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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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October 2014
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Security Flaw Makes Browsing Risky For Kindle Touch Users

The Kindle isn’t ever considered the most secure of devices.  Even here on this site you’ll find many hacks for Kindles from the first generation forward.  Still, this might be the first time I can think of that there has been a hole in the device’s security that poses a genuine problem for both users and Amazon.

heise Security has recently released some proof of concept code that demonstrates the potential for remotely exploiting Kindle Touch devices.  This is a problem occurring in the most recent Kindle Touch 5.1.0 firmware.  The vulnerability allows commands to be injected into the eReader through the WebKit browser.  These commands are then executed at the root level, essentially giving malicious code total control over your Kindle.

Amazon is aware of the problem and working on a patch.  Considering the first indications that there might be a problem to fix came up as early as April, according to the MobileRead forums, they are clearly taking their time about it.  Various reports indicate that there may be some difficulty getting the patch pushed to Kindle Touch users, but until we know more about Amazon’s response that may be speculation.

There are no indications at this time that anybody has managed to create malicious code directed at Kindle Touch users.  While some speculation has revolved around turning Kindles into nodes in massive botnet attacks, that is just potential at this stage.  There are, of course, measures you can take to protect yourself.

The most obvious solution to keeping safe until this is fixed would be to avoid the internet.  Turning off your wireless connection, whether WiFi or 3G, will save you battery life and put your mind at ease.  If you don’t find that appealing, sticking to Amazon’s services and trusted sites will also go a long way toward security.

If that is not enough and something more drastic is desired, there is a way to patch the hole yourself.  For complete instructions, head over to MobileRead and learn about jailbreaking your device.  Ironically, it seems that the most common jailbreaking method right now also uses the exploit in question.  Once you have gained root privileges for your Kindle Touch, however, a tool has been uploaded in this thread that should disable browser-based exploitation from remote sites.

This is probably not a big deal for most users.  It has the potential to turn into something major for Amazon.  A properly made piece of malware could theoretically turn their Kindle Touch line into an internet attack network.  This would be a PR nightmare and cost an unbelievable amount thanks to the free 3G these devices enjoy, but the limitations of the exploit as it is currently understood make it unlikely that any personal information could be stolen or that users could in other ways be easily harmed.

Exercise safe browsing habits and wait for Amazon to issue a firmware update.  New Kindle Touch units are already shipping with 5.1.1 firmware and that will likely be making its way to existing customers soon enough.  Some reports indicate that this update will patch the security hole, though that is not yet confirmed.

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 Touch International Release Begins Ahead of Schedule

The Kindle Touch and Kindle Touch 3G have begun to make their way to customers outside the US a full week ahead of schedule.  Some may already have them in hand.  The company mentioned on Friday that they had begun sending out the new Kindles for pre-order customers.  Shipments are being mailed in the order those pre-orders were received.

The enthusiasm from customers outside the US has apparently exceeded expectations by quite a bit.  Since there has already been a well observed secondary market for Kindle re-sales emerging in areas that did not have access to the device previously, this could indicate a more active expansion on the international scale than we have seen so far.  Much of that will depend on how much ongoing popularity the Kindle enjoys now that it is past the pre-order stage, but it’s safe to say that Amazon will expand to pretty much any area they see the potential for profit in.

At the moment the Kindle Touch and Kindle Touch 3G are, as Amazon claims, the only more or less globally available eReader in the price range to offer such a wide range of features.  While some of them are not fully functional in all circumstances yet, such as the newly introduced translation ability from the last firmware update, the important parts are all still there.  Users will still be able to enjoy the high contrast E Ink screen, two month battery life, and all the other basic eReading functions that we’ve come to expect even in cases where the more creative new abilities have not quite become available.  On top of that, the optional 3G connectivity will work all over the world and remains free of monthly charges no matter where you’re ordering from.

So far we have no word on the possible international release of the Kindle Fire media tablet.  Surely there will be some effort to bring this branch of the Kindle line to a wider audience at some point in the relatively near future, but it could be a complicated enough problem to work through that delays until the next generation of the product would not be surprising.  If nothing else, securing rights to media streaming over a variety of different media forms will tend to involve time-consuming  negotiations of a sort that many publishers don’t want to be in with Amazon given their recent tactics.

