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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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Kindle Touch 5.0.3 Update Available for Manual Download

Kindle Touch

Kindle Touch

Along with the Kindle Fire update, the Kindle Touch also got one as well.  It is currently only available for manual download at the moment.  If you want to download it see Amazon’s instructions on how to transfer it via USB here.

I don’t really see anything major in this update that is worth racing to the computer to download, so I’d sit tight and wait for it to be available via Wi-Fi.  The automatic update does all of the work for you.  But, it is a matter of preference, and the option is there if you want to take advantage of it.

I think it is worth pointing out how to check for updates.  I learned my lesson first hand when I realized my battery was draining really quickly on my older Kindle.  If you need assistance with the process, Amazon’s support is excellent.  It is good to do this periodically because it can affect security, battery life, and the content on your e-reader.

So here’s how:

Tap “Menu’.  Select “Device Info”  If it says “5.0.3″ then you’re good.  Most likely it will say “5.0.”  That will be greyed out until the automatic update is available.  For the manual download, you will need your USB cord.

Amazon is really vague about what is in this update, but one thing I’d like to see if smother page transitioning.  My Kindle Touch has frozen before after being incredibly slow.  This has only happened once, but there have been other reports of freezes.  Touch screen technology is not quite up to speed with physical button transitions from what I can tell.  You can’t turn pages as quickly as you can with the buttons.

Another good improvement that goes along with smoother transitions would be to erase the previous page shadowing that seems to linger when I move on to the next page.

Other than those two issues, I have really enjoyed my Kindle Touch.  I especially like the grip on the back and sides, and the compact size.  It fits much more easily in my purse than my Kindle 2 did.

Stay tuned for the automatic update announcement.  As I mentioned earlier in the post, until then the manual download with instructions is fully available on Amazon’s website.

 

Kindle Touch Review (hands-on)

Kindle Touch at a glance

Kindle Touch Weight

Kindle Touch Weight

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

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

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

Kindle Touch Ergonomics

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kindle Touch Screen

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

Kindle 3, 4 and Touch Screen comparison

Kindle 3, 4 and Touch Screen comparison

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

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

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

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

Kindle Touch Battery

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

Kindle Touch Fonts

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

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

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

Kindle Touch Software

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

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

Kindle Touch PDF support

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

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

These commands are still there and work well.

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

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

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

Kindle Touch X-ray

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

Kindle Touch X-Ray

Kindle Touch X-Ray

Kindle Touch Apps

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

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

Other small Kindle Touch Features

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

Conclusion

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

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

Amazon to Offer Trade in Option for Older Kindles.

I have a Kindle 2, and I just got it for Christmas two years ago. Then it was $259. I love my Kindle, but it sure is looking clunky after seeing the specs from the newest models that were recently released. What a difference two years make! The Kindle Fire is $60 less than my Kindle was when I got it.

The newest Kindles no longer have a keyboard, which makes them so much more streamlined and lightweight. There is also the touch screen model and of course, the tablet. The good news is, Amazon is now offering a trade in option. Click here for more detailed discussion on the advantages and disadvantages of the trade in option.

Don’t expect to get much money out of it. You can get $28 for a first generation Kindle.  Can you believe that it was twice as much as the Kindle Fire is now, when it was released four years ago?  The second generation 6″ Kindle like the one I have goes for $39. The Kindle DX is $135.

The deals are not that great, but the trade in values go a long way if you want to use it towards a new Kindle.  I ordered the Kindle Touch that will be available November 21, and a trade in would cut down a big chunk of the $99 price tag.  I am really excited about the touch screen version because that is what I am so used to now with it being so popular these days.

I haven’t decided whether I want to pursue the trade in program option yet. I have several family members that would love to have a Kindle,  With that in mind, I’m sure libraries, schools, and charity organizations would love to have old Kindles also.

The trade in program also includes a variety of other popular electronic devices such as the iPod, Touch, iPad, tablets, and more.  Some offer Amazon credit.  For someone who buys stuff on Amazon all the time, that’s not a bad deal.

So, now you have several options to choose from if you have an old Kindle lying around that you want to get rid of.  So, glad to know that old Kindles can still be put to good use.

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.

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.

Kindle Tablet to Hit the Market in October

I haven’t seen an official Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) announcement yet, but according to the Wall Street Journal, the Kindle Tablet and two other Kindle upgrades are set to arrive in October.  The Kindle Tablet that has been under speculation for months will directly compete with the iPad, while a new touch version of the Kindle will compete with the Nook and Kobo Touch editions.

To be honest, in a matter of personal preference, I am more excited about the possibility of a touch version of the Kindle because I’m not a big fan of the keyboard.  Whenever this does get release, I’ll be ready to upgrade my Kindle.  The keys are way too small and somewhat difficult to press.  However, when the touch version does arrive, there will need to be some kind of audio enabled to make sure it is accessible for people with disabilities.

As for the tablet.  This is exciting news, but the iPad has a pretty solid hold on the tablet market, and is said to be successful on into the next year.  So, I think that it will be awhile before the Kindle Tablet will make a huge dent in iPad sales.  There are also a number of other tablets to choose from as well.  Although, I will say, a much cheaper Kindle Tablet might just give Amazon a good start in the tablet game, as will the well liked Android operating system.  I see the iPad to the tablet market as the Kindle is to the e-reader market.  They are both the inventors of their own niches, and were the only ones to hold their niches for a good length of time.

Lastly, there will be an upgrade on the current version of the Kindle.  It will be similar in structure, but include better features and a lower price.  Prices are dropping constantly.  Amazon just dropped the Kindle 3G Special Offers version from $164 to $139.  So, perhaps a $99 or less version of the Kindle is in the near future?  We can only hope!

