It is practically a given to many people that some amount of what you do on the internet is being tracked. There is occasional outrage over this, such as when even their less tech savvy subscribers began to catch on to the fact that they were Facebook’s salable resource more than its target audience, but that is just going to be the case when you’re talking about “free” services. Consumers are usually even less forgiving when they pay full price for something and get their activity tracked anyway. Why is the Kindle so amazingly popular despite being fairly open in demonstrating that at least some tracking is obviously going on, then?
We can’t say that it is the result of Kindle owners being complacent. Glance at the reviews of the Free App of the Day in Amazon’s Appstore for Android and you’re likely to see Kindle Fire owners outright attacking app developers for including anything that tracks or otherwise exploits users in what is supposedly the fully paid version of their application. This is not a shy or understated bunch of people we are talking about, when the situation calls for more forceful reactions.
Where these app developers are chastised for sneaking in tracking, however, Amazon is openly displaying the fruits of their analysis. This is one part of why they are able to get away with it. They never deny that user data is being tracked and analyzed. It is something that people know when they buy into the line. Amazon is going to keep a list of what you buy, sometimes even what you consider buying, and they will draw conclusions from that.
There is more to it than that, though. Amazon might be collecting this data for any number of purposes that work for the benefit of the company, but they are offering a clear service to their customers by offering the tailored suggestions that come standard in any Amazon account’s home page. The popular theory that I have heard voiced is that this alone accounts for the general complacency with which Kindle users in particular take this situation. At least there is a visible tradeoff here.
I would say that the real explanation is slightly different, although that is a part of it. Amazon has done a lot to make itself a very customer-friendly company. More often than anything else, their customer service receives glowing praise. They not only brought us eBooks in a major way for the first time but actively got into disagreements with suppliers to try to bring them to us at reasonable prices. Amazon really seems to be one of the few companies left that puts customer satisfaction first. That makes it easy to trust that they will use any information they collect in a responsible manner.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that there is an unconditional trust here. We all remember the congressional inquiry into the Silk Browser’s privacy features around the time of the Kindle Fire launch. If there are concerns, they should and do get brought up. I just find it fascinating that the sort of behavior that causes outrage in other areas gets more or less ignored here. Maybe Kindle owners are really satisfied enough to feel that Amazon deserves some trust?
The Hay Festival of Literature & Arts, taking place now through June 10th in Wales, has been one of the largest growing literary gatherings since its inception in 1988. From a humble gathering of around 400 bibliophiles, it has become a staple for the community that expects to draw in around a quarter of a million guests over its ten day run this year. The Festival boasts panels with famous authors, debates about literature and environmental sustainability, and a number of other topics and activities. A much-cited quote taken from Bill Clinton in 2001 declares it “The Woodstock of the mind”. It is unfortunate, knowing about all this, to hear the recent press around participants’ demands to completely ban the Kindle from the event for the duration.
It would be hard to call this a surprise considering the nature of the festival. Whatever else it has become, the festival was begun as a way to draw attention to the town of Hay-on-Wye and its position as a central location for independent bookshops. In many ways this has been amazingly successful. As things expanded, and they certainly have by this point with there being over a dozen different official “Hay Festival” events happening around the world every year, it just would have been nice for a bit of a wider view to take hold.
I’m not against the idea of the festival. If anything, however, the Kindle belongs right in there with everything else. Consider their own description of the festival itself:
“Hay celebrates great writing from poets and scientists, lyricists and comedians, novelists and environmentalists, and the power of great ideas to transform our way of thinking. We believe the exchange of views and meeting of minds that our festivals create inspire revelations personal, political and educational.”
This event is meant to be a gathering in celebration of great writers and thinkers, not favorite formats and business interests.
The Kindle protesters, led by local bookshop owner Derek Addyman, blame the activities of Amazon for the recent closings of five of the area’s thirty or so secondhand book stored this year. Add to this the fact that the town’s only seller of new books went out of business as well and you can understand some of the pressure that the group must be under.
It’s interesting to see exactly how hostile the statements are getting, though. Addyman has been quoted as saying “Booksellers here definitely want them banned. You see people walking around with Kindles and they are like robots in another world…Kindles are just a phase and they won’t last. They are our enemy.” It isn’t a great way to garner sympathy from potential customers, given the increasing support eReaders have been enjoying every year.
If the Hay Festival really is a celebration of the written word and great writers, then the Kindle is going to be especially important in making those things more accessible to the readers of the world. If this is still simply a propaganda-driven event meant to promote Hay-on-Wye bookshops then they need to make that more clear. To the best of my knowledge there has been no actual ban, nor was there ever really going to be one, but it is rather sad that this sort of thing is allowed to hijack what is otherwise an interesting and potentially productive event.
Target was among the first major Brick & Mortar retailers to begin offering the Kindle to its customers. For many people there was a period when this was literally the only place they could try out an eReader in person rather than blindly trusting that it would meet their needs. Now, with the Kindle everywhere and Amazon widely demonized as the bane of all storefront business, Target has decided that it would be best to say goodbye to the Kindle and Amazon for good.
Target Corp manages over 1,700 stores as well as a major retail website of its own. The company become a huge name recently by beginning to pass Walmart as the most inexpensive shopping location available for a variety of goods. While overall still slightly behind Walmart in general, it was reported last year that Target had begun to reliably offer less expensive grocery and household goods to its customers.
This is relevant to the company’s ending their Kindle partnership because the reason cited for the move was an increasingly popular practice called “showrooming”. Showrooming is what retailers have come to call the act of window shopping in a local store while comparing prices with online outlets like Amazon.com on a smartphone. It can result in impressive savings for customers, but big retailers complain that it amounts to little more than exploitation.
Amazon is tied into this practice fairly deeply. In addition to offering the widest selection of inexpensive goods on the internet and a subscription-based service that allows free two day shipping to reduce wait times, the internet giant has even created smartphone apps to make the act of showrooming as painless as possible. Using their smartphone apps, customers can simply scan the barcode of whatever they are interested in and be taken to the Amazon.com page selling it.
While it is definitely understandable that Target would be upset by the practice and with Amazon in general, it is hard to imagine this as a particularly productive move on their parts. While Target undoubtedly earned little money off of individual Kindle device sales, the Kindle line was their bestselling tablet/eReader this past holiday season and it is almost impossible to actually use a Kindle for showrooming given that even the Kindle Fire lacks a camera and cellular connectivity. At best this is a punitive move rather than an obviously productive one.
Interestingly, this plan does coincide with the decision to add internal Apple shops to a number of storefronts over the coming year. The Kindle and all related accessories might be in the process of disappearing from stores, but they have stated that “We will continue to offer our guests a full assortment of e-readers and supporting accessories.” Presumably that means the Nook will be sticking around. If you are in the market for a Kindle, you can still find them at any number of retailers including Best Buy, Walmart, and Staples.
The Hunger Games has by now become a pop culture phenomenon the likes of which we have not seen since the days of Harry Potter, and it is already far easier to get your hands on the Kindle Editions. I’m forgetting the Twilight series on purpose here, mostly because I wish I could. Anyway, as with any such popular series, the fans are interested in taking things at their own pace. When those fans primarily interested in the movie versions of the young adult series (or just those who are behind on/late with their reading) are exposed to major plot details relevant to the as-yet unreleased second movie, it is understandably upsetting.
Amazon dropped the ball slightly on this one and ran an ad in the Washington D.C. metro that throws these details up on a billboard for all to see. Meant to highlight the availability of the series on the Kindle and play to up the association with the anticipated second film, the billboard shows off the first page of Mockingjay (Hunger Games Book 3) in plain, easily read text displayed on the screen of a Kindle. Normally this wouldn’t be that big of a deal, but Collins opens that book with some fairly key points about the plot that amount to major spoilers for the second book, Catching Fire.
The ad has received huge amounts of attention through Twitter and Facebook, with many expressing disappointment or outrage over Amazon’s carelessness. While understandable, it is hard to get too upset. Many fans might only have recently become familiar with the series thanks to the movies, and might even be exclusively interested in the movie adaptations, but Mockingjay was released in 2010. To expect ongoing self-censorship on a huge scale for years at a time is a great way to be disappointed.