Check back here for more information on Kindle Fire international release schedules, tech specs for the Kindle Fire 2, and generally anything Kindle related that I can come up with.  There should be no shortage of such information over the next several months.

Kindle Touch Update 5.1 Adds Landscape Mode, Language Support, and Translation

The Kindle Touch has had its firmware updates in preparation for a multi-national release, it seems.  Version 5.1 actually brings us a number of useful features that users have been vocal about desiring for their eReaders.  While the removal of the physical keyboard may have opened the door for Kindle availability in languages besides English, this is probably the biggest step we have seen so far in terms of making that a reality.

Here’s what we’re looking at right now (Amazon Support Page):

  • Landscape Mode

It is finally possible to switch back and forth between portrait and landscape orientations on the Kindle Touch.  While this has long been an option for Kindles, for whatever reason it has taken until now for the Touch to get with the program.  Good news since there are situations where you can’t reasonably  do without it.

  • Added Language Support

Kindle users can now choose from English, German, French, Spanish, Italian, or Portuguese according to personal preference.

  • Instant Translation

While reading, you can now highlight a word or selection and have it translated for you on the spot.  Translations go through Bing Translator and are obviously going to be imperfect, but this is both fun and useful.  Unfortunately, it won’t work very well if you like to read with the WiFi turned off to improve battery life.

  • Improved WiFi

Connectivity has been improved and users have more options.  Connect with WPS and some WPA2 Enterprise setups.

  • Read-to-Me With Text-to-Speech

This one is restricted to English for the moment, but the Kindle Touch can now read to you, including some magazine and newspaper articles.  Perhaps more robust language support will come later?

  • Expanded Sharing

This will basically just tell people what you’re reading, should you feel like sharing.  It fills in a feature missing in comparison to Nook and Kobo options, but doesn’t excite.

  • Onscreen Keyboard Suggestions

Let’s face it, onscreen keyboards are annoying.  On the Kindle Touch it is even worse because of the refresh rate of E Ink.  Now typing is far more manageable.  Huge improvement!

  • Kindle Format 8

This one was pretty much just housekeeping for Amazon.  If you’re going to try and build a new standard, the least you can do is make sure that the latest generation of the device it is being designed for can handle it.  Might make periodicals more readable, but overall reflowable text is still the biggest advantage of an E Ink Kindle.

The Kindle Touch just plain works better now, really.  They added enough that there should be reason for users old and new to be excited here.  Landscape mode might have just been crossing an essential fix off the list, but things like keyboard suggestions and translation on demand change the experience for the better.  I’m definitely looking forward to the next generation of Kindle now that we have an idea what the innovation it brings to the table will be, but for now I may finally be recommending the Kindle Touch over the Kindle Keyboard for the first time.

Kindle Touch Will Launch Amazon’s eBook Efforts in Japan This April

Recent reports via The Nikkei indicate that Amazon will finally be bringing their bestselling Kindle eReader line to Japan in April of this year with their newest model, the Kindle Touch 3G.  It will carry a  20,000 yen price tag (~260USD), which seems a bit high compared to what the same model is going for elsewhere, but this will actually be rather competitive with existing 3G eReader options in Japan.  Amazon has teamed up with Japanese cellular carrier NTT DoCoMo to offer 3G access which, as with all other Kindle 3G products, will require no data plan or monthly fee of any sort.

This will be a big step for Amazon in a number of ways.  Not least of these is the fact that they are entering into an uphill battle against both established competing hardware providers and a whole new publishing industry that has demonstrated a tendency to be far more resistant to the eBook as a medium than their US counterparts.  Sony and Panasonic are among the more recognizable names that already have a presence but this will also involve going up against Japan-based Rakuten, the company that recently acquired Kobo as a subsidiary and which has an impressive presence in the market already.

When dealing specifically with the issue of eBook supply, many have noticed that Japanese selections are pointedly missing from current Kindle Store offerings.  This is not really a coincidence.  Even localized Japanese eBook stores, such as that offered by Sony, reportedly tend to offer tens of thousands of titles compared to hundreds of thousands in other markets, and these don’t always even include bestsellers.  Either there are some accommodations already planned for building relationships with Japan’s book publishers, or Amazon intends to rely even more heavily than usual on their ability to attracted talented self publishing authors to the Kindle Direct Publishing program.