Does the Upcoming Kindle Tablet Mean No Touchscreen Kindle eReader?

The Kindle has been seeing a few new releases from the competition in the past couple weeks.  Some of what they bring to the table is software and such, of course, but the most visible trend has been the move to E Ink touchscreens.  Both the Kobo and Barnes & Noble’s Nook line have released nearly button-free eReaders in an effort to set themselves apart.  Ironically both of these companies tried to set themselves apart by releasing amazingly similar looking products, but that’s unimportant.  This leads to the inevitable speculation that such a design might be the future of the Kindle.  If I had to make a guess, I’d say it will be eventually but not right away.

I don’t think it will be an immediately changed design to keep up with the apparent trend for a couple reasons.  First, clearly Amazon’s focus has better places to be.  The Kindle Tablet line, whatever they choose to call it in the end, involves a number of devices in several shapes and sizes if rumors are to be believed.  None of them are likely to run the same software that is on the existing Kindle.  None of them are going to use the same hardware.  it just isn’t strong enough.  There is simply no obvious direct connection between the device offerings besides Amazon.com as a media vendor and any marketing device they might choose to employ to draw a connection for potential customers.  Given this, it seems unlikely that Amazon would want to be designing or releasing a Kindle 4 dedicated eReader at the same time.  Why would they?  The existing Kindle is doing amazingly well.  The new Nook and Kobo are basically playing catch-up and trying to match features at this point.  Nowhere in the specs of either was there an obvious point of superiority in design that Amazon would have to struggle to meet.  The only major software points involve social networking and library lending, both of which Amazon is working with already.  No need for a new device.

Also, the move to touchscreens by their competitors, if played with correctly, offers Amazon an incentive to stay right where they are for a bit.  As I mentioned, the new Nook and Kobo look rather similar.  In fact, it seems hard to make the hardware side of a touchscreen device particularly unique.  Nobody expects the Kindle Tablet to make a big splash for changing what it means to be a tablet, right?  For now, the Kindle will be the most recognizable eReader anywhere in a way that is only emphasized by the homogeneity of their competition.

This will only work for a while until people become more used to touchscreens in their eReaders and expect them, of course.  It seems an inevitable step at this point no matter how much one might like the more mechanical controls.  It will make particular sense for Amazon to update the Kindle to bring it in line with the Kindle Tablet line’s hardware should that take off as strongly as they’re hoping, since we have to assume that an affordable tablet PC with a non-LCD screen will finally be what makes an impact on Kindle sales.  For now, though, probably not that much of a rush.

New Kobo Touch eReader Attempts To Match Kindle

So far the big contribution that the Kobo has made to the eReader marketplace, in my opinion, is spurring the more established and easy to use eReaders like the Kindle and Nook into an abrupt price drop.  The Kobo hit stores at $150 at a time when a decent eReader would cost you somewhere around a hundred dollars more than that no matter which one you went with.  It made a big difference, even if the Kobo itself was so basic and clunky to use that it didn’t make a huge splash in terms of usability.  Now, with their first major hardware upgrade, the Kobo eReader is back in the race.  The new Kobo is a lot easier on the eyes and promises to be more than a little bit simpler to use.  The big question is whether or not it is enough of a change.

In a lot of ways, the new Kobo Touch is the same concept as the new Nook.  You’ve got a 6″ E Ink Pearl screen, a Home button, and a nicely dark frame.  Lots of visual similarities.  You also get a WiFi connection, though it only works to go to the Kobo Store.  The touchscreen seems ok, and they avoided the blurriness issues that arose in Sony’s touchscreen eReaders by going with a touchscreen technology that does not involve an extra screen layer.  You even get a fair amount of internal memory and an SD slot to work with.  Really, though, it seems like something is missing to be really competitive here.

Leave aside the Kindle comparison for the moment to focus on the more directly comparable new Nook.  Yes, there is a $10 price difference, but consider what is being sacrificed for that money.  Both devices have EPUB support and work well with libraries, by all accounts.  The Nook is supposedly pushing 60 days of battery life these days compared to the new Kobo’s 10 days.  You only get two font sizes to choose from on the Kobo.  You won’t be getting apps of any sort, from what I can see.  Even the size isn’t considerably smaller in any way.

The one place where the Kobo might make a splash is in its social networking service.  Amazon’s Kindle has done a bit along these lines and it wouldn’t surprise me to see the Kindle Tablet do more when it comes around, but so far I would say that the Kobo’s Reading Life is a lot more elaborate.  Up until now, to the best of my knowledge, this feature has only been available through iOS and Android apps rather than as a part of the Kobo eReader itself.  It tracks reading time, page turns, books completed, hands out awards for having read books, and more.

Will the novelty be able to clear a spot near the top of the eReader market for the Kobo?  Probably not.  Keep in mind, however, that there is room for variety.  This is probably the third best eReader brand out there right now as far as the price to features ratio is concerned.  There might very well be a place for it even with the Nook and Kindle holding what are in my opinion deservedly superior positions at the moment.

Kindle 3 vs Sony PRS-650 Review

The eInk has hardly dried on Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) Kindle 3 Review (link) as Sony (NYSE:SNE) has announced long expected and overdue update of PRS eReaders.