It is unlikely that Harry Potter fans, to re-use the comparison, were able to wait the four years between book release and movie opening before learning about the way Snape and Dumbledore interact in the sixth book of Rowling’s series. If you want to be safe from this kind of exposure, I wish you the best of luck despite the difficulties. The Kindle advertisement in question can be found on the Blue Line of the DC Metro.
Amazon has not responded to any of the inquiries about the unwelcome revelation so far, but the fact that it caught sufficient attention to make people think of the Kindle and The Hunger Games in the same context probably makes this a win for the marketing team. While it would be incredibly bad for the image of the Kindle line in general if this sort of plot spoiler was used as a regular advertising gimmick, one instance is unlikely to be enough for public apologies and the tearing down of a billboard.
Link To The Ad In Question
Since the rise of the Agency Model that Apple made possible for publishers in a partnership surrounding the release of the iBooks application and store for the original iPad (a partnership now awaiting trial in an anti-trust case), there has been serious talk about how Amazon has set out on a crusade to utterly destroy traditional publishing with the Kindle. This isn’t news, exactly, but it has become an important and popular topic after the recent contract dispute that the company had with the Independent Publishers Group that has resulted in the ongoing absence of IPG titles from the Kindle Store.
There can be no question that Amazon is acting like a bully in this dispute. They want a lot and are in a position to demand rather than ask or negotiate. What has risen up in response to this anti-Amazon sentiment has been shocking to say the least, however. Scattered around popular blogs, we can now see any number of authors and publishers coming out against Amazon and claiming that publishers were somehow right to have engaged in price fixing and that even if it was technically illegal they should be allowed a pass because otherwise Amazon will win.
On the one hand, it is understandable sentiment. Thanks to the Kindle, Amazon controls around 75% of the eBook market already. Without their platform, the rise of eReading as we now know it would slow to a crawl. Nobody else has the resources, or seemingly the interest in customer satisfaction, that Amazon is willing to put into keeping such a platform going.
On the other hand, this is insane. Publishers were unhappy with how poorly the old business model applies to new media and so their potentially illegal activities should be excused. It makes no sense to me, somehow.
This is made to seem like it is a one-sided arrangement. I believe that to be a mischaracterization. If publishers lacked power, they could not have compelled the adoption of the Agency Model in the first place. They were just too concerned at the time with short term profits to be willing to take a stand and risk losing Amazon as a storefront. It was a move that only made sense for every individual company if they knew that none of the competition would be capitalizing on their threatened withdrawal.
Amazon’s acting like a bully aside (because in the matter of the Agency Model and its potential legal implications that that does not apply) they have built the simplest and most usable way for readers everywhere to access eBooks. Nobody else has come close, despite competing efforts from Barnes & Noble’s Nook line, the Kobo, and more. This does not mean that anybody has been compelled to use it.
There would be no case against them if the Big 6 Publishers had come out with their own Kindle competitor and started offering all of their titles through it. The Kindle would still be there attracting self publishers and generally making itself useful in various ways, but it wouldn’t have the content to be so important.
These publishers don’t want to have to deal with building new distribution channels, though. They also don’t want to have to adapt when other people build them. The fact that there is a power disparity is undeniable, but that doesn’t mean that these publishers were ever powerless. Nobody compels them to use the Kindle platform. To say that they should be able to get away with their own anti-competitive and manipulative actions because otherwise the Kindle line will make people start seeing books as more affordable and ruin their profits is just ridiculous.
Investors have recently suffered a bit of disappointment as Amazon’s fourth quarter revenue failed to meet expectations. Stocks fell, as a result. The big question is why this was the case. With Amazon saying that the sales of their Kindle line were up 177%, and the Kindle Fire specifically being the best selling product on their site since before it was even released, it’s possible we have an answer.
Regardless of whether or not the Kindle Fire, or any of the Kindle eReader devices for that matter, is being sold at a loss, it is definitely not being sold for a significant profit. That is even taking into account nothing beyond the simple numbers that people have managed to break down as far as parts and manufacturing cost estimates and ignores any other form of investment the company has to make to create a successful product. This means that everything after launch from software development to marketing to Amazon’s ever impressive support staff will inevitably push things over into the red. This can create some misleading information when you launch something like the Kindle Fire that exceeds expectations so strongly.
The way the Kindle line works, especially the Kindle Fire, is that the profit always comes from media purchases over the course of the device’s life. By providing each customer with a simple way to get whatever they want at a moment’s notice with no complications, Amazon makes it easy for a $1 eBook here and there to add up to a decent income. This means that while expected income for the company on each Kindle Fire is estimated to exceed initial guesses, it will take time for that to manifest. The short term will see more investment in making the product as indispensible as possible to users and cement customer loyalty even if it means taking larger short term losses than expected due to the sheer number of new users.
Basically that is what this all seems to come down to. Despite the doomsday predictions floating around now that Amazon has had a superficially bad quarter, there is reason to believe that the short term loss is actually a good predictor of long term growth.
The Kindle Fire has had a huge impact on markets and now accounts for the largest percentage of Android tablet usage by some accounts. It is beating out the competition and still gaining momentum along the way. There have been some reports that Android developers are currently making as much as 250% more off of their app sales on the Amazon Appstore than on those made through the general Android Marketplace, especially in those situations where revenue is advertising based.
The model is working and people are definitely making good use of their new tablets. While it remains to be seen what will come of Amazon’s efforts beyond the Kindle Fire, particularly given that future installments are rumored to be vaguely directed at confrontation with Apple’s iPad, right now there is every reason to believe that the experiment in moving beyond eReaders was a success.
The appeal of the whole “Post-PC World” concept that accompanies is rise of the Tablet PC is the extreme simplicity of use. The lack of power inherent in the portable design doesn’t come into play as much as one might expect, since you are obviously limited from the start to things that don’t require heavy use of full keyboards, mice, etc. This basically means that devices like the Kindle Fire are ideal from conception as a means of leisurely computing and nothing more.
Now we all know somebody, no matter who that might be, who is either unwilling or incapable of using a computer in any meaningful way. My family has a couple of them. I figured that the ideal way to gauge the user-friendliness of the Kindle Fire‘s interface was to get them to take a test drive on it. The results were impressive. To understand the nature of the reviewers here, it is worth noting that one of them initially refused to even consider it because of how confusing and overwhelming trying to use an iPad was. I’m told that birthday gift didn’t last a week.
It’s fun. I can get all my stuff by clicking on the word for what I want and then next time it’s waiting on the screen for me. The buttons for the game look silly next to my books, but if you read a few things they go away. The best part was the button shelf (Favorites Bar), so that I didn’t lose the important stuff. The magazines don’t make sense though. The screen is too small for that. I think I’ll be keeping mine.
I really only want something to read on. I tried the old Kindle, but it was too dark for me. This one is pretty good. I figured out how to get books from the library and they’re easier to read at night. I don’t think I’ll ever watch movies on it. They look good, but the screen is way too small. I’d rather use my TiVo. I’m glad they made a Kindle like this that was small enough to read on still. I’ll probably take it with me on planes.
This one is a lot easier to hold than the iPad. I know people like that one, but it just did a lot of things I don’t care about. This lets me check my email, read books, and doesn’t make it seem like I should be doing more. I’m going to give it a try and maybe even learn how to take it to the library.
Obviously I prompted a little bit there about likes and dislikes, but you get the picture.
In terms of the Kindle Fire‘s simplicity of use, not much else could have demonstrated things better for me. It’s going to be a common gift this holiday season as a result. Remember that Amazon has a 30 day return policy for Kindles, making it possible to audition even when you’re not 100% sure that it will go over well. I don’t think that the family I talked to are getting every possible use out of their new tablets, but that doesn’t mean they failed to enjoy.