While this will be a great thing for fans of eReading in Japan, there is unfortunately not yet any real reason to get hopes up regarding a Kindle Fire offering.  Currently it is expected that the UK will be the first to have access to the Kindle Fire outside of the US and even that is taking an absurdly long time for many peoples’ tastes.  The transition to Japan would require a far more extensive localization effort than even the Kindle Touch 3G will require as well as an impressively large amount of infrastructure development for Amazon.  That says nothing about the complications of digitals video rights acquisition, which one would imagine to be a major concern in this case but which I lack the ability to offer any informed commentary about at this time.

Regardless of how much of the Kindle Family makes the trip, it is good to see Amazon expanding their efforts in non-Anglophone countries.  While this tends to provide more complications at first, it’s worth it to get the Kindle out there.  Hopefully this effort in particular will be more than just a passive offering of Kindle hardware and KDP, so as to draw more publisher attention to the potential for digital publishing in Japan.

Simple Kindle Touch Jailbreak Released Using MP3

The Kindle Touch may not be running Android like its tablet counterpart, but it also doesn’t run the operating system found in previous models of the Kindle eReader line.  The focus is now on HTML5 and Javascript interfaces rather than the previous Java implementations.  This means that pretty much none of the old hacks and mods that have been released for the Kindle line will be of any use to customers this time.  Of course that was bound to be addressed fairly quickly.

Yifan Lu, a freelance developer, has found an exploit in the way the Kindle Touch handles MP3s which will allow people to easily jailbreak their new eReader.  Along with that discovery, he revealed that the majority of the device’s interface is simply HTML pages in disguise.  This alone means that coming up with interesting mods will be significantly easier than was previously the case, unless I miss my guess.  It implies a greater degree of system control through Javascript than is normally possible.  For now there isn’t much for an end-user to work with, but there is every reason to believe that you will find modules for adding EPUB support and any number of other fun extra functions in the months to come.

In order to attempt this Jailbreak (Which neither I nor this site recommend or take any responsibility for as it voids the warranty and may render your Kindle unusable if something goes wrong), head to this site and follow the instructions included in the Zip Archive’s README file.  This involves nothing more than connecting your Kindle to a computer, copying a .mp3 file to your music folder, disconnecting from the computer, and running the music player.  A button pops up labeled “Press to Jailbreak!” and you’re done.

My trial of this process went smoothly and did pretty much nothing.  It is definitely anything but an urgent need or an inherently beneficial act for most people.  All you are doing is enabling root access to your device, which means that among other things installing third party software will be possible. Chances are good that even with this it will not be possible to open up general 3G internet access, use of neglected hardware like the internal mic, or removal of advertising, but other than that there shouldn’t be many limits.

If you are interested in the potential that the process opens up, I would recommend both acquiring your Kindle Touch in the near future and making sure not to allow any software updates on the device until it is certain that the changes will be kept around.  While Amazon has been incredibly open in their lack of interest in securing the Kindle Fire in any significant way, they have a history of being somewhat more closed with their eReaders.  Not the least important reason for this is the heavy investment the company has made in their proprietary format, the evasion of which would likely be the first thing that customers use their new found freedom to achieve.

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

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

Displays: Tie

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

Interface: Kindle Touch

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

Storage: Kindle Touch (Barely)

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

Battery Life: Kindle Touch

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

Price: Kindle 4

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

Form: Kindle 4

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

Extras: Kindle Touch

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

Recommendation: Kindle Touch (Mostly)

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

Special Offers Now Available For All Kindle eReaders

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

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

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

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

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

Final Thoughts from DecalGirl

This is our last Friday post in  the series of weekly giveaways sponsored by DecalGirl.com. The winner of prize is Foneb with the following comment “Well same as before: since I’m not…” Our congratulation to him (her). So you have the last opportunity to try to get a new case to your Kindle Fire for free. You need only to leave a comment what you think about Kindle Fire on our site to be in the game. In the next Friday we will announce and send a personal message on email with redemption code in case you win. Remember, it is your last chance.


“And now, the end is near, and so I face the final curtain….”

