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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 to Launch Kindle Store in Brazil, but No Other Services

The Brazilian market has not seen an entry from Amazon so far, but that looks like it is about to change.  It seems that the Kindle will be launched in Brazil by the holiday season, along with a store that they hope to full with at least 10,000 titles.  Oddly, in what I believe is the only instance of such a thing happening so far, there will be no other Amazon services entering the market at the same time.  That means that for the time being the eBook store will have to stand on its own.

While a full retail store is definitely in plans for Brazil, at the moment there are apparently too many potential dangers in the notoriously complex commercial markets there.  By going entirely digital, many of the shortcomings in infrastructure and tax codes can be somewhat sidestepped.  It’s interesting timing given the fact that Brazil’s consumer growth seems to be trailing off after a decade of impressive growth, but Amazon is far from the only company interested in cashing in on Latin America’s most prosperous economy.

The motivation behind this move is Amazon’s expectation that the Kindle could quickly come to dominate the eBook market.  Apparently some research has indicated that a fairly large number of Brazilian readers already own imported eReaders, including the Kindle, and go out of their way to purchase and download books through stores that are not technically open to the country at this time.  By moving the Kindle Store in, Amazon expects to immediately grab as much as 90% of the country’s eBook sales.  The same source that released this information also mentioned that Amazon is hoping to expand eBook sales from 0.5% of the Brazilian publishing market to 15% within the first year of operations.

We can expect the basic Kindle model to be the first thing released through the new store.  It will likely be selling for approximately 500 reais, equivalent to $239, which is obviously higher than many other markets are seeing but still cheaper than the competition currently available in Brazil.  Naturally prices will drop as competition strengthens, but there has been some indication that even this high price is being subsidized by Amazon thanks to the added expense of doing business in this area.

There are already contracts in place with around 30 publishers as Amazon gets ready for the release.  There is also word that there are still ongoing talks with several that are not included in that list.  One publisher said that the current plan is to offer titles at 70% of their paperback price, allowing for a profit margin of 40-50%.  That would not translate to much revenue for the wholesalers, in this case publishers, but they are still interested in signing up for the platform as a means to expand interest in their books.

This will probably end up being the slowest expansion that Amazon has undertaken to date.  Entering into the Brazilian economy will be rather unpleasant for them and clearly they are aware of that.  By leading with the Kindle not only will they avoid some of the headaches associated with local shipping and distribution of assorted retail products, they will also be putting the best foot forward by providing interested customers with one of the best products in production today for reading.  It seems to be a smart choice.

$79 Kindle Gets a Tune Up

The basic, non touchscreen version of the Kindle just got a new update.  The update includes improved readability, parental controls, and better support for graphics.  Good to know that this model is still getting some attention since most of the focus seems to be on the Kindle Touch and Kindle Fire.

The text display is supposedly sharper and intends to provide better readability.  I have a Kindle Touch.  I am curious to see how the displays compare for both versions.  Since the $79 Kindle has physical buttons, it probably doesn’t experience the issue with text trails or shadows that the Kindle Touch does.

The best part of the update in my opinion, is the ability to view comics in side view.  The e-ink Kindle is so close to the nature of traditional comics, as opposed to the bright tablet screens, that it is only natural that it would include accommodations for better viewing.

For children’s books, the update includes Kindle text pop up, the ability to zoom into part of the screen.

Books that allow zooming have that capability.

I’m not sure how important adding parental controls is because the web browser isn’t all that easy to use to begin with.  However, a lot of young kids got this model since it is inexpensive and simple to use, so having parental controls is a nice feature to have.

With all of that said, the manual download is available for those who want to go ahead and get the new update.  This is also handy for those who don’t have wi-fi access.

If you’re willing to wait, the update will download automatically onto your Kindle sometime soon.  In their usual fashion, Amazon is being vague about when exactly it will happen.

Stay tuned.

$79 Kindle Gets Software Update Bringing Parental Controls and More

The most inexpensive member of the Kindle family has just been upgraded a bit.  Amazon has released the new 4.1.0 software update for the Ad-Supported $79 Kindle.  It comes with a few useful features that customers have been asking for as well as compatibility improvements that get the device ready for upcoming developments in Kindle books.

The update includes a new high contrast font meant to improve the reading experience.  Supposedly this will create a more “paper-like” appearance and address some of the concerns that customers have had about the basic Kindle’s display quality.  How much of an improvement it is will be for you to judge.

In an effort to make the Kindle more family-friendly, Amazon has also finally introduced some Parental Controls.  These controls will allow parents to restrict access to the web browser, Kindle Store, and the account’s Archived Items.  This will be a big help for anybody who keeps their family on the same account.  It should also allow for less caution in purchasing for customers otherwise worried about privacy and propriety.

Dictionaries have been given their own category by default.  This makes organization a bit simpler.  Look for “Dictionaries” in your Home and Archived Items.

Everything else that has been included in this update is meant for supporting new book features.

In book that support such things, Amazon has added improved functionality for viewing images and tables.  Panning and Zooming should be somewhat smoother as well.

More complex layout options, largely related to Kindle Format 8, are now supported.  While KF8 is still in Beta, it is already supported on the Kindle Fire and Amazon seems serious about making the transition in a timely manner.

Possibly connected to the Kindle Format 8 compatibility is the inclusion of support for Kindle Text Pop-Up and Kindle Panel View.  Children’s books in the near future will begin to feature Kindle Text Pop-Up, though it is still in question whether these will be optimized for E Ink Kindles.  Color is usually the preference when we’re dealing with kids.

Kindle Panel View is intended specifically for comics, which have not as yet had a major presence in eReading.  Assuming Amazon can persuade comic publishers to adopt a format so rigid as to allow each individual panel to be viewed sequentially rather than as part of a page, this will change things a bit.  In many cases the feature will already work and Panel View titles are already available through the Kindle Store.

Kindle owners should be seeing the update arrive on their device in the next couple weeks via WiFi.  If you do not have access to WiFi, keep it turned off the majority of the time, or simply don’t feel like waiting then you can download the update manually.

Check out the Kindle Software Update page for more detailed instructions.  Any side-loaded updates will require a USB transfer cable and a computer with an internet connection.

