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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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November 2014
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Kindle Paperwhite Hands-On Review

Having used the Kindle Keyboard for quite some time and enjoyed it to the point of returning my Kindle Touch when it didn’t quite meet the same standards (it was fine and had its own perks, but wasn’t as strong in some of the areas I cared about), I didn’t jump on the Paperwhite when it was first available.  I’ve played with it enough to know what I’m talking about in various capacities, but only recently have I picked up my own.  Aside from one small complaint, it’s exactly what I was hoping it would be.

Screen Quality

The contrast of the Kindle Keyboard was pretty much ideal for me.  It created the experience of reading an old, familiar paperback.  The new screen was troubling at first because the contrast was actually too extreme.  I would say that it more or less resembles a newer high-gloss trade paperback.  Not my favorite presentation, but it was very simple to get used to and quickly became a non-issue.  All the other benefits of E Ink displays were naturally still around.

Lighting

The Paperwhite’s signature feature is obviously the front-lighting technology.  It was definitely an improvement over the Nook Simpletouch w/ Glowlight.  The light was more evenly distributed and brighter without creating a greater drain on battery life.  The issues with banding on the bottom of the display are not exaggerated necessarily, but they also have little effect on reading.  I found it somewhat annoying to have trouble seeing the progress bar at some points when reading in complete darkness, but the dark areas are still readable and don’t tend to extend into the text in any meaningful way.

Reading Experience

The overall experience beyond simply the screen is also worth noting.  The loss of 1.2 ounces compared to the Kindle Keyboard makes a small difference overall, but I could see it being meaningful over long reading sessions for some people.  As a reader used to holding the old model for hours at a time, it didn’t stand out as particularly useful (especially if you’re using a case anyway) but the reduction was still big enough to note.

The “Time to Read” meter is better than expected.  It comes up with an accurate measure of your reading pace after a few minutes, basically enough time to fall into a measured pattern, and generally gets things right from there.  Obviously it can’t account for breaks and distractions, but how could it?

Recommendation

If you’re in the market for a new eReader, the Paperwhite is the only real option at the moment.  Nothing else comes close to offering the same quality.

Is it enough to consider going out of the way to upgrade from a previous model?  Under most circumstances I would say yes.  The only really obnoxious shortcoming the device has is a lack of physical page turn buttons.  In every other way it’s a functional upgrade.  For me, the weight of the accumulated features made the Paperwhite an appealing option, but it isn’t at all unreasonable to consider that a make or break factor.  If you can, give it a try and find out for yourself.

Kindle Paperwhite First Impressions

The Kindle Paperwhite has finally shipped out and reactions are coming in quite rapidly.  While there are many customers who will be unable to get their orders until later this month due to the overwhelming demand for the new Kindle, it’s clear that the eReader side of Kindle products is hardly a thing of the past.

Since this was essentially Amazon’s big move to catch up with Barnes & Noble when it comes to front-lit eReading, it was somewhat difficult to see how things would go.  Once you’ve established a way to light up the screen without major problems or backlighting you’re basically set.  It turns out that I wasn’t the only one wondering and some of the reviews that have gone up so far make the comparison explicit:

“I cannot emphasize enough how brilliant the screen is and encourage you to find a display model to look at if you’re on the fence about it. I’ve used the Nook Simple Touch with Glowlight and the Paperwhite display blows it out of the water.” – Scott

That isn’t to say that there are no problems.  While the majority of users report a nearly perfect experience with the lighting so far, some of these Kindles appear to be flawed:

“After all the raves about how invisible the LED light sources were, it was disappointing to spot them immediately out of the box at the bottom of screen. And then, as others have noted, the lower screen is also marred by shadowy areas between the LEDs that might be described as smudges or banding. This was definitely NOT the beautifully even glow of light across the screen that Amazon product photos have shown and which I was expecting.” - charlesn

If you have a similar experience, I strongly recommend getting in touch with Amazon’s customer service.  While it is possible that these flaws fall within acceptable ranges as far as the production is concerned, Amazon has spent a lot of time talking up the evenness of their new lighting and is likely to replace as needed should the problem on a particular unit be unusually bad.

In terms of general screen quality, the consensus seems to be that the blacks are blacker, whites are whiter, and everything is both crisper and faster.  Not unexpected to be hearing such things, but it doesn’t hurt to get some confirmation that this is a noticeable improvement for most people over the E Ink Pearl display that has been the standard for some time now.

The lack of speakers has not gone unnoticed (and who really thought it would be?) but it hasn’t come up much so far as a major problem.  Those reviewers who comment on it at all, however, are quite unhappy:

“The Paperwhite has no sound whatsoever. That means no text-to-speech, no blind-accessible menu options, no playing your audiobooks from Audible. I am incredibly disappointed that these features have been gutted” – Joan

It’s likely that Amazon is making an effort to get their accessibility features set up on the Kindle Fire in order to take advantage of the more powerful device’s ability to handle such things.  Does that excuse removing these standard features after once having tried to define the whole eReader line with things like Read-to-Me?  Nope.  The decision might make sense in some ways, but it’s not a good thing for customers.

Fortunately for Kindle fans, since that particular feature removal is unlikely to be reconsidered any time soon, there are enough positive impressions to indicate that an upgrade is worth the money.

Things like the progress bar enhancement seem to be going over really well, for example.  It’s gotten an overall better response, based on these first couple days’ worth of impressions, than X-Ray did when the Kindle Touch was announced:

“My favorite new feature is the “Time Left” calculation at the bottom left of the page. While you are reading, the Kindle calculates how long it will take you to finish the book or the current chapter based on the speed with which you have been turning pages. You just touch the bottom left of the page to toggle the different selections (also shows which location you are on).” – R. Toro “Tech Junkie”

The only real software-based complaints, in fact, seem to center around the inclusion of book recommendations on Kindle Paperwhite models with the Special Offers disabled.  Despite the toggle being off, only paid advertising is removed.  This means that book recommendations are still showing up on the home screen.  For some people that will be a valuable asset while others will find it obnoxious.  Personal preference will be the deciding factor since it’s a relatively unintrusive feature, but excluding that from the advertising opt-out on the Kindle Paperwhite is somehow more obnoxious than the similar recommendation section on the Kindle Fire HD.  Possibly just because the Kindle Fires cover a wider range of content and can genuinely offer you something you might not have thought of while the book recommendations are unlikely to surprise and impress with any regularity.

All told, I have yet to find a review on Amazon or any other site that claims the Kindle Paperwhite is second-best compared to the competing Nook Simple Touch w/ Glowlight.  That puts Amazon back on top in terms of hardware again.  Since they already had the best content selection, that’s going to be a huge advantage when it comes to holiday sales.

Is this upgrade enough to be worth buying a new Kindle if you already own an eReader?  For once, it just might be.  While E Ink screens have largely offered fairly small changes from generation to generation, the Paperwhite is the most extreme improvement we’ve seen since the first Kindle and the front-lit reading capabilities are amazing.  Assuming that there is an interest, it’s hard to argue against this upgrade.

Kindle Fire HD Software Improvements

The most obvious improvements coming in with the Kindle Fire HD are in the hardware.  It’s hard to get more attention-catching than the increased screen size provided by the 8.9” model.  Most of the really interesting stuff seems to be coming through the software side, though.  It’s somewhat harder to lay out in simple graph form, but it’s a lot more interesting.

Android 4.0

Where the original Kindle Fire ran a modified version of Android 2.3, the new Kindle Fire HD will be using version 4.0.  This is the first version of Android made specifically with tablets in mind as well as smartphones, so the inclusion on a larger device is probably an obvious move on Amazon’s part.  Between performance improvements and general compatibility issues, however, this is a big improvement.

Parental Controls

Maybe the parental controls weren’t the biggest issue that the Kindle Fire had in its software design, but the people who needed them were among the loudest of Amazon’s critics.  Over time there were various controls added in that more or less meet most needs, but this new version takes things a bit further.  FreeTime, as the new service is being called, will allow parents to set specific time restrictions on their devices.  This means finely grained control over all sorts of things.  Want your kids to be able to read on the tablet and watch the TV shows you’ve downloaded but not run games except from 6pm to 8pm?  You can do that now.

X-RAY

The X-Ray feature included with the Kindle Touch at its release was an interesting way to access details about your books at a glance.  It pulls up things like character names and bios, important locations in the plot, and an assortment of other information.  Useful for anybody who needs a refresher after putting down their reading for a bit, even if you don’t factor in the links to Shelfari and Wikipedia.

Now the Kindle Fire HD will have that feature for both books and movies.  Amazon is touting the ability of their X-Ray for Movies service to tell you who’s on the screen at any given time, link you to their other films, see anything related to the film or actor from IMDB, and more.  It’s a fun concept that might win you a Trivial Pursuit game some time.

Skype

One of the most anticipated hardware improvements in the Kindle Fire HD has been the camera.  To make use of this, every device will include a copy of Skype pre-installed.  This means instant access to that complete network.  Naturally this won’t be the only service you can take advantage of the hardware through, but it is almost certain to be the biggest.

Read-To-Me

Test to Speech software is back thanks to the Kindle Fire HD.  It was confusingly missing in the first Kindle Fire and there seems to be no way to get it out of any of the new Kindle eReaders either.  Fortunately now it will be present through the tablets, wherever agreements with publishers allow.

$299 Kindle Fire HD 8.9” Details

We’ve been hearing rumors for months now about a larger Kindle Fire that Amazon was on the verge of releasing.  Now that there is confirmation and information more substantial than supply-line gleanings, it’s probably time to start looking at whether the real thing lives up to the expectations.  Here’s what the new 8.9” Kindle Fire HD looks like on paper:

Display 8.9” IPS LCD1920x1200 Resolution

254ppi

Processor TI OMAP4470
Storage 16GB Onboard (32GB Model Available)
Wireless 802.11 b/g/n dual-band MIMOBluetooth
Camera Front-Facing
Battery Life 11 hours
Sound Dolby Audio optimizationStereo Speakers
Ports USB 2.0HDMI-out

 

Basically, this is a generally superior tablet in every way, compared to their previous offering.  Amazon claims that the processor in this new Kindle Fire will perform significantly better than the Nexus 7’s Tegra 3, for example, which puts them at the top again in terms of balancing price and power.

The improved storage space is a big step up over the often-problematic 8GB that the older Kindle Fire came with.

Wireless issues have been addressed and the speeds that are advertised, while dependent on the networks they are connected to, are ideal for HD video streaming.

Most importantly, the comparatively large HD display and HDMI-out make this a tablet better suited to video consumption than the company’s previous offering by a wide margin.  Both of these features were frequently requested over the past year and that was taken seriously.

The audio improvements may be equally impressive, but given how poor the performance has been in the past it might be better to avoid jumping to conclusions about Kindle Fire speaker quality.

As a communication tool, the front-facing camera should help a lot.  Every Kindle Fire HD will come loaded with Skype by default, tying Amazon customers into probably the most widely used internet calling service available today.

Even the battery life looks good, though that will take some hands-on experimentation to judge accurately.  So much depends on what tasks are being carried out on the device that any claim would be hard to take completely at face value.

Overall this is a strong offering that really demonstrates a commitment to continue creating excellent affordable tablets.  There are some issues on the software side of things, however, such as the advertising situation.

Kindle Fire tablets will now come with Special Offers.  This in itself is not a bad thing.  That’s how the price has dropped so low on Kindle eReaders after all.  Unlike on the eReader, Kindle Fire Special Offers cannot be removed.  This is a major imposition for many customers, at least at the moment of purchase, and has the potential to turn a lot of people away from the product.

While I will follow up more on the ad situation and other quirks in a subsequent post, overall I still believe that the Kindle Fire HD is a good product.  The option to root the device is always there and Amazon has proven in the past that they can display ads in a way that makes them fairly unobtrusive.  It’s an upsetting precedent and everybody is hoping that a change of heart will allow customers to buy out of the ads should they so desire but it isn’t enough to damn the product on its own.

State of the Kindle Wrap-Up Before Anticipated Sep 6th Hardware Upgrade Announcement

Amazon has arranged for a September 6th press conference that leaves a lot to the imagination.  The text of the invitation apparently reads, in its entirety, “Please join us for an Amazon Press Conference.”  It will take place at the Barker Hanger in Santa Monica.  That’s really not much to go on.  Still, it is all but a given that the event will show off the latest generation of Kindle products.

About a year ago Amazon released an entirely new set of Kindles.  The Kindle Fire was the centerpiece, of course, but the then-renamed Kindle Keyboard was joined by a new basic Kindle and the Kindle Touch.  The Kindle Fire shook up the entire Android tablet world and changed the game entirely there.  It’s thanks to Amazon that we’re seeing truly useful tablets in the $200 range.

