About

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.

Recent Comments

September 2014
M T W T F S S
« Oct    
1234567
891011121314
15161718192021
22232425262728
2930  

Kindle Touch Review (hands-on)

Kindle Touch at a glance

Kindle Touch Weight

Kindle Touch Weight

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

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

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

Kindle Touch Ergonomics

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kindle Touch Screen

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

Kindle 3, 4 and Touch Screen comparison

Kindle 3, 4 and Touch Screen comparison

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

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

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

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

Kindle Touch Battery

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

Kindle Touch Fonts

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

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

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

Kindle Touch Software

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

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

Kindle Touch PDF support

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

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

These commands are still there and work well.

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

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

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

Kindle Touch X-ray

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

Kindle Touch X-Ray

Kindle Touch X-Ray

Kindle Touch Apps

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

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

Other small Kindle Touch Features

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

Conclusion

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

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

Kindle 3 Review Follow Up

Kindle 3 Weight

Kindle 3 Weight

I’ve had some time to play around with my new Kindle 3 and to read what other users are saying so now I’m ready to publish this follow up with some of the information I’ve recently gathered of forgot to publish before.

In case you haven’t read reviews I’ve published before, here they are:

  • Original Kindle 3 review (July, 29th)В - largely based on official Amazon press release, other online sources and personal speculations.
  • Kindle 3 review round-up from online media (August, 6th) – summary of opinions from sources like CNET, PCWorld etc.
  • Kindle 3 review (August, 28th) – my personal hand-on review of the device with battery life estimations, screen contrast comparison, partial disassembly and other useful bits of information.

One thing I would like to mention specifically is the weight. I weighted the device on a digital scale it showed 8.2 oz. At first I though that my scale was off but then reports and pictures started surfacing on forums indicating that Kindle 3G + WiFi weights as low as 8.1 oz and Kindle WiFi as low as 7.8 oz. Official Amazon specs indicate 8.7 oz for 3G + WiFi and 8.2 oz for WiFi only version.

Kindle 3 software

Kindle 3 runs software version 3.0 (515460094) and has serial number starting with B006 marking it as new hardware series. No surprise there. In the past Amazon has stopped updating 1.* firmware for first generation Kindles once Kindle 2 came out. Hopefully this is not going to be the case with Kindle software 2.* despite the fact that apparently Kindle 3 will clearly outsell Kindle 2 soon enough (more on that later).

Kindle 3 is much more similar to second generation Kindle than Kindle 2 was to original Kindle 1. Kindle 2 user base now is much larger than Kindle 1 user base was when Kindle 2 came out. It would be easier for Amazon to maintain one code branch than two (since it seems that 1.* software development is essentially non-existent). Unicode characters have been added to 3.0 software. Eventually books in Kindle store will start using these characters. It would be very bad PR for Amazon when people with older Kindles will start buying these books only to see empty boxes instead of characters. This is why I guesstimate that eventually 3.* software will make it to Kindle 2 and older Kindle DX devices. Perhaps it would be software 3.1 or 3.0.1

There are several new features in Kindle software 3.0 that I forgot to mention in the original review:

  • Device password. You can set a password that will be required to use the device every time it’s turned on. Without the password it’s impossible to access Kindle UI or Kindle USB drive. It’s pretty useful if you keep sensitive work related documents on your Kindle. In case you forget your password, it is possible to completely reset the device deleting all stored information in the process.
  • Collections. Although these are not exactly new and have been around before Kindle 3, I’ve never taken the time to write about them and would like to point this feature out. Historically all Kindle books were piled in one flat list that was sorted by last-read date, title or author. Best way to navigate it was searching. Several months ago Amazon has introduced collections as a way to organize your library. A collection is similar to a tag as one book can belong to several collections (Sci-Fi, H. G. Wells, “Favorite Books”, etc)
  • Manually setting device time. Previously Kindle relied on time information from 3G wireless network. Now you can manually set Kindle clock if you have WiFi-only version, don’t have wireless coverage or live on a different time than your GSM provider.