Amazon made what appeared to be some fairly big opponents in the earliest days of the Kindle. All they had to do was decide to go with a closed format. Unlike some companies who might have decided that a strong DRM scheme was plenty of protection, they made sure that Kindle owners were locked in by consciously failing to support the industry standard eBook format. It struck many people, myself included, as manipulative and more than a little bit condescending.
Thinking back, many of my earliest complaints about the Kindle revolved around the EPUB format. I was ideologically supportive of the Nook in a very strong way as a result. They might have wanted to lock in customers via DRM, but at least things like outside purchases and library books would work if the user wanted to make the effort to access them. MobiPocket format was already too outdated in many situations.
Oddly enough, in principle the objections remain to this day. The difference is that now customers aren’t expected to buy into an unproven platform with no guarantee that success was ahead. Keep in mind that the Kindle was not the first E Ink eReader. Sony was already doing a fairly good job of fizzling out by then and has been taking a back seat in the field ever since as a result.
My own change of opinion regarding the importance of the eBook format conflict stems from purely practical matters. We have reached a point where there is literally nothing you can’t do with a Kindle that can be done on another device. Library books are plentiful, no author or publisher is likely to boycott the Kindle platform in favor of the competition, and on the off chance that you find a DRM-free eBook you want on your device you can convert it for free with Calibre (a practical necessity for the eBook enthusiast in case you haven’t adopted already. Google it!). In a situation where the format itself offers no particular advantage inherent to itself, there is no longer much reason to cling to it. There is a reason you don’t see much use of HD-DVD anymore, or Betamax before that.
As we move forward into the next generation of formats, HTML5 forms the underlying structure. Kindle Format 8 looks to allow for as much, or as little, formatting as the person producing a given publication desires as a result. This will improve Amazon’s ability to present their media equally well on practically any size display, which makes sense given speculation regarding future Kindle Tablet options. Nobody else seems to have really adopted an equally versatile approach yet, and even if that happens it won’t necessarily change anything. There is only so much you can do in order to essentially show off text in an attractive manner.
What it all comes down to is that customers will go where they get the best experience. EPUB might be better than Mobi, but with the Kindle providing the better hardware and Amazon backing their product with strong infrastructure and a great book store that didn’t matter enough. It’s one more format war down.
Let’s face it, Amazon has not been great up until now about making sure that customers outside of US markets get access to their products and services in a timely manner. The Kindle Fire will be a long time coming to other countries due to its strong ties to an infrastructure that hasn’t been built up anywhere else yet, Amazon Prime has yet to carry quite the same incentives for everybody, and many of the promotions that Amazon runs don’t quite make it to any of their sites besides Amazon.com. It’s always good news when this changes, though, even if only slightly.
Amazon has recently announced that their ongoing Kindle Daily Deal promotion will be extended to the UK’s Kindle Store. Amazon.co.uk customers will be able to enjoy specially discounted Kindle Edition eBooks on a daily basis. Each book will be available at this price for 24 hours before reverting to its normal number. In the US Kindle Store, it has not been unusual to see heavily discounted titles in a variety of genres and it is hopes that this trend will continue now that the offer is being expanded.
Sadly, while as I mentioned this is definitely a step in the right direction, it does little to address the ongoing problem. The newest Kindles have not yet been given much of a presence outside of US markets. While, for example, you can buy the new Kindle 4 in the UK you cannot order a Kindle Touch, or even a Kindle Keyboard without 3G. Prices are still noticeably higher due to a number of factors including the lack of Special Offers integration, and this has not been changing at the rate we might expect.
Clearly Amazon is responding to a number of pressures. I could reasonably see it being difficult to justify having a Kindle Keyboard WiFi if consumer demand in a particular country leaves them sitting on a shelf while orders come in for the 3G model. The Kindle Touch, due in particular to its much-touted X-Ray feature, requires access to Amazon technology still in its early stages. As such it might be worth working the bugs out before implementing it elsewhere. The Kindle Fire relies on all sorts of media streaming avenues that will require years of time and more money than anybody likes to think about to make happen in new markets. Each new market, in fact, will be the same headache all over again since global media rights are not exactly simple to secure. There is a lot that goes into getting something ready for international release on any large scale.
That said, all of this is insufficient to really justify the continuance of the problem or Amazon’s lack of comment on user demands. It is nice when they come up with something like the Kindle Daily Deal, but in the end it seems like audiences outside the US are almost an afterthought. If Amazon hopes to secure any significant presence beyond what it already has in hand, the only option is to start pushing for more equal treatment of these customer bases. Or so it would seem to me.
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.
This isn’t a new topic, but it also doesn’t seem to be going away. There are some very loud people convinced that the Kindle spells the end of the book and they’re quite willing to say so. In a very, very limited way, they’re right. The problem is that they’re missing the point.
You see, books have come a long way already over the years. It doesn’t matter if you decide to cite oral tradition, serialized texts, or pretty much anything else as the origination point for the modern concept of the book, it’s not possible to deny that the book as we know it is an evolution from something else. The transition to the medium we know and love today, which is itself distinct from the books produced prior to the printing press for example, has allowed for more variety and enjoyment to emerge than ever before. The Kindle, and other eReaders like it, is simply the next stage in the ongoing progression. It takes the established situation and makes it more efficient to deliver, less restrictive in terms of publication, and more generally accessible overall.
In a way, this is the heart of the problem. The publishing industry isn’t built around the text. In the end, it doesn’t matter if they are selling the most amazing piece of literature ever written or the latest exploitation of the vampire romance novel phenomenon so long as people are buying. The industry makes its money by selling the book as a physical object and offering the person or people who produced the information inside a cut of the profit. If you take away the paper, their model seems less sustainable.
If anybody sitting at home can do the work to get a novel written, polished, and put up for sale with no need for a middle-man and at a higher percentage than the publishing houses are prone to offering, then what is the point of courting them? What we need to see now is some initiative on the part of these companies. What are they bringing to the table? It isn’t enough to cite history and what they’ve done before. If the Kindle is supposed to be single-handedly destroying publishing as we know it, you have to assume that it has more to do with what the public considers to be worth their money than it does with Jeff Bezos being an evil genius bent on taking over the world.
If they are going to stay afloat, people need to be informed about what advantages there are in going with a publisher. The doors need to open up a bit. If this isn’t enough, then it isn’t a sign that somebody is out to get them, it’s a sign that publishers simply aren’t providing authors with decent value anymore. The industry isn’t changing on a whim, it’s changing because things like the Kindle platform are making it possible for authors and readers to avoid the red tape and pointless markups that are left over from a time when successful publishing was literally impossible without an impressive backer. We’re moving on.
Last weekend I spent in Best Buy, waiting for the world’s slowest customer associate to bring me Kindle Wi-Fi. During the [insert a large number here] minutes of me standing near the Kindle display, and the associate going back and forth: writing down, re-writing and double checking the code in order to check if they have any Kindle Wi-Fi’s in stock, I pondered about the world’s slowest turtles and the meaning of life. After the eternity, I learned that they do not have any Kindle Wi-Fi’s left in stock. A logical person would leave the store and perhaps, order the damn thing online. An irritated person, however, grabs the available box with Kindle 3G with one hand, and holding a sweaty (by this time) Best Buy’s get 10% off coupon (the original reason, why I ended up in Best Buy) with another hand and heads over to the cashier. Well, the coupon does not apply to Kindle, which says so (the cashier points into the tiny card) in very fine print. Perhaps, a logical person gets pissed and walks away. But not me, I like sticking to my plans and that is how I ended up getting Kindle 3G.
So here are my first impressions.
Impression #1: (as I unwrapped my purchase immediately in the car) OMG, it fits in my purse!!!
Impression #2: (as I got extremely hungry, while waiting for the world’s slowest customer associate, I went straight to the restaurant. I started playing with my new Kindle and accidentally pressed the text to speech button) OMG, how do I turn off this Robocop’s voice reading Jane Austen?
And now, to the serious business.
Pages. The page-turning buttons are extremely comfortably located. Flip. Flip. Flip. Ah, it feels nice.
Keyboard. The arrow keys are hit and miss. Sometimes, I click and nothing happens. Sometimes, I do not click and the unwanted things occur.