This is my last post for Blogkindle, and our skin giveaway promotion is coming to an end. I have enjoyed sharing some information about DecalGirl and our products with readers, and I hope you have enjoyed my posts. I’d like to finish up with a re-cap of some of the things I have shared, and tell you a little more about where DecalGirl is going from here.

DecalGirl has been around since 2003, and has grown from a small, two person operation to a business that employs over 30 people. We are located near the small town of Milton in southern Delaware. In this time of economic hardship for many, DecalGirl has bucked the trend of many businesses and is expanding and growing, putting more people to work and contributing to the economy.

If you have been following this series of posts for the past couple of months, you know that DecalGirl stays on the cutting edge when it comes to producing skins for new products. So we were ready to roll with skins for the new Kindle Fire and Kindle Touch, and in many cases customers were able to get their new reader and their new skins delivered at pretty close to the same time. You will find new art and skins for more devices offered almost every week on our site.

We love to hear from you, too! Tell us how we’re doing. There’s contact information on the website, or you can check us out on Facebook (www.Facebook.com/decalgirl) or Twitter (www.twitter.com/decalgirl).

So where to from here?

As I mentioned last week, our big push for this year and next is licensing. We have licensing deals with the U.S. Army, Mossy Oak, and Moto GP in place, with more companies to come in the near future. So in addition to our large variety of custom artwork, your devices will soon be able to sport skins with logos and images from a number of popular products. We’re also expanding our galleries with the work of more artists. We have added over eight new artists in just the last few months.

On a personal note, here is why I love the fact that I work at DecalGirl. It is a time of globalization, and I know that the internet is accessible to people all over the world. It’s great that businesses can market to and connect with a worldwide audience. But I believe that no matter where your business is located, and no matter who you do business with, you have a responsibility to support your local community. This is what DecalGirl does. Our products are 100% made on site in the United States, from American made materials. As I have said, DecalGirl employs over 30 people. We do not outsource. When you call customer service, you speak to someone who is here on site to help you. If you have a concern or problem when you call, if it cannot be resolved immediately, it will be resolved in a very short amount of time because we don’t have to wait to hear from a customer service representative who is in another location. In addition, DecalGirl contributes to the well being of our state and our country by the taxes paid by our business and the income taxes paid by employees. At a time when many businesses seem to be looking for the cheapest labor, and the cheapest materials, DecalGirl has made a commitment to producing a first class product from top quality materials manufactured by top quality American labor.

Thank you to everyone who has read these posts, visited our site, or participated in the skin giveaway contest. We hope you are enjoying your DecalGirl skins. From all of us at DecalGirl to all Blogkindle readers, wherever you are, best wishes for a peaceful holiday season, and a prosperous 2012!

 

 

Holiday Shopping/DecalGirl Artists Pt. 3

This is our traditional (8-th) Friday post in  the series of weekly giveaways sponsored by DecalGirl.com. The winner of prize is Marty with the following comment “So far I am pleased with my kindle fire. My first kindle…”  Our congratulation to him (her).  You need only to leave a comment what you think about Kindle Fire on our site to be in the game. In the next Friday we will announce and send a personal message on email with redemption code in case you win. It is good chance to get a new case to your new Kindle Fire. Do not lose it.


Getting ready to hit the stores for Black Friday?  Have you made your list and checked it at least a dozen times?  Do you have extra coffee and energy drinks in the pantry so you can stay wide awake during the midnight sales?  Or would you rather avoid the whole thing altogether?

Well, it’s important to patronize your local stores, especially the small businesses, but there are some things it is better to shop for online, and for some you simply have no choice.  Sure, you can stand in line for hours at Target or Best Buy, or Walmart to get the new Kindles for yourself and all your friends and family, but do you really want to do that?  Really??

If you are reading this, there’s a good chance that you will be joining millions who will be spending, in all likelihood, over $1 billion online on Cyber Monday.  So get a good night’s sleep on Thursday night…perfect after eating all of that turkey…and laugh at everybody who is waiting to be trampled by the rush at the midnight sale.  Rest your fingers, get a manicure, and then hit the keyboard for some serious online shopping.