Kindle 3 Unicode support

Kindle 3 finally got a font with broader range of Unicode characters. These include Cyrillic, Simplified and Traditional Chinese, Korean and Japanese. I’ve done some quick tests and to me it looks like characters are there. However I didn’t do a full scale test of all possible characters from these planes. Some people on forums and in comments complained about poor support of Chinese and Korean but so far there has been little specifics.

There were some claims that non-Latin characters display the same in all typefaces. I’ve verified it and it does seem to be true for Asian characters and definitely not true for Cyrillic. Here are some screenshots showing different typefaces in Russian text.

Kindle 3 Russian Typefaces

Kindle 3 Russian Typefaces

By the way, good way to download and format Unicode text files so that paragraph breaks would display properly and lines will not needlessly wrap is eBook Text Formatter tool that I’ve created a while ago. It still works great.

Kindle 3 WebKit-based browser

New web-browser in Kindle 3 is great. It can event load and run desktop AJAX version of Gmail (however using mobile version at https://m.gmail.com/ is still recommended as it’s much faster). Some users reported problems with browser or apps. Kindle software would occasionally crash. It is generally believed that it’s caused by background indexing process running alongside browser. Whenever new book, text file or document is downloaded to Kindle, it is indexed to provide almost instantaneous search results. This process is resource intensive and may conflict with web-browser or word game applications that are available for Kindle.

Therefore it is recommended to refrain from browsing while Kindle indexes new books. Usually this process is completed within minutes of downloading a book or a document. If you download hundreds of books at once it may take hours and seriously drain your battery. 75% overnight battery drain has been reported after downloading 100+ books.

In case your Kindle browser stops working completely (“launch browser” button does nothing or causes a crash), restarting your Kindle will fix this problem. To restart your Kindle press “Home”, “Menu”, select “Settings”, press “Menu” and select “Restart”. In case this doesn’t work, holding the power button for 30 seconds and then releasing it does the trick. Please note that Kindle will not restart while you are holding the button. You need to press the button, slowly count to 30 and then release it. Within several seconds your Kindle will reboot.

Kindle 3 User Reviews

For some reason there were no user reviews for Kindle 3 on Amazon website until Saturday afternoon. Perhaps they were held in the pipeline for some reason. Now that reviews are finally in, you can check them out here.

For Kindle 3G + WiFi and Kindle WiFi there are 139 total reviews at the moment. Of these 104 gave Kindle 5/5 stars, 24 gave it 4 stars, 3 gave it 3 stars and 8 people were completely unhappy with their purchase and gave Kindle 3 one star. Since there so few one-star reviews, I took a look at them individually and here’s the scoop:

I would like to start completely quoting review by Roger: “The ipad has so much more functionality, why anyone would want to limit themselves to a Kindle is beyond me.” It doesn’t look to me like Roger ever had or will have a Kindle. Nonetheless he’s entitled to his own opinion and we’ll leave it at that :)

3 people seemed to have received defective devices. I can understand how this can lead to a bad review, however every device has a potential of being defective. When I started building servers of the first batch of 8 HDDs from a major manufacturer 3 failed within 24 hours of stress testing. Bad luck, I guess because since I replaced these 3 and installed dozens more like them I’m yet to see a single hard drive fail. So given the overall volume of Kindles shipped, 3 reviews about defective devices is pretty good.

One reviewer was extremely unhappy with quality of Korean font glyphs. Kindle 3 Unicode support is something that I want to investigate further. I’ll definitely report on it once I have the full story.

There is one bad Kindle 3 review dealing with new smaller buttons. Personally I liked Kindle 2 buttons more as well. New controller layout takes getting used to and judging by scarcity of negative reviews, benefits like WiFi and better screen greatly outweigh discomfort from smaller buttons. By the way there is a good old trick for reading from Kindle without having to use buttons at all: start text-to-speech, adjust the speech speed to your reading speed and then mute the volume. Pages will flip automatically.