The newer Kindle eReaders did not enjoy as much success.  The basic Kindle is indeed the cheapest and most widely purchased eReader on the market today, being the first to get under the previously impressive $100 mark.  That is about all that has managed to impress people about it, however.  The Kindle Touch is an interesting device and brought a touch interface to the line, but that’s not been enough to really demand attention for a while now.

The speculation about what September 6th will bring for the Kindle is still rather varied despite the event being close at hand.  Based on the information available, however, we can make some fairly safe predictions.

FCC Filings

Using a front company, Amazon seems to have managed approval for new versions of both the Kindle Fire and the Kindle eReader.  This is not unprecedented and the last update to the product line involved three devices registered through three separate front companies in an effort to keep details under wraps.

On August 15th The Digital Reader reported a tip that led them to the new Kindle Fire.  It is less than informative, and certainly not as detailed as many would prefer, but some useful info can be gathered.  Judging from the dimensions, for example, we’re looking at a 4:3 device as opposed to the 16:9 aspect ratio used by most tablet builders.  It’s an interesting choice that may point to this being a larger tablet meant to compete directly with the iPad, since that is the same aspect ratio Apple uses in their own design.

The new Kindle eReader cleared in much the same way on August 21st.  A different front company run through the same corporate services provider registered an “electronic display device”.  While the testing doesn’t indicate a front-lit screen, which would be in keeping with certain delay rumors that have been floating around, it does point to something with both WiFi and 3G access as well as audio capabilities.

This does not mean that there will be no front-lit Kindle.  The three filings mentioned above from last year were all made the day before their official public announcements.  All that this indicates is that there will definitely be a version of the next generation that doesn’t have front-lighting.  Not really a surprise given that the inclusion of such a feature is sure to bump the price compared to unlit alternatives at least slightly.

State Dept Contract Cancellation Reinforces Front-Lighting Rumors?

There will definitely be a front-lit Kindle at some point, regardless of delays and pricing differences.  We know that Amazon is working on producing them thanks to leaks, property acquisitions, and basic reasoning (the light on the Nook Simple Touch is really useful and Amazon would be silly not to make one).

The fact that they have failed to land a proposed $16.5 million no-bid contract with the US State Dept might point to delayed releases.  The initial proposal required 2,500 Kindles with preloaded content and front-lit displays.  Since the document included the indication that the “Amazon Kindle [is] the only e-Reader on the market that meets the Government’s needs”, something came up in the meantime.  Production delays that would result in an inability to meet deadlines are not at all out of the question.

Firedock Trademark

In what will probably turn out to be another preparation for this event, Amazon has managed to grab the trademark for the word Firedock.  That was originally the name for a fairly impressive Kindle Fire accessory concept from Grade Digital Audio that is now going by the name Matchstick.

The Kindle Fire, despite its emphasis on media, is badly in need of affordable accessories.  An official charging station/speaker dock would sell amazingly well and clearly Amazon is aware of that.  The big question is “why didn’t they put something out sooner”, but with luck the wait will have been worth it.  Combined with a potentially larger display, this could completely change the level of utility for the next generation of Kindle Fire.

Nexus 7 and Nook Competition

With all the talk of a Kindle Fire meant to compete with the iPad, it’s easy to forget that the existing model is already enjoying some fairly stiff competition.  Google’s Nexus 7 is quite possibly the best tablet available for $200 right now; no matter what metric you are using.

Despite some supply issues, Google’s 7” tablet is enjoying a deserved surge in popularity.  Between allowing access to the wider world of Android content (including that offered by Amazon) and the more up to date hardware/software combination it ships with, there is little to recommend the existing Kindle Fire by comparison unless Amazon’s home-grown interface is a deeply desired feature.

On the eReader side of things, the Nook is still going fairly strong as well.  While device sales are down according to their most recent quarterly reports, content sales are up and the Nook Simple Touch is still setting the hardware standard.  Given that Barnes & Noble is about to begin extending sales of the Nook to Britain, opening the door to new and as-yet untapped customers, we can’t discount the potential for a sales boom in the Nook’s future.

Sources seem to indicate that there will also be a refresh of the Nook Tablet in the next month or two.  Given how forgettable the Nook Tablet has been in the current generation, despite its superior hardware specs compared to the Kindle Fire, this would initially seem to be a minor issue.  At the same time, though, there was nothing to really complain about with the existing device.  It just didn’t impress by comparison.  Barnes & Noble has invested the time and money necessary to improve things in the meantime and will almost certainly surprise to some degree.  Right now about all we know is that the intention is to have the new model improve the reading experience and show off a revolutionary new display technology of unknown capabilities.

iPad Mini Competition

The long-rumored iPad Mini seems to finally be on the horizon.  While I’m personally still quite skeptical about the existence of such a device, increasingly reliable sources seem to agree that Apple has finally caved in and decided to join the 7” tablet market.  The Kindle Fire, despite being updated, might have trouble competing in that segment should Apple really put serious effort into things.

At the same time, however, the objections that many have cited in the past remain applicable.  Apple is not known for their ability to sell things cheaply.  The least expensive iPad they have sold to date has made the company around a 50% profit at launch.  They will have to accept much smaller margins or furnish far less modern hardware if they are to get device prices down to the $250-300 range that they would need to achieve.  This doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen, but take the rumors with a grain of salt.

Wrap-up

Right now, Kindles are getting hard to come by.  The Kindle Touch is completely out of stock.  You can’t get one in any form, with or without Special Offers and/or 3G access.  The Kindle Keyboard is similarly hard to come by, though the Kindle Keyboard 3G is still around.

Basically anybody buying one of the current generation devices can choose between the $79 Kindle with no real navigation and annotation capabilities and the Kindle Fire.  Unless you think that Amazon is getting people together on the 6th to talk about how they’re cutting back to just two models, it’s fairly obvious where this is going.

We’ll keep you up to date here when solid information as it becomes available.  This is the time when Amazon really has to come up with something big to stay in the tablet market and they aren’t known for disappointing customer expectations.  It’s going to be an interesting announcement.

Kindle Touch Travel Review

While I’m mostly a fan of the Kindle Touch, I’ve largely seen little reason to upgrade from the Kindle Keyboard in day to day use.  The darker frame is nice, the keyboard works well for any shopping I have to do, and it has generally proven reliable for quite some time now.  Since I knew I would be on the road for about a week recently, however, I decided I would give the Kindle Touch a thorough test.  You never know what you might learn by trying, right?

Connectivity

One thing that surprised me was that I was generally able to get a better 3G signal through the Kindle Touch than through my Kindle Keyboard.  The Keyboard model is definitely far more broken in, so I can’t necessarily count this as a side by side comparison of new devices, but I was able to get more reliable, faster connections at nearly every stage of a 3,500 mile trip with the Kindle Touch.

Screen Quality

I expected that the lighter case on the new Kindle Touch would be a pain compared to what I was used to.  This was somewhat accurate.  While reading in the majority of indoor lighting situations was fine with either eReader, I noticed that it was much easier to use my Kindle Keyboard in bright sunlight.  I’m sure this was an optical illusion rather than actual quality differences, but the lighter frame around the screen left the Kindle Touch looking washed out in truly bright light.

Reading Experience

Quite frankly, I love the physical page turn buttons.  I still get annoyed at Amazon for removing them.  That is literally my only complaint about the general reading experience on the Kindle Touch, though.  It is quick, light, easier to hold, and generally everything you want in a reading device.  The preference for physical buttons aside, I will admit that after a few page turns I stopped noticing that I was having to touch the screen and things moved quite naturally.  This could be a matter of my own preconceptions as much as anything.

Navigation

The place where I really appreciated having a touch screen was in PDF navigation.  Things went much more smoothly than I’m used to.  The same is true of in-line annotation in Kindle documents.  While it is slightly faster to type on the physical keyboard, that advantage is negated by the fact that the Kindle Touch allows for quick placement of your cursor rather than a slow movement via 5-way control pad.  The point here has to go to the Kindle Touch on both issues.

Battery Life

You can’t really complain about the battery life on any Kindle product.  I used each of my Kindles for about 4 hours per day across a seven day period.  They both still had just under half their batteries left when my drive was over.  The charger that was packed could have easily been left at home.

Conclusion

My Kindle Touch is going to be seeing a lot more use.  The lighter weight and smaller form made it stand out in a lot of ways and the fact that note taking was so much faster than I expected has persuaded me to make this my daily eReader.  There are still many reasons to prefer the Kindle Keyboard, the keyboard among them, but it is not as clear a choice as I had expected.  I will try to follow up on this in a few weeks to see if extended use is still preferable when both are available.

Kindle Fire Review – Half A Year Later

We can acknowledge that the Kindle Fire has already had a profound effect on the tablet industry at this point.  From the moment it was officially announced prices have been falling and everybody is scrambling to catch back up.  No other Android tablet has come close so far.  There has definitely been enough time now for the media tablet to have lost some of its novelty and it might be useful to look at how the Kindle Fire has fared in the meantime.

Image: Business InsiderI will admit that, as much as it makes little sense to me personally, the Kindle Fire has become a fairly common aspect of the eReading world at this point.  Maybe it’s the fact that there is no Kindle with GlowLight, maybe it’s the fact that the Android system allows for installing apps that will open any eBook regardless of the format.  Maybe I just over-value dedicated reading equipment.  Whatever the case, the Kindle Fire has proven a popular reading accessory with some surveys reporting that as the most common activity among all Kindle Fire users.

Durability has held up well.  While initial tests, such as that done by Andrei, indicated that the Kindle Fire’s screen was almost humorously scratch-resistant it is always good to see that sort of thing last.  The majority of Kindle Fire owners I have come into contact with indicate that their devices are in roughly the same shape today that they were when first unboxed.

The Kindle Fire’s Android fork has remained relatively successful.  Amazon’s Appstore for Android is still home to slightly less than 10% as many titles as Google Play, but more developers seem to be deciding that it might be worth jumping through some of Amazon’s hoops to get to a store that is more likely to attract customers to a given product and that can be trusted to reliably pay developers for those sales.  Google’s selection might be better and their update process more streamlined, but none of that matters if they continue to offer the lowest return on investment of any major app store.

The biggest failure is clearly the Silk Browser.  After the hype and high expectations right around the time that the Kindle Fire launched, there has been nothing good enough to be worth noting.  All of the improvements that they tried to bring to the table ended up serving to slow down the browsing experience far too much and it remains to be seen if any real effort is being made on an overhaul at this point.

I would say that, for what it is, the Kindle Fire has lived up to most of the hype.  It was always meant to aid in consumption and it does so admirably.  The battery doesn’t wear out particularly quickly, the device can take a beating, and the software is sufficiently diverse that you can load pretty much anything you might have an urge to take in.  Amazon is always looking for ways to bring even more to the table, of course, as demonstrated by their recent deal with Paramount, but that only emphasizes how valuable the small investment in a Kindle Fire can be.

Kindle Fire January Re-Review

Over the past several weeks several people have informed me that the most up to date reviews they were able to find regarding the Kindle Fire were a bit outdated, to say the least.  Looking over the links I was provided, it definitely seems like there is still some misinformation floating around.  This is mostly a result of failure to update after the performance patch, which did a great job of addressing complaints and ensures that new users won’t have nearly as many annoyances as they might have on launch day.  In the interest of clarifying, here’s what I would say is worth knowing if trying to decide on a Kindle Fire purchase today:

Pros:

  • Highly portable (noticeably lighter than any hardcover book I own)
  • Durable (Check out Andrei’s scratch/drop test)
  • Powerful for the $200 price
  • ~8 Hour battery life (I average 7 hours with WiFi on and brightness at a comfortable level)
  • Amazing video quality through Amazon Instant Video
  • Seamless integration with Amazon Cloud Storage for Amazon Purchases
  • Large, well-moderated App Store
  • Access to Amazon’s Customer Service
  • Easy WiFi Setup

Cons

  • Only 8GB onboard storage (6GB or so available, with just over 1GB reserved for Apps)
  • 2 Finger Touch screen not perfect for extended typing (not a netbook replacement)
  • Back-lit screen not great for reading
  • Some Kindle eReader functionality missing (collections, real page numbers, X-Ray)
  • No Text to Speech (in Kindle Edition eBooks, though some apps may make up for this)
  • No access to Android Marketplace by default
  • Netflix video currently only allows SD streaming
  • Limited Codec selection

Common Kindle Fire Software Complaints (Including Those Addressed)

  • Choppy navigation
  • WiFi connectivity limited
  • Overly fast browsing/scrolling
  • Unresponsive page turning
  • No Parental Controls
  • No way to choose favoring of mobile sites
  • Unintuitive cloud integration for personal documents
  • Caroussel Logs Every Activity
  • Purchased Apps always present in Cloud view
  • Silk Browser doesn’t live up to the hype

At this point, if you are interested in getting a Kindle Fire, I strongly recommend it.  This isn’t exactly a surprise coming from me given earlier similar declarations even before the big patch that dealt with so many complaints, but it remains true.