Once you have stocked up on new devices of all kinds (but especially those new Kindles!) you may want to look for some stocking stuffers.  DecalGirl would be happy to help you with that!  Just click on over and shop to your heart’s content!  The best thing about internet shopping is that you can do it on your schedule; websites are always open.  And of course we have prepared for the season with a bunch of great new designs that will put you in the holiday spirit.  Here are just a few of them.  Click on any of the images to take a closer look.

Heidi Dobrott’s rendering of the “jolly old elf” himself is very modern and traditional at the same time.  Heidi hails from Southern California where she lives with her husband and dog.  She is a graduate of UCLA with a degree in design and graphic arts.  She has produced designs that can be seen on everything from paper goods to dinnerware to textiles (and of course, skins!).  “Santa” is only one of several new designs by Heidi offered at DecalGirl for the holiday season.

Kate McRostie, whom we introduced you to a couple of weeks back, likes to work with traditional subjects in a traditional manner.  So if you are a traditional sort of person, you might enjoy Kate’s work such as “Christmas Wonderland” shown here.

We haven’t introduced you to Iveta Abolina yet.  Iveta started drawing as a child by tracing over pictures from books and magazines.  This background has given her a great attention to detail that you can see in all of her work.  Her work has been described as “imaginative, colorful arrangements of abstract floral shapes with intricate detail and vivid colors.”  You can see her attention to detail in her work “Crème de la Crème.”

Our last holiday image is from Digital Blasphemy, aka Ryan Bliss.  Ryan discovered his talent for art when he received his first computer in 1995.  He likes to create desktop wallpapers, and he designs his work to both draw the eye from across the room and stand up to close inspection.  The work shown here is called “Magi.”

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 Touch’s X-Ray Feature Combats Piracy The Smart Way

While the news of the week is certainly focused on the Kindle Fire media tablet and all of the wider implications for tablet computing that go along with it, this week also brings us the release of the new Amazon Kindle Touch eReader.  It does a few things right that other companies haven’t quite caught on to yet, but overall it’s just another iteration of the line.  Once you reach a certain point, there is a limit to how much excitement can be mustered over fractions of an inch in dimension reduction, fractions of an ounce in weight reduction, or fractions of a second in page refresh rate.  It was all pretty much great in the Kindle 3 (Kindle Keyboard) and the trend continues in the fourth generation here.

What is really important here aside from the touchscreen implementation, which I’ll talk about another time, is the way Amazon has managed to add extra value for users beyond the simple reading experience.  That’s not easy when you’re talking about something as basic as a book, and most attempts to do so up until now (i.e. video embedding, hyperlinks, etc.) have been at least somewhat obtrusive during the act of reading.

The new X-Ray feature is, at first glance, an extension of the search function.  It will find what you need in an intelligent fashion using Amazon’s own predictive algorithms to determine what the most important parts of a book are.  The name is meant to imply that by using the Kindle Touch you can see through to the “bones” of a given book.  This information is stored on your eReader, having been downloaded alongside each eBook you picked up, so it remains accessible even if you keep the WiFi turned off consistently. Accessing X-Ray will get you things like a list of proper names in the book, how often those names appear and where, as well as other extrapolated information about the form of the book’s content.

While this isn’t generally going to be a feature of major importance, it will come in handy to many.  For students and reading groups the applications are obvious.  It serves as a reference point.  Even during a casual reading, however, it will come in handy to be able to pull this up on the fly.  Forgot where you last saw a character earlier in the book?  X-Ray.  Not sure if it’s worth looking up a historical figure to understand a reference?  Check X-Ray to see if they keep coming up during important passages.  That sort of thing might not be a day to day need, but it’s nice to have handy.

In handling things the way they are, Amazon is effectively providing paying customers something that pirates don’t have access to.  Even if people figure out a good way to side-load this content, Amazon is presumably improving how the X-Ray feature determines what is important.  This means that each time you sign online with your Kindle Touch, the information potentially evolves and improves.  It’s a neat system and manages to avoid restrictive content control while giving users an incentive to stay honest.

Meet the DecalGirl Artists Pt 2

I have to start with sad news our the 6-th post in  the series of weekly giveaways sponsored by DecalGirl.com here on BlogKindle – There is no winner at all. Just imagine – you were out of the only one click to get the prize – a free Kindle skin of your choice. Just to remember for our regular readers and new visitors: to be in the game you need to do the following: click on the twitter button on the left to retweet this post and follow @BlogKindle so that I can send you a personal message on twitter with redemption code in case you win. A winner will be randomly chosen next Friday and announced in the next post. Be with us on twitter.