Also, there is plenty of unused space between the keyboard and the screen: why not have a full keyboard (i.e. include the number keys)?
Normal headphone jack instead of those annoying custom ones – awesome!
Text to speech feature: nice to have it, but I don’t think I will be using it at all.
Integrated dictionary: priceless!
I’ve had a chance recently to do a sort of follow up on a previous story looking at the experiences of college students who use their Kindle in academic situations. I got noticeably positive responses from the majority of those I talked to, though there were a few people with problems I simply would not have guessed about, going into it. As before, here’s some of the more interesting stuff I got:
No Good Kindle Annotated Editions?
Alice, an English Grad Student, said:
I picked up my Kindle because I was getting ready for my Comps and figured it was an easy way to save some hassle on Inter-Library Loan stuff and maybe even a bit of money, in the long run. As far as that use, I don’t have a thing to complain about. Pretty much everything I needed was either free or cheap, and I found some cool stuff I didn’t expect to have along the way. What makes me kinda regret the decision though is that there’s no real equivalent to something like a Norton Edition that I’ve been able to find. Annotation and an applicable set of secondary sources can be an amazing help when you’re looking at something new, but now I find myself weighing that against the price difference in a way I never did before. It can be a pain. I hope they fix that soon.
Nook Color means Kindle Color Soon, right?
Melissa, a Sociology Undergraduate, said:
I got my Kindle DX from my mom at Christmas last year. It’s been great for classes where teachers think they’re going to save us loads of money by putting all sorts of articles online. I hate reading on computers, but nobody wants to print off a thousand pages. What I’m looking forward to is the Kindle Color. I figure, it’s only a matter of time now that the Nook got there first. It’s not like Amazon would want to be the second-best book reader, would they?
A TN Professor who prefers to remain unnamed said:
Ok, I love the Kindle and all those others in theory, but they only give me some of what I need. I want to convince my department that we need to get these kids buying their Kindles as freshmen so that it’s worth the money by the time they graduate even if not all of their books are available for it in most classes. So far, no luck. When more Kindle textbooks start becoming available, I think I can see a change happening. Until that happens, the school bookstore just integrated somehow with a Barnes & Noble ebook thing so I guess we’re going to have to go with them.
As I mentioned, the overwhelming majority of those I talked to really loved their Kindles. Did some, like these, want more? Well, really, who doesn’t? One thing that I did notice, however, was that even for those we thought that the Kindle was only somewhat useful for school loved it for personal use. Call that added value, maybe? Anyway, I love the fact that there’s finally a growing segment of the population at colleges who are pushing for the use of eReading devices. Did we really need a new edition of that 30lb, $140 biology textbook every single year?
Amazon Kindle 3
When I was in high school about 10 years ago, the only solution to avoid lugging around super heavy books was to make extra trips to your locker, or use a rolling book bag. Rolling book bags should have been more adequately named “rolling hazards.”
Clearwater High School students just got their own personalized Kindles Thursday that are set to replace their textbooks. It is amazing how quickly the Kindle can solve that problem, huh? Each student got a Kindle that was programmed with their own class schedule. They can take notes, look up words in the device’s built in dictionary and use the text to speech feature.
As far as cost goes, the Kindles have saved the school money because it has cut the cost of books. A Kindle is a natural fit for high school students because they are already so technology savvy with texting, Facebook and other technologies. The Kindle makes reading and education so much more engaging and exciting.
My question is, how well will these students take care of their Kindles? Regular textbooks are cheaper to replace and often suffer a great deal of wear and tear. Having a Kindle might just teach the students how to be more responsible because electronics can’t take the amount of wear and tear that regular books can.
I’m surprised that the Kindle DX has not had as much success on college and university campuses so far. I guess it is because are just not that many textbooks available yet. There are ways to digitize textbooks, but they can require destroying the book. It would also not be very cost effective in the end to digitize the book on your own.
It does look promising though that textbooks will soon be available digitally. For science majors especially, who have to lug around really big, expensive books, that would be a lifesaver.
This week finds the Kindle 3 back in stock and available for immediate shipping. As a result there are more reviews than ever from new users and old ones deciding to make the switch. If you are one of those unfortunate customers who ordered their new Kindle while it was backordered, you have my sympathies for any delay you might be suffering. Apparently Amazon(NASDAQ:AMZN) is taking their time catching up on those many orders. In the meantime, fresh orders are going out immediately even in instances of Super Saver Shipping, by many accounts.
Wondering what this new influx of Kindles will mean for the reputation of the popular eReading device? I was too. Here’s what people are saying:
The Positive Experiences
It appears that many people were put off of eReaders as a whole due to public displays of the Nook’s early poor functionality at Barnes & Noble(NYSE:BKS) outlets. While this is understandable, given the bumps in the road that the Nook had to make it over to be worthy of a place at the top, it’s good to see people giving these things another try.
Chibacat “Chibs” wrote:
“I enjoy reading so much but my home was being overrun with books! I waited, did not let my friend talk me into buying a Nook last December and I’m glad I did. The Kindle 3 has many aspects I like…books download in seconds, so many books to choose from, free books and books self-published authors on Amazon, I can use the Internet, shop the Kindle store, not be carrying around a ton of books and so much more.”
William J. Mcgaffey wrote:
“I almost was completely turned off on purchasing an e-reader from my experience with the Nook, sure it looked pretty, it had the cool color touch screen at the bottom and a few other nice features but it felt so slow, whenever you turn the page it would flash black and a second or two later the next page would show up. Even the touch screen activity at the bottom of the device felt slow and buggy to me.” As for the Kindle? “I pre-ordered it, got free shipping and received it the very next day after it was released! I had already purchased some books for it and when I got it and set up the wi-fi the books were instantly downloaded to the device! As for the actual performance of the device and am very happy with, the page turns are extremely fast, hardly even noticeable! Wonderful battery life, have only had to charge once since I have had it! The new Kindle is an amazing e-reader and would suggest it to anyone who is looking for a superb device and experience!”
There are also some words about the potential use of the Kindle as an Academic tool, something that has often been disregarded due to the highly noticeable differences from working with a paper book or pamphlet.
“As a PhD candidate who travels a lot and has tremendous amounts of reading to do, I gave the Kindle 3 a shot as a way to be more productive. I was hesitant at first, given what other reviewers had said about difficulty with PDF files. However, after trying it myself and tinkering with the features, I am head-over-heels in love with my Kindle.”
There’s plenty more, of course, but what’s the point of simply quoting over and over again things along the lines of “I love it, I love it, I l0ve it”? I’ll admit to some surprise that the upgraded web browser is not more commonly reviewed. Personally, I can’t help but take note of how great it performs and how much of an improvement I’ve noticed over the old version. That’s just me, however.
Of course, if we’re going to highlight the good reviews then it only stands to reason that some of the bad ones might be relevant as well. This week’s complaints:
The Negative Experiences
There are two distinct categories that I’m not going to touch on here.
First is defective units. Yes, there are some. Fortunately, Amazon seems to be doing a great job getting replacements out. If you don’t panic, chances are that the worst that will come of any damage in transit or malfunction in your unit is a day or two of waiting.
Second are those reviewers who are blindly lashing out against the product by reviewing something they’ve never even seen in person. There are plenty of these people to be found on the Kindle review page complaining about everything from lack of informative commercials to not being an Amazon version of the iPad, but you can usually pick them out because they don’t list as having “Amazon Verified Purchase” under their name. If that’s not there, chances are the person has no real right to be reviewing any given thing on Amazon.
So what are the real complaints? Well, first and without any surprise is the PDF crowd. PDF conversion is tedious and complicated at the best of times, and the Amazon automated conversion only works well when you’re really lucky. Naturally there are complaints.
W. Hall wrote:
“Only problem is my existing PDF books. The text is really small. You have to zoom and navigate. Doable, but not ideal. PDF loading is very easy.”