This is not an iPad killer.  It might have an effect on Apple, and will almost certainly spur Amazon to more direct competition, but they’re devices intended for different purposes.  If you want to watch movies, play Android games, access a wide variety of streaming content, and just generally consume media of various sorts, the Kindle Fire is the way to go.  I certainly wouldn’t replace my Kindle eReader with one, nor would it work as even a basic netbook substitute in the way that an iPad could once you get used to it, but what it does do is well done.

This is just a short overview, of course, and I would be happy to elaborate on any and all of these points should you be interested.  Let me know here or by email and I will either comment here or throw up an in-depth explanation as the situation demands. 

Kindle Fire Review Roundup

If you glance around the site here for any length of time, it becomes pretty obvious that we’ve had good experiences with our Kindle Fire testing.  Different people will probably assess the quality in different ways, though, especially given the variety of uses that it tries to make available.  As such, let’s take a look at what people are saying over at Amazon.com in terms of the pros and cons when it comes to their new $200 media tablet.  Many of the more helpful reviews are quite extensive, so feel free to click on the links for a more detailed view of what these reviewers had to say.  I’ll be avoiding outright pre-launch reviews and complaints about spec comparisons to the iPad, of course.

Video Viewing

Trevett:

As far as video, I have always disliked Amazon’s Video services. The prices are very reasonable and they now have a huge selection, but obtaining the videos [was] a huge pain due to Amazon’s terrible Unbox player. That changes with the Fire, as everything is native and streams/downloads beautifully.

Sid:

The video app is real snappy and I had no issues streaming video at home over wifi. I can honestly say that the Amazon video app is as good as the Netflix app on the Ipad.

Billy Radcliffe:

The biggest “unfinished” feature of the Fire is the Cloud integration; the Cloud doesn’t work hand-in-glove with the Fire in the way you think it might. In order to access features like the video or the docs, you basically have to go through a browser the way you would from any other device.

Reading

 J. Gower:

Kindle Fire’s weak spot, imo, and the reason I give it four stars. But to be fair, it was never going to compete with my Kindle 3. E-ink really is just that much more comfortable to read versus a (relatively low resolution) LCD screen

Raghee Horner:

I initially bought an iPad with the idea of using it as an eReader but after 15-20 minutes the 1.5lb iPad feels like it’s ten pounds and simply becomes too uncomfortable to hold like a nice light paperback. The Fire is much more realistic an eReader.

Apps

Michael P. Gallagher:

Speed of the apps as well as reading a book is VERY fast and responsive. I haven’t tried a a challenging spreadsheet or Word document with the Open Office app yet, but then again I can’t think of too many times where (based on my guesstimated usage) I will be doing those kind of tasks on my Fire: I like to keep my work separate from play.

Overall

Dubstep:

I put this at 5 stars because it MET MY EXPECTATIONS. I read all about this device before buying it, so I knew exactly what I was getting for $199 dollars. It has met all of my expectations of a small form factor tablet that is intuitive, media friendly, and has great processing capabilities. I did not expect an iPad, so there is no comparison in my mind.

Comdet:

None of the so-called limitations of the Fire detract from my using it. Yes it has limited onboard storage but with the way the Cloud is integrated, I’ve not had any difficulty using that as a way of storing content. Plus, when Amazon stores it, they deal with the issue of backup. I also don’t miss the 3G connectivity. Sure, I’d love to be able to connect anywhere, but I will not pay the prices charged for data connectivity.

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.

Kindle Fire Wins Over The Family Technophobes

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.

Reviewer One:

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.

Reviewer Two:

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.

Reviewer Three:

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.

Kindle Fire vs Kindle Touch Hands-On: Is The Dedicated eReader Obsolete?

In the past several weeks, especially as the Kindle Fire’s release date drew near, many people have been touting the new media tablet as a higher end, more advanced Kindle.  While it is definitely true that it opens up new doors for Amazon in terms of content distribution, I don’t necessarily think that it is fair to assume that the Fire is a direct evolution of the line it takes its name from.  As such, I figured I might as well do a small comparison on the relative virtues of Amazon’s two newest Kindles.

Kindle Fire

This is the clear winner in terms of general usefulness.  We don’t need a breakdown to prove that, it simply is.  The dedicated eReader didn’t rise to popularity because of its exclusive access to the text contained inside eBook files, though.  The question is how this device stacks up specifically as an eReader.

Pros:

  • More Responsive Interface
  • Larger Storage Capacity
  • More Intuitive Sorting/Storage Library Interface

Cons:

  • LCD Display
  • Short battery Life

It really is a good system in general besides the back-lit LCD, offering the full functionality of any Kindle or Kindle App prior to the Touch model.  When you swap to the white on black color scheme it isn’t even terribly uncomfortable to read for hours at a time, though the fact that you are reading on a screen is never forgotten.

Kindle Touch

Pros:

  • E Ink Screen
  • X-Ray
  • Long Battery Life

Cons:

  • Slightly slower than Fire
  • More Basic Menu System
  • Limited PDF Functionality

The biggest things that the new Kindle Touch eReader has going for it revolve around the strengths that the Kindle line has always played to: a reading experience analogous to that of a paper book.  This includes no eye strain, page turns faster than physically possible with paper, seemingly endless battery life, and the best selection of books on the market.  That last is obviously not restricted to this model, but it helps.

On the downside, the responsiveness of the Kindle Fire when doing things besides plain old reading is far superior.  Both the color display and the simple ability to rotate your document also make it the superior device for PDF viewing.  While the zooming and scrolling on the Kindle Touch is superior to any previous Kindle due to the touchscreen implementation, for some reason this resulted in the loss of landscape mode.  That can be a pain when you’re unable to reflow your document.

Conclusions

When in comes to extended reading, the Kindle eReader is still king.  The E Ink screen isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker for everybody, but the loss of battery life that comes along with the move to LCD is likely to be.  X-Ray is a nice feature and will add some great tools for students and reading groups, but I have yet to find it more than a perk.

On the other hand, for active reference and note taking I would definitely recommend the Kindle Fire.  The reading experience shows no lag for me in about 15 hours of use so far, the page turns, highlighting, and note taking are nice and quick, and it can be useful to have the full web browser handy.

The experiences are indeed distinct, and probably will remain so until some form of Color E Ink or an equivalent comes along.

Kindle Fire Review

I’ve had my hands on a Kindle Fire for a bit now and I figured that it was time to share impressions.  Overall, definitely a nice device for the price.  That’s worth saying up front.  It does everything that I expected it to be able to pull off and a fair amount that never even occurred to me.  Probably best to break it down a little more specifically, though.

Video

The Kindle Fire was always expected to be a video viewing device and it pulls that off quite well.  Integration with the Amazon Instant Video library is seamless and you can browse through the Prime membership freebies without any trouble or intrusive sales pitches.  Playback is perfect and I haven’t had so much as a stutter or buffering delay in the time I’ve been using the service.  Downloading rental movies goes quickly and it’s obvious how to choose between streaming video and what you have on your device locally.

The inclusion of Netflix and Hulu Plus at launch was a nice addition that effectively shut down the Nook Tablet’s main point of potential superiority.  While I don’t maintain a Hulu Plus account, Netflix runs almost as well as Amazon’s Instant Video.  Jumping into the middle of a half-watched movie resulted in about 2 seconds of stuttering followed by normal playback.  Basically the same experience I have come to expect from the box hooked up to my television.

I would love to be able to side-load more content that I already own onto the device.  At present the supported formats are rather limited.  The majority of my library is incompatible.  Probably, as with the fight over EPUBs with the Kindle eReader line, a way for Amazon to “subtly” encourage adoption of their house preference.  Conversion is much more of a pain for video than it is for eBooks, though, which might make this a major inconvenience for people looking to play things they already have around.

Audio

Possibly the biggest drawback to using the Kindle Fire to watch movies is the limited audio capability.  While yes, it is indeed perfectly possible to listen to music or movies through the built in speakers, the quality is quite lacking.  With a decent pair of headphones, however, it works as well as any audio device I’ve ever owned.  There isn’t much more to say other than that the streaming here seems to work perfectly well for me, even when reading or using other apps.  So long as there isn’t a conflict over who gets control of the speakers, you’re good.

Web

One of the biggest perks of the Kindle Fire was meant to be the new Amazon Silk web browser.  Since most of the work is done off of the device by outsourcing to Amazon’s cloud servers, there’s a lot of potential.  Unfortunately there are some problems.  Most noticeably, there seems to be a slight jump in input lag while using the browser.

I’m told this has something to do with a known problem that Android 2.3 has in trying to decide whether the OS or the browser gets to handle input, but I’m not intimately aware of the particularities of Android so this may be inaccurate.  If it is true, however, then to some degree it is likely a problem that won’t be going away in the near future.

Other than that, things work great.  You do get some small speed increase over normal browsing, which if I properly understand how Silk is supposed to work will only get better in time.  It scores pretty well on HTML5 tests, though not perfectly, and should run most HTML5 apps.  Not much more you can ask for in a browser besides being able to open pages quickly, I suppose?

Apps

This is undoubtedly the most important aspect of the tablet experience for many people, but it is also somehow the one that Amazon has decided to put the least emphasis on.  Yes there are loads of apps to choose from, but not all of the ones in Amazon’s Android Appstore will work on the Kindle Fire.  That makes sense, given the wide variety of Android devices out there, but Amazon is able to put a little check mark for device compatibility next to the purchasing button on their site so I would love it if I could just get a “Kindle Fire compatible only” button.  I’m sure it will happen in time, though.

As for functionality, I haven’t noticed any problems with the apps.  Their icons look a little out of place on the carousel next to the eBooks you’ve been reading recently, but no more so than many movie or TV show icons do. I’ve also had no issues so far with performance.  The apps specifically for the Kindle Fire work slightly better than their more general counterparts, but even those have little trouble and the screen isn’t huge enough to cause much distortion when interfaces get stretched more than developers intended.

There doesn’t even seem to be any major area overlooked by those developers so far, either.  Everything I’ve wanted out of it has been available for a dollar or two. The fact that Amazon has a daily free Android App is also a nice plus.  This isn’t necessarily Kindle Fire specific, but I’ve seen everything from games to office suites up there.  It opened up some options that might have otherwise been overlooked as too expensive to be worth a potentially wasted purchase.

Summary

Overall this is a great device.  It is not a PC replacement, or even a netbook replacement, but for what it was meant to do it works well.  You can purchase and use any content you want from Amazon and it seems to run smoothly.  Picking up media in unfamiliar formats might cause some complications, but even then there are usually conversion programs available should it be particularly important.  While I do see clearly how Amazon is trying to push people into using their services by offering minimal support for anything else, it isn’t nearly as heavy-handed as many claimed it would be.  I feel like they are genuinely trying to convince their customers that Amazon services are superior rather than just saying that you shouldn’t have other options.

At $199, the Kindle Fire is more than worth the investment.

Kindle Fire Drop and Scratch test

One of the major selling points for Kindle Fire is “gorilla glass” that is supposed to resist scratches and breaking. A few years back I inadvertently “tested” my Kindle 2 and it turned out to be not so scratch resistant (carrying Kindle and keys in the same bag turned out to be a very bad idea). I was very curious about how Kindle Fire would fare in this department. I initially pre-ordered 2 Kinde Fire devices – one to keep and another to disassemble and drop test. iFixIt beat me to the punch when it came to disassembling the device so I decided to skip right to the gorilla glass testing.

This video pretty much speaks for itself, but here’s a recoup of what I tried:

  • scratching it with house keys – no effect at all, not even smallest dent
  • scratching it with a screwdriver – same as above. Kindle Fire looks as good as new
  • scratching it with office knife – same as above. Kindle Fire wins
  • drops in various positions from 3 feet onto stone floor – Kindle Fire wins and goes on playing the video
  • angled drop from 6 feet – Kindle Fire survives and keeps working
  • flat drop from 6 feet – internal LCD screen cracked so we can finally write this one off as broken. However there is still not a dent on the “gorilla glass”
  • pound on the screen with a screwdriver and a sharp tool – still not a single dent on the “gorilla glass”

Bottom line is that, it is pretty much safe to carry your Kindle Fire without case or cover in the same bag with pretty much anything without fear of scratching the screen. Kindle Fire is very likely to survive “normal household drops” (from hands when reading, from the table, etc) even if it falls on something as hard as stone. It will probably need to fall in a bad way down the flight of stair for it break.