Kindle Faces Major Competition Internationally

While the Kindle name is practically synonymous with eReading for many people, it has been confined largely to the US for a rather long time now and as such Amazon may have lost a chance to build the same momentum in other markets.  Much of what made them so successful was being the first company on the scene ready to get eBooks out there when customer interest began to stir.  The situation will be a bit different moving forward.

When it comes to international market coverage in eReading, Kobo is the name to reference.  They haven’t had the same impact in the US that Amazon has managed with the Kindle, but the Kobo Touch eReader has been available in areas where a Kindle was hard to come by for quite a while now.  They have recently partnered up with WHSmith in the UK in an effort to gain more coverage.  The Kobo Vox, essentially their attempt to match the Kindle Fire or Nook Tablet, is just £149.99 (by comparison, the Kindle Fire is not even available).  That’s not to mention the fact that Kobo devices are already available in 190 countries with expansion still ongoing, or the newly revamped  self-publishing platform that they are having some success with.

Sony is also making something of a comeback.  While they were possibly the first company to launch a major eReader line with the Sony PRS series, they have failed to stay relevant in recent years.  Their new Reader Store has finally opened (months behind schedule) in the UK and they have a fairly substantial presence in select other markets where the Kindle is just beginning to move in.

Even Barnes & Noble is going to be something of a threat, potentially, in specific international markets.  Well, one specific international market if they’re lucky.  The much-reported partnership that the company has with Waterstones has produced very few results so far.  The partnership is still likely to happen, but they are taking their time about it.  This is most likely a matter of developing relationships for content to fill UK eBook stores with and could be held up at least partially due to the chance of the Agency Model being abolished in book publishing by ongoing lawsuits.  This would naturally have widespread implications.

None of this is to say that the Kindle won’t be able to make it outside the US.  If anything, the international launch of the Kindle Touch and Kindle Touch 3G enjoyed such popularity that even Amazon was shocked.  Since the creation of a real, local Kindle Store in any given market is likely to be a major undertaking, however, anybody who has already got their store and device out there for customers is at a distinct advantage.  Amazon certainly has enough weight to throw at the problems they encounter, and they will do so without much hesitation as the recent small publisher negotiations prove, but it may be a long process at best with all the other big names already at work.

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.

Thoughts on Kindle Publishing

When it comes to publishing an indie book, the Kindle Direct Publishing program has done wonders for new authors all over the place.  Some, like John Locke and Amanda Hocking, have manages to hit it big as a result.  In spite of these examples though, it is impossible to deny that for the most part people don’t take most self published works too seriously at first glance.  There are a few big factors that I believe play into this.

The first would be, as sad as it is, poorly designed cover art.  Even if you are writing for the Kindle, the first thing people are going to see will be the cover you have chosen to represent your work.  A piece of clip art or quick Photoshop-ed photo will only serve to indicate that you couldn’t be bothered with quality control.  Nobody will deny that marketing is the most important of making an indie book take off and your cover is the most basic piece of marketing.

Second, and somewhat more intuitive, is editing.  If you get comments in reviews about having a poorly edited book, that will work against you.  Nobody really likes to read badly written prose even when it tells an amazing story.  It can completely destroy immersion at key moments.  Now, obviously nobody is perfect and even the best books slip through to print with errors, but that doesn’t mean there is any excuse for failing to triple-check your work and find somebody else to look over it for you too.  You’re expecting people to pay money for this in the end, so it should be worth a little extra effort.

Third and finally, is the quick release schedule.  While it has become almost commonplace to hear the advice that Kindle publishing requires you to release a book every 6-12 months to retain reader interest, this should be considered very carefully.  While you will definitely start making money faster the more of a back catalogue you have going for you, it is more important to make sure that the best possible product is going out.  Five poorly reviewed books will not only earn you less money than two well reviewed books in the same time period, they will pull you down even if later works improve dramatically.  When you write you are building your name into a brand.  Keep in mind how you want that brand to be perceived.

Naturally this is all fairly general and there are a few reasons that all of these points, especially the last one, can be less important for certain projects.  There is significant potential in self publishing these days thanks to the Kindle though, and it is painful to see potentially great authors being ignored thanks to missteps made in the rush to get a piece of the readership.  Just remember that readers are going to keep reading.  The Kindle is more popular all the time and unlikely to fall away as the most widely used eReader in the world any time soon.  Take your time and make something you can be proud of.

SolarFocus Kindle Cover Revealed

Recently revealed at CES and available for sale on the 14th of January, the new SolarFocus Kindle cover seems to be an interesting solution to a problem that few, if any, people have run into.  This doesn’t mean that it will fail to impress as a gadget or that it is in any way useless, but one has to wonder how big the market will be for something like the SolarKindle cover.

Essentially this cover is meant to serve as recharging station, backup battery, and book light all in addition to the normal screen protection function.  Certainly not a bad thing.  The case’s internal battery carries a charge sufficient to add an additional three months of battery life to the Kindle 4 and can be recharged over the course of eight hours of direct sunlight exposure if you don’t have access to a powered USB port or adapter.  Even one hour is supposedly sufficient for as much as three days worth of reading time.

Sadly, there are any number of drawbacks.  In terms of basic use, there are a few obvious problems.  The addition of this cover more than doubles the weight of your Kindle, along with doubling its thickness and increasing the size of its footprint to slightly larger than the Kindle Keyboard.  The added size and weight remove a great deal of the appeal that the $79 Kindle carries.  The SolarKindle case itself also appears fairly unappealing, though some might disagree with me if they find solar panels and white plastic pleasant.  Perhaps the most striking thing about this case, however, is the pricing.  At $79 itself, it will double the cost of owning a Kindle.

I have nothing against a desire to be environmentally friendly, but this doesn’t make sense to me.  Given the fact that the Kindle 4 already runs for a minimum of three weeks at a time between charges (based on regular personal use on my part), how could it possibly be worth the inconvenience of the bulk and weight just to avoid having it find a wall outlet?

As of the Kindle 2, we already have analysis indicating that eReaders become environmentally friendlier than buying new books as of the 50th title or so.  Probably safe to assume that things have gotten even better by now, but even ignoring that entirely we have to assume that the impact of manufacturing these covers will be sufficient to increase the numbers.  How quickly can saving $0.25 or less per month in electricity help this case start to pay for itself under any metric?