User with “Book Worm” alias gave new Kindle 3 one star because he purchased Kindle 2 right before Kindle 3 was announced so the user ended up paying $259 for and older device rather than getting new one for $189. I can completely understand this frustration. Unfortunately Amazon doesn’t have a specific schedule of “surprise” product launches like Apple when everyone expects new iPhone to be announced in Spring and release in the Summer. Such things happened in the past when international Kindle or graphite Kindle DX was released. While it’s unlikely that anything can be done in this particular case, I would like to note that historically Amazon Customer support was quite flexible on 30-day return period. According to comments from several users you can get a refund (if the price dropped) or return your Kindle for a newer one up to one week after 30 days have passed from your purchase. But please don’t tell Amazon that I told you this :)

Final bad Kindle 3 review has something to do with the way user set up his/her account rather than with the device itself so I’ll not comment on it.

For these 8 negative reviews there are 128 positive reviews from people who are mostly extremely happy with their Kindle experience. Some highlights include:

  • Small size and weight are mentioned in almost every positive review (and even some negative onces)
  • Improved screen contrast and fonts is the second biggest thing mentioned in positive reviews.
  • People love new low $189 price point of Kindle 3G + WiFi and $139 of Kindle WiFi.

In the future I’ll do a more detailed analysis of positive reviews and publish the stats here.

Kindle 3 Sales Numbers

On August 25th in the press release announcing early shipments of Kindle 3, Amazon also revealed that Kindle 3 is the best-selling product by four-week sales:

(NASDAQ: AMZN)в_”Amazon.com today announced that more new generation Kindles were ordered in the first four weeks of availability than in the same timeframe following any other Kindle launch, making the new Kindles the fastest-selling ever. In addition, in the four weeks since the introduction of the new Kindle and Kindle 3G, customers ordered more Kindles on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk combined than any other product, continuing Kindleв_Ts over two-year run as the bestselling product across all the products sold on Amazon.com.

In the summer and amid slowing economy Kindle 3 was able to beat international Kindle 2 launch that was tied to the holiday shopping season last year. This is quite impressive but not surprising when one considers improved specs and features, price that got slashed in half and amount of customer awareness generated by previous launches.

Kindle 3 Review

Kindle 3 White And Graphite

Kindle 3 White And Graphite

Update: Since Kindle 3 is released and I got some hands on experience with it, you should check out this Kindle 3 Review and this follow up post for more up to date information.

Since the original Kindle 3 release announcement I had some to carefully examine all of the news and press releases and compile this comprehensive Kindle 3 Review.

Although Kindle 3 rumors  have been circulating for some time, Fall 2010 was the widely anticipated release date. Rumors intensified when Kindle 2 became sold out on Amazon.com one day prior to the official announcement that came on July 28th, 2010.

In a nutshell Kindle 3 (although Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) never used this name) comes with following features:

Kindle 3 Screen

3rd generation Kindle comes with the same next generation eInk Pearl screen that is found in recently released Kindle DX Graphite but in 6″ form factor. The screen features the same 600×800 resolution with 16 shades of gray. Partially due to new screen technology and partially due to a software update, new Kindle will feature 20% faster page turns than the 2nd generation Kindle.

Kindle 3 Fonts

On top of some software improvements that made the default font look crisper, Amazon has introduced 2 additional font options: condensed Caecilia and Sans Serif. But what is more important, finally Kindle will natively support a broader range of characters:

  • Cyrillic used in Russian, Ukrainian, Belorussian, Bulgarian, Serbian, Tajik and dozens of other languages
  • Japanese
  • Traditional and simplified Chinese
  • Korean
  • Greek

This means that I can finally stop updating Kindle Unicode Font Hack that with time and numerous Kindle software and hardware update has become a conundrum of patches, jailbreaks and uninstallers. It also means that I would be able to republish Kindle Russian Dictionary using native Cyrillic characters rather than transliteration. Since it will not be the only book published with non-Latin characters, the updated font will inevitable make their way to all other Kindle versions.

Kindle 3 Size and Weight

Kindle 3 comes 21% smaller and 17% lighter than Kindle 2. You can select multiple eReaders (by holding the Ctrl key and clicking) from the list below to see how they compare by size.

As you can see, Kindle 3 is smaller than Kindle 2 but slightly larger than nook or Sony PRS-600. Both of these readers however lack keyboard that allows them to be more compact. PRS-300 is smaller still but it has a smaller 5″ reading area too so it wouldn’t really be a fair comparison.