“I initially looked into getting a Kindle because I wanted a device to read my PDF text books on other than my net book or printing and binding them.” “First I e-mailed the PDF file to my Kindle e-mail to have it converted to Kindle format. None of the text came over correctly, it was a bunch of mixed up letters. Then I tried downloading a free converter. While this worked better, the text was super small and you couldn’t really enlarge it to a readable size. (Please note that I can read small print.) Finally I transferred my book to my Kindle using the USB cable”
Long Yang “laolang” wrote:
“I received my order happily. I mainly wanted to use it for reading pdf, science/technology papers and books, which usually have a lot of figures and tables and formula.” “Perhaps I need to revisit my thinking about DX and IPAD to see whichever is better fitting my reading need.”
There are also concerns about the WiFi. Many users seem to be having trouble grasping the concept that WiFi-only means that you will not be able to access Whispernet except at hotspots or on your home network. This can hardly be considered a fault in Amazon or the Kindle, but many are trying to cast it in that light. Other WiFi complaints revolve around network security. There IS a known issue wherein WPA2 protected mixed-mode routers will be unable to connect to the Kindle. In general, if this is a concern, switching to a WEP setup or connecting via USB to your computer seem to be the only options available.
Peter C. wrote:
“It’s a great device but it won’t work with my Cisco E1000 wireless router.” “I had to return this device and spring for the extra $50 to get the 3G version. I love Kindle. This is my second one – I gave the first one to my lovely wife, who is delighted. Pity about the WiFi.”
Then we have those pleasant individuals who seem to be unable to understand the differences between the traditional LCD screen and eInk. While I do not personally consider the lack of backlighting as anything but a positive, it is important to be aware of. This is usually a feature, rather than a failing. It saves on eye strain and it increases battery life significantly. That said, word is not quite out yet, apparently.
“I don’t remember reading anything about the fact that you couldn’t use it in the dark or I never would have gotten it. There is no way to adjust the brightness or contrast at all. I do 99% of my reading indoors, so being able to see the screen in bright sunlight is irrelevant to me. They sell a lighted cover for it for another $50 – it doubles the weight and runs the battery down fast – two of the pluses I liked when purchasing it (light and one month of battery life). I wouldn’t recommend this over a regular book to anyone.”
And so, that’s where we stand at the moment. Again, the positive reviews outweigh the negative in number, length, and clarity without it even coming close. There are shortcomings, of course, and no device is perfect. People sure do seem to like their Kindles though!
Even now, weeks after the initial release of the Amazon’s(NASDAQ:AMZN) Kindle 3 began to arrive on peoples’ doorsteps, there is certainly no unanimous opinion on the quality of the release. It’s worth taking a closer look at what precisely is being said, in both the highly positive and highly negative reviews, to determine how much they are likely to effect you. As is my habit when shopping for new products on my own, I’ll start with the negatives. After all, it’s always nice to know the potential pitfalls in any device, no matter how unlikely!
Kindle 3 Negative Reviews
Beginning at the bottom and working our way up, there are clearly some trends. One-Star reviews on the Kindle page seem to center on just about three areas, assuming that we’re safe in skipping the complainers who write negative reviews for a product based on it taking too long to get to their house or the fact that they forgot to check to see how much international importation would cost in customs.
1. Defective Units
As with any product launch, we can expect some problems. The most vocal will always be those who were the most disappointed. In this case, it is definitely true that dozens of people received their Kindles in only semi-functional condition due to broken antennae, battery issues, and even broken screens. What seems to be universally true, however, is that reviewers who have taken the time to follow up have confirmed that Amazon gladly took the bad units back for either refunds or replacements after walking through a small number of steps to troubleshoot and confirm the problems.
2. Korean Font Issues
It seems that Amazon didn’t choose the best possible option in its default Korean font. It has been described as blocky, childish, hard on the eyes, difficult to read for any length of time, and just plain ugly. To the best of my knowledge, this complaint has gone unaddressed as of yet. It seems likely that it will take at least until the next software patch to get any work done here, so Korean users might be sadly out of luck for the moment as far as default Kindle software goes at the moment.
3. Software Shortcomings
I’ll be honest, most of this could well come under the category of defective units. There are a number of users, though by no means a majority, who have been experiencing issues with frequent locking and rebooting for no apparent reason. These are likely unit failures, given how many reviewers have been offered exchanges, but it’s a pattern to be aware of just in case. Also, many seem to feel that the PDF support remains insufficient. Long load times of image-heavy and/or large files have been reported, as well as unwieldy navigation of zoomed documents. My personal experience does not bear this out, but different people have different expectations or even perhaps still more malfunctioning units given that many of these reviewers simultaneously complain of frequent reboots being required.
Kindle 3 Positive Reviews
In spite of these issues, there is no shortage of praise to be found. Even without filtering out the many people who have marked down the product for simply not shipping fast enough, the Kindle‘s favorable(4-5 Star) reviews stand at just short of four times the number of all the rest put together as of my writing this. We’ve already touched on some of these here on the site in our earlier “Kindle 3 Positive Reviews Summary“, but there are a few things to add that really bring it home for a lot of people.
1. Advertised Features
Yeah, I know, they were right on the packaging. What did we expect? The fact is, however, that many people have been taken aback by how much better things like the new screens and WebKit experimental browser are than were originally expected. I won’t go into this, there are enough ads floating around to find out many details and we’ve certainly talked about new features here enough so far, but these reviews bear out the idea that exaggeration was not a problem on the new Kindle.
2. Setting a New Standard
For many eBook enthusiasts, especially among the early adopter crowd, the Sony PRS-505 set the standard for eReaders until this time. In terms of weight, durability, screen quality, software, etc, it was simply the best to be had. Ignore later Sony models, seriously. According to many reviews, including at least one very well written direct comparison, the only remaining point of shortcoming for the Kindle is the lack of ePub compatibility. These sorts of comparisons are amazingly valuable for both eBook fanatics and newcomers since they tend to pare down the block of seemingly new and amazing features to what is really going to end up being important over the course of years of use. If a functional Kindle is now noticeably better than the device that has long been the fallback for users “in the know”, it’s impressive.
3. The Feel
Now that it’s shrunk down, in terms of size and weight, the Kindle is even more like your average paperback in terms of size and experience. People are noticing. If you’ve been on the fence because you’d miss the feel of your favorite book too much, it might finally be time to give it a try. No more wrist strain, page turn delay that is far less than turning an actual page would be, and a screen that is no longer significantly distinguishable from a paper book in terms of contrast? Little room for complaint.
Honestly, I’ll leave that to you. It is definitely possible to say that this is the best time yet to be buying an eBook reader. Is the new Kindle sufficiently great to be worth upgrading from the previous generation or your Nook? Dunno. Is it good enough for a first eReader? I’d say it’s an obvious yes, but I’m writing a blog about eReaders so there’s an implied partiality in what I have to say anyway. Click a link, check the reviews for yourself, maybe ask a few questions if you need to. I think most people will be pleased.
Picture is worth a thousand words so rather than writing one more Kindle 3 Review (which I encourage you to read if you haven’t already), today I decided to publish several Kindle 3 photos.
eReader Comparison: Kindle 2, Nook, iPad, Kindle 1, Kindle 3, Kindle DX, Sony PRS-600
Personally I’m a huge eReader fan and gadget geek as you can see from my pile of eInk hardware. Out of all devices Kindles get the most use: 6″ devices to read books and Kindle DX to read newspapers and magazines. iPad is also used quite a bit but mostly not as eBook reader.
Amazon Kindle 3
Kindle 3 frontal shot. Kindle has a picture viewer easter egg. In order to use it: create “pictures” folder in the root directory of the Kindle USB drive, create some sub-directory there and fill it with pictures. Once in home screen, press Alt-Z to make Kindle 3 rescan picture folders. Subfolders of “pictures” folder that have JPEG, GIF, PNG or BMP files in them will be visible as books and images will become pages. It may be a nice way to enjoy manga on your Kindle 3.
Kindle 3 Back Cover
Kindle 3 back cover has a nice rubbery feel to it that makes the device very comfortable to hold. I has Amazon Kindle logo embossed in it. If you look closely at the slit between front and back covers you will be able to see screwdriver marks from my Kindle 3 disassembly attempt.