Despite the hype surrounding the CES reveal, it seems unlikely that the SolarKindle will take off.  The price is too high and the benefits too few.  It isn’t as if you were adding months of battery life to a tablet or smartphone.  If you spend months at a time without access to power, this might be the case for you.  For anybody else it is not much better than an ostentatious nod toward “Going Green” that the Kindle, despite having numbers to support such a claim, fails to advertise on its own.

To Touch, or Not To Touch: Choosing Kindle 4 vs Kindle Touch

Let’s say that you know you want to buy a brand new Kindle eReader.  It could be for a Christmas gift, a charity donation, or just because you’ve been wanting one.  Technically I suppose you could just have a desire to use the new Kindle to wedge under the leg of a desk to stop it from wobbling, but if so then we have different priorities and budgets.  Anyway, there are a couple options right now as far as which to buy, so it’s important to know what you want to get out of it.

Displays: Tie

This part doesn’t matter too much.  Basically any modern eReader will be making use of the E INK Pearl display and the Kindle family is no exception.  Unlike an LCD, you can read on this type of screen with no eye strain in any sort of lighting that would work with a normal paper book. In an extremely minor way the Kindle Touch might be at a disadvantage here since there is a likelihood of fingerprints, but in practice they are surprisingly minimal and don’t have an effect on anything that quickly wiping the screen down every couple days or weeks won’t fix.

Interface: Kindle Touch

The Kindle Touch is far superior in terms of interacting with your books.  If you have any interest in taking notes, highlighting, or just about anything else besides flipping pages while you read, then the touchscreen will be practically necessary.  The Kindle 4′s directional control is fine for choosing a book, but using the virtual keyboard is tedious at best and you’ll find yourself avoiding it quickly.

Storage: Kindle Touch (Barely)

The storage space on the Kindle Touch is effectively twice that of the Kindle 4.  While this might seem at a glance to be a big deal, in actuality it won’t come into play much.  There are only so many books you can easily navigate at a time anyway which means most people hit their limit well before the Kindle’s storage fills up and start archiving titles that aren’t needed.

Battery Life: Kindle Touch

The battery life is also doubled on the touch model by comparison.  Once again, however, it doesn’t much matter.  The cheaper model still gets a month of use in between charges.  When you hit the point where your biggest problem is remembering where the charging cable was after such a long time has passed, it stops mattering much which eReader wins.

Price: Kindle 4

Obviously the Kindle 4′s price is its biggest advantage.  An $80 price tag makes it the cheapest major eReader on the market.

Form: Kindle 4

The Kindle Touch weighs slightly over 25% more than the Kindle 4.  It’s a fairly negligible amount, and both devices are comfortable to hold in one hand, but every bit helps.

Extras: Kindle Touch

Hands-down, the Kindle Touch provides the most extras aside from simple reading.  It has text-to-speech, audio playback, optional 3G, simple PDF zoom and scroll control, and Amazon’s new X-Ray feature.  While none of these is likely to be enough to sell the device on its own, the ability to access audiobooks and PDF documents easily is likely to be important for some people.

Recommendation: Kindle Touch (Mostly)

Basically, the Kindle Touch has the most to offer you.  It does everything that the Kindle 4 can do and more, for just $20 price difference.  This isn’t to say that the Kindle 4 has many problems, because if all you want to do is read cover to cover in your favorite books then it’s wonderful, it just isn’t as versatile.  We’ve effectively reached the point where all new eReaders will be equally pleasant to use for basic reading, so I’m forced to weigh other factors more heavily.  Regardless of that, the Kindle will almost certainly be enjoyed regardless of which one is chosen.

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?

Kindles Make Great Holiday Gifts for Kids

I’ve seen so many reviewers say they wish that there were more books, games and activities that would allow children to use a Kindle easily.  The bestselling e-reader has mostly catered to adults in the past.

The good news is that now, there are a lot of apps and games designed with kids in mind.  They are both educational and fun.  You’ll find a growing collection of interactive fiction available for the Kindle. I’m sure parents will be very happy to see that there are games that are great for keeping kids occupied in the doctor’s waiting room or on long car rides.

Interactive fiction gives the story to the readers so that they can determine what direction it will go.  As you go through the book, it will ask you questions that impacts how the book will end.  In some of the books, you can even choose the character and setting.  A few examples of interactive fiction titles available on the e-reader include The Little Stick that Could, the Fighting Fantasy series, and the Choice of Games series.  More details on Kindle apps can be found on the Kindle App review blog.

The 4th generation Kindle is perfect for kids because of its reasonable price, and it is basic enough for them to grasp.  The user interface is primarily navigated with just one button.  The keyboard is virtual, which makes the Kindle so much smaller and lightweight.  The Kindle 4 holds about half the amount of storage that the rest of the Kindle models do, but it has access to unlimited cloud storage on Amazon.  It makes a great introductory e-reader.

I’ve heard several people say that they are going to buy a Kindle for their kids this Christmas.  This is a great opportunity to steer kids away from TV and video games, and towards reading.  There are a ton of children’s books, old and new, available to choose from.  I hope Charlotte’s Web will be added to the list sometime in the near future!

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.

Amazon Kindle May Invade Japan By Year’s End

Continuing a trend of building their international presence, both in eBooks and beyond, Amazon appears to be making arrangements to bring their Kindle line to Japan as early as then end of this year.  While the company has been operating their Amazon.jp site for some time now, there have been complications in offering customers the Kindle until this point.  Hopefully that is soon to be a thing of the past.

Japanese publishers have shown themselves to be very hesitant to allow Amazon to acquire content, citing concerns about the online retail giant’s increasing level of control and influence in anglophile markets.  This, in addition to Amazon’s habitual price cuts led to them to question whether there was money to be made in Kindle Store content.

After Sony’s recent successful entry with the Reader PRS-650 at the beginning of this year, though, there has been reason to hope these companies are coming around. If nothing else, there is definite pressure from consumers who are quickly growing increasingly familiar with the potential of eBooks and eReaders and want to be able to take advantage of them.The solution to the publisher impasse seems to have taken the form of building a predefined framework for the timing and rate of discounts.  Publishers will, according to reports, be consulted before any such discounts were put in place.

