market, and is said to be successful on into the next year.  So, I think that it will be awhile before the Kindle Tablet will make a huge dent in iPad sales.  There are also a number of other tablets to choose from as well.  Although, I will say, a much cheaper Kindle Tablet might just give Amazon a good start in the tablet game, as will the well liked Android operating system.  I see the iPad to the tablet market as the Kindle is to the e-reader market.  They are both the inventors of their own niches, and were the only ones to hold their niches for a good length of time.

Lastly, there will be an upgrade on the current version of the Kindle.  It will be similar in structure, but include better features and a lower price.  Prices are dropping constantly.  Amazon just dropped the Kindle 3G Special Offers version from $164 to $139.  So, perhaps a $99 or less version of the Kindle is in the near future?  We can only hope!

Kindle 3G w/ Special Offers Now Only $139

Looks like the Kindle 3G has just become that much more affordable. Apparently, thanks to an agreement with AT&T involving Kindle advertisements, Amazon has been able to drop the price of their 3G model noticeably. Now, for $139, just $25 more than the Kindle WiFi w/ Special Offers, you can’t really argue with the cost of convenience.

The move is well timed, given the current level of competition in the eReader world.  While the Kindle is still pretty much on top, especially internationally, the new Nook Simple Touch and Kobo eReaders are heating things up.  Since there are a few months to wait before the next iteration of the Kindle hits shelves, so to speak, it is important to emphasize the things that they have and nobody else does.  Things like the only really useful 3G connection on an eReader.  There isn’t one at all on the new Nook or Kobo releases, and the Nook 1st Edition is very limited in many ways including the 3G, by comparison.

This also does a lot to demonstrate the potential in the Kindle’s advertising support system.  A surprising number of people got upset at the Kindle w/ Special Offers being discounted rather than entirely free on release.  While I believe that to have been a bit optimistic for something being subsidized by an untried source of revenue, as advertisers catch on the prices will continue to drop.  In addition to the new deal with AT&T, the details of which have not been publicly released to the best of my knowledge, the Kindle is currently being sponsored by such companies as General Motors, Proctor & Gamble, and Chase.  If they were not seeing positive results, it would seem unlikely that even another big advertising partner would be enough to bring a price drop along with it.

For those who are in the market for a new eReader, the Kindle 3G w/ Special Offers retains all of its original functionality.  The screen, battery life, interface, and general readability are all as great as ever.  Even the ads, as much as they are conceptual abhorent to many when talking about their inclusion in a reading experience, are unobtrusive and never even hinted at while you are looking at a book.  The only major differences over the Kindle 3G are that this one is $50 cheaper and gives you something besides the slideshow of author portraits to see as screensavers.

For now this discount only applies to the 3G option, leaving the Kindle WiFi w/ Special Offers witting at $114.  Still a great price, but I would not be at all surprised to see a major sale in the near future.  While it is conceivable that the extra discount has at its core a service agreement that makes the 3G coverage on new Kindles cheaper for Amazon to maintain, which would in turn not apply to the WiFi models, a $25 difference doesn’t exactly set the two Kindles apart much and a $99 Kindle would make for some truly excellent sales numbers if analysts are to be believed.  Something to keep an eye on in weeks to come.