This reduction in size didn’t come free though. Paging buttons are much smaller than they used to be and numerical keyboard row is merged with the top letter row the same way as it is on Kindle DX.

Kindle 3 Storage and Connectivity

Starting from 2nd generation Kindle Amazon has eliminated external memory card storage in their eReaders. Kindle 3 is no exception. Internal flash memory size has doubled compared to Kindle 2. Now entire line-up of Kindle readers features 4GB of internal flash memory for storing books. Not that it really matters: even without global 3G connectivity 2 gigabytes of text will take a very-very long while for anyone to read even with 20% faster page turns. 3G connectivity pretty much eliminates the need for large internal storage altogether barring the scenario of solo around the world sailboat trip.

So far WiFi has been a feature exclusive to Barnes&Noble nook until now. New Kindle will automatically take advantage of 3G WiFi hotspots if they are found nearby. This would provide faster download speeds, ability to download books in places without AT&T coverage and save Amazon money. Amazon used to pay $0.15 per megabyte downloaded to Sprint (and probably still pays similar amount to AT&T). I’m almost positive that it would be possible to configure Kindle to connect to any other wireless network – open or encrypted (provided you know the credentials).

There is a Wi-Fi only version. It is $50 cheaper and 0.2oz lighter. Personally I would prefer to pay $50 upfront for the convenience of being able to download books almost anywhere hassle free and automatically getting my periodicals without having to manually power-manage the WiFi or worrying about finding a hotspot. It should be possible to use Kindle WiFi together with Android phone (like Sprint EVO 4G) or any other device that acts as a mobile hotspot. Any way you look at it – WiFi is a welcome and long awaited addition to Kindle feature set.

Kindle 3 Battery Life

It looks like Amazon has pushed the battery life even further. Previous versions of Kindle used to work 7 days with 3G on and “several weeks” with 3G off. In my personal experience “several weeks” was 1 month. Now Amazon officially states 1 month of battery life with wireless off. So perhaps it would be even longer in reality.

Kindle 3 Browser

It was nice to be able to browser Wikipedia via 3G connection for free, but apart from that and running the Amazon Kindle Book store Kindle 2 experimental browser was hardly useful. The newest Kindle comes with new Webkit-based browser that hopefully would be more responsive and usable on websites with complex layouts. I own and actively use B&N nook and I can honestly say that nook browser is excellent. That being said I hardly ever use either Kindle or nook browser. 4″ smartphone screen offers much better browsing experience than 6″ eInk. eBook reader were built for linear reading and in this eInk excels. Web-browsing is a very random non-linear process. In all likelihood 4″ screen despite it’s small size is going to contain less text than you are going to read before navigating to next page via some link.

Another novel feature – is ‘browser article mode’. Kindle browser will use some experimental heuristics to eliminate everything but the main page text, distilling the web-page into something similar to newspaper article.

Kindle 3 File Formats

With new release the list of supported formats didn’t change. AZW, TXT, PDF, PRC, MOBI, JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP are natively supported. DOC, DOCX, RTF and HTML are supported via online conversion tool. This list may not be final since new formats (hopefully someday EPUB too) can be added via software update as was the case with PDF support on Kindle 2.

Kindle 3 PDF Support

The latest Kindle offers the same level of PDF support as Kindle DX Graphite. You can pan and zoom PDF files, annotate them and do dictionary lookups.

Other Kindle 3 Features

On top of all this Kindle 3 gets voice-accessible menus and microphone. Voice accessible menus (Kindle will read aloud all menu items) along with text-to-speech should take make Kindle a fully accessible device that can be used in a classroom.

As for the microphone. It is there but it is not mentioned in official specification. Therefore it’s reserved for a future use. Most likely it will enable adding voice notes or recording classroom sessions. Some reviewers have speculated on voice-activated page turns and hands-free reading but I personally find such scenarios unlikely.

Social features like Facebook and Twitter integration and sharing favorite passages have carried over from previous Kindle versions. Personally I find “favorite passages” to be the most useful feature. It really adds to the book reading experience and is not intrusive. I have to confess that I selfishly use this feature while not highlighting any passages myself.