Bottom line is that Kindle Fire is a very sturdy device. I was surprised by the test results as I was sure that it will fail much sooner.

Kindle Fire Review (hands-on)

A couple of Kindle Fire devices have arrived at my doorstep yesterday evening along with Kindle Touch. Since Kindle Touch review is mostly done (though it is still being updated) it’s about time I review Kindle Fire. With Kindle Fire being a multifaceted and multipurpose device it is the in-depth review is going to be quite long. I’ll start by giving a high-level overview of the device and then dive deep into each aspect.

Kindle Fire at a glance

  • It is based on  Gingerbread version of Android heavily modified by Amazon software developers. You can still install 3rd party Android applications and even root the device altogether.
  • In terms of size footprint (7.5″ x 4.7″ x 0.45″) is almost exactly the same as Kindle Keyboard but thicker. It also weight twice as much. Kindle Fire is slightly smaller and of almost the same weight (14.6oz) as Nook Color 2. Neither device will cause your arm to go numb after prolonged reading like was the case for me with 1st generation iPad
  • Kindle Fire features 7″ backlit LCD touchscreen based on in-plane switching IPS technology. IPS (unlike TN) provides better and more uniform colors regardless of the angle at which screen is viewed. Screen runs at 1024 x 600 pixel resolution (169 DPI which is higher than 132 DPI in iPad 2).
  • Screen is protected by “Gorilla Glass” that makes it more scratch and break-resistant. Touchscreen supports multi-touch gestures like pinch which have become golden standard in mobile devices.
  • Kindle Fire gives you access to a vast library of content:
    • Over 1,000,000 of modern, in-copyright books, most of which are priced under $9.99. Some of these books can be loaded for free for unlimited time from “Kindle Owner’s Lending Library” available though Amazon Prime subscription
    • Over 2,000,000 out-of-copyright books
    • More than 100,000 moview and TV shows. More than 10,000 of these are available for free to Amazon Prime subscribers (Kindle Fire comes with one month free Amazon Prime subscription)
    • Over 17,000,000 songs from Amazon MP3 store. All of these are DRM-free. So you are not limited to Kindle Fire when it comes to listening these. These songs will play on almost any device and can be burned to CD
    • Full color magazines that can be purchased as a subscription or one issue at a time
    • More than 20,000 Android apps available though Amazon. More apps can be side-loaded on Kindle Fire bypassing the Amazon store. This includes games like Angry Birds, Plants vs. Zombies, Fruit Ninja and many more
  • Fully functional Web browser with flash support and accelerated by Amazon Silk technology.
  • 802.11b/g/n WiFi to wirelessly download media and browse the Web
  • Up to 8 hours of battery life on a single charge
  • Dual core 1Ghz Texas Instruments OMAP 4 CPU (exactly the same as Nook Color 2)
  • 8 gigabytes of internal flash memory. Although Kindle Fire doesn’t feature a memory card slot like all Kindle devices starting from Kindle 2, it can leverage Amazon Cloud storage.
  • Supports email (including Gmail) and working with personal documents and media in the following formats: AZW, TXT, PDF, MOBI, PRC, AA, AAX, DOC, DOCX, JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP, non-DRM AAC, MP3, MIDI, OGG, WAV, MP4, VP8
  • Stereo speakers and 3.5mm headphone mini-jack for audio playback
  • USB connectivity for manually transferring content to and from personal computer. Though Kindle Fire doesn’t require a PC and can work as a standalone device.
  • Price: $199.00 including one month trial of Amazon Prime membership that gives access to free eBooks and videos mentioned above and free 2-day shipping on select items on Amazon.com

Kindle Fire Ergonomics

In terms of exterior, Kindle Fire is a generic as device can get. It is a 7.5″ x 4.7″ x 0.45″ (190mm x 120mm x 11.4mm) paralelipipid with rounded corners. Front is Gorilla Glass and back is rubberized plastic. It weights 14.6oz (413 grams). Upper edge houses stereo speaker openings, and lower edge is home to 3.5mm mini-jack, micro-B USB/charging connector and power button which is the only physical button on the device. The device is comfortable to hold with either one or two hands either in landscape or portrait mode. There is nothing worth noting either good or bad about the device exterior. It is comfortable and it just works.

Similar to Nook Color, Kindle Fire lacks 4 standard Android buttons: home, menu, back and search. While Nook Color has “Home” and two sound volume control buttons, Kindle Fire does not. All these buttons are implemented in software and pop-up on the screen either by user request or as need arises. Personally I’d love to have at least volume control buttons in hardware. Having a hardware play/pause button would have been an even bigger boon. However “buttonless” seems to be the latest fashion, so you need to get distracted for a few moments and do some finger manipulation to pause the music you are listening to when someone walks up and starts a conversation.

Overall device is comfortable to use, however adding a few additional hardware buttons would have made it even more so.

Kindle Fire Screen

Visual quality of the IPS LCD touchscreen is very good for such an inexpensive device. Amazon doesn’t fail to remind you of this fact each time you power on the Kindle Fire by showing you yet another beautiful wallpaper image.

IPS stands for “in-plane-switching”. It is technology for manufacturing LCD screens that produces brighter and more vivid colors when compared to TN (twisted nematic) displays. Another advantage of IPS over TN displays is the fact that colors look the same regardless of the angle at which display is being observed. Try looking at cheap LCD display (ATM machine, cash register) from the side and you will understand what I’m talking about.

Although Kindle Fire display features higher resolution of 169 DPI than Apple iPad 2 (132 DPI) it is still nowhere near 326 DPI of Apple “retina” display featured in iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S. But lets not forget that there is no way tablet featuring such display and a video-chip to efficiently drive it could cost $199.00 as Kindle Fire does.

Touchscreen latency is noticeably higher when compared to that of an iPad. What this means is that a fraction of a second passes between the moment you move your finger and the moment things start moving on the screen. It wouldn’t bother you unless you were specifically looking for it.

All-in-all, I’m happy with Kindle Fire display and touchscreen despite few shortcomings I’ve mentioned above. Considering $199 price point it is great “bang-for-the-buck”

Now let’s take a closer look at actual day-to-day usage scenarios and see how good or bad Kindle Fire is at getting done things normally expected of tablets.

Kindle Fire Web Browsing (technical stuff)

Browsing the web is by far the most common activity people perform on mobile devices. Ideally one would want to have the same experience when consuming and generating web-content as on the desktop or laptop. Small form factor, limited battery, processing power, lack of physical keyboard and mouse dictate some limitations and open some new opportunities. Lets see how well will Kindle Fire fare when browsing the Web.

Any Internet browsing is going to be only as good as the Internet connection that is available. Kindle Fire uses 802.11b/g/n WiFi to connect to the Internet. In theory 802.11n networks can support speeds up to 600Mbps in ideal conditions. However most practical implementations have a much more modest limit of 150Mbs. This is still more than enough to stream blu-ray quality HD video in real-time. However conditions are rarely ideal. Also having a fast WiFi chip and good wireless router (even with excellent ISP down the line) may not be enough. In order to achieve fast network speeds device must have the processing power to move and consume the data.

Fortunately being a modern Android device, Kindle Fire supports Adobe Flash so I was able to use speedtest.net to measure ping, upload and download speed. It measured ping at 58ms, download at 3.56 megabit per second and upload at 2.76. When doing the same measurement from my desktop that is connected to the router via 1 gigabit wire results were: ping 14ms, 29.15Mbps download and 5.06Mbps upload (which is exactly what I pay Comcast for). So running data though the air rather than wire definitely slows things down. To find out how much is to blame on my router and neighbors RC toys and how much on Kindle Fire I ran a couple more tests from my Samsung Windows 8 tablet and iPad 2. Both produced upload and download speeds of around 5Mbps and ping or around 15ms. It is clear that while my wireless network has it’s limitations, Kindle Fire didn’t utilize it fully. It mostly suffered in the ping department. What this means in reality is that all things being equal you will see content on Kindle Fire 0.04 seconds later than you would on another device. In reality Kindle Fire provides speed and latency that is well enough to browse the web and even stream HD video at 720p.

While downloading content fast is nice it would be useless unless one could display the content properly. In modern web there are several standards that matter in terms of interactive content: HTML, HTML5 and Flash.

When originally released, Kindle Fire ran Linux version of Adobe Flash 10.3.186.50. It rendered most flash content without any problems and it rendered it fast. Not bad for a mobile device.

In terms of HTML standard compliance Kindle Fire web-browser scored 95/100 on Acid3 test. Not bad, but desktop versions of Internet Explorer 10 and latest version of Google Chrome can do 100/100. Out of sheer curiosity I ran Acid3 test on Kindle Touch and Kindle Keyboard. Both scored perfect 100/100.

Another important browser benchmark is Javascript performance. One of the standard ways to measure it is WebKit SunSpider test. It takes Kindle Fire 2,635 milliseconds to run one iteration. This is not bad for a mobile device at all. To put this into perspective, it takes 1st generation iPad 2,932 milliseconds to run the same test, while iPad 2 scores 1816ms. Windows PC based on Intel Core i5 CPU on the other hand runs it in 343 milliseconds. It took some time to finish by 1st generation NOOKcolor also managed to get though the test, scoring 13,624 milliseconds. While it is not fair to compare last year’s device to a modern one, it’s the best I can do at the moment.

Next lets take a look at HTML5 compliance. To test it I navigated Kindle Fire browser to html5test.com. it scored 196/450.  Not bad, but not too good either. Nook Color scored 181/450. IE10 scored 300/450 and latest version of Google Chrome scored 343/450. If you are interested in the gory details of what is supported and what is not – see this separate post.

While not perfect, in practice these results aren’t discouraging. HTML5 is still an emerging standard and most of websites are built on older technologies. Webmasters want their sites to be compatible with as many browsers as possible and cut down on shiny features in favor of compatibility.

All of the browsing except secure HTTPS websites goes though Amazon Silk proxy server. It serves several purposes. First it makes web-surfing more secure in public spots since all communications between Kindle Fire and Amazon Silk servers are encrypted. If you are using unsecure open hotspot like one in Starbucks, nobody would be able to eavesdrop on your web-browsing. HTTPS communications are not only encrypted but also guarantee that the server your browser connects to is indeed the one you see in the address bar and there are no middle-men, so Amazon Silk is disabled. This can be easily verified by visiting http://whatismyip.com/ and https://whatismyip.com/. Former would report “Possible Proxy Detected: HTTP/1.1 silk”

What is it that Amazon Silk does to speed up browsing exactly? In essence it does several things:

  1. Acts as a smart proxy and central point of contact for the browser. So rather than having to connect to a dozen of separate servers to collect all images, scripts, videos etc found on the page, Kindle Fire browser only has to connect to Silk server which is faster.
  2. Silk server may already have all or some of the resources needed to show the page so it can start sending them right away along with the page itself
  3. Statistically Silk knows which web-pages people visit, it Silk would pre-load your next most likely destination into the browser (top headline on a news website)
  4. Some of the page elements may be processed on Amazon EC2 (Elastic Computing) servers which are more powerful than Kindle Fire (see Javascript performance analysis above). How exactly this works is a bit of a mystery for me right now. I hoped to get a peek into it by sniffing network traffic between Kindle Fire and Amazon Silk, but the fact that this traffic is encrypted made it impossible

At the end of the day it is supposed to make your browsing faster, so that you could see web-pages you are interested in sooner. In reality it doesn’t help as much as one could hope for several reasons:

  1. Bad WiFi connection is still a bad WiFi connection, no matter what. Things will be slow.
  2. Websites that require you to log in (like Facebook) will not benefit from this technology at all because Amazon can’t cache anything because it is encrypted and specific to your account.

At the end of the day, Silk or no Silk, Kindle Fire still has a good functional web-browser that handles day-to-day tasks good enough. Here’s what I tried to do

Kindle Fire Browser (trying to do things)

  • Open blogkindle.com :) – success – works flawlessly. Website renders as good as it does on a desktop.
  • Try to type up a short post for blogkindle.com – partial failure – post editor works only partially in Kindle Fire Browser. It is possible to type raw HTML, but visual WordPress editor doesn’t work. In case you are wondering – it doesn’t work on iPad either.
  • Log into facebook.com, read other people’s posts, post a status update – success.
  • Log into twitter.com, read tweets and post one of my own – success.
  • Browse CNN.com – success
  • Open Gmail.com – success – both mobile and desktop versions work without problems on Kindle Fire. Of course there is also email app for that.
  • Play a Flash game on addictinggames.com – more fail than success – the game runs, but it is too choppy and slow to enjoy.
  • Browse amazon.com – success. It would be very surprising if it were otherwise.
  • Watch a youtube.com video – success

Conclusion: Kindle Fire has more than adequate web-browser. Compared to browsing on iPad I saw no difference (including benefit from Amazon Silk).