  • Sony PRS-650 is an upgrade of older Sony PRS-600 Touch Edition, featuring same 6″ 600×800 eInk Pearl screen as Kindle 3 but with touch layer. It is available in Black and Red colors. Expected price is $229.00
  • Sony PRS–350 SC Pocket Edition is an upgrade of Sony PRS-300 Pocket Edition. It features 5″ 600×800 eInk Pearl screen with touch. Because of transition to touchscreen controls, PRS-350 reduced size and number of buttons and became noticeably smaller. PRS-350 comes in Pink and Silver colors. It’s going to be prices at $179.00
  • Sony PRS-950 SC Daily Edition is an upgraded version of PRS-900. Currently there is little information about it even on official Sony website. It is knows that it will feature 7″ latest generation Pearl eInk with touch, 3G and WiFi wireless. Judging by the photos it will be roughly 7.7 x 5.0 x 0.42 inches large which makes it slightly shorter and thinner than its predecessor. I assume it’s also going to be somewhat lighter. Its estimated release date is November 2010 with price point of $299.00. It’s unclear what body color selection will be. For now only silver color seems to be available.

I’ve added new Sony readers to the interactive size comparison tool so you can get an idea how large are these devices relatively to one another.

Kindle 3 vs Sony PRS-650/350/950 Specifications

Spec / Device Kindle 3 Sony PRS-650 Sony PRS-350 Sony PRS-950*
Price WiFi – $139 / 3G + WiFi – $189 $229 $189 $299
Size 7.50″ x 4.80″ x 0.335″ 6.62″ x 4.75″ x 0.406″ 5.75″ x 4.13″ x 0.343″ 7.70″ x 5.00″ x 0.420″
Weight WiFi 7.8oz / 3G + WiFi – 8.2oz** 7.58 oz 5.47 oz ???
Screen 6″ 600×800 6″ 600×800 w/ touch 5″ 600×800 w/ touch 7″ 600×1024 w/ touch
Battery life no wireless – 1 month

WiFi – 3 weeks

3G – 10 days

2 weeks 2 weeks ???
Wireless WiFi only or 3G + WiFi None None 3G + WiFi
Storage 3.3GB user accessible 1.4GB user accessible

expandable up to 32GB

1.4Gb user accessible ???
Formats AZW

PDF, TXT

MOBI, PRC (no-DRM)

JPEG, BMP, PNG, GIF

MP3, AAX, AA

HTML, DOC (via conversion)

ePub

PDF (DRM), TXT, RTF

JPEG, BMP, PNG, GIF

MP3, AAC

DOC(X) (via conversion)

ePub

PDF (DRM), TXT, RTF

JPEG, BMP, PNG, GIF

ePub

PDF (DRM), TXT, RTF

JPEG, BMP, PNG, GIF

MP3, AAC

DOC(X) (via conversion)

Notes:

* Little information is available about Sony PRS-950 at this point so this data is based on estimates and may be incorrect or incomplete

** Although official specifications state 8.7 oz weight for Kindle, it actually weights 8.2 oz. Although I don’t have any of the new Sony eReaders to weigh, PRS-600 that I have weighs exactly as per specification – 10.1 oz.

Sony PRS-350/650/950

Sony PRS-350/650/950

Entire lineup of Sony PRS devices will feature touchscreen. In previous models Sony used resistive touchscreen that was overlayed on top of eInk. This resulted in significantly lower screen contrast than any other eReader (see Kindle 3 screen contrast comparison). This time around Sony is using infrared touchscreen technology. In a nutshell it consists of pairs of infrared LEDs and photosensors located around the edge of the screen. LEDs continuously shoot invisible beams into sensors (like in James Bond movies). Microcontroller analyzes which LED-sensor pairs are blocked and computes touch coordinates based on that. Needless to say that such system consumes a lot of power compared to other touchscreen technologies or good old buttons. This will translate into shorter battery life. The upside is having convenience of a touchscreen and excellent contrast that newest generation of eInk displays provide.

Sony devices became smaller and thinner than their predecessors:

  • PRS-650 is noticeably shorter than Kindle 3 because since it lacks keyboard but it’s just a notch thicker. It’s also lighter either of Kindle models. 6″ eInk Pearl screen provides the same reading area, resolution and contrast as Kindle 3.
  • PRS-350 is smaller and lighter still. This however comes at a cost of smaller 5″ screen. The screen has the same pixel resolution though is the same. So if you eyes are keen enough you will get the same amount of detail on it.
  • PRS-950 is going to be only slightly larger and thicker than Kindle 3 while featuring larger 7″ screen. In absence of other data I will guess that it will have the same 600 x1024 pixel resolution as PRS-900. At the moment it’s unclear how much will it weigh.

Because of size reduction, all Sony devices transitioned from mini-USB to micro-USB connectors (same as Kindle) and got rid of separate non-standard charging connectors altogether. Perhaps with some luck you would be able to charge via USB cable and read at the same time (unlike PRS-600).

Reader software that wasn’t updated for more than a year (as opposed to Kindle software that received updates and features on a regular basis) got an overhaul with some features added:

  • Number of available font sizes increased from 5 to 6
  • One more English look-up dictionary was added along with 10 translation dictionaries. It’s unclear at the moment which languages are supported for translation or how will it work.

I will use my Sony PRS-600 review from last November as a baseline to gauge improvements in different areas.

Kindle 3 Weight

Kindle 3 Weight

My largest complaint about PRS-600 back then was extremely poor screen contrast. Since PRS-650 will use exactly same display as Amazon Kindle 3 with nothing on top of it, Sony and Kindle 3 are tied in this department. The end result will only depend on the font handling in the software. It can make a huge difference as shown by Nook vs. Kindle 2 comparison example.