Final verdict

Should you buy Kindle 3? If you love reading – Hell, yeah! It’s shaping up to be the best eReader as far a features to price ratio is concerned. Amazon has been developing eBook Readers for years now and each product they release is better that the ones before (which were good to begin with). Personally I already pre-ordered mine so you are sure to see a hands on review soon after I receive it.

Unicode Fonts Hack updated for Kindle Software 2.5.2 and 2.5.3

Kindle 2 International with Unicode Fonts

Kindle 2 International with Unicode Fonts

As the image above implies I’ve updated the hack to work with the most recent versions of Kindle software: 2.5.2 and 2.5.3. The instructions and updated links can be found here: Kindle Unicode Font Hack.

I tested the hack with Kindle 2 US, Kindle 2 International and Kindle DX. Unfortunately I don’t have Kindle DX International to test it on but I see no reason why it would be any different there.

Enjoy!

Unicode Fonts Hack for International Kindle DX

I was away from home for extended period of time without access to a machine that I could rebuild UFH packages for the newly released International version of Kindle DX. Fortunately one of blog subscribers did.

I’ve uploaded updated hack binaries to the Unicode font hack page.

Uninstalling old version of UFH

There seems to be a small problem with the latest UHF update. The newest uninstaller doesn’t remove old versions of the hack. Since all my Kindle devices have software 2.3 now I can’t debug the issue. I’ve made old version of uninstaller available that should do the job:

Sorry for the inconvenience.

Unicode Fonts Hack for Kindle 2.3

This updated version of Kindle Unicode Fonts Hack works on all versions of Kindle software including the most recent 2.3 and installs on Kindle 2 US, Kindle 2 International and Kindle DX.

I’ve added more font combinations:

  • GNU FreeFont – this hack uses GNU Free Fonts that come with Linux and are free to redistribute. All font styles are preserved (serif, sans-serif, mono-spaced, bold and italic) but these fonts only support Latin, Cyrillic characters and some others (click here for full coverage data). So if you are only interested in Russian books – this is the way to go. Otherwise this patch will do you little good. Here are download links:

kindle-ufhack-v03-gnu-free-font-serif

kindle-ufhack-v03-gnu-free-font-sans

  • Droid Fallback Fonts (recommened for Asian glyphs) - this hack uses open-source Droid fallback font that is part of Google Android platform. Unfortunately styles and typefaces are missing completely. You’ll only get regular Sans Serif. The upside is the broadest character support. It supports Cyrillic, Chinese, Japanese and a bunch of other languages. This font also looks very good on the Kindle screen (in my opinion way better than native Kindle fonts). This is the patch I currently have installed on my Kindle 2. Here are download links:

kindle-ufhack-v01-droid

kindle-ufhack-v03-droid-serif

kindle-ufhack-v03-droid-sans

Visit the Kindle Unicode Fonts Hack page for detailed instructions.

Why there will be fewer Kindle firmware updates in the future

Personally I’m used to updating software. Pretty much every week one or another piece of software on my PC updates – be it Windows itself, the antivirus, iTunes or whatever. I’ve subconsciously come to expect the same from Kindle. And at first Kindle firmware did update quite frequently:

As you can see it seems that Kindle 2 got several updates soon after release and then there was silence.

Early update rush was caused by bugs in the new software. One or two updates were caused by law suit (Text-to-speech, and Orwell book deletion). However, note that none of the updates introduced new features. I guess Amazon sticks to the policy – don’t fix it if it ain’t broken.

Kindle DX and Kindle international share most of the software with original Kindle so there is little room for new critical bugs.

But most importantly, the number of Kindles in operation has exploded since the beginning of 2009. And this is probably the most important reason why we will not see many Kindle updates in the future and probably none of them will be feature driven. Amazon pays Sprint 12 cents per megabyte transferred. It would be safe to assume that Amazon gets similar pricing from AT&T for domestic traffic and a much higher price for data roaming. Average Kindle update is 2 megabytes in size. Because of the way Amazon structures the update packages, this accumulates as each subsequent update includes all previous updates as well. So first update was 2 megs, second one was 4, third – 6, etc.