You can cutomizer your browser, by tapping on the menu button and selecting “Settings”. Some interesting things that you can do there are:

  • Disable Amazon Silk by checking “Accelerate page loading” off
  • Enable or disable pop-up blocker
  • Configure whether browser would remember passwords and form data
  • Clear cookies for individual websites – “Website Settings” at the very bottom of settings menu.
  • And if you are afraid you screwed something up you can “Reset to default”

Reading periodicals (Newsstand)

Kindle Fire gives you instant access to dozens of newspapers and magazines. You can either subscribe and have then automatically delivered to your device by the virtue of wireless Internet or just buy specific issues you are interested in. Many magazines feature 90-day free trial subscriptions. All purchases are stored in Amazon Cloud so you can always re-download newspapers and magazines that you purchased or subscribed to before to any Kindle Fire device that is registered to your account. The experience is pretty much identical Kindle eBooks and surely is convenient. There are two ways newspapers and magazines can work on Kindle Fire.

First one is very similar to eInk Kindle experience in terms of text layout, ability to customize text by selecting from one of the 8 font sizes, 3 line spacing settings, 3 margin sizes, color modes (white-on-black, black-on-white, gray-on-yellowish sepia) and these typefaces: Georgia, Caecilia, Trebuchet, Verdana, Arial, Times New Roman, Courier and Lucida. Of course, photos are in color and page turns animations are nice in smooth, but in essence reading a newspaper on Kindle Fire is the same structured experience it is on eInk Kindle – you see a list of sections and articles, you chose one and read it start to end.

Alternatively a magazine can be available was a set of high-resolution images that you can flip through much like a regular paper copy. You can pinch to zoom in and zoom out and flip though thumbnails. There is no way to customize text appearance in this case. While full page images are nice to look at, it is easier and comfortable to read articles the other way. Also, despite the fact that Kindle Fire is powered by dual-core 1Ghz CPU, zooming and flipping these large color images can be choppy.

Some of the subscriptions that you already have on eInk Kindle might be available for Kindle Fire (ex: Forbes Magazine), others (like Wall Street Journal) might not be. Alternatively is it possible that a magazine is only available on Kindle Fire and not on eInk devices (ex: “O, The Oprah Magazine”). I can understand why some content may be limited to color screen devices for quality purposes. But limiting something like WSJ to only eInk can be explained only by legal/copyright reasons.

Reading Books

Some were expecting Kindle Fire book reading experience to be simply Kindle App for Android pre-loaded on the device. Others expected text-to-speech being available. Neither turned out to be true. Kindle Fire reading app provides everything that one might expect from good eReader app. The app is an integral part of the home screen, available as “Books” tab. Within the tab usual “Cloud”, “Device” and “Store sections are present, making it easy to access and organize your eBooks.

  • Text customization (same as for newspapers and magazines): line spacings, margins, night/day/sepia modes and 8 typefaces to choose from
  • You can bookmark (invoke menu by tapping the center of the screen) and click on bookmark image
  • Highlights and annotations are supported and they will synchronize across all your Kindle devices. You can’t however share those via Facebook and Twitter as with eInk devices.
  • You can search within the text of currently open book or within book names but not withing the text of all books downloaded to the device (as with Kindle Keyboard, Kindle Touch or Kindle Non-Touch). Unlike eInk devices, Kindle Fire doesn’t create an index that allows to search for a word instantly. Instead the reader app will go through the book each time you do a search. The process is relatively fast.  It takes Kindle Fire 44 seconds to go through entire “Lord of the Rings” trilogy when looking for a word.
  • New Oxford English dictionary is available for doing quick look ups of words within a book. Wikipedia and Google can also be used. Unfortunately there is no way to replace the default dictionary with another one (perhaps one that can be used for translation)
  • You can maximize embedded images to full screen and zoom further in by using pinch zoom.
  • Text-to-speech or any other form of accessibility is not supported

Most recently read books are added to the home screen carousel for fast and easy access.

By default Kindle App also handles PDF files. Whlie the files are readable, there isn’t a whole lot that you can do with them – not even search. Just flip pages and pinch zoom. Fortunately, 3rd party apps can be installed from the App Store (including Adobe Reader). If you root your device and enable Google Andoid Marketplace, your selection of PDF readers would be even greater.

This gets us to an interesting topic also related to reading books. Once you enable Google Android Market, you can install Android apps from other eBook stores and make broad eBook selection already available to you from Amazon even broader. More out of curiosity’s sake rather than for any practical benefit I went though the exercise of rooting my Kindle Fire, enabling Android market and installing following eReader apps:

  • Barnes & Noble NOOK
  • Google Reader
  • Kobo Reader
  • Sony Reader

Listening to Music

Kindle Fire comes equipped with stereo speakers, 3.5mm headphones jack and built in access to Amazon MP3 store. I’ve been using this store long before Amazon Cloud Drive/Player came about because Amazon sells their music DRM-free. Once you buy the track you can do whatever you want – play it on any number or iPods (or any other MP3 players), computers, smartphones, burn it to CDs etc. There are no restrictions at all. With introduction of Cloud Drive/Player, all your MP3 purchases are automatically copied to your Cloud Drive and will be stored there forever for free. It is easy for Amazon to do it since they already have the files on their servers. All they need to do is remember that you purchased the tracks and give you access to them when you need it.

Kindle Fire integration of Amazon Cloud makes it even more convenient. You can either stream your music right from the Cloud without bothering to download or you can download the music to device local storage in case you are going to listen it somewhere where WiFi networks are not available.

New to Amazon MP3 store but already have large collection of DRM-free MP3 files from elsewhere? No problem – you can upload your collection to the Cloud Drive and it will be as accessible as tracks that you’ve purchased from Amazon. Depending on the size of your collection, you may need to pay a small amount to Amazon yearly for storing your files.

You can browse your collection by artist, album or song and search within it. You can further organize it by creating playlists. Playlists are stored in the Cloud as well, so they will automatically synchronize across all your devices. You can access them thought the browser of your computer as well.

Built-in MP3 player is great, but it is not the only way you can listen to music on your Kindle Fire. There are also apps like Pandora, TuneIn Radio, Last.fm. All these are available though Amazon AppStore for Android – there is no need to root the device to get these applications.

The only shortcoming of Kindle Fire when it comes to listening to music is in the hardware department – Kindle Fire doesn’t have a Bluetooth radio. Making it impossible to use Bluetooth wireless headsets. These headsets normally come equipped with Play/Pause, Prev/Next track and volume control buttons offsetting the inconvenience of these buttons being absent on the device itself.

Listening to audiobooks

You can install audible app and download audiobooks straight to your Kindle Fire device without the need to connect the device to computer. Works perfectly. My only wish here is for Audible (actually owned by Amazon) to implement a system similar to Whispersync that would synchronize listening position in audiobook across all my devices.

Watching Videos

Another common use of tablet computers is watching movies and TV shows. Amazon has been in this market for quite some time with their Amazon Unbox offering. While video offerings from Amazon aren’t as generous as their MP3 “no-DRM, play anytime, anywhere as much as you want” they are still pretty good. There are several ways that you can get videos:

  • If you have Amazon Prime (and if you just purchased Kindle Fire, you do for at least a month from the day of your purchase), you can access 10,000+ video titles for free anytime you want from your Kindle Fire
  • You can rent movies and TV shows for a fixed price and watch them within 48 hours. So far I’ve seen most videos prices at $2.99 per rental.
  • Some movies are available for “buy to own” type purchase. This means that once you pay, you can stream the title on any device (or through the browser). Purchased movies can also be downloaded to the Kindle Fire device to be watched even when the device is offline.
  • You can copy your own video files to Kindle Fire and play then on the device

For videos streamed from Amazon, Whispersync keeps track of last watched location and synchronizes it across devices – much like last read page in Kindle eBooks. This way you can resume watching video at the same spot where you left off.

Videos that you manually copy via USB cable will not show up in the video tab of the home screen which is a pity. There are several ways that they can be accessed however. You can browse them in the Gallery app that comes with the device and lets you browse your photos as well. Or you can install a file browser like “ES File Explorer” and use it to browse and open your videos.

Once again, hardware is the area where Kindle Fire falls short of being perfect. Had it been equipped with HDMI output, it would have been possible to view all this video content on a larger screen. While nice to have this is not a huge deal since the same content can be streamed via PC or a host of other devices that can connect to Amazon (ex: my Samsung TV can do it via free downloadable app)

One thing worth noting is that Amazon Video streaming and download will not work while device is rooted. You can however root the device, do what you need to do, unroot it and get video streaming back. While device is rooted, video related buttons are disabled and there is a link underneath them that displays a message: “”Your device is no longer configured correctly to play Amazon videos. For more information see Help & Feedback under Settings.” followed by instructions that eventually lead you to customer support phone call. In my case CS rep didn’t know what was going on and forwarded my ticket to Tier-2 support. Meanwhile I’ve figured out the problem myself by unrooting the device.

Once again, there are other ways to get videos on your Kindle Fire besides Amazon. These ways come in the form of apps that you can get form the Amazon app store like Hulu Plus and Netflix.

Using Documents

Kindle comes with basic QuickOffice pre-installed. Basic version will let you only view documents. While full version will allow editing them as well. Additional apps expand documents handling functionality of Kindle Fire even further. Enabling Google Android store would take it even further.

Realistically though, tablets are meant fro content consumption – not creation or manipulation. This stems from the hardware limitations dictated portability and long battery life requirement. Even something as simple as preparing a blog post by half typing it out of your head and half copy-pasting data from other sources is nearly impossible to accomplish even on iPad, even with keyboard dock attached. Never mind 7″ tablet with no keyboard.

Document tab on the start screen is dedicated only to documents in one of the formats that are natively supported by Kindle Readers (PRC, MOBI, etc) or converted to these formats via Amazon online conversion tool. Conversion is accomplished by attaching a document to email sent to your special @kindle.com email address that is conveniently displayed on the “Docs”  tab of Kindle Fire or on the “Manage Your Kindle” page on Amazon.com

Kindle Fire Apps

Kindle Fire runs Gingerbread version of Android operating system that was heavily modified by Amazon. Although Amazon has their own Android app store with proprietary signing and certification standards, the code in the apps that run on Kindle Fire is still code written for Android. Many app developers have taken their existing Android apps and just certified then with Amazon to make them available on Kindle Fire. There are currently more than 20,000 apps available in the Amazon app store. This is just a tiny portion of apps that are available in general Google Android store but a lot of useful apps are already there and the number keeps increasing.

You can side-load apk packages from sources other than Amazon app store by enabling “Allow Installation of Applications from Unknown Sources” in the “Device” section of settings. You can download apk files from Kindle Fire browser and run then from there – no need to connect to the computer at all.

Obtaining apk files may be hard or impossible (in case of paid apps). You can still get access to all of the applications available in Google Android store by temporarily rooting your device and installing the Marketplace app.

When it is done you will be able to see updates that are already available in the general store by didn’t yet make it though Amazon certification process. If the app was originally installed from Amazon store, updates from Google store will fail to install because of different signing certificate. You should also keep in mind that buying app in one store doesn’t give you access to the same app in another. You can however install Amazon store on any android device since it is just an app freely available though Google App Marketplace. As I mentioned before it is possible to install Google marketplace on Kindle Fire as well, without losing any benefits.

Instructions for rooting and enabling Google Marketplace are available on several blogs but not all of them work. I’ll make instructions that I verified to work available here on this blog a bit later.

Another marketplace that Kindle Fire comes preloaded with is Amazon app for purchasing tangible good from Amazon – good for Amazon.

Email app is preloaded on Kindle Fire. Calendar is not, but it can be downloaded from the app store.

Kindle Fire Software

Kindle Fire Home screen is simple, yet efficient. It will probably fail to satisfy people who are used to something like GO Launcher EX heavily customized with additional widgets. But for most practical purposes it gets the job done.

Each tab except “Docs” and “Web” has 3 uniform sections: “Cloud”, “Device” and “Store”, making it easy to manage content on the device regardless of it’s type. Each section supports searching of content items by name. This is similar to how books used to be arranged on Kindle eInk devices prior to introduction of collections – you can tons of items piled up in archived items or home screen, but you can find the one you need quickly by searching for the right word. Often you don’t need to search at all because the content you need is at the top of the screen because you accessed it recently.