After that comes complicated and unintuitive software both on the device and PC. Getting 3 autoplay pop-ups (4 if you use both expansion cards) is ridiculous. Especially since one of the drives contains installation files for PC that you only need once. Wouldn’t it have been better to mount a single drive on PC and map memory cards and installer files there as folders? PRS-650 features page mentions “Intuitive Reader Library software makes it easy to download eBooks, manage your collection, and transfer titles to your Reader Touch Edition™. Reader Library software works with both PC and Mac.” Unfortunately for Sony so did PRS-600 feature page. Unless their software has improved much more dramatically than it’s description this round will definitely go to Kindle 3. It would be next to impossible to improve already easy and seamless download process on Amazon Kindle. It wouldn’t have been hard for Sony to match it but it doesn’t look like it happened. The only product in Sony eReader line that can offer the same ease getting books is PRS-900/950.

There were also smaller things like, changing the font size taking forever on Sony and the fact that after gathering dust on my shelf for one week I would find PRS-600 with completely drained battery and therefore unusable for 3 hours while it recharges.

My largest complaint against Kindle 3 is small paging buttons and uncomfortable position of the 5-way controller. As I now hold Sony PRS-600 and Kindle 3 in my hands I actually find turning pages on Sony more comfortable than Kindle 3 despite (or maybe because) of Sony’s larger size.

PDF support was one of the areas where PRS-600 clearly outdid Amazon Kindle. Since there is little room for improvement for Sony for the sake of this review we’ll assume that PRS-650 will have same PDF viewing features as PRS-600. Although Kindle has greatly improved in this department, table of contents and document links still don’t work. Perhaps it will get addressed in some future software update but for now this round goes to Sony.

As far a music goes, each device has it’s strengths and weaknesses:

  • Amazon Kindle has built-in speakers, while Sony does not
  • Sony has a fully functional MP3 player software while Kindle can only sequentially cycle though audio tracks
  • Kindle can read your content out loud with text-to-speech while Sony can not
  • Kindle fully supports DRM-audio books from Audible.com while Sony is limited to DRM-free audio content

So it really depends on what you intend to do with the device. If you are an audio book fan – definitely go with Kindle since it can play DRMed audio books and turn almost any text book into audiobook. If you want your eBook reader to also be your MP3 player – go with Sony. If you already have MP3 player that supports audiobooks and prefer to use that then apart from text-to-speech support on Kindle, it doesn’t really matter.

Because of built-in speakers and “Voice guide” menus Kindle is now a fully accessible device for blind readers.

While it’s easy to scribble notes on PRS-600, when it came to typing on on-screen keyboard, it was a much worse experience than typing on Kindle keyboard. So unless this aspect improved greatly, Kindle will win the note-taking round. With recent software update Kindle also allows you to share your highlights and annotations via Twitter and Facebook.

Since none of the Sony readers have web-browsers (with only a slight chance of PRS-950 getting one) and Kindle 3 got an excellent WebKit-based browser that can load even complex AJAX websites such as desktop version of Gmail and said browser works over free 3G connection compliments of Amazon, this round clearly goes to Amazon Kindle.

While Kindle case is made of plastic, Sony devices feature aluminum bodies and come in different colors.

This being said 99% of readers spend 99% of their time reading books rather than browsing the web, annotating or listening to music. So reading experience is what eReaders should be judged on. With identical screens and comparable (though slightly better in Sony) ergonomics reading thought he book should be very comfortable on either device.

However getting books to read is a separate story. While both devices can store thousands of books, there are millions of books out there and I never know which one I’m will want to read next or if I’ll finish reading another Dark Tower book series and would want to read the next one or will quit reading it in the middle and would want to read something else. This is why I consider  global 3G wireless connectivity as a “must have” feature of good eReader. WiFi may be also acceptable for people who don’t travel much or have smartphones that can serve as mobile hotspots.

Of Sony readers only PRS-950 will have wireless connectivity. And while it maybe comparable in some features to Kindle 3, it will cost $110 more which is significant given the fact that eReader prices are flirting wit $99 threshold right now.

In the matter of book selection, it’s hard to tell a clear leader. Amazon, Sony and B&N book selections largely overlap but there are some exceptions so before buying an eReader, check out Amazon Kindle Store, B&N and Sony Book store to make sure that the books you care about are available on the device that you are buying.

With Sony PRS-650 you can the option of library eBooks in DRM-ed PDF. While it may sound nice, my local library doesn’t have a great selection of eBooks available to be checked out. I don’t know if it’s just my library or general state of things.

SpringDesign Alex Gets Hands On Time At CES 2010

SpringDesign wasn’t ready for a public show and tell when the Nook was announced. But due to the similarity between the two devices (and according to the Spring Design it is not coincidence), SpringDesign had to stick their neck out with an unfinished prototype. Now they finally have a finished version that can be played with and Pocket-lint got in some hands on time with it at this year’s CES. Of course, we all know that the CES 2010 almost had an entire section for eBook readers, there were just so many of them. Looks like everyone wants a piece of the Kindle pie! Apple included, if the rumors are anything to go by.

Coming back to the Alex, the first impression of the device is definitely its sleek looks. Looking at it in the profile really makes you appreciate how slim it is. Then you notice the LCD touchscreen. On the Nook, the secondary LCD touchscreen is barely a strip and is strictly meant for navigation. So to me it is more like a gimmick — watch your book covers in full color before beaming them up to the e-paper display. But on the Alex it is more like an iPhone sized screen. And with Android running in the background, it does have some exciting possibilities.

One thing that the Nook obviously has over the Alex is the massive support of the Barnes & Noble catalogue. With devices like this, at least at this moment, content can really make or break devices. The Nook would not have sold half as many units had it not been for the content that comes tied in with it. With that in mind, Alex’s $399 price tag sure sounds pricey compared to the Kindle and others. But given the extra functionality (almost everything Android does minus the GSM/CDMA bits) on a larger screen and a possible cut in prices when it goes into production, might see it catch on.