Kindle 3 Weight
For some reason Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) has overstated Kindle 3 weight. It really weights around 8.2 ounces as opposed to the official spec of 8.7 as confirmed by multiple sources.
Kindle 3 in Lighted Leather Cover
Kindle 3 Light
One of the standard Kindle 3 accessories that Amazon sells separately is Kindle 3 Leather Lighted Cover. It is intended to protect your Kindle from scratches and falls. Although I’ve never field-tested it, judging by it’s solid construction it should do a good job. It also has a built-in LED light for night reading that draws power from Kindle battery via conductive cover hinges. The downside is that the cover doubles the weight of the device.
As you can see, page lighting is not completely even. However from my personal experience I can tell that the cover is completely usable for reading at night. DSLR cameras tend to exaggerate contrast.
Kindle 3 in Leather Cover
When not in use the light slides into the cover and stays completely hidden. There is also leather cover without built in light that costs less and is couple of ounces lighter.
Kindle 3 Power Light
Amazon designers have moved all buttons (except for paging) and connectors to the bottom edge of the device. From left to right you see volume control (for two built-in 1W stereo speaker or headphones used for “Read To Me” text-to-speech feature, listening audiobooks or DRM-free MP3 files), stereo mini-jack headphone connector, microphone (that is not used for anything right now according to the user’s guide), standard micro-USB PC/charging connector, power switch with integrated large charging LED light. The light blinks green when Kindle 3 is turned on or off, glows orange when Kindle is charging and glows green when the device is completely charged.
Kindle 1,2 and 3 side by side
Witness 3 years of Kindle evolution. Kindle 1 released on the 19th of November 2007, Kindle 2 releaed on the 9th of February 2009 and finally Kindle 3 Graphite released recently. Notice the improving progression of screen contrast as eInk displays evolved over time.
Kindle 3 and Kindle 1 side by side
Kindle 3 vs Kindle 1 - thickness comparison
Although Kindle 3 and Kindle 1 have very similar footprint in the terms of thickness, Kindle 3 is almost 3 times thinner than the original first generation Kindle.
Kindle 3 and Kindle 2 size comparison
Kindle 3 vs Kindle 2 - thickness comparison
Although K3 and K2 are almost indistinguishable by thickness (the difference is 1/50 inch), difference by footprint is considerable.
Kindle 3 and Kindle DX
As you can see Kindle 3 completely fits inside Kindle DX screen with still some room to spare. These are two different classes of devices.
Kindle 3 vs Nook - Size overlay
Kindle 3 vs Nook : Thickness comparison
Kindle 3 vs Barnes and Noble Nook side by side
Kindle 3 is slightly smaller than Barnes & Noble Nook. It is also almost twice at thin and significantly lighter while packing same 3G + WiFi connectivity. In case of Kindle 3 however you can use free 3G Internet to browse any website rather than just download books.
Kindle 3 and Sony PRS-600 Touch Edition side-by-side
Kindle and Sony PRS-600 Touch Edition - Thickness
Kindle 3 has slightly larger footprint than Sony PRS-600 because of keyboard but is slightly thinner and considerably lighter. However the main difference is in display contrast. Kindle 3 Pearl eInk display contrast is almost 5 times higher than that of Sony. This difference has mostly to do with the touchscreen layer in PRS-600.
Kindle 3 vs Apple iPad
Although these are completely different kinds of products I still photographed Kindle 3 and Apple iPad side-by-side just for the fun of it.
I’ll wrap up this Kindle photo review with a daily Amazon.com user review and shipping date check-up:
Right now there are 220 customer reviews for Kindle 3. Of these 155 are completely positive five star reviews, 35 – positive four star reviews, 6 – neutral 3 star reviews, 7 – negative two star reviews and finally 17 – completely negative one star reviews. For the last several days ship date for Kindle 3 remained unchanged as “on or before September 17th”.
BTW: I have plenty of hosting bandwidth so you are welcome to hotlink these pictures.
In case you haven’t read Kindle 3 reviews I’ve published before, here they are:
- Original Kindle 3 review (July, 29th) - largely based on official Amazon press release and personal speculations.
- Kindle 3 review round-up from online media (August, 6th) – summary of opinions from sources.
- Kindle 3 review (August, 28th) – my personal hand-on review of the device with battery life estimations, screen contrast comparison, partial disassembly and other useful bits of information.
- Kindle 3 review follow-up (August, 29th) – some minor things I forgot to mention in the original review, comparative screenshot of different typefaces of Cyrillic characters and in-depth look at some of the negative reviews on Amazon.com
This time around I would like to focus on positive Kindle 3 reviews people left on Amazon.com so far. There are 151 positive reviews on Amazon.com out of 168 total reviews right now. Of these 151 reviews, 124 gave Kindle five out of five stars.
Reviews are split almost equally between Kindle 3G + WiFi and Kindle WiFi Only so both versions sell equally well.
I have read though most of the reviews and compiled some numbers which indicate what users like about Kindle 3.
Screen seems to be the biggest hit as it’s mentioned 150 times in all of the reviews. While people who previously owned eReaders mostly note the improved contrast, those who didn’t have eInk device before are very enthusiastic about how comfortable it is for prolonged reading.
Next big thing is the size. There are 94 mentions of how small the device is. Again this aspect is equally appreciated by both long time eBook reader adepts and new converts.
After that comes improved browser with 68 mentions. In this case, positive feedback is mostly in the form of comparing to Kindle 2 “basic web”.
Surprisingly only there are only 43 mentions of weight.
Then come 39 mentions of WiFi, which mostly note speed improvement over previous generation 3G connection and different font options.
There are very few mentions of magazines and newspapers in these reviews (only 7 and 8 correspondingly). Reviewers don’t seem to care much for this aspect of Amazon Kindle. Although personally I never liked dead-tree paper newspapers because they were bulky and messy and get most of my news from online sources it’s still nice to relax and read a well written article in WSJ without the temptation clicking on any of the gazillion links that websites offer.
Here are some quotes from specific reviews that you can check out:
Kindle vs. Nook:
If you’re trying to choose between a nook and a kindle, perhaps I can help. My wife and I bought a nook, a kindle 2, and a kindle DX last month, just days before the kindle 3 was announced. After using them intensively for a few weeks, we returned them and pre-ordered two kindle 3′s, which we have in our hands now. We’ve each read a few chapters and a few newspaper articles on our kindle 3′s and are very happy with them, so far.
K3 is perfect:
The size is absolutely perfect. In the Amazon cover, it is exactly like reading from a paperback book. It’s noticeably lighter and easier to hold for reading, even with arthritis in my hands. The page turn buttons are wonderful. Almost no noise, and you don’t have to push them as hard. It should make it much easier for those with weak or disabled hands. I also like have next page and previous buttons on both sides. I didn’t think it would make a difference to me, but it really does.
K3 Even Better than its Predecessor:
My wife and I share a last gen 6″ Kindle and just received a new 6″ display K3. I know, Amazon doesn’t call it that, but how else can users refer to it? In twenty words or less, it is an improvement over an already excellent product. Smaller, but not too small to be held comfortably. Same size display, but sharper and crisper, better contrast. Easy to use, somewhat smaller keyboard that takes a little, but very little, getting used to. It took me a few hours to stop accidentally pressing some neighboring keys, but now using the keyboard is second nature. And the page turning buttons are silent, but have sufficient tactile feedback, excellent feel.
Kindle 3 Weight
I’ve had some time to play around with my new Kindle 3 and to read what other users are saying so now I’m ready to publish this follow up with some of the information I’ve recently gathered of forgot to publish before.
In case you haven’t read reviews I’ve published before, here they are:
- Original Kindle 3 review (July, 29th)В - largely based on official Amazon press release, other online sources and personal speculations.
- Kindle 3 review round-up from online media (August, 6th) – summary of opinions from sources like CNET, PCWorld etc.
- Kindle 3 review (August, 28th) – my personal hand-on review of the device with battery life estimations, screen contrast comparison, partial disassembly and other useful bits of information.