Before getting into a few more bios of DecalGirl artists, I have some big news to announce:  DecalGirl has skins for the Kindle Fire and Kindle Touch available for pre-order now!  Just click here to go to our main Kindle page, and from there you are just a click away from seeing the skins that are available for the newest Kindles.  (Don’t forget:  If you don’t see something you like there, go to the menu and select “shop by design” and choose from any of over 2000 designs for your new Kindle.)

Now, back to the artists….

(Remember, you can click on any image in this post to go to the gallery page for that artist at DecalGirl.com, where you can see all of his or her available works.)

Dan Morris grew up in Carmel, New York.  He began studying art at age 11 under the tutelage of German sculptor Paul Rudin.  Dan continued his study of art in high school and later attended Temple University in Philadelphia, where he studied architecture.

Dan’s art is featured on fabrics, ceramics, greeting cards, calendars, and other products.  He has created designs for rock artists such as Blues Traveler, The Grateful Dead, The Band, and Bob Marley.  Among his work that is available at DecalGirl you will find animals, beach and seashore images, patriotic works, and 60’s inspired images reminiscent of pop art icon Peter Max.  Since this is being posted on Veterans’ Day I have chosen “Air Force Jets” to share here as an example of Dan’s work.

Speaking of 60’s inspired pop art, our next featured artist is the California surf culture inspired Chuck Trunks.  Chuck is originally from Philadelphia, where he studied fine art and art appreciation at the Barnes Foundation.  He later moved to Raleigh, North Carolina, receiving a B.S. in biochemistry and doing graduate work in molecular biology at North Carolina State University.  From there he moved to California where he spent most of his professional career at Amgen.

After 20 years in the biotech industry, Chuck left his job to concentrate on producing art and expanding his portfolio.  Bright colors and busy, movement filled themes are the hallmarks of much of his work.  “Sunset Break” is one of the newest of Chuck’s designs available on DecalGirl skins.

“Lollipop Labs” is the brand name of Shannon Rene “Shaz” Justice.  Shannon’s art career began early in her life when she won three art contests in elementary school.  She became a full time designer and illustrator in 2007 after a 10 year break from the art world.  She was chosen by Sony to help launch their “Sony/ATV Lyrical Inspirations Official Collection.”  For this she created illustrations inspired by five different songs, each by a famous Sony recording artist.

Shannon is working on a Gothic children’s book series, “The Ghoulie Scouts.”  She lists Tim Burton as one of her influences, and I think you can probably see that influence in her work “Christmas Box” featured here.

Lani Imre is one of the newest artists in the DecalGirl collection.  She has exhibited in many cities in Canada, Mexico, and the United States.  She has a diploma from the Kootenay School of the Arts in Nelson, British Columbia and a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Nova Scotia School of Art and Design in Halifax.  In addition she has studied at Concordia University in Montreal and completed a semester of independent study in Berkeley, California.

Lani’s work focuses on large scale mixed media paintings, depicting a variety of female characters.  “Two Betties” is a great example of Lani’s art.

Until next week….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kindle Fire vs Kindle Touch: Deciding Which Meets Your Needs Better

Early on in the Kindle’s life, there was a lot of insistance than it couldn’t possibly succeed as a product when there was something as great as the iPad available.  As we know, these predictions of doom didn’t exactly pan out.  Dedicated eReader products were able to carve out their own market by bringing along capabilities that made them exceptional at what they did, even if that one task was somewhat narrow compared to potential competing types of products.

With the recent announcement of greater variety in the Kindle line, however, there is likely to be at least a small amount of confusion among prospective buyers.  After all, Amazon has made a great eReader line and many will want to force the Kindle Fire into that niche despite its better fit elsewhere.  While it makes sense for Amazon to want to capitalize on the popularity of the Kindle line by including the new tablet in it, it remains important for people to realize the things that the Kindle Touch will do better as a reading device.  In order to help simplify things, let’s look at some ideal uses are for each specific device.