Sony PRS-600 Karma Strikes Back

Some time ago I wrote what some people considered poor review to Sony PRS-600 when comparing it to Amazon Kindle… In that review I also wrote that PRS-600 is now mostly used by my 3 year old daughter who likes to scribble and trace letters on it. Well it looks like Sony karma has struck back at me. One day my daughter wanted to trace letters but couldn’t find the PRS-600 so she picked up my Kindle DX instead and since stylus didn’t do the trick with it she used regular pen…

At first it seems that results were permanent… but it turned out nothing that some paper towel and vodka couldn’t fix. Kindle didn’t seem to mind the alcohol too.

After I explained to my daughter that Kindle can’t be used for drawing she said: “What is it good for then?” So according to her comparative review Sony PRS-600 wins hand down.

Sony PRS-600 Touch Edition Review

Sony PRS-600 Touch Edition

Sony PRS-600 Touch Edition

I’ve had the Sony reader for more than a week now so it’s time to write a proper review and compare it to Amazon Kindle… So let’s start from the beginning.

Unboxing and installing: If you have ever unboxed Amazon Kindle you know how easily it goes once you get past the FedEx box. You can get by without any tools and be reading books within minutes of opening the box without ever having to touch your computer. With Sony packaging some cutting is required. Since PRS-600 is not bundled with AC charger and the device locks up while it’s connected to the PC, there is no way you can start reading books until the battery is charged. While this doesn’t matter in the long run it shows how good Amazon is at packaging, selling and creating a first impression and how much Sony has yet to learn in this regard.

Sony reader needs PC to buy books. eBook library software needs to be installed for this to work. Conveniently the installer is located inside the reader itself so when you plug it in, one of the disk drives would contain the setup file. So all you need to do is click the appropriate button on one of the AutoPlay dialogs that pop up. What is not so convenient is that the installer disk keeps popping up every time you connect the reader even after the software is installed.

I browsed through the menu trying to disable this behavior and when all else failed I turned to the User’s Manual. Alas! It wasn’t there on the reader. It actually was, but inside one of the language specific ZIP files on the reader. So to read it you need to unzip it. Not a big problem for me but for someone who is not computer savvy it might be. However even with User’s Manual I wasn’t able to turn the annoying setup disk off.

There were some more hiccups related to the software installation and creation of the Sony eBook store account but I’m not going to mention them. After all you only need to go though this process once per OS install which is not that bad.

Display: Sony PRS-600 uses the same kind of eInk screen as Kindle 2 so there is little difference there. Sone screen has a resistive touchscreen layer on top of it. Some people claim that it takes away some of the contrast. In fact there is a noticeable difference between Kindle 2 and PRS-600. To prevent my eyes from playing tricks on be because of different frame color I took a piece of paper and cut two identical rectangular holes in it. Then I compared “white” portions of the screens by looking though these holes and I still found Sony screen to be darker.

Ergonomics: Sony PRS-600 is smaller than Amazon Kindle due to lack of keyboard. Although the weight is the same, Sony feels heavier because of the smaller size (I guess more dense would the correct way to put it). It could be a matter of habit but I find Kindle paging buttons more naturally placed than on PRS-600. PRS-600 fits nicely in most pockets which is convenient.

Storage: Sony PRS-600 comes with 512Mb usable storage that can be expanded to 16Gb via SDHC and MMC cards. Since PRS-600 lacks wireless connectivity it’s likely that you’ll be carrying most of your books around so it makes sense to stock up on flash memory. This is different from Kindle way of always being able to download books you’ve purchased before via the WhisperNet. If you work with large PDF documents or images you will find swapping flash cards convenient.

Getting books:

  • Buying books: Using the eBook library is relatively straightforward and easy. You only need to enter your credit card information once. After that you can buy books with one click pretty much like on Amazon.com. Several times the application failed to transfer purchased books to the eReader but reconnecting the device fixed that too.
  • Free books: Free Google books are integrated into the eBook Library software so getting them is easy
  • Library books: Getting library books was easy once I learned that the service is located at www.Overdrive.com from another PRS-600 review. I entered my ZIP-code to find my local library, browsed though the list of eBooks and audio-books. After choosing the book I was asked for library card number, Adobe ID that is used in ePub DRM. Then Sony eBook library downloaded the book which I then transfered to the PRS-600 and started reading. Straightforward and nice, given that it is free.

To tell the truth some libraries now offer eBooks in DRM-free mobipocket format that Kindle can use as well, though selection of such books is smaller while selection of library books is small to begin with. So library book access (at least the way it is now) is a nice perk but nothing major since most of the books you would want to read you’ll end up buying anyway.

Reading books on the Sony PRS-600: Experience is mostly similar to the one of Kindle. Flipping pages with gestures is fun at first but I then switched to using buttons as you need to press the finger pretty hard to the touchscreen. If you are using stylus this is not an issue but why would you want to take out a stylus for reading? Navigating table of contents and links is easier than with 5-way controller. However if you are using finger rather than stylus, not all of the touches will register. PRS-600 is not nearly as finger friendly as an iPhone.

Looking up dictionary definitions is easier with the touchscreen however Sony PRS-600 suffers from two significant drawbacks when it comes to using the dictionary:

1) Sony PRS-600 doesn’t recognize alternative forms of all the words. For example if you try looking up the word “puzzled” it will yield no results while looking up “puzzle” will work.

2) The navigation within the dictionary is limited to the hyper-links  between the articles. In contrast Kinde dictionaries are treated like regular books so you can get a dictionary definition for any word within any other dictionary definition.

While it may not look like a big deal to some people for non-native English speakers such as myself it is.

