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

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September 2016
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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.