Kindle Fire

Kindle Touch

Video Streaming Extended Reading
Internet Browsing Reading in Sunlight
Email Correspondence Audiobooks
Casual Games Textual Analysis (X-Ray)
Magazines & Comic Books Library Lending
Color Document Access

As you might expect, the actual eReader is a bit more focused on the book experience while the Kindle Fire is able to handle many tasks.  At first glance, this implies that the tablet is the more valuable tool.  For many people this may well be the case. Just as the iPad does more than the Kindle in terms of sheer feature quantity, the Fire will always come out on top in that way.  This should not be mistaken for an indication that the Kindle Touch is never the superior device, though.

No matter what advancements become possible with LCD technology, it is unlikely that these displays will be able to match the ease of use provided by the E INK Pearl.  While some will claim that they have no trouble with reading on a backlit screen, the vast majority have expressed a definite preference for something like the Kindle Touch during the long periods of reading likely to be taking place over the course of a novel.  These displays are also handle sunlight quite a bit better if that happens to be your preference while reading.

In addition to the screens, when you’re reading a book it is nice to be able to put it down and pick it up again a day or two later without worrying about charging.  The fact that Kindle eReaders last weeks to months between charges makes them feel more like read books.  The weight is also less than half that of the Kindle Fire, which while not necessarily a major issue at first will be noticeable over long periods of on-handed reading.

Perhaps the biggest selling point for the active reader will be the X-Ray feature.  Amazon promises that this will be a great aid for picking out important passages, accessing related material, and generally supplementing your reading experience.  While it is not something that we have been able to preview at this time, a system that works as well as Amazon claims X-Ray will would be an invaluable tool for many reasons.

If reading isn’t your main concern, of course, then the Kindle Fire still makes a lot of sense.  The 8 hour battery life is at the high end for similar products, the app store is one of the best, and the whole end to end experience is geared to make viewing, listening, browsing, and reading as comfortable as possible.  At $199, this is a game changing device that packs far more power and functionality than you would expect into a compact package.

To go along with the launch, Amazon has beefed up their Instant Video collection with tens of thousands of new titles including many available for free to Amazon Prime subscribers.  They have put a lot of work into making sure that streaming video runs smoothly on the new tablet, so it is safe to say the experience there will be as pleasant as possible on a 7″ screen.

I would not recommend the Kindle Fire for readers, due to screen type and battery life especially, but other than that it will be a valuable resource to just about anybody.  It’s portable, light, fairly powerful, and capable of opening just about any form of media you can think of.  While nobody is really expecting that the iPad is in any trouble from this corner at the moment, it’s hard to argue with something that does a comparable job at less than half the price with what may be an even better source of content to draw on.

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

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

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

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

Not quite as much as one might think, really.

Kindle Touch

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

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

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

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

Kindle Keyboard

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

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

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

Conclusions:

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

Kindle 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 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 Touch, Kindle Fire – New Amazon devices announced…

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

Kindle Touch

 

Kindle Touch 3G

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

Features and specs:

Kindle 4 (mini)

Kindle 4 mini

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

Specs and feature:

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

Kindle Fire

Kindle Fire Tablet

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

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

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

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

Kindle Fire seems to rely heavily on Amazon Cloud Storage.

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

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

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

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

Specs and features:

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

Amazon Kindle Fire TV ad

Size comparison

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

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

Kindle Hardware Update Likely, Color eReader Not So Much

A combination of the high expectations surrounding the upcoming Amazon Kindle Tablet and the lack of substantial information regarding the expected hardware update to the existing Kindle eReader line has led to some speculation about secretly substantial change being just around the corner for the bestselling eReading device.  Domain name acquisitions have pushed some people into a belief in the importance of a touchscreen for the Kindle, but more ambitious sources are holding out hope for a truly impressive jump forward.  Wouldn’t having the first affordable Color E INK eReader be quite the coup for Amazon, after all?  It would certainly make the Nook Simple Touch a bit less shiny by comparison.

Still, and I say this with nothing but regret, there is next to no chance that we will be getting a true Kindle Color any time soon.  Sure the Kindle Tablet will have the ability to read, but only in the same way that the Nook Color or your average smartphone can technically be an eReader if the user so desires.  Until screen technology advances a bit further, nobody is likely to want to gamble on a good color reading display.