Reading books on the PC: You can actually read complete books in Sony eBook library software. With Amazon you are limited to “Look inside this book” feature on Amazon.com. If you don’t have an eBook reader – this is a great feature. If you do then most likely you would choose eInk over backlit LCD screen for reading. Clipboard is disabled (least for copyrighted books). This would have been a nice feature for PC users, especially for academics. However it’s not there. You would have more luck copying the book text from Amazon Kindle books by highlighting it.

Taking notes: There are two ways in which you can take notes on the books and documents that you work with on Sony PRS-600. You can either scribble or type using the on-screen keyboard. Typing is a very bad experience. Touchscreen, eInk and on-screen keyboard are a horrible combination. The lag is just too great and typing becomes too slow to be efficient. Kindle keyboard may not be too comfortable but it’s way better than this. Scribbling is fun but these notes are not usable or transferable.

Viewing PDF: This is one area where Sony PRS-600 beats Amazon Kindle hands down. Table of contents and internal hyper-links work and are easy to select on a touch screen. You can either increase font size and the reader will reflow the text, or dynamically zoom in and drag the page around. Surprisingly the refresh rate is pretty fast. Although it doesn’t have an accelerometer like Amazon Kindle, Sony reader also supports landscape mode that you can enable via the options menu. This is definitely better than document conversion that is available in Kindle 2.

If you just need to read the PDF in a linear fashion then large screen of Kindle DX has an advantage. However if you need to navigate the document a lot, it’s much easier to do on Sony PRS-600 with the touchscreen even tough the display is smaller.

Viewing pictures: This is another area where Sony PRS-600 does better than Kindle. When I used small JPEG files both eReaders worked roughly the same. But when I dropped 21 megapixel JPEG from my Canon DSLR, Kindle took more than a minute to render it and you could clearly see that its dithering algorithm failed. Sony on the other hand was able display the image promptly as well as dynamically pan and zoom it. When you pan the image it looks like the eInk screen switches to monochrome mode (only 2 colors) that allows for much faster refresh that makes almost real-time panning possible.

Playing MP3 music: Sony PRS-600 has a usable MP3 player where you can navigate tracks, fast-forward, rewind etc.

Conclusion: Sony PRS-600 is a good device. You can definitely have a good time reading books on it. Unfortunately the software (both PC and eReader) has some bugs and reliability issues. Unless you work with PDF files a lot, touchscreen is more of a hindrance than a blessing. It does seem to take away from the contrast a little bit.

At a glance: So which one should you choose? It really depends on what your usage patterns are going to be.

If all you want to do is read books, then I would definitely recommend Amazon Kindle. When reading, touchscreen is more of a hindrance than help, it adds to the cost and takes away from image quality. Being able to buy books without computer or WiFi is a huge plus for Kindle.

If you work with PDF files a lot then Sony PRS-600 will be a better choice because it provides much better PDF support than Amazon Kindle does. You can navigate PDF files easily with touchscreen, pan, zoom and change font size.

If PDFs are important to you, but you still would like to have the convenience of Whispernet buying from Amazon.com you can consider Kindle DX. Although you somewhat loose portability, larger screen alleviates lack of pan and zoom functions in Kindle software.

Specification Sony PRS-600 Touch Edition Amazon Kindle 2
Photo

Sony PRS-600 Touch Edition

Sony PRS-600 Touch Edition

Amazon Kindle 2

Amazon Kindle 2

Price $299.00 $259.00
Size 6.9″ x 4.8″ x 0.40″ 8″ x 5.3″ x 0.36″
Weight 10.1 oz 10.2 oz
Screen 6″ 8 grayscale eInk 6″ 16 grayscale eInk
Screen Resolution 600 x 800 @ 170 ppi 600 x 800 @ 167 ppi
Audio 3.5mm stereo jack stereo speakers, 3.5mm stereo jack
Supported Formats EPUB, PDF, BBeB, PDF, TXT, RTF, JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP, MP3, AAC AZW, MOBI, PRC, PDF, TXT, JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP, MP3, AAX
Storage 512MB + up to 16Gb SDHC and MMC 1.4Gb
Features Access to free library DRM books via overdrive.com Can buy books without PC in 100+ countries via GSM wireless commection
Release Date August 31, 2009 February 9, 2009 / October 19, 2009

Now that I have both Amazon and Sony readers and I still primarily use Amazon Kindle. I’m keeping the Sony for the rare case of getting a book from the library (although so far it is yet to happen). My 3 year old daughter loves it for its scribbling feature. I’ve uploaded some images with “connect-the-dots” pictures and tracing letters and she has a blast with these :)

Kindle for PC

Amazon Kindle for PC

Amazon Kindle for PC

Last week Amazon has released Kindle for PC application for Windows. This application was first unveiled last month on Windows 7 launch event. As the competition in eBook/eReader market heats up this holiday season this is a second major move by Amazon in an effort to increase it’s already large market share.

Kindle for PC makes full versions of all of the 300,000 Kindle books available for reading on any Windows PC. I’ve downloaded and installed the application on both my desktop computer and netbook. The application is still in beta version so there’s definitely room for improvement.

Download size is just 5.3 megabytes. Installation is fast and easy. On the first start you are prompted for your Amazon.com credentials and then you get access to all of the Kindle books that you’ve purchased before.

Kindle For PC automatically registers itself with Amazon.com website in the same section as iPhone applications. I’m not sure what are the limits. I currently have 5 Kindle devices, 1 iPhone app and 2 Kindle for PC applications registered to my account and there seems to be no problem.

Application interface is definitely optimized for touchscreen operation. No doubt about it. You can get around just by poking your finger. Unfortunately this is the only thing you can do. One of the biggest complaints of Kindle users is the lack of folders or any other means to organize the book collection on the device. However on hardware Kindles you can search though your collection. This functionality is not there in Kindle for PC so if you own a lot of digital books finding the one you need may be tricky.