With Kindle Fire most recently viewed items regardless of type (book, video, music or app) are shown in the carousel on the home screen. You can also pin favorite items to the favorites shelf below the carousel so that these items are readily available regardless of when was the last time you used them.

Carousel animations are nice and smooth. Standard Android buttons (Home, Back, Menu and Search) appear at the bottom portion of the screen when they are needed. Notifications can be viewed by swiping the finger down from the upper-left part of the screen. Swiping from upper-right brings down tool bar for quickly controlling things like WiFi, sound volume, screen brightness and sync. It also acts as access point to device settings.

All-in-all, in quite happy with Kindle Fire software. Amazon did a good job cooking raw Android so that it can be safely digested by general public.

Kindle Fire Hardware

Although overall I consider Kindle Fire a device with great value for a modest price and it would be unrealistic to expect too much from device that sells for $199 I’m still going to list things that I found lacking in the hardware so that prospective buyers would be aware of them:

  • Lack of hardware buttons besides power button. It is a problem since standard android buttons that apps rely on just being there are not always visible. It may take extra gestures to bring them out. When the app hangs it maybe impossible to bring them out altogether until the OS realizes that the app is not responding. During this time, volume control is not available either.
  • Having something as simple as a mic (that isn’t that expensive really) would enable running Skype on Kindle Fire and would have unlocked a very useful scenario, making the device even more competitive. Going one step further and adding a webcam would have been even greater boon.
  • Having Bluetooth connectivity would have made the device much more competitive as audio player. Kindle Fire could sit in your purse or backpack, while you would listen to music via wireless headset and use buttons on the headset to control the playback. Being able to use the headset would offset the disadvantage of missing the built in mic.
  • Having HDMI connectivity would have been nice as well.

Other than that Kindle Fire is solid in terms of hardware, sporting a dual core CPU and very nice IPS display.

Conclusion

Kindle Fire is a very competitive device that comes connected to tons for different content from Amazon (and other companies via apps):

  • Books,
  • Music,
  • Video,
  • Apps,
  • The Web

It has been built around the idea of making this content easily available to customers. The same idea that propelled Kindle eBook reader to success and made it a market leader. For $199.00, Kindle Fire is definitely the biggest bang for the buck in terms of things that it enables you to do. Surely there is always room for improvement, but isn’t it always the case?

Kindle Fire has enjoyed a positive reception from both critics and users. Reviews on the Web are mostly positive. Less than 48 hours from being made available it has already accumulated 761 review on Amazon and counting. Out of these, 395 are 5-star reviews.

PS: I took several picture an screenshots during this review – will add them a bit later.

Kindle Touch Review (hands-on)

Kindle Touch at a glance

Kindle Touch Weight

Kindle Touch Weight

In case you are in a hurry or are not interested in the in-depth technical stuff you can just read though this brief review to get a high level scoop on recently released Kindle Touch.

  • Noticeably smaller than Kindle Keyboard (KK/K3) and 0.5oz lighter. Just a notch larger (hardly noticeable) than Kindle 4 Non-Touch (K4NT) and 1.7oz heaver.
  • Exactly same eInk Pearl screen as in Kindle Keyboard and Kindle Non-Touch (verified with colorimeter). Unlike backlit screens of tablets, eInk reads like a paper, so it is very readable in direct sunlight. On the other hand you will need a light to read from Kindle when it is dark. Some options include leather cases with built in lights and clip-on lights. Touch works based on infrared sensors so nothing is overlayed on top of the screen preserving its contrast.
  • Only two buttons: Power and “Home”. Everything else is controlled by multi-touch and gestures (including page turns)
  • No computer required – books and audio books are downloaded directly to the device. However you can still connect Kindle Touch to computer to transfer books via USB cable in case you can’t or don’t want to use 3G or WiFi
  • Long battery life of up to 2 months on a single charge.
  • WiFi only or 3G + WiFi connectivity available. However web-browsing of websites other than Wikipedia and Shelfari (Amazon’s free encyclopedia) only works though WiFi
  • Text-to-speech can read your eBooks and (!!!) PDF documents to you via built-in speakers or headphones.
  • Whispersync will automatically synchronize reading position between all your Kindle devices and apps so you can seamlessly read one book on many devices.
  • Audiobooks from audible are downloadable directly from the Web and playable on Kindle. No computer required.
  • Kindle Touch has a built-in MP3 player that can play music while you are reading books. Actually it can just play – you don’t have to read a book, unless you want to
  • Built-in dictionary to look up definitions and translations of words in books and documents. You can also look up things in Wikipedia.
  • Unicode support allows reading books in many languages, including Russian, Japanese, Chinese, Korean.
  • X-ray feature allows you navigate characters and high-level concepts in a book
  • Native support for PDF, MOBI, PRC, TXT and HTML. Other document types can be loaded onto Kindle via Amazon online conversion.
  • Compared to previous Kindle versions PDF support has been improved.
  • More than 1,000,000 in-copyright books available for purchase. Wast majority of these for $9.99 or less (including most of New York Times bestsellers). On top of these there are also around 2 million out of copyright books available for free.
  • First chapters in any book are available to read as free samples.
  • You can check out books from your local community library. For Amazon Prime subscribers it is also possible to loan books from Amazon library for unlimited time.
  • Newspapers, magazines and blog subscriptions are automatically wirelessly delivered to Kindle Touch.
  • 4 gigabytes of built-in flash memory can store up to 3,500 books at the same time.
  • All eBooks that you buy from Amazon can be downloaded as many times as you like to your Kindle, PC, iOS, Android, Windows Phone 7 and other reading apps.
  • Social features include Twitter and Facebook integration along with the ability to share book highlights and see passages that other people most frequently highlight in a book that you are reading.
  • WebKit-based browser that can easily open complex web-applications such as GMail.
  • 4 models to chose from:

Now lets take a deeper look at all o the aspects and features of Kindle Touch and how it compares to two other 6″ eInk devices – Kindle Keyboard (KK) and Kindle Non-Touch (KNT). I will refer and compare Kindle Touch (KT) a lot to these devices in the course of this review.

Kindle Touch Ergonomics

It is amazing how quickly we can become spoiled, especially when comparing things. Kindle 3 felt significantly lighter when compared to Kindle 2. Kindle 4 Non-touch felt like a feather compared to Kindle 3. As I hold all 3 current devices (Keyboard, Non-touch and Touch) and compare, I can clearly feel the difference in weight. Kindle Fire that also lays in front of me feels like a brick when compared to eInk devices. Yet the truth is that all 6″ eInk devices (and perhaps even 9.7 Kindle DX) are light enough not to bother you during prolonged reading. It takes reading for more than an hour on something as heavy as original iPad for my hand to go numb. According to Amazon Kindle Touch weights 7.8 with 3G modem and 7.5 without. My electronic scale actually put 3G version at 7.6oz. It seems like Amazon is systematically overstates weight of their devices starting from Kindle 3. To put this into perspective, Kindle Non-Touch weighs 5.9oz, and Kindle Keyboard – 8.5oz. Of course Sony PRS-350 is smaller and lighter still at 5.3oz but at a price of having a smaller screen.

Kindle Touch is just a notch larger (6.8″ x 4.7″ x x 0.40″) than it’s non-touch counterpart (6.5″ x 4.5″ x 0.34″) and smaller than Kindle Keyboard (7.5″ x 4.8″ x 0.34″). Weight and size difference can most likely be attributed to increased battery capacity.

As far as controls are concerned, 3 eInk Kindles have different control paradigms each of which has its pros and cons. Lets look at most typical eReader usage scenarios:

Scenario Kindle Touch Kindle Keyboard Kindle Non-Touch
Flipping pages Touch page flipping area or swipe. Either forward or backward page turn can be accomplished one-handed. Excellent experience. Press page turn button. You can page forward and backward one-handed. Excellent experience. Same as Kindle Keyboard. Excellent experience.
Finding a book or location within a book by keywords Couple of taps to open search box and then you can type on on-screen touch keyboard which is rather responsive. Couple more taps to select search context if needed. Two hands required. Good experience. Just start typing on the physical keyboard. Search context easily selectable with 5-way controller. Two-handed operation. Best experience. Invoke on-screen keyboard with physical button and “type” by selecting letters with 5-way controller. You can still use just one hand (though using two is more comfortable). Overall it is a slow and tedious process.
Look up word in a dictionary Touch the word and hold for a short time. Can be one- or two-handed operation depending on where the word is on the page. Excellent experience. Use 5-way controller to select the word on a page. Can require a lot of clicking. One-handed operation. Overall acceptable experience. Use 5-way controller to select the word on a page. Can require a lot of clicking. Doing this one-handed is not as comfortable as with Kindle Keyboard because 5-way controller is located in the middle of the device. Overall acceptable experience but slightly less so than with Kindle Keyboard.
Look up word in Wikipedia or Google There is no way to select a word or a phrase within a book to conduct a search. You need to type it on on-screen touch Keyboard. Less than optimal experience. Definitely two-handed Select word or phrase with 5-way, then press “Space” on keyboard. Use 5-way to select search context. Acceptable experience. Can be done one-handed. Alternatively you can just type the word on keyboard. Same as with Kindle Keyboard when it comes to selecting the word in a book, but instead of “Space” you need to press “Keyboard” button twice. Acceptable experience.
Navigate via table of contents 3 taps to get to table of contents, then just tap on the chapter name to go there. Two-handed operation because 3 initial tap points are on top, bottom and center of the screen. Overall good experience Use menu and 5-way controller to get to ToC and then 5-way controller to select an item. One-handed operation. ToC is easier to get to but harder to navigate with 5-way. Overall good experience. Same as Kindle Keyboard but a bit more awkward because of central location of 5-way controller.
Highlight a passage / share on social Tap, wait and drag to select the passage you want to highlight, then tap to confirm. Very convenient. Can be either one or two-handed operation depending where the passage is. Use 5-way to select start and end of the passage to be highlighted. Acceptable experience Same as Kindle Keyboard but a bit more awkward because of central location of 5-way controller.
Go to next/prev chapter Swipe up to go to the next chapter, swipe down to go back to the previous one. Can be done with one hand. Excellent easy experience. Use left or right on the 5-way controller. Easy one-handed experience. Same as Kindle Keyboard but a bit more awkward because of central location of 5-way controller.

As you can see, the most frequent operation of flipping a book page is equally comfortable on all devices. In other operations, touch and keyboard perform on par with each other. So it’s really a question of what you will do more often. If English is a second language for you and you will frequent the dictionary than touch will have an advantage. If you annotate with text a lot, then keyboard rules the day. Non-touch device will give you some minor trouble even in such basic operations like finding a book by name (among 100s of other books in your archived items) but it pays back for this inconvenience in reduced size and weight.

As with Sony devices that pioneered eInk + touchscreen combo, there is a noticeable lag between finger manipulations and things happening on the screen. At first it seemed a little annoying to me but very soon I got used to it and stopped noticing it altogether. The convenience of selecting any word on the page by merely pointing at it is worth it.

Kindle Touch Screen

The screen in new Kindle Touch is the same eInk Pearl that Amazon has been using since Kindle 3. It is also currently used by Sony and Barnes & Noble in their PRS and Nook devices. It features resolution of 600 x 800 pixels and can display 16 shades of gray. It has higher contrast compared to older generations of eInk and quicker refresh time.

Kindle 3, 4 and Touch Screen comparison

Kindle 3, 4 and Touch Screen comparison

Although some people on forums claim that screens look different, I tend to disagree. I’ve measured all 3 screens with colorimeter that is normally used for printer calibration and found the measurements to be close enough. Small discrepancies can be attributed to normal screen quality variance, different screen age and wear and minor measurement errors. The difference is so small that it wouldn’t be noticeable to a naked eye. This graph shows measurements of the L component of Lab color for 16 shades of gray, with “0″ being total black and “15″ being “total white”. “L” component is indicative of the brightness and disregards color information. “a” and “b” components were close to zero indicating almost neutral gray color with a slight greenish tint.

Touch interface is implemented by infrared sensors located on the edges of the screen. This way nothing is overlayed on top of eInk avoiding low-contrast disaster that resistive tochscreen film caused in Sony PRS-600. IR touchscreen attributes to a slightly thicker bezel around the screen. I’m guessing that to conserve battery power, IR transmitters light up only few times a second until user touch is detected and then sampling frequency is increased. This can explain why there is a lag that is longer that can be attributed to eInk refresh speed and why very quick taps on the screen can be ignored by the device altogether (though not always).