The problem right now is the tradeoffs.  To make a Kindle Color worthwhile, Amazon would need to have a vibrant color display that didn’t detract from the existing touted benefits of the Kindle’s display.  That means you can’t have a back-light, high battery draw, or less than crisp text.  Nothing currently being produced meets all those criteria while still being affordable enough to keep things competitive.  If they did, the Kindle Tablet would be looking at such a screen and would have a significant advantage over every other Tablet PC on sale today.

Naturally something has to give.  The Kindle device is going strong at the moment, but that’s mostly sue to a combination of momentum and strong backing from the platform as a whole.  If the hardware faces too much competition that can match or surpass it, Kindle sales and by extension Kindle eBook sales will suffer.  Amazon has to know this.  As such, I would say that getting your hopes up for an updated Kindle is totally safe.

What can we expect if not a color screen?  Well, a touchscreen is inevitable to match the competition from B&N, Sony, and Kobo, if nothing else.  Given the Kindle Scribe rumors, it wouldn’t be at all shocking if a stylus were included in the design.  Since nobody else is using 3G coverage Amazon could technically let that slip, but the recent ad deal with AT&T would seem to indicate that they value the ability to bring that sort of thing to customers.  Beyond these things, however, it’s anybody’s guess.  Higher resolution screens?  Bluetooth?  Strange magical powers?  All possibilities!

Current speculation places the updated Kindle‘s release in late October, but that information is several weeks old now.  Given the most recent Kindle Tablet developments, and the fact that Amazon is likely to emphasize the new branch of Kindle products heavily for this holiday season, we may not be seeing new Kindles before late November.  More updates will show up here as we dig them up.

The Amazon Kindle’s International Future

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

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

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

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

New Amazon Kindles Coming This October?

In all of the speculation about the potential for a Kindle Tablet release later this year, few people have speculated much on the future of the Kindle itself.  Possibly we’re simply running out of good ideas to improve the device without causing a problem with the streamlined user experience?  Whatever the reason, we now have news that there are indeed two completely new Kindles on the way.  A recent Wall Street Journal article has indicated, based on sources familiar with the matter, that this October we can expect to be seeing both a newer, cheaper Kindle of the type we are already used to, and a Kindle with a touchscreen.

While at a glance the Kindle Touch, or whatever Amazon chooses to call it, seems to be a reaction to the incredibly popular new Nook Simple Touch, the timing makes that less of an issue.  October is also the anticipated release month for the first piece in the new Kindle Tablet line.  Many people have been wondering if this meant the death of the Kindle, either by way of abandonment in favor of the newer product, or simply by eroding the existing customer base by offering an affordable alternative that does more than can be handled by existing eReaders.  The latter is far-fetched, since customers have shown a distinct appreciation for dedicated reading devices so far and seem more inclined toward dual-ownership rather than abandonment of the Kindle in favor of any tablet.  The former was a concern, but by launching the new Kindles at the same time as the Kindle Tablet, Amazon has the opportunity to provide what I assume will be their first sub-$100 eReader, as well as a new more advanced model, and thereby reaffirm their commitment to providing a dedicated reading experience for their Kindle customers.

Assuming that Amazon can be counted on to take advantage of the time remaining before the release to address any remaining shortcomings in their design as compared to the competition, such as the Nook’s current superiority in terms of speed boosts and social networking integration, these new Kindles can’t really help but make a splash.  The move at least partially away from the physical keyboard will even leave open the potential for true localization of the newer model without retooling the hardware for every country they decide to open a Kindle Store in.  The fact that many expect the Kindle Tablet to come with a customized front end for the Amazon.com site that is geared toward optimized tablet shopping will almost certainly bode well for the new Kindle as well, should it prove true.

It isn’t going to be the color E Ink eReader that many people were, I think, hoping for.  It would just be too much of a shock to see the price of the Kindle’s newest model jump to accommodate the higher production costs of something like that.  That does not mean that the Kindle Tablet won’t pick up the ball as far as that demand is concerned, though.  Time will tell what needs Amazon has chosen to prioritize, but it is heartening to see that they won’t be letting eReading become a minor aspect of their bigger media distribution effort.