On the upside you get larger screen and color. I’ve tested several books that have color pictures in paper version and Kindle versions had color in them as well. Obviously the refresh time is better than eInk. The screen is back-lit which can be good or bad depending on your personal preferences. Personally I prefer reading books from eInk screen as it feels more natural but on the other hand I spend 10+ hours per day in front of back-lit LCD screens at work and my eyes aren’t burnt out yet. Navigation within the book works the same way as on hardware Kindle.

Image quality is seems to be web-grade. At the moment there is no way to zoom images. This functionality is supposed to be released later via update. I tried downloading “The Digital Photography Book, Volume 1” that is marked as “Optimized for larger screens” (same a “Optimized for Kindle DX”) and the file is the same size on K2i, Kindle DX and Kindle for PC.

However dictionary lookup and search are not available. You can see notes and highlights you’ve made on your hardware Kindle but you can’t make new ones. You can bookmark pages. WhisperSync synchronizes last read location between all your Kindle devices so it’s easy to pick up reading where you left off.

Kindle for PC takes advantage of the new features of Microsoft’s latest Windows 7 operating system such as multi-touch and jumplists. Jumplists are context menus that a tied to applications and shortcuts in taskbar that allow you to “jump” to some frequently used application features. Kindle for PC jumplist contains the list of most recently read book so that you can open then with a single click. The application registers kindle:// browser protocol that allows links on Amazon.com website to open with it.

Obviously there is a lot that can be improved in the application before beta tag is removed. Amazon promises following improvements in the near future:

  • Create notes and highlights
  • Search
  • Zoom and rotate images

Here is Kindle for PC application pros and cons in a nutshell:

Pros:

  • Free. It enables you to get $9.99 eBooks on any Windows PC
  • Color. It’s better than black-and-white if the book is graphically intensive.
  • Touch-friendly user interface.

Cons:

  • No way to organize your digital library or search though it.
  • Highlights and notes are read-0nly (should be available soon via update)
  • No way to copy-paste book text.
  • No Mac version (should be available within a couple of months)

When I purchased my first Kindle I did it because I wanted to get certain information from a book that wasn’t available online “here and now”. While I don’t envision myself reading complete books on a PC, it certainly makes getting information from books “here and now” easier. It is also a great way for people unfamiliar with eBooks to try them out without having to invest in a dedicated reader device.

International Kindle DX? Possibly in 2010

Amazon Kindle DX

Amazon Kindle DX

While browsing the announcements about Kindle 2 international launch I’ve stumbled upon a post on electricpig.co.uk in which James Holland claims that Amazon UK spokesman Ben Howes telling that “we (Amazon) expect to add a Kindle DX family member with international roaming sometime next year.

This is interesting piece of news, although you can hardly call it surprising since there is obviously demand for such a device, “sometime next year” is a rather wide period of time (I’m sure that Amazon will release something and Kindle DX seems logical), also there is little that is preventing Amazon from releasing such a device:

  • Hardware and software changes are rather trivial and low cost.
  • Amazon managed to untangle the horrible mess called international copyright law and publishing rights and implement geographical restrictions for books based on country and still come up with decent number of books for most of the 169 countries to which Kindle 2 will start shipping on October 19.
  • They’ve managed to set up wireless connectivity in 100+ countries by taking advantage of AT&T roaming agreements. While data prices are substantial and infer usage restrictions (international download surcharge, no web-browsing, etc) but it works for Kindle 2 and it will work for Kindle DX
  • Amazon had distribution and logistics set up and figured out long before Kindle 1 was released.

So you would ask why not release it now? There are several possible reasons and most likely all of them play a role to a different degree each:

  • If Amazon does two releases that are several months apart, they would generate hype twice and benefit from two spikes in sales. If they were to release both devices together I doubt there would have been twice as much hype. I think that Amazon is carefully timing their releases and price drops to maintain maximum possible customer attention to their product in the long run. After all Amazon was selling products made by other companies (some of them quite hyped, like iPod Touch), they know sales volume and how much does it spike after a piece of news and at what pace it then drops. And it would make total sense for them to use this knowledge to their advantage.
  • It’s easier and cheaper to test new technology (3G GSM modem integration) on one device and then apply your experience to integrating this technology into another device. It’s also easier to retool one production line than two. If you consider the fact that Kindle DX was sold out for almost a month this summer it makes sense that Amazon would like to avoid disruptions in production if they can.
  • Perhaps international Kindle DX will include additional features like better PDF support, touchscreen or some other innovations. These take time to develop. Taking a pause would also let Amazon see how Sony touchscreen eReaders would fare and make a decision on whether to go down that road or not.
  • If you look in the upper left corner of BlogKindle.com you will see that Amazon already sells 6 Kindle devices, all with different price points. Adding another one might confuse customers too much and disrupt the buying process. So Amazon would likely phase out US version of Kindle 2, merging it with refurbished Kindle 2. Then they would have 6 months before they would need to worry about reselling refurbished international Kindles.

If I were to guess when would Amazon roll out international Kindle DX I would say: “not for another 4 months” since this seems to be the pace they’ve set this year and considering that Amazon just did their “holiday season release” and it would make little sense to dump something on the unsuspecting customers amid holidays.

Let’s wait and see…

There’s a new iRex Reader Coming

iRex_DR800_mock

iRex

iRex was one of the earlier entrants in the eReader market, mainly known for the not super successful iLiad.  While most of iRex’s earlier devices were overly expensive high-end readers, their newest product appears to be a bit more consumer-oriented.