One thing I would like to mention specifically is the weight. I weighted the device on a digital scale it showed 8.2 oz. At first I though that my scale was off but then reports and pictures started surfacing on forums indicating that Kindle 3G + WiFi weights as low as 8.1 oz and Kindle WiFi as low as 7.8 oz. Official Amazon specs indicate 8.7 oz for 3G + WiFi and 8.2 oz for WiFi only version.
Kindle 3 software
Kindle 3 runs software version 3.0 (515460094) and has serial number starting with B006 marking it as new hardware series. No surprise there. In the past Amazon has stopped updating 1.* firmware for first generation Kindles once Kindle 2 came out. Hopefully this is not going to be the case with Kindle software 2.* despite the fact that apparently Kindle 3 will clearly outsell Kindle 2 soon enough (more on that later).
Kindle 3 is much more similar to second generation Kindle than Kindle 2 was to original Kindle 1. Kindle 2 user base now is much larger than Kindle 1 user base was when Kindle 2 came out. It would be easier for Amazon to maintain one code branch than two (since it seems that 1.* software development is essentially non-existent). Unicode characters have been added to 3.0 software. Eventually books in Kindle store will start using these characters. It would be very bad PR for Amazon when people with older Kindles will start buying these books only to see empty boxes instead of characters. This is why I guesstimate that eventually 3.* software will make it to Kindle 2 and older Kindle DX devices. Perhaps it would be software 3.1 or 3.0.1
There are several new features in Kindle software 3.0 that I forgot to mention in the original review:
- Device password. You can set a password that will be required to use the device every time it’s turned on. Without the password it’s impossible to access Kindle UI or Kindle USB drive. It’s pretty useful if you keep sensitive work related documents on your Kindle. In case you forget your password, it is possible to completely reset the device deleting all stored information in the process.
- Collections. Although these are not exactly new and have been around before Kindle 3, I’ve never taken the time to write about them and would like to point this feature out. Historically all Kindle books were piled in one flat list that was sorted by last-read date, title or author. Best way to navigate it was searching. Several months ago Amazon has introduced collections as a way to organize your library. A collection is similar to a tag as one book can belong to several collections (Sci-Fi, H. G. Wells, “Favorite Books”, etc)
- Manually setting device time. Previously Kindle relied on time information from 3G wireless network. Now you can manually set Kindle clock if you have WiFi-only version, don’t have wireless coverage or live on a different time than your GSM provider.
Kindle 3 Unicode support
Kindle 3 finally got a font with broader range of Unicode characters. These include Cyrillic, Simplified and Traditional Chinese, Korean and Japanese. I’ve done some quick tests and to me it looks like characters are there. However I didn’t do a full scale test of all possible characters from these planes. Some people on forums and in comments complained about poor support of Chinese and Korean but so far there has been little specifics.
There were some claims that non-Latin characters display the same in all typefaces. I’ve verified it and it does seem to be true for Asian characters and definitely not true for Cyrillic. Here are some screenshots showing different typefaces in Russian text.
Kindle 3 Russian Typefaces
By the way, good way to download and format Unicode text files so that paragraph breaks would display properly and lines will not needlessly wrap is eBook Text Formatter tool that I’ve created a while ago. It still works great.
Kindle 3 WebKit-based browser
New web-browser in Kindle 3 is great. It can event load and run desktop AJAX version of Gmail (however using mobile version at https://m.gmail.com/ is still recommended as it’s much faster). Some users reported problems with browser or apps. Kindle software would occasionally crash. It is generally believed that it’s caused by background indexing process running alongside browser. Whenever new book, text file or document is downloaded to Kindle, it is indexed to provide almost instantaneous search results. This process is resource intensive and may conflict with web-browser or word game applications that are available for Kindle.
Therefore it is recommended to refrain from browsing while Kindle indexes new books. Usually this process is completed within minutes of downloading a book or a document. If you download hundreds of books at once it may take hours and seriously drain your battery. 75% overnight battery drain has been reported after downloading 100+ books.
In case your Kindle browser stops working completely (“launch browser” button does nothing or causes a crash), restarting your Kindle will fix this problem. To restart your Kindle press “Home”, “Menu”, select “Settings”, press “Menu” and select “Restart”. In case this doesn’t work, holding the power button for 30 seconds and then releasing it does the trick. Please note that Kindle will not restart while you are holding the button. You need to press the button, slowly count to 30 and then release it. Within several seconds your Kindle will reboot.
Kindle 3 User Reviews
For some reason there were no user reviews for Kindle 3 on Amazon website until Saturday afternoon. Perhaps they were held in the pipeline for some reason. Now that reviews are finally in, you can check them out here.
For Kindle 3G + WiFi and Kindle WiFi there are 139 total reviews at the moment. Of these 104 gave Kindle 5/5 stars, 24 gave it 4 stars, 3 gave it 3 stars and 8 people were completely unhappy with their purchase and gave Kindle 3 one star. Since there so few one-star reviews, I took a look at them individually and here’s the scoop:
I would like to start completely quoting review by Roger: “The ipad has so much more functionality, why anyone would want to limit themselves to a Kindle is beyond me.” It doesn’t look to me like Roger ever had or will have a Kindle. Nonetheless he’s entitled to his own opinion and we’ll leave it at that :)
3 people seemed to have received defective devices. I can understand how this can lead to a bad review, however every device has a potential of being defective. When I started building servers of the first batch of 8 HDDs from a major manufacturer 3 failed within 24 hours of stress testing. Bad luck, I guess because since I replaced these 3 and installed dozens more like them I’m yet to see a single hard drive fail. So given the overall volume of Kindles shipped, 3 reviews about defective devices is pretty good.
One reviewer was extremely unhappy with quality of Korean font glyphs. Kindle 3 Unicode support is something that I want to investigate further. I’ll definitely report on it once I have the full story.
There is one bad Kindle 3 review dealing with new smaller buttons. Personally I liked Kindle 2 buttons more as well. New controller layout takes getting used to and judging by scarcity of negative reviews, benefits like WiFi and better screen greatly outweigh discomfort from smaller buttons. By the way there is a good old trick for reading from Kindle without having to use buttons at all: start text-to-speech, adjust the speech speed to your reading speed and then mute the volume. Pages will flip automatically.
User with “Book Worm” alias gave new Kindle 3 one star because he purchased Kindle 2 right before Kindle 3 was announced so the user ended up paying $259 for and older device rather than getting new one for $189. I can completely understand this frustration. Unfortunately Amazon doesn’t have a specific schedule of “surprise” product launches like Apple when everyone expects new iPhone to be announced in Spring and release in the Summer. Such things happened in the past when international Kindle or graphite Kindle DX was released. While it’s unlikely that anything can be done in this particular case, I would like to note that historically Amazon Customer support was quite flexible on 30-day return period. According to comments from several users you can get a refund (if the price dropped) or return your Kindle for a newer one up to one week after 30 days have passed from your purchase. But please don’t tell Amazon that I told you this :)
Final bad Kindle 3 review has something to do with the way user set up his/her account rather than with the device itself so I’ll not comment on it.
For these 8 negative reviews there are 128 positive reviews from people who are mostly extremely happy with their Kindle experience. Some highlights include:
- Small size and weight are mentioned in almost every positive review (and even some negative onces)
- Improved screen contrast and fonts is the second biggest thing mentioned in positive reviews.
- People love new low $189 price point of Kindle 3G + WiFi and $139 of Kindle WiFi.
In the future I’ll do a more detailed analysis of positive reviews and publish the stats here.
Kindle 3 Sales Numbers
On August 25th in the press release announcing early shipments of Kindle 3, Amazon also revealed that Kindle 3 is the best-selling product by four-week sales:
(NASDAQ: AMZN)в_”Amazon.com today announced that more new generation Kindles were ordered in the first four weeks of availability than in the same timeframe following any other Kindle launch, making the new Kindles the fastest-selling ever. In addition, in the four weeks since the introduction of the new Kindle and Kindle 3G, customers ordered more Kindles on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk combined than any other product, continuing Kindleв_Ts over two-year run as the bestselling product across all the products sold on Amazon.com.