6 megabytes times 12 cents is $0.72 per device updated. By some estimates there may be 2..3 million Kindle devices in operation. Let’s assume that 80% of devices are within wireless coverage (although in reality this number can be much higher). This adds up to $1,440,000 to $2,160,000 per software update deployment and increasing with every update version. And this is just to update domestic Kindles. I wouldn’t even want to think about the pricing to worldwide distribution. Also I wouldn’t want to be the software developer who makes a critical bug that causes an update or that software developer’s boss for that matter…

Given these numbers I don’t believe that Amazon would release update unless they have a very strong reason to do so. Strong reason being a court order or something else of this sort. This more or less addresses they questions of where Amazon will add folders, PDF support for Kindle 2 or official Unicode fonts for that matter via an update. The answer is a definite NO.

On the issue of fonts I’m most sure since Unicode fonts in the updates that I use (that add only partial support without all of the font styles) are 1.5..3 megabytes. Proper Unicode support can easily add up to 10 megabytes. So this would mean millions of dollars spent with potential to spend more millions in the future and near zero return of investment since although many people would like to have this feature, for most of them it’s not a deal-breaker (especially since on Kindle DX you can have any kind of fonts via PDF files). The few books that have non-Latin characters that Amazon sells use Topaz format to embed the extra glyphs that they need. So adding Unicode fonts would help customers read books that Amazon doesn’t sell. In this light the question about Unicode fonts via an update for existing devices is a no-brainer.

It is possible that this support would be included in Kindle 3 or whatever else the next generation Kindle will be called since in this case the cost for Amazon is just licencing fee for the fonts.

Unicode Font Hack v0.2, now for Kindle International too!

kindle-international-unicode-font-hackI’ve create Unicode Font Hack that also works on Kindle 2 International. I’ve also reorganized the files to minimize download times. Each device/font combination can now be downloaded as separate file. That file would contain only update binaries. Source code for all binaries can be downloaded separately. I’ve updated the hack page accordingly. You can find instructions as well as more detailed information there.

I’ve made the following changes to the hack:

  • Removed browser only hack since it didn’t add much value – if you still want it you’ll need to build it from the sources yourself.
  • Changed the uninstaller so that it removes extra font files completely as some of you have requested this feature.
  • Since droid hack uses the same font, rather than making multiple copies I’m using symlinks now so the hack uses less disk space on Kindle.

Here are installation instructions:

  1. Download one of the following files:
    1. Droid fonts: this is an open-source font that comes from Android Google OS. This font looks quite nice and supports Asian characters. However it only comes in sans serif style:
    2. Liberation fonts. These fonts come from RedHat linux and are open-source. Personally I don’t find them as nice as droid. It doesn’t support Asian characters. However it does support all 3 font styles – serif, sans serif and mono-spaced.
  2. If you have international version of Kindle 2 you need to jailbreak it first:
    1. Connect your Kindle to PC via the USB cable.
    2. Download this file: update_freekindle-k2i.bin
    3. Copy it to the root directory of your Kindle.
    4. Press Home. Press Menu. Select Settings. Press Menu. Select Update Your Kindle. Select OK.
    5. The update WILL fail. This is expected. However from now on you will be able to install custom Kindle updates.
  3. Connect your Kindle to PC via the USB cable.
  4. Copy update package that corresponds to your device to to the root directory of your Kindle.
  5. Press Home. Press Menu. Select Settings. Press Menu. Select Update Your Kindle. Select OK.
  6. The update will install, Kindle will restart and when it does – new fonts are going to be in effect. Please not that for International Kindle it will take some time before the installation progress bar moves as font files are large and it takes a long time for Kindle to verify the update signature.

To uninstall:

  1. Connect your Kindle to PC via the USB cable.
  2. Download  and copy uninstall package that corresponds to your device to to the root directory of your Kindle.
  3. Press Home. Press Menu. Select Settings. Press Menu. Select Update Your Kindle. Select OK.
  4. The update will install, Kindle will restart and when it does – old fonts will be used and there will be no trace of the hack in the Kindle file system. So official updates will install once again.

If you would like to customize the fonts – you can do so by downloading the hack sources and modifying them. I have to warn you that this is risky business though. It may be a good idea to install the antibrick hack before you proceed.