Should Amazon manage to carve out a place for the Kindle in the Japanese eBook market, it could be a huge move.  Right now this space has been comparatively underexploited for a variety of reasons.  To make it work, however, they’ll need to do more than just set up a Kindle Store.

The first step will be getting the entire newest generation of Kindle eReaders out there.  The Kindle 4 and Kindle Touch, due to their virtual keyboards, both provide the ability to display Japanese characters in every part of the eReader’s function.  Just one advantage of doing away with the physical keyboard, I suppose.  Without the Kindle Touch, however, competing with even the Sony PRS-T1 would be difficult no matter the price of the Kindle 4.  Right now Amazon.uk is offering the Kindle 4 and the Kindle Keyboard without the touchscreen model, but that won’t do much good in an area where the English keyboard is less useful. These need to be available not just online but in retailers as well.  Exposure will be vital, and partnerships will need to be formed.

While the Kindle Fire is currently only available for pre-order in the US, it would make a great deal of sense for Amazon to push Japan as the first other market to get access to it.  Unfortunately, given that this would require a lot of effort to grab distribution rights in a wide variety of media forms it seems like a long shot.  An effort by Amazon to acquire these rights and expand its influence seems to be inevitable, but it won’t come quickly or easily and a half-hearted attempt would do more harm than good.

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.

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.

Kindle 4 vs Kindle DX: Where To Find The Most Value

Ok, I’ll come right out and admit that I’m a big fan of the Kindle DX.  I know it is a bit expensive compared to the other Kindles, especially after the price drops that we have just experienced, but it does a specific task very well and shouldn’t be overlooked entirely by prospective purchasers.  Unfortunately, Amazon seems to have virtually abandoned the only good large form eReader on the market at the moment, at least as far as their advertising is concerned.

Since I do feel rather strongly that there are uses for this Kindle yet, and that many people would find it worth the money, let’s take a look at the factors that weigh your choices when looking into a new purchase.  Here are some of the more important specs that differentiate the Kindle DX against its newer siblings:

Kindle 4 Kindle Touch Kindle DX
Display 6″ E INK Pearl 6″ E INK Pearl Touchscreen 9.7″ E INK Pearl
Connectivity WiFi WiFi + Optional 3G 3G
Battery Life 1 Month 2 Months 3 Weeks
Weight 5.98 Ounces 7.5 – 7.8 Ounces 18.9 Ounces
Storage 2GB (1,400 Books) 4GB (3,000 Books) 4GB (3,500 Books)
Price $79 $99 – $149 $379

Kindle 4

Pros:

This new Kindle is the least expensive and most portable ever to hit the shelves.  It weighs less than most paperback books, for example, and will technically fit in your pocket.  Please note that for the safety of your Kindle it is not recommended that you carry your Kindle around in a pocket. The battery life, while not quite as impressive as the more expensive Kindle Touch, is still an impressive month of reading.  You can even change the language of the Kindle interface now, should you have a non-English preference.

Cons:

The Kindle 4′s inability to be purchased with 3G connectivity makes it a potentially poor choice for people without access to a reliable wireless network.  Storage is also substantially reduced, which might be an issue for people with large libraries.  This may not matter to many, however, because this Kindle also lacks the ability to play audiobooks, or indeed any form of audio.  If you like to listen to music while you read or have plans to make use of the Kindle line’s popular Text to Speech feature, this is not the right device.

Kindle Touch

Pros:

The first ever Kindle with a touchscreen, the Kindle Touch eliminates the uncomfortable keyboard that many people have often complained was simply wasted space on their eReader.  This manages to reduce the weight, allows for an easily usable localized interface, and generally speeds up navigation.  This particular Kindle also has access to the X-Ray feature, which will allow readers to highlight connected passages throughout a given book, find term repetitions, locate external references, and pull up detailed articles via Wikipedia.  So far, no other member of the product line has access to that.  You will also get the device with the highest battery life in this comparison as well as the opportunity to choose 3G coverage in addition to the included WiFi capabilities.  Unlike the Kindle 4, this eReader has audio capabilities and will be able to both play audio files or audiobooks and read texts aloud for you using the Text to Speech feature.

Cons:

While Amazon has made the Kindle Touch’s interface quite simple to use while reading, it is still completely lacking in physical page turn buttons.  This will make a small difference in how you hold the device and how often the screen needs to be cleaned.  It is also slightly more expensive than the Kindle 4, though still coming in just under the $100 mark if you make use of the cheapest options.  Aside from that, the only real downside is the highly restricted nature of the optional 3G coverage.  Unlike previous Kindles, this one will only allow users to browse the Kindle Store and Wikipedia via 3G.  Everything else is blocked off, rendering that option far less appealing.

Kindle DX

Pros:

The clearest advantage here is going to be screen size.  Having a 9.7″ screen to work with will come in very handy for just about any book.  This is especially important for people who prefer or require larger print sizes, or for the display of standard size PDF files that might be difficult to view on smaller devices.  The Kindle DX has slightly more available storage space than either of the other options, which is also useful for PDF viewing as those files tend to be far larger than Amazon’s proprietary format.  Also, this is the only device listed here that allows unrestricted 3G connectivity.  Of all products in the Kindle line, the DX is probably the best suited for internet browsing.

Cons:

The biggest downside here is weight.  The Kindle DX is clearly far too heavy for comfortable long-term reading if you prefer to hold your book in one hand.  It is better compared to a hardcover book, which has a bit more heft.  Perhaps owing to the assumption that people would not want to be reading with just one hand anyway, there are no left-side navigation controls.  This can make the device hard to use, especially for lefties.  The firmware for the DX is also lagging a bit behind and shows no signs of pending improvements, so what you have now is probably all you’re going to get.  Finally, obviously, is the price.  At nearly four times the cost of the Kindle Touch, the DX will only be worthwhile if its larger screen provides you with something you find truly valuable.

Recommendations

Kindle 4: Perfect as a paperback replacement for the regular reader.  The stripped down model provides a cheap enjoyable reading experience.

Kindle Touch: Great for active readers.  By far the best option if you like to highlight, annotate, and examine your reading material closely.

Kindle DX: The larger screen makes this desirable for people preferring large print, anybody carrying around loads of PDF files, students, and those with a strong preference for the hardcover feel of a book.