The screen size is 8.1 inches, making the new reader a sort of one size fits all between the Kindle 2 and the Kindle DX.  The biggest new feature is 3G, but no details have been revealed yet about what carrier iRex will be associated with.  For that matter, there isn’t very many details about the device in general.  The image above is only a mockup, it could all be smoke and mirrors as far as we know.  There also is supposed to be some tie in with an eBook distributor, but details are forthcoming.

Older models from iRex never really met the expectation’s that were raised for them.  I’m going to take this speculation with a grain of salt and just wait and see.

Kindle 2 Kindle DX New iRex Reader
Display Size 6 inches 9.7 inches 8.1 inches
Touch Screen No No Yes
Wireless 3G/Whispernet 3G/Whispernet 3G/Carrier Unknown
Book Store Amazon Amazon ???
Price $299.00 $489.00 ???

New Sony Readers

Sony is releasing two new Sony Readers this month.  Both are essentially variations on Sony’s present eReader: the Reader Pocket Edition and the Reader Touch Edition.

For the most part the new devices are what you expect from the Sony Reader.  There’s no wireless and the storage is small, but you can use an SD Card or Memory Stick.  The devices are meant for use with the Sony bookstore (now lowering prices to match Amazon), but they are more open than the Kindle and support the ePub format.

The Reader Touch is the same size and price as a Kindle 2, but trades in the wireless capabilities for a touchscreen.  Touch gestures are used for turning pages, writing on a virtual keyboard, and navigation.  For a customer choosing between the Reader Touch and a Kindle, it would basically amount to how much they wanted the touch screen.

The Reader Pocket has, I think, a much higher potential to steal away Kindle customers.  The screen is only 5 inches, but Sony has priced the device at a competitive $199.  Filling the niche of a budget, entry-level reader, the Reader Pocket could definitely reach at to those who haven’t yet considered buying an eReader.

Here are how the devices stack up to the Kindle:

Kindle 2 Reader Pocket Reader Touch
Display Size 6 inches 5 inches 6 inches
Wireless 3G/Whispernet No No
Touch Screen No No Yes
ePub No Yes Yes
Price $299 $199 $299

Onyx Boox revealed at CeBIT 2009

Onyx International presented Onyx Boox e-reader at CeBIT 2009. Endgadget has video and some photos of the device. Current plans are for it to start shipping to US customers around June 2009 with a price tag lower than Sony PRS-700 which is $400. Here are some features I was able to deduce from the video and other sources:

  • Stylus sensitive 6″, 8″ or 9.7″ 16 shades of gray touchscreen so you can scribble your notes right on top of the text.
  • Native support for many data formats including PDF, HTML, TXT, CHM, ePub, PDB, MOBI, PRC, JPG, BMP, PNG, GIF, TIFF, MP3, WAV.
  • 512MB internal storage. Additional storage can be added in a form of either Memory stick or USB drives. 128MB RAM. 400Mhz processor or above
  • Integrated WiFi. Optional EVDO or 3G wireless module.
  • 1600mAh integrated Li-Ion battery.
  • Either by accelerometer similar to the one in iPhone or by explicit user input it’s possible to use it both landscape and portrait modes. Cool feature but in my opinion it’s not too relevant to book reading.
  • It is claimed that it has handwriting recognition. This makes me assume that touchscreen wouldn’t respond to fingers because that requires magnetic sensors similar to ones found in Tablet PCs that capture stylus movements precisely including tilt angle. This allows recognition to be much more accurate at the cost of these sensors ignoring anything but the stylus.
  • Web Browser that is based on WebKit (same library that powers Apple Safari and Google Chrome). This would probably yield browsing experience that is superior to Kindle.
  • There is on-screen keyboard available. I wouldn’t mind having something like that on Kindle with extra space allocated for bigger screen that can be used for reading when keyboard isn’t required.
  • It will be possible to install additional applications but it’s unclear whether SDK will be released.
  • Text-to-speech capability. Though because of the noise in the video it was impossible to tell how good is it.

Below is the official promotional video.

My personal opintion is that it will not be very successful if successful at all and here’s why:

While it has many cool features like larger screen, touchscreen, large selection of formats that it supports, few of these features are actually useful in day-to-day operations. Overall it looks more like e-Ink PDA rather than eBook reader. WebKit based browser is nice but slow e-Ink screen will negate most of the benefits. iPhone with 3.5″ display would provide much better overall web-browsing experience. Running additional application can’t be good for battery life. And while touch screen is cool, how often would you really need to scribble and use handwriting recognition? Most of these tasks can be much better performed by other devices like PDAs, iPhone, etc.

But most importantly, what about books? Without having access to Amazon’s Kindle Store with 240,000+ titles it would be limited to much smaller selections of the stores that would decide to partner with Onyx and free books. Which is not a whole lot compared to what Amazon has to offer. Most likely book buying experience will not be as easy and streamlined as one with Kindle.

There’s one great feature that really made Onyx Boox stand out – larger screens. Although I’m pretty sure that “cheaper than $400″ price tag that was announced on CeBIT applies to 6″ model and ones with larger screens will cost more. Nonetheless there would be people for whom larger screen would outweigh all cons and they would buy Onyx Boox rather than Amazon Kindle should it have access to the same selection of books. And this is why I believe Amazon would not partner with Onyx to protect it’s Kindle sales.

Poor state of US and worldwide economy wouldn’t  help sales either.

So although this post is under “Kindle Killer” category, really it’s Kindle Killer… Not.

onyx-boox

I know that this post may sound too Kindle biased, but that’s my opinion. Anyway, we’ll be able to find out if I was right soon enough. I’ll keep you posted.