Although if you rotate your Kindle around you can find an angle at which fingerprints will be clearly visible, they are not during normal reading. So this is not a problem (for me at least)

All-in-all eInk + Touch combo is not perfect but it does provide added convenience over keyboard and even more so over the lack of keyboard in non-touch version.

Kindle Touch Battery

Given my past experience with Kindle 4 dis-assembly (and how it turned out to be irreversible) I’m going to put off taking Kindle Touch apart to see what is inside, including the battery. Based on the device weight and claimed battery life, I’m guessing that it would have the same capacity as in Kindle Keyboard or more to accommodate for infrared touch screen power use. However I suspect that it might be of the same soft-case, glued-in non-replaceable kind as in Kindle 4 Non-Touch. My second Kindle Touch is scheduled to arrive on November 22nd and then we’ll know.

Kindle Touch Fonts

Just as in Kindle 3, Kindle Touch features unicode font support enabling users to read texts in non-latin languages such as Russian, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, etc. No hacks are required. I did some quick tests and confirmed that Russian and Japanese Hiragana definitely work. If the language you need is not supported you can always bypass this limitation by saving the document as PDF that has all of the fonts embedded.

When reading books, Kindle Touch allows you to configure the font. You can select from:

  • 3 typefaces: regular, condensed and sans-serif
  • 8 font sizes that can be configured wither via fonts dialog or just by doing an pinch-zoom
  • 3 settings or line spacing
  • 3 settings of line width (called “words per line”)
Using large fonts can be a great help for readers with impaired vision.

Kindle Touch Software

According to “Device Info” section in “Settings” my Kindle Touch currently runs software version 5.0.0 (1370280073). Kindle Keyboard currently has software version 3.3, and Kindle Non-Touch has 4.0.1. While there is little in terms of visible differences between 3.x and 4.x branches of Kindle firmware, unsurprisingly version 5.x looks like a major overhaul since it had to accommodate a whole new paradigm of touch interface. But changes in the software go beyond just touch. Some existing features were changed and several new ones were added. Here’s  a scoop of what I’ve found so far:

  • Table of Contents (both structural and in-text) now works in PDF
  • Text-to-speech now works in PDF too.
  • X-ray book rich information system. Lets you browse characters and high-level concepts found in the book. At the moment this feature is enabled for only a small fraction of Kindle eBooks
  • Only portrait orientation is currently available for reading book or viewing PDF files. There are claims on message boards that landscape may be enabled via future software update
  • MP3 player got a face-lift. In Kindle 2 and Kindle 3 you could only use hot-keys to start or pause it and advance to the next track. There was no way to go back. In Kindle Touch MP3 player controls are visible in book menu. You can play/pause, go back and forth between music tracks and control volume all with touch. Unfortunately there is still no artist/album navigation
  • Audiobook player takes advantage of touch so you can easily jump to any location within the book
  • Settings page was reworked and made more organized
  • You can configure Kindle to do a full page refresh after each page turn to eliminate ghosting. By default this happens after every 6 page turns.
  • Web-browser can access websites other than Wikipedia and Shelfari only when you are connected to WiFi (not via 3G). On the other hand you can access AT&T hotspots in the US for free.

Kindle Touch PDF support

One of the areas that was reworked in Kindle Touch is PDF file support.

Kindle finally added support for internal and external PDF hyperlinks. So things that were clickable in Adobe Acrobat Reader on PC are now clickable on Kindle. PDF documents became much easier to navigate. Another welcome addition was added support for structured table of contents that Adobe Acrobat normally displayed as a “tree-structure” to the left of the document. Kindle displays it as a flat menu. Again it makes documents easier to navigate. In the past one had to rely on search or “go to page…” command.

These commands are still there and work well.

Text-to-speech now works in PDF documents too.

Unfortunately landscape viewing mode is no longer there which makes documents that were designed to A4 or US Letter paper size very hard or impossible to read without zooming. Pan and zoom is controlled by multi-touch as one would expect, but it is not as convenient as switching your 6″ Kindle into landscape mode and paging though the document. With Kindle Touch, once you zoom in, you loose the ability to flip pages (need to zoom all the way out first). Panningg is reasonably fast due to the fact that the viewer updates only half of the pixels on screen and even those in 2-color mode. Once you stop panning a full page refresh follows to eliminate ghosting and display the image in full quality.

Found in UR, Frank Herbert’s Dune (though not “Dune’s Messiah”).

Kindle Touch X-ray

This was one of the highly-advertised features during the Kindle Touch reveal back in September. It lets you browse though characters and concepts in the book and see where they are mentioned. The feature is based on shelfari Amazon community encyclopedia. Currently it is only available in a very limited selection of books. After randomly checking a few dozen of books in my Kindle library I found it working in Stephen King’s “UR” (that was written specifically for Kindle) and Frank Herbert’s “Dune”. What is interesting that it didn’t work in “Dune’s Messiah” which is a sequel. I found it funny that one of the entities in the “Dune” book was “New York Times” due to the fact that it was mentioned in the afterword. While technically this is correct, it is a bit misleading.

Kindle Touch X-Ray

Kindle Touch X-Ray

Kindle Touch Apps

Kindle has supported apps for quite a while. With introduction of Kindle Non-Touch and Kindle Touch, application market has split. Since Kindle Keyboard has been around the longest, most if not all Kindle apps work on that device. On the other hand, most currently do not work on Keyboardless devices due to poor user experience or complete inability to control the app without keyboard shortcuts.

So each individual app may or may not run on every type of Kindle device. With time app developers will update their apps to support as broad range of devices as possible buy meanwhile you can enjoy playing Number Slide on Kindle Touch.

Other small Kindle Touch Features

  • Magazine reading layout was reworked to be more touch friendly and efficient. Font page now features 4 main articles chosen from different section. Either of these can be selected with a single tap.
  • Surprisingly Kindle Touch doesn’t take advantage of pinch zoom to view images within eBooks. You can maximize images for full-screen viewing but can’t zoom in to a specific part of the image
  • When content is downloaded you can see completion percentage ticking in real-time. It can be helpful if you are downloading something like 20 hours unabridged version of Tom Clancy’s “Dead or Alive” audiobook.
  • Although officially Amazon is mum on HTML support, it is present. If you save HTML with file extension TXT into the documents folder, Kindle will open it and basic markup, formatting and hyperlinks will work.

Conclusion

All-in-all, Kindle Touch is another solid eReading device from Amazon. Although previous incarnations of Kindle were already quite good at their main purpose, which is reading books and newspapers. That being said, touchscreen interface still does add some value even if to keep the device usable while making it smaller and lighter. As I was typing this review (more than 3000 words as it turned out), 23 user reviews were already posted on Amazon, more than half of them are 5-star reviews.

With purchase price of $99 (though I’d recommend making a one-time $50 investment to get lifetime free 3G) Kindle Touch provides great value (especially considering the ability to get books for free from library (either your local one or Amazon Prime). If you will find sponsored screensavers annoying, you can always pay $30 that you saved during the initial purchase to amazon to have them removed.

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.

Kindle Fire Review (Pre-release)

I’ve been speculating here about Amazon’s entry into the Tablet PC marketplace for months now.  Finally, we have the Kindle Fire to actually look at.  Sure it might not be here in person to play with yet, but what we know now is enough to come to some real conclusions for a change.  Obviously this new Kindle is going to have a big market, and has already been changing the way tablets are priced, but what will it really bring users that is worth the hype?

The first thing to do is figure out what you want from a Tablet PC.  To me, they are designed perfectly for passive computing.  That is, anything you choose to do that requires minimal user input, be that movie watching, reading, listening to music, or browsing the web.  I would not, for example, prefer to be writing this review on any tablet if I could help it.  It is nice to have the option to do things like play games or edit documents when necessary, but there are (and in my mind will likely always be) better-suited choices for those activities.  This assumption will color my perceptions here, and should you have other preferences my points might not make sense.

That said, I think that what Amazon is bringing to customers with the Kindle Fire is the cohesive media consumption experience.  Most passive computing tasks obviously revolve around media.  The Fire’s default UI  highlights magazines, books, music, and videos without preventing more interactive usage.  It is an all-in-one platform for shopping and usage tightly integrated with the Amazon store.  That said, everybody will be using their tablet differently so it might be helpful to break down the potential uses and how they stack up for the price.

Video

This is clearly where Amazon has been going with the Kindle Fire.  Not only has the Amazon Instant Video service been significantly beefed up recently with selections from big names like CBS and Fox, but the Prime Instant Video streaming options are being highlighted through the bundled Amazon Prime membership preview every tablet will come with.  While I am a big fan of the benefits of the Prime membership anyway, right now it doesn’t do much in terms of digital content distribution besides facilitate movie watching.

The Kindle Fire has a 7″ display with the same sort of wide viewing angle technology that the iPad makes use of.  It’s supposed to be fairly anti-reflective, though that’s something better inspected in person, and looks to provide a great picture.  Its local storage is sufficient for a few hours of video when you’re away from reliable internet connections, and the streaming through the service has proven reliable on other devices already.  While it is a small screen and it would be nice if they had included some form of HDMI output, the video experience should be excellent.

Audio

There’s not too much to say about the anticipated audio capabilities of the device.  It will have internal speakers and a headphone jack.  Music will be playable both from local storage and through the Amazon Cloud Player.  I think it is a safe assumption that the App Store will fill in gaps with things like Pandora and Last.fm, so selection and affordability probably won’t be too much of an issue, and Amazon regularly runs promotions for free songs along with larger purchases if you happen to do much shopping through the main site.

Reading

There are two sides to the question of reading that have to be talked about.  First is the standard reading experience such as we are used to with existing Kindles.  This will almost certainly be less enjoyable on the Kindle Fire due to its back-lit display, but since it uses the Kindle Cloud Reader the experience will be familiar and enjoyable aside from that.

In addition, we finally have real color reading capabilities.  This means the Kindle Fire is the Kindle of choice for all sorts of things from Kid Books to Magazines that wouldn’t work quite right on the monochrome Kindle.  Expect to see a big push with regard to these types of publications in the weeks leading up to the launch of the device.  Amazon has already got a number of deals going, including exclusive deals on a decent selection of magazines and comics.

Web Browsing

The big surprise at the press conference announcing the Kindle Fire was the Silk web browser.  It is essentially a modified Android browser that will offload most of the work to Amazon’s servers.  This has the potential to speed up browsing significantly and may even reduce load on the device itself, increasing battery life.  The biggest advance that it brings to browsing is a predictive analysis of browsing habits that Amazon claims will speed things up even more by preemptively caching the data you are most likely to need next.  We’ll see how it pans out, but it’s a great idea in theory.

Applications

Beyond making the observation that the Amazon Android App Store already has a great selection of apps to choose from, there’s not much point in talking about the app experience.  It’s just too large a topic to generalize on.  From what we have seen, though, the Kindle Fire will be bundled in with an email app and document reader app, both of which seem to be capable of doing the job as well as might be hoped for while maintaining the overall theme of the OS.  Hard to argue with that.

Overall, this is a $200 tablet that seems to offer more functionality than anything else available for less than $500.  It isn’t perfect.  There is no 3G option, the hard drive is small enough that people without reliable internet connections to take advantage of the cloud storage might want to think twice, and the fact that it is a first generation device might mean there are some bugs to iron out in the first months after release.  Even so, I’m of the opinion that the Kindle Fire offers great value for what it does and will make users very happy so long as they know what it can do and what they want out of it going into things.

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 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 Cloud Reader Frees The eBook From The App

Kindle Cloud Reader

Kindle Cloud Reader

Following the recent move by Apple to cripple any iBooks competition via billing requirements, it really isn’t much of a surprise to see Amazon pushing the Kindle Cloud Reader to what seems like it might be an early release.  What is surprising is how functional it is at launch and how familiar it will feel to many people.  Now users can read their Kindle eBooks on any device they happen to have a browser on, at least theoretically, with no need to even think about downloaded Apps.

Right now users can only access the Kindle Cloud Reader through either Apple’s Safari browser or Google Chrome, which is what leads me to believe that this is an early release.  The fact that users will be able to pull this up on iPads but not on Android based Tablets would not make much sense otherwise.  If you attempt to access the service through an alternative browser, you will see nothing but a splash screen for it with a bit of the basic information and links to currently supported choices.  Since Android users still have access to a fully functional Kindle for Android app, however, it makes sense to prioritize elsewhere.  The ads for the service have definitely been making a big deal about the integrated shopping experience for iPad users, which is what distinguishes it from the iOS app.  Without something to make it at least equal to the existing Android Kindle app, not many people should feel the lack.  Support for Firefox, Internet Explorer, the Blackberry Playbook browser, and more have been promised in the months to come.  Given how excellent this early version is already, it’s something to look forward to.