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 Review (Pre-release)

As might be obvious based on the posted release dates at this point, it would be very unlikely for me to have a Kindle Touch handy to review right now.  That’s OK!  I won’t let anything as minor as that stop me.  We already have some media to work with, and there’s a lot of information to be gleaned if you look for it.

The basics are still in place, of course.  The display is the usual E INK Pearl screen technology that all current generation eReaders are pretty much required to have.  The battery life is just as good as the Kindle 3 (or the Kindle Keyboard as we’re now supposed to refer to it I suppose) and will give users weeks or months between charges even during periods of heavy use.  The connectivity includes built in WiFi and optional 3G coverage depending on which model you go with.  Storage will remain more than sufficient for carrying a library worth of reading material while also allowing you to offload extra books to the Amazon servers.  Whatever springs to mind when you think “Kindle” will probably be pretty accurate still.

There are obviously a few things that are new and unique to this Kindle family addition, though.  The obvious one is the touch screen.  It will be making use of the increasingly popular IR touch system also utilized by the competing Nook Simple Touch eReader.  This avoids the problems that Sony had with their early touchscreen eReaders, where the extra layer required for the touchscreen reduced readability on the device.  It also allows for the use of gloves, which many of you will be aware can be problematic on devices like the iPad unless you get specialty products to compensate.

Along with the new screen technology, Amazon has clearly sped up the refresh rate on the new Kindle.  It is “optimized with proprietary waveform and font technology”, which I am taking to mean that they have worked out a process to absolutely minimize the refreshed area of the screen during each page turn.  The extra speed is quite noticeable and again seems comparable to the Nook Simple Touch based on the currently available video footage.

The only other immediately obvious difference from the Kindle 3 is the physical presence of the device itself.  The Kindle Touch is smaller, lighter, silver, and lacks any form of mechanical button.  Everything is tied into the touchscreen, so there is no need for anything extraneous.  While the new Kindle 4 without a touchscreen manages to be even smaller and lighter, this is a noticeable improvement over the Kindle 3 and will likely improve long-term reading experiences somewhat.

At a glance, this new addition to the product line is a perfect response to the competition.  It is light, fast, attractive, and has a touchscreen display.  I will admit that I wish there were physical page turn buttons as a matter of personal preference, but that’s hardly a deal breaking factor.  Most of what makes it such an attractive deal, however, is how little they have had to change since the last Kindle.  It seems to basically be a new screen on an old device.

In terms of functional differences in the software, we’re left without much right now.  The EasyReach feature will partition off the screen in such a way as to make page turning more intuitive and less dependent on swiping than might otherwise be the case.  That’s a nice addition.

There is also “X-Ray”.  X-Ray is a feature that will allow users to quickly scan passages containing references to particular keywords while drawing upon information from Wikipedia and Shelfari.  It is hard to anticipate exactly how well this will work in practice, but Amazon has proven fairly adept at making use of predictive algorithms.  While I don’t believe they will be able to, as they claim, find “every important phrase in every book”, this could be a great reference tool.

Annotation may also be significantly improved by the addition of the new input.  Highlighting, placing the cursor, and generally navigating in small motions is problematic on the Kindle Keyboard’s 5-way controller.  It isn’t bad, but it’s too slow to be used as extensively as some may want.

I would claim that the new personal library browsing has been improved by the inclusion of a cover display shelf type of interface, but I don’t really consider this a useful feature.  While for some titles it is perfectly simple to pick out their cover from the crowd, many still have not been optimized for E INK’s monochrome displays.  Even more problematic is the importing of titles from other sources.  If the focus of the Kindle is really going to be the reading experience, highlighting the pretty pictures should not be a major sales point.

While this is only a minor hardware and firmware improvement over the last model and competing devices, it addresses demand and gives customers access to one of the cheapest, most useful eReaders available today.  Keep in mind that the Kindle platform brings huge value to the table as well with the inclusion of Whispersync, library lending(yes I know it’s new and late in coming, but it’s definitely the easiest to use at the moment now that it’s here), cloud storage, and perhaps the most impressive eBook store currently open.

So, is this a better eReader than its main competition in the US?  The Nook Simple Touch is the obvious point for general comparison.  Barnes & Noble took everything they learned from the original Nook, copied a few more things from the Kindle, and created a really fine eReader.  I would say that the playing field has tipped slightly in Amazon’s favor, though.  Not necessarily because of the superior physical properties of the device, but because the Kindle Touch brings equivalent hardware to the table and leaves the Kindle’s superior software and content to win out.  This isn’t to say that a major B&N update can’t change things, but for now they might have a problem with Amazon.

Kindle 4 Cost Breakdown

Recently Andrei managed to thoroughly break a perfectly good new Kindle 4 in his quest for ever more complete understanding of what’s going on inside our favorite devices.  The information and photos accompanying these posts got me thinking about Amazon’s new pricing gambit.  There’s a lot of focus right now on how cheap the Kindle Fire is being sold at, especially in light of the fact that recent reports have Amazon selling it at a loss, but nobody is really talking much about the fact that there is now a fully functional eReader connected to a major platform available for only $80.

Are they still making any money at all, or is this Kindle even more heavily subsidized than the Fire?  Let’s look into it a bit.  I’m not claiming any inside information beyond a working knowledge of searching the Internet, but what I found was fairly interesting.  The component list is based on the disassembly I mentioned:

  • 6″ E INK Display – ED060CF(LF)T1 REN60B7075(C62)
  • ARM Cortex-A8 CPU – MCIMX508CVK8B N78A 8TFC1130E
  • WLAN 802.11 b/g/n – Atheros AR6103T-BM2D 26AR0620.142D PAF284.1B 1126
  • Flash – SanDisk SDIN502-2G
  • Memory – Hynix H5MS2G22AFR E3M 129A
  • E INK Controller(?) – Winbond W25Q40BV
  • Power Management Chip – Texas Instruments SN92009 A4 TI 18IG2 AOR5 G4
  • Battery Controller – Freescale MC13892AJ CQQD129D
  • 30 Day Lithium Polymer Battery – 3.7V, 890mAh, MC-265360
  • Aluminum Case

Some of this was hard to find.  Other bits, like the Atheros AR6103T, don’t really seem to exist as far as the internet is concerned.  Where necessary I’m using best guesses, product families, and superficially equivalent parts for comparison.  After a bit of inquiry, here are the numbers I’m coming up with:

  • Display: $48 (Based on similar 6″ E INK Displays, no bulk pricing calculations)
  • CPU: $13
  • WLAN: $6 (Based on Kindle Fire breakdown by iSuppli. May be cheaper here since performance matters less)
  • Flash: $2.50 (Assuming similarity with previous models)
  • Memory: $1 (Researched as low as $0.01 in bulk orders.  Rounding up)
  • E INK Controller: $9
  • Power Management: $4 (Assuming similarity with previous models)
  • Battery Controller $3.50 (Rounding up from $3.32/1000 units.  Probably cheaper in batches of millions)
  • Battery: $3
  • Case: $5 (Assuming slightly more expensive than older Kindle models based on materials used)
  • Manufacturing Costs: $8 (Based on iSuppli Kindle Fire breakdown)
  • Other Materials: $10 (I’m sure I missed something)
    • Total Costs: $113

Given that I have done my best to be extremely conservative in these estimations, this should probably be considered an upper limit of the actual device costs.  Amazon will probably be quite a bit better at finding component discounts at this point than I am after my 48 hours or so of experience.  Even so, given that the basic model with no Special Offers integration is going for $109, I think I got pretty close.

One of the biggest things that I think we have to keep in mind with this new Kindle is that there is every indication this device is not meant to be serviced under any circumstances.  According to multiple reports so far, it is almost impossible to open the case without damage even if you know exactly what you are doing.  Even if that is accomplished, there was more glue used in this Kindle than makes sense.  It is clearly not meant to be serviced, either by customers or by Amazon themselves.  That means it has to be cheap enough for outright replacement of the hardware in the case of necessary servicing, with salvaging of little more than the E INK screens likely.

With this information, I think it is safe to say that Amazon won’t be throwing any money down a hole by subsidizing the Kindle 4.  They have gone above and beyond to build a new generation of the line that is far more cost effective than before while still offering maximum reading functionality.  Some money was definitely able to be saved by the exclusion of audio and touchscreen capabilities as well, of course.

The largest expense remains the E INK screen, but since this is the essential component of what makes a dedicated eReader worth having, it is hard to underestimate the importance.  You really can’t do without it and as yet I haven’t heard of any worthwhile substitutes.  For the moment this may mean that any further price drops will rely on the success of Kindle-based advertising.  With the baseline model already available for under $100, though, there’s not really much room left to complain about price.

Verdict: Amazon doesn’t loose money on Kindle 4 non-touch. Even with retail component prices, manufacture costs come very close to what device sells for. Kindle with special offers has been around for a while so it is safe to assume that Amazon know how much money they are going to make from advertising in the long run and it is reflected in $30 discount and the fact that you can remove special offers from your device for the same price of $30. It also seems that there is still room left for price reductions in the future.

$80 Kindle 4 Might Be Problematic For Amazon’s School Penetration

It is no secret that Amazon has its eyes on getting Kindles into schools.  That was pretty clear even before the Kindle DX pilot programs and Kindle textbook rentals.  The best part of that for them is that many students and teachers would just love to adopt the new technology.  Unfortunately the issue of accessibility has gotten in the way of such efforts in the past and seem likely to intrude even more so now with the release of the $80 basic Kindle.

The initial efforts to get students and teachers to adopt the Kindle met with some complications.  There are objections to the eReader in general, based on the idea that, since students are trained from early on to highlight and annotate their books while reading actively, they will find themselves less engaged than usual in non-paper books.  This isn’t unreasonable, but it basically amounts to the argument that things shouldn’t change because things have always been this way.  A bit circular.  At best, this side implies that early adoption is essential.

We also get people concerned that a Kindle will be a bad long-term investment due to the stranglehold of the Agency Model on pricing, which results in less substantial savings than seem reasonable.  This was more of a concern in the past, and will probably come up rarely now that an $80 Kindle is available.  The fact that students now have an extremely cheap option open to them that can borrow library books and rent texts from Amazon will likely be a big draw.

Official endorsement, and the potential for textbook replacement that that would provide, is still unlikely.  The legal complication regarding accessibility remains a large one.  Since eBooks cannot provide equal access for the visually impaired, they can’t replace textbooks in most school systems.  The Kindle seemed to be on its way to addressing these concerns with features like Text to Speech, but even that isn’t quite there yet.  It doesn’t help that publishers can turn the feature off, of course.

With the new Kindle’s complete lack of audio capability, the existing objections gain even more traction.  Now even if Amazon did find a reasonable way to address the conversion of print to audio that satisfied opponents, there would still be the problem of it not being applicable to the most affordable level of the price tier system.

If I had to make a guess, honestly, I would say that Amazon seems to have given up on the idea of formal adoption by the school systems.  The new approach, which definitely seems to have more potential, is a direct marketing to the students and parents of students.  It avoids bureaucracy and still manages to save everybody money in the long run.

As eReaders in general and the Kindle in particular become ever more common, it won’t be too hard to get educators to be a bit more open to their presence in the classroom.  Lots has been done to make it more possible, from real page numbers to shared annotation, to make the Kindle more appealing in this market.  They’re not going to abandon it entirely.

Thoughts on the Latest Kindle Releases

I want to add my two cents here on the newest upgrade on the Kindle product line.  I am excited about the much anticipated Kindle Fire, the Kindle Touch, and the fact that the prices have taken a huge nose dive over the past two years.  Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) has done a great job of addressing competition and listening to what its customers want.

It is hard to believe that in December of 2009, I got my Kindle 2 for $259.  Now the cheapest Kindle is a very affordable $79.  It is overwhelming to observe how quickly the competition has ramped up and caused such a dramatic drop in prices.

The Kindle is very much a reading device to me.  I curl up on the couch with it and treat it as I would any old book. I don’t want it to serve as a computer.  I have my own PC and iPad for that.  So, I have been eagerly awaiting to release of the touchscreen version of the Kindle in November.  I look forward to quietly turning pages with my fingers instead of the click of the page turner buttons.  The e-ink display has improved dramatically over the past two years to become much crisper, clearer, and easier on the eyes.  All of these factors create a pleasant reading experience.