In the summer and amid slowing economy Kindle 3 was able to beat international Kindle 2 launch that was tied to the holiday shopping season last year. This is quite impressive but not surprising when one considers improved specs and features, price that got slashed in half and amount of customer awareness generated by previous launches.
With the announce of the new and updated Kindle, Amazon(NASDAQ:AMZN) may have offhandedly and with little fanfare cleared away their largest hurdle to being considered a valid teaching tool. Earlier this year, courts ruled that the use of Kindle devices in the classroom was discriminatory against students with disabilities since navigation of menus via the popular text-to-speech option was unavailable and therefore the device was effectively inaccessible to the visually impaired. Today, if you look toward the very bottom of all the feature lists on the sales page, you can find a quietly inserted “Voice Guide” for menus that will lead users through navigation in exactly the way they were told was necessary.
So, can we expect to be seeing eBook-based curricula and eReaders on the student shopping lists in the near future? It’s difficult to say for certain, but chances aren’t great in most places. Given the new features, and especially the $139 pricing of the Kindle WiFi, it seems a more viable option than ever before for new students. It will take years for it to truly establish a presence, however. Doing analytical reading on such a device requires completely different notation habits than are currently espoused by most students and professors, so our most likely early adopters in the education scene are going to be incoming students without much in the way of established habits. I think it’s going to happen, especially in the humanities, but it’ll take time and exposure, since there’s more to academic reading than simply turning the pages and enjoying yourself.
The Kindle, like all eReaders, is seen by many as a radical departure from traditional reading. The main reason why you aren’t surrounded by Kindles whenever you step into a coffee shop is simple: a lot of people like the look and feel of a book. They are wary of any gadget that claims to replace it with a digital imitation.
It’s from this point of view that Jane Isay, a former editor and lover of physical books, writes a humorous confession to loving the Kindle. The post demonstrates a simple truth that Kindle owners already know: if you love to read you’ll love to use the Kindle. Even if you are a print die-hard, reading on the Kindle still gives you the chance to enjoy the act of reading, with the added convenience of Whispernet and instant downloads.
Isay’s post does make one good point however: how will devices like the Kindle affect independent retailers? Isay alternates between buying eBooks from Amazon and buying physical books from small, independent bookstores. Eventually, people are going to be wary about the digital book industry being monopolized by a select few corporations. This is another reason why I think Amazon will eventually need to open their device to other formats. A move to many independent digital stores is probably inevitable, where all they have in common is a shared format.
Reviews for the Kindle seem to pop up from some of the most unexpected people. One new response to the Kindle DX comes from David Byrne, the front man of the legendary Talking Heads (and one half of the duo responsible for last years phenomenal Everything That Happens Will Happen Today). It might seem a little odd to hear gadget commentary from Byrne, but when you’re a world famous performer you do a lot of traveling. The Kindle DX simply seemed like the ideal traveler’s accessory.
His review is for the most part positive. Byrne likens the Kindle’s screen to the same quality as a black and white newspaper and perfectly suited for reading. He raves about magazines on the device and how he can read the New Yorker without ads and with the latest issue wirelessly appearing on his Kindle. Byrne does have a few gripes about Amazon’s proprietary format, however, and takes some time in his review to decry how closed off the platform is and his overall disapproval of DRM.
More interesting is his speculation for the Kindle’s future. Byrne predicts that it won’t be long before the format is broken open and future of digital book publishing will involve formats with less DRM restrictions or none at all just as it happened with digital music market with Apple, Microsoft and Amazon selling DRM-free MP3 files.
Author Nicholson Baker has written a lengthy response to the Kindle for the New Yorker. I wouldn’t necessarily call it a review, as it’s more a humorous essay about his experiences using the device.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with Baker, he’s one of those authors that people either love or hate. He’s most famous for the extreme stream of consciousness style that most of his prose takes, often getting side tracked and spending more time on minute details than anything of importance. For example, in his first novel, the purposely plotless The Mezzanine, the narrator spends a large amount of time analyzing the daily wear and tear of shoelaces. It’s actually one of the book’s recurring motifs. Depending on your point of view, this is either hilarious or annoying.
It’s the focus on details that makes Baker’s reaction more of an essay than a real review. After 10 paragraphs of succumbing to the Kindle’s online advertising, making the decision to purchase, and slowly opening the packaging, Baker focuses in on the power adapter.
The plug, which was combined with the USB connector, was extremely well designed, in the best post-Apple style. It was a very, very good plug.
At first, it seems like Baker’s view of the device is extremely negative. He does have a large number of complaints, mainly about the gray color, default font, and the way newspapers have been formatted for the device. He also states that he greatly prefers reading Kindle books on the iPhone. But at the very end he comes to accept the Kindle.
Poof, the Kindle disappeared, just as Jeff Bezos had promised it would. I began walking up and down the driveway, reading in the sun. Three distant lawnmowers were going. Someone wearing a salmon-colored shirt was spraying a hose across the street. But I was in the courtroom, listening to the murderer testify. I felt the primitive clawing pressure of wanting to know how things turned out.
I began pressing the Next Page clicker more and more eagerly, so eagerly that my habit of page turning, learned from years of reading—which is to reach for the page corner a little early, to prepare for the movement—kicked in unconsciously. I clicked Next Page as I reached the beginning of the last line, and the page flashed to black and changed before I’d read it all. I was trying to hurry the Kindle. You mustn’t hurry the Kindle. But, hell, I didn’t care. The progress bar at the bottom said I was ninety-one per cent done. I was at location 7547. I was flying along. Gray is a good color, I thought.
If you have some time to kill, I recommend reading the whole thing. There’s much more to the essay than a general critique of the device. Baker sometimes takes the essay in strange directions, getting sidetracked by things like the prevalence of erotic literature available on the Kindle store. I actually laughed out loud a few times while reading. If you are a fan of offbeat, dry humor, you should check it out.
In the wake of the controversy surrounding Amazon’s deletion of George Orwell books the Free Software Foundation is readying a petition against remote deletion and DRM. This news is somewhat significant, as the Free Software Foundation is an organization that has some weight in the world of software activism. Most famous for the GNU Project(and the related GPL license), the foundation can be thought of as the de facto head of the open source and free software movements.
The Free Software Foundation has acknowledged Bezos’ apology, but feel that it isn’t enough. The petition will ask that Amazon completely relinquish the ability to make changes to users’ Kindle libraries. One interesting point up is how the technology could provide a tool for censorship, especially as the Kindle enters new markets. This argument is likely inspired by other companies. For example, Google has taken criticism in the past for how it has assisted China’s government in censoring the internet.
For good measure, the petition will also ask Amazon to reevaluate the use of DRM. I have to say that this seems unlikely. Amazon’s view towards DRM is completely irrelevant: if the Kindle didn’t have DRM, the major publishers would stop supporting it. While DRM has its downsides, Amazon doesn’t really have a choice in the matter.
Still, the petition has gotten some notice. Once signatures have been assembled and the Free Software Foundation presents the petition, it will be interesting to see how Amazon responds. So far, Amazon has been pretty good about responding to their customers, so it is possible that they will try to listen to the petition (except of course the DRM). Then again, Microsoft has ignored the Free Software Foundation for decades and it hasn’t really been that difficult for them.
PC World’s James A. Martin has posted an article about the positive experience he’s had flying with a Kindle 2. He gives three main reasons why any traveller could benefit from taking along a Kindle:
- Don’t Have to Sprint to the Airport Newsstand
- Can Comfortably Read a Newspaper in Coach
- Can Read Documents and Web Content
And I completely agree with this and can add #4: you don’t need to sit on the floor next to toilet door because that’s where the only free AC outlet happens to be as Kindle can run pretty much forever on a single charge.
When it comes to flying, the Kindle is an indispensible companion. Unless, of course, you just happen to have incredibly bad luck like I did a while ago.
I’m still surprised that why Kindles are still not sold in the airports.