To get started, head to https://read.amazon.com in either of the supported browsers (if you do not have either Chrome or Safari, they are both freely available and linked at the end of this posting). When asked to log into the service, simply enter your usual Amazon.com store account.  Should you like to have your Kindle content available locally even when you are not connected to the internet, which I strongly recommend since it seems to speed things up a bit so far on my end, you will be given the option.  All of your Kindle Edition purchases will be immediately available in a familiar layout, either way.

The Library view is easy to use and will be quite familiar to anybody who has used the Kindle apps before.  You have a couple sorting and arrangement options in the upper-left corner and a size slider when you’re in grid view.  Assuming you decided to enable offline reading via downloaded texts, you should see a Cloud/Downloaded toggle at the top of the screen.  By default, you will not have all of your eBooks downloaded.

Any book that you want to save a local copy of will have to be acquired manually.  Simply find it in the Cloud view, right-click on the cover art, and select “Download and Pin Book”.  Each one takes perhaps ten to thirty seconds on an average internet connection.  According to the Amazon help page for this app, you can store 50MB locally on your iPad.  There are no posted restrictions for people using PC browsers.

When it comes to the actual reading experience, you have pretty much everything you can expect from an eReading application.  On the PC browsing is achieved using the mouse, arrow keys, PgUp/Down buttons, or space bar.  Nothing standard is left out, even if you can’t necessarily map your own keys yet.  There are five font sizes to choose from, adjustable margins that do a good job of accommodating most screen sizes and orientations, and three color schemes.  While there isn’t any finely tuned personalization included, the setup makes the best of the fact that you’ll be reading on an LCD while keeping everything as simple as possible.

The only really major shortcoming right now, aside from the already mentioned lack of universal browser compatibility, is the limited integration of extra features.  For example, there does not seem to be any real way to perform a text search, which rules it out as an app substitute right now for a number of uses.  Also, while you can sync all of your annotations and highlighting, you can’t make any new changes to any of it at this time.  All that really seems included right now is bookmarking and syncing of last pages read.  Given that the whole Whispernet setup makes up a core feature set of the Kindle experience it seems pretty likely that fixing these shortcomings will be happening in the very near future, but this is something to be aware of.

Overall, this is a great offering.  The idea is clearly to stick it to Apple for bringing things to the point of conflict with their App Store purchasing rules, and I would say that even if things never went beyond their present state it would still be enough to be attractive for the majority of iOS Kindle users.  There is literally nothing that Apple can reasonably do to block out Amazon’s control of the platform when it goes through something like this, and there doesn’t seem to be a lot that the browser based nature of the Kindle Cloud Reader would force the company to leave out.

As the application develops, it would not be surprising at all to learn that Amazon intended to replace their entire app presence with Cloud solutions.  The Amazon Cloud Drive and Cloud Player, both of which obviously precede the Kindle Cloud Reader, do a pretty good job of demonstrating the potential.  Perhaps after the success of those it was only a matter of time.  Stay tuned for any updates to the browser app as the feature set and browser compatibility are improved.  We’ll do our best here to keep you abreast of any changes and improvements.

Get Google Chrome Browser

Get Apple’s Safari Browser

In case you have missed it, here’s a post by Andrei with some speculations about where Kindle Cloud Reader came from and where it might be headed.

 

 

 

eReaders in the Classroom: Kindle vs iPad vs Nook Color

I spend a lot of time thinking about the potential uses for eReaders beyond the simple enjoyment they are so well suited to providing.  It’s an interesting pursuit, really.  What it always comes back to, however, is that reading is rarely something people do for anything beyond pleasure in the quantities required to justify something like a Kindle.  Except if you’re a student!

See, students will always have more to read in a given week than they will have any interest in carrying around.  Which makes something like a Kindle an advantage.  At the same time, in many disciplines the mediocre PDF display capabilities, small screen, and lack of color do have the ability to hinder the eReader’s usefulness.  Recently, however, we have the iPad and the Nook Color as more expensive but potentially more versatile additions to the student equipment list.  It made me curious: We can theorize all we want about what should or shouldn’t be the most useful in a professional or academic setting, but what do the people actually using the devices in these situations think?  So I asked.

I talked to 43 students who had all used their eReading device for at least three months.  I then went down the list and found the common complaints and praises to share with you all.  Here’s what we got:

Amazon Kindle

Pros:

  • Battery that lasts forever
  • Glare-free screen
  • Storage aplenty
  • Built-in Dictionary
  • Wide selection of books, both academic & pleasurable

Cons:

  • No color for diagrams
  • No functioning microphone
  • No way to easily take notes during class
  • Awkward pagination
  • Slow text searching
  • Hard to read faculty-scanned articles

Barnes & Noble Nook Color

Pros:

  • Color Screen
  • Very Portable
  • Easy to hack
  • Runs Android
  • Can play games and watch video after hacking

Cons:

  • Poor Battery Life with WiFi turned on
  • Can’t read outside
  • Complicated to install things on
  • Underpowered for full tablet use

Apple iPad

Pros:

  • Runs everything
  • Good screen
  • Can take notes with proper keyboard
  • Fast
  • Lots of apps, no hacking needed

Cons:

  • Heavy
  • Feels breakable
  • Expensive
  • Disliked by some instructors
  • Very easy to spend too much money through

Now, I’ll start out by saying here that not one person I talked to lately was unhappy with their current purchase.  A few of the Nook Color owners had iPad envy, but that was about it. I am also not trying to claim that any of the pros and cons listed for one device do not apply to one of the others.  These were just the things that those I talked to felt was important.  Everything listed was mentioned by at least five eReader owners.

Surprisingly, of the 12 Nook owners, 10 had rooted their eReaders to make them more functional and most of them said that they enjoyed the tablet functionality more than using them for reading.  iPad owners were very happy with their devices, but frequently had trouble with instructors who were wary of potential abuse of the tablets during classes(presumably the same instructors would be anti-laptop as well, of course).  Kindle owners were the most satisfied in general but tended to be students in the Humanities, while some of the color tablet owners, in business students, mentioned having been converted away from the Kindle in favor of something that better displayed charts and graphs.

I wouldn’t say we have any clear winners on this one.  It’s all a matter of what you want to do and how much you want to pay.  If you’re a student in the market for an eReader, you might want to look at some reviews and give these factors some consideration.

For any of you I happened to talk to for this, the responses were appreciated!

Kindle at College

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?

Kindle Textbooks

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?

Kindle Screen Size Review – is there a market for Kindle 3/DX with Medium Sized Screen

In this post I’d like to elaborate on a question: Is there a market for a Kindle with larger screen size (I think next logical Kindle screen size would be somewhere in between 7 and 8 inches)?

At the moment of this review there are two available screen sizes for Kindle. Small version has 6 inch screen and DX version has 9.7 inch screen. Kindle DX screen is quite large and great for reading text books, magazines, newspapers and books with illustrations. But for other books it could be way too large.

Kindle 3G and Kindle WiFi have screen sizes very similar to small paperback books. Kindle 3G/WiFi screen measures to 3.6 in (91 mm) × 4.8 in (122 mm) which is similar to “sixteenmo” page size (the page size of a book made up of printer’s sheets folded into sixteen leaves, each leaf being approximately 4 by 6 inches). It is great format since it is very compact but at the same time it is limited to how much information will fit to one page. Especially this starts to affect your reading experience when you use font scaling.

Even though page turn times significantly improved from first generation of e-Ink – this operation is still time consuming and besides pressing next page button also requires moving your sight from right bottom corner of the screen back to left top corner on each page turn. And flash of the screen doesn’t add to comfort either. Thus by using e-reader with slightly bigger screen may lead to less tired eyes.

E-readers with small screens may be quite useful for people who read very fast since they can scan through entire lines without moving their sight left and right – since on a small screen you can see entire line in focus. But I think number of folks who can read page diagonally in several seconds is quite limited so I won’t consider this as a significant part of this analysis.

Then there is weight and size issue. I highly doubt that increasing screen size by one inch would significantly impact weight. But many people take Kindle with them while travelling and since current Kindle is very compact it could fit in most of the bags – even small ones (on my travels I usually have 17 inch laptop with me so Kindle weight and size is not an issue in my case). So for those who like to carry Kindle in their handbags increasing size of the kindle even by an inch could cause issues. That’s why having two different models may be helpful.

I personally prefer to read books in slightly larger format than what Kindle currently provides. So if Amazon would offer version of Kindle with 7 or 8 inch screen then I would definitely purchase it. What about you – do you think that Kindle with larger screen would make any difference for you?

Kindle at College

One of the advantages to being in a town with a large college presence, let alone spending large amounts of time on the campuses, is the opportunity to informally poll students and get a first-hand account of the happenings in whatever field you happen to be curious about in the field of your choice.  I figured this would be useful for all you college students stuck in the Kindle vs nook vs iPad debate.  Depending on who I manage to run into, I’ll update this list from as more students from more fields become available!

Today’s accounts are taken entirely from a university satellite campus in the northwest suburbs of Chicago.  Everybody I talked to was an active user of at least one device in academic settings.

Kindle vs nook:

Kelli, an English Undergrad, said:

I was basically looking at what would save me money on everything I had to use.  I knew I was going to get whichever one I wanted from my parents to help me out, but for books and things I was stuck with student loans.  I narrowed it down to either the nook or the Kindle 3.  They both looked good, but I got the Kindle because they had a thing where you could get ebooks from other places sent to your Kindle by emailing them.  That made things really easy.  It’s a little annoying to have to have to carry around a notebook inside my Kindle case(It looked to me like she had this one), but I doubt any of the others make note taking any easier and I saved a load by getting mostly free kindle books in all my Lit classes.

Kindle DX PDF Reading:

Markus, a Biology Undergrad, said:

My girlfriend got me one of these because she knows I love to read, but I would rather just pick up a book.  It’s just more fun to feel the paper and smell the book.  Last semester, though, I picked it up off the shelf when my printer broke in the middle of printing off articles for class.  One of my profs had the bright idea that sending us lots of articles would save on our book costs.  Apparently cheap laser printers don’t like printing hundreds of pages per hour.  Anyway, I loaded everything I had left onto the DX and decided to make the best of it until they sent the printer back to me.  By the time it finally showed up, I didn’t really case anymore.  This thing is the perfect size for reading pretty much anything, it zooms in on charts and photos, and you never have to worry about where you set down the paper you were halfway through last night.  I still do all my pleasure reading on dead trees, but I tell everybody to try a large screen Kindle.

Kindle for PC and Mac:

John, a Professional Studies Undergrad, said:

I haven’t quite talked myself into getting the physical Kindle yet, though it looks really cool.  Right now I’m doing pretty well using the software Amazon put out for my Macbook.  It’s easy to use and I can save what I was doing and all the notes I took.  Hell, I even go home for the weekend and know where I stopped reading when I use my parents’ computer and can get some homework done.  I tried out the nookStudy software and it was really nice, but I felt like it was just too bulky and tried to do too much all at once.  Plus it kept trying to redownload my books every time I wanted to read them.  What if I want to save some battery life and turn off the wireless connection?!

Kindle DX vs iPad:

Taquisha, an Early Childhood Ed Undergrad, said:

People in the program tried to get me hooked on the Kindle DX for like an entire semester.  It’s cool, the page turning isn’t nearly as horrible as I thought it would be at first, but even when I got one of my own I ended up sending the thing back.  You can’t use something like that when you’re working with little kids.  It’s durable, but they just don’t care.  All it’s good for is hitting stuff with, as far as they’re concerned.  I finally saved up the extra money and upgraded to an iPad and it works much better.  I can play games with them, show little movies, make slide shows, and still be able to just load the Kindle iPad app when I want to read a book.  Everybody was telling me it’d be bad for my eyes, but I just turn it off for a little while when mine get sore and I’m fine.  I’d definitely say to only go for the Kindle if you want to read on it alone.  It doesn’t help at all when you’re working with kids or in groups.

Well, believe me, there’s plenty more.  Kindles, nooks, iPads, netbooks, and even the occasional less popular eReader are becoming staples of the modern college classroom and it’s not likely to change.  The convenience, especially for students with dozens of online articles to read or several huge textbooks to carry from class to class without a chance to set things down, cannot be beaten. I’ll try to come up with some fresh reviews from another campus some time soon.  It’ll be interesting to have some first hand accounts of how these devices stack up as midterms and such put the pressure on their owners.