I think deciding on whether you want a Kindle Fire, Kindle Touch, or mini Kindle is determining what YOU want from it.  Some go for the visual, interactive, multifunctional feel of the Kindle Fire.  Others, just want a device that serves one purpose: reading.  Then there’s wi-fi and battery life to consider…

I think the Kindle Fire is awesome and has a lot to offer, especially considering how much cheaper it is than the iPad.  I think the Kindle gaming platform is going to really take off here.  Not to mention audio, video, and internet access.  There are a couple of things that it would need to have in order for me to consider it in the place of my iPad: external keyboard compatibility and long battery life.  I use my iPad as a laptop to write with an external keyboard, and that has worked very well for me so far.  Who knows what I’ll be saying in a  couple of years.

So, all in all, it doesn’t really come down to “iPad Killer”, “tablet wars” or even “price wars”.  It just boils down to what the users want from the device.

I am so glad we, as consumers, now have such a huge variety of e-reader and tablet choices at the prices to beat!

Apps and games that run on Kindle 4

While majority of Active Content for Kindle currently doesn’t run on new Kindle 4 device without the keyboard. Some apps do run. Here’s a full list:

This list will expand as new apps are released and Amazon certifies existing ones for use without keyboard. The list will be updated here: Kindle 4 Apps.

Kindle 4 Tips

I’ll periodically update this post with helpful tips on using your Kindle 4.

Kindle 4 on-screen software keyboard

  • You can use “prev page”/”next page” buttons to cycle between 5 character tabs on the keyboard (symbols, lowercase, uppercase, etc) . This way you don’t need to go all the way up each time you want to switch upper or lower case. Courtesy of “jswinden” from mobileread.com.
  • To take a screenshot, press “menu” and “keyboard” buttons at the same time.
  • Pressing “back” and “keyboard” buttons at the same time will do a full screen refresh, eliminating ghosting artifacts
  • If you purchased Kindle 4 with Special Offers, you can opt-out of these by visiting Manage Your Kindle Page on Amazon and agreeing to pay $30 difference between prices WSO and non-WSO Kindles.

Kindle 4 Review

My Kindle 4th generation finally arrived in the mail towards the end of the day. Here is a hands-on review based on my first impressions. If you feel geeky, be sure to check out my Kindle 4 disassembly post.

Although Amazon sticks to not adding numbers to their device names, software on the unit that I’ve received is 4.0 (1308590058). Serial number starts with B00E, leaving B00B, B00C and B00D unaccounted for at this moment. Surely some of the gaps in serial numbers are going to be filled in with Kindle Touch and/or Kindle Fire.

Kindle 4 Setup

Although Kindle 4 comes preconfigured with your Amazon.com account just like previous generation devices, it does ask you a few questions during the initial start-up:

  • Language that you prefer to use. It can later be changed in Device settings. This is a new feature of Kindle software 4.0. You can choose from German, US or UK English, Spanish, French, Italian and Portuguese.
  • Connect to WiFi network. This is essential for getting books and further working with the device since keyboardless Kindle 4 lacks 3G connectivity. Perhaps this feature will stay in Kindle Touch 3G as well. This will encourage more users to use their home WiFi networks to cut 3G costs for Amazon and provide better battery life and faster download times for users.
  • Confirm amazon account to be used with the device. I guess that people often gifted Kindles but still had them initially bound to their own account. This might have created extra customer support calls for Amazon and they decided to address this issue as well. Of course you can always deregister and re-register your Kindle through settings just like before.

Kindle 4 Apps and Games

Ever since the keyboardless device was announced during the press conference in NYC I couldn’t help but wonder: “what will happen to Kindle apps?”. While some of them can get by with only 5-way controller, physical keyboard is essential for many. I wonder no more – applications are disabled in keyboardless Kindle 4. If I were to venture with a guess – they will also be disabled in Kindle Touch. Touchscreen is nice, but it would still be cumbersome to use in Kindle games and apps that rely on keyboard shortcuts. It looks like Kindle Fire games and apps are “going to be the way of the future”. Rather than letting customers have a sub-par experience, Amazon decided to cut the feature altogether. Although most apps don’t work on the new device, some do. Amazon has inspected apps and certified some as compatible with devices that don’t have a keyboard. For example you can get “Jewels” and “Grid Detective” on Kindle 4 and play these games. Amazon will work with app developers to make as many existing titles compatible with Kindle 4 as possible. The same will be true with Kindle Touch once it is released. It will have a separate certification program of its own.

What is new in Kindle 4?

In terms of software – not a whole lot… Here are the things that I’ve noticed so far:

  • UI language selection. You can change Kindle UI language in the device settings. Doing so causes the device to restart. Please not that it only affects menu and UI language. Dictionary lookup will still be based on the dictionary that you currently have installed. By default this is English Oxford. If you would like to use translation dictionary (including translation from different languages) – take a look at selection of dictionaries that we offer.
  • Menus were cleaned up a bit in PDF viewer. Irrelevant controls are completely hidden rather than shown as disabled.
  • Power button is now pressable rather than slideable. Personally I like pressing more. Perhaps this is because sliding the button though zip-lock when reading in bath tub is a pain.

Kindle 4 vs Kindle 3

On the other hand, several features that were present in Kindle 3 are missing in Kindle 4:

  • Hardware keyboard. This is the most noticeable change and it truly is a double-edged sword. On one hand I really appreciate reduced weight and size while retaining the same 6″ screen (while Sony PRS-350 is lighter still, it has smaller screen that may be harder to read if your eyesight is not perfect). On the other hand you never truly know what you had until you loose it. And loosing a keyboard is a major inconvenience. While most of the time you use Kindle for reading and the only button you care about is “Next page”, you do need to type text from time to time:
    • To find already purchased book in your “archived items”.
    • To find a new book in Amazon Kindle Store and purchase it. I’m pretty sure that Amazon will soon notice reduced book purchases from keyboardless devices. And this reduction can only be partially attributed to more frugal audience. Buying books without keyboard is less convenient. On the other hand, having WiFi and not needing a PC is still a whole lot more convenient than Sony way of buying books via PC.
    • To do a quick google/wikipedia search if you don’t feel like getting up and using your other Internet connected devices
    • To use apps. Especially productivity apps like Calendar and Notepad
  • Kindle Apps are disabled. Only limited number of apps are supported at the moment.
  • There is no audio at all. Not even a headphone jack. This eliminates “text-to-speech” “read-to-me” feature and “voice guide” accessibility. It is also not possible to listen to background MP3s while reading a book or listen to audiobooks. While small – this is still an inconvenience.
  • There is no 3G version. Accessing WiFi on the go can be problematic sometimes and I would have gladly paid extra $50 for lifetime 3G and assurance that I’ll be able to get new books pretty much anywhere. According to my Kindle 4 disassembly, there is plenty of space inside to accomodate 3G modem and larger battery to feed it. So it seems that this choice was made either to cut costs or/and to make purchasing Kindle Touch more desirable.