Using text files from lib.ru etc made easier and more

I’ve published the script that I’ve been using personally for quite some time to make plain text files that were preformatted to specific page width nicely reflowable on Kindle and other eBook readers (I’ve tested it with Sony PRS-505). It can also strip any HTML tags and convert between character encodings.

This should make downloading books from websites like lib.ru and gutenberg.org easier for some for some people. More information about how to use the tool as well as download link can be found here.

I’ve also created a summary page for all Kindle hacks and tools that I currently know of. Feel free to let me know if some information needs to be added to updated.

Unicode Font Hack for Kindle DX

Fine folks at the-ebook.org (translated version) have found a way to mod Igor’s python script so it can create valid custom updates for Amazon Kindle DX. I’ve compiled Kindle Unicode Font hack with the updated tool and verified that hacks work on my Kindle DX. Everything works fine – there are Unicode characters in both books and basic web, hack installs and uninstalls just fine and is safe to use.

Just as before there are 2 versions of the hack: one based on liberation fonts that have fewer international characters (no Asian characters) but preserve serif styles and one with droid fonts that has more characters but turns everything into sans-serif.

I have updated Unicode Fonts Hack page with new download links and instructions. Enjoy!

Kindle DX Unicode Font Hack

Kindle DX Unicode Font Hack

Unicode on Kindle DX via PDF

With Kindle 2 if you wanted to read books that contain non-English characters like Cyrillic, Chinese, Japanese, Hebrew etc you had several options:

  1. Use Kindle unicode font hack to replace default Kindle fonts with ones that support wider range of Unicode characters.
  2. Convert it to set of JPEGs and read it in the picture viewer.

With Kindle DX option 1 is ruled out for the time being since Unicode font hack doesn’t install on it. (Update: Unicode Fonts Hack now works on Kindle DX as well). However because Kindle DX supports PDF natively there is another way. PDF supports “font embedding”. This means that fonts that are used in PDF file are stored within the file itself or at least a subset of font that describes all the characters that are actually used. So Kindle can display Russian text in PDF files even though there are no Russian fonts on Kindle DX itself.

Luckily creating PDF files is easy as printing documents. There are dozens of PDF “converters”, “creators” or “writers” out there that all work in a similar way. They are installed as virtual printers that instead of printing documents on paper save them on your PC in PDF format. So any file that can be opened in program that supports printing (and 99% of them do) can be converted to PDF.

Kindle DX Russian Text

Kindle DX Russian Text

I tested several such programs and all of them produced files that I could read on my Kindle DX. Visually files produced by all of them were identical and of similar size (on disk). The only difference is how particular program behaves itself on PC. In the end I went with PDFCreator because it’s easy to install and use and doesn’t come with junkware.

  • PDFCreator from SourceForge.net. Easy to install (just a single installer). Runs without problems and only offers to install Yahoo toolbar and default search when it’s installed. You can easily opt-out of it. Uses GhostScript (which is included in installation) for file conversion. User interface looks a bit crude but it is not a hindrance.
  • CutePDF by Acro Software Inc. Requires you to install the printer driver and Ghostscript separately. Printer driver installation is not Vista/Windows 7 friendly as it requires you to disable UAC (user account control) which requires a reboot (and then another one to turn it back on). There is not proper excuse for such sloppy software writing in 2009 when Windows Vista has been around for years. Otherswise the converter works fine.
  • PrimoPDF by by Nitro PDF Inc. Single installer that installs everything you need. Doesn’t have a problem with Vista/Windows 7 UAC. During installation you are subscribed to a mail-list you can later opt-out of. Runs ok except that on my Windows Vista machine Adobe Acrobat Reader would crash if you configure PrimoPDF to launch it to view newly converted file.
  • Pdf995 by Software995. You need to install 2 separate packages in order to software to run. It also shows an ad every time you convert a file unless you purchase ad-free version.

There are many more free and paid PDF converters out there. I’ve reviewed just a few free ones. If you think you know of a better one – drop a comment here and I’ll take a look.

You can see a sample (click to zoom) of Russian text that was downloaded from lib.ru, copy-pasted into Microsoft Word, font bolded and converted ot PDF using PDFCreator.

Unicode Fonts for Kindle 2 v0