Kindle  4 Ergonomics

Kindle 4 is one inch shorter and 1.5 ounces lighter than Kindle Keyboard. Personally I find lighter and smaller better. I don’t think that Kindle 4 is too small. While buttons are easily reachable in the center where they are, it would have been easier if they were shifted to the right. This would have made the device much less convenient for left-handed people of course. Page turning buttons are smaller than in K3. Initially I found Kindle 3 buttons uncomfortable. I’ve grown used to them since and not I don’t have a problem with either Kindle 4 or Kindle 3 buttons.

Kindle 4 Accessories

When buying Kindle 4 from Amazon you have the option of adding following items to your order:

  • Power adapter. If you plan to travel a lot – do get it. It is much more convenient to charge from the AC outlet than keep you laptop running just to let your Kindle charge via USB. If you already have USB charger for your smartphone or similar device it will most likely work with Kindle. Or maybe you will want to be the cool kid on the block and go with solar USB charger
  • Leather cover (no light)
  • Zip Sleeve to protect your Kindle from scratches.
  • 2-year squaretrade extended warranty. $25 warranty on $79 device that already has one year of top-notch Amazon support (with polite customer reps and cross-shipping replacements) doesn’t seem like a good deal to me.

Accessories

Lighted cover power connectors have moved to the back and became more exposed. So don’t throw powered on Kindle in a bag with lots of metallic things – they might short out the battery. When Kindle is powered on there is 4 volt on these contacts next to the power button and USB.

Kindle 4 Connectors

Kindle 4 Connectors

Bottom line

If you are choosing between Kindle 4 and Kindle 3 – choose based on how important to you is reduced size vs lack of apps, audio, 3G and keyboard. If these features are not important to you – you should get Kindle 4 and enjoy it’s compact size. Otherwise get Kindle Keybaord (K3) for $20 more which is a great device to begin with.

Kindle 4 Disassembly – Part I

So my Keyboardless Kindle 4 (we can call it that since it is the first Kindle device to hit the market that features software 4.0) arrived late in the evening. Surely enough my curiosity got the better of me and armed with a screwdriver and tweezers I set out to take it apart and see what is inside.

Normally one would open a Kindle by prying the back cover off with something sharp and pointy (screwdriver or knife). Kindle 4 resisted my attempts to open it up and when I finally did I understood why – top and bottom latches are much stronger than the rest so you need to bend the center of the cover up to let them slide out. On top of that it turned out that back cover is glued to the internal battery cover with adhersive gel. You need to apply some force to pop it open. If you decide to repeat my steps – be warned that your warranty will definitely be voided. My Kindle 4 device bears clear signs of being opened. There is no way to do it gracefully. Clearly the K4 is not meant to be user-serviceable or serviceable period.

Popping the back cover off reveals battery and motherboard. Most of the interesting stuff is covered with metal and I’ll leave it at that for the time being. I don’t want to ruin the device until I play around with the software. But fear not – soon enough the mission will be complete and I’ll post pictures of bare motherboard even if I end up bricking the device.

kindle4-rfid-tag

Kindle-4-rfid-tag

On the back of the cover there is RFID tag manufactured by UPM. It reads “UPM + 253_1″. Perhaps it is used to automate the personalization process (Kindle comes to your doorstep already configured with your Amazon account. It turns out that Amazon started putting RFID tags inside Kindle 3 and I missed it during my last disassembly.

Kindle4-disassembly

kindle-4-disassembly

Internally Amazon uses T-6 screws rather than Philips like in Kindle 3.

Taking the cover off the LiPo (Lithium Polymer) battery reveals its specs:

  • Model No: MC-265360
  • Rating (Voltage): 3.7V
  • Battery capacity: 890mAh (3.29Wh) – this is almost half that of Kindle 3. And not surprisingly Kindle 4 claims half the battery life of Kindle 3 – one month. Which is still plenty
  • Made in China by NcNair
  • Part Number: 515-1058-01
Kindle4 battery

Kindle 4 battery

WiFi chipset is Atheros AR6103T-BM2D 26AR0620.142D PAF284.1B 1126 made in Taiwan. This is very interesting because doing a Google search for AR6103T returns zero results. Nothing. The chip is not mentioned on the net at all. It is clearly a part of AR6103 chip family but seems to be a newer modification. AR6103 chips feature:

  • 2.4GHz 802.11b, 802.11g and 1-stream 802.11n. This means that it can only put though up to 72.2 Mbps in the 802.11n mode.
  • WEP, WPA, WPA2 (TKIP and AES) and WAPI encryption
  • 802.11e, WMM and WMM-PS QoS
  • 8.3mm x 9.2mm LGA package
Kindle4 Atheros WiFi Chip

Kindle 4 Atheros WiFi Chip

Small chip between battery and buttons is Winbond W25Q40BVIG is 512 kilobyte Quad SPI flash with clock speed of 104MHz, 3V power rating and erase block sizes of 4K, 32K and 64K. It has been in manufacture since Q3 2009. It sits right on wires that go to eInk screen. Screen model is ED060CF(LF)T1 REN60B7075(C62)

Kindle 4-Winbond-flash-W25Q40BVI

Kindle 4-Winbond-flash-W25Q40BVI

There is quite a bit of free space around the battery that could have been used for one or some of the following:

  • Larger battery
  • Speakers or at least audio-codec and mini-jack headphone connector
  • 3G modem
  • Memory card (SD or MMC) reader

Perhaps Amazon will add some of these things in the future. Or perhaps they will leave this space empty forever to keep the weight and cost down.

If there is a serial console like in previous Kindle generations, it is not obvious or easily accessible.

To be continued… Continued here: Kindle 4 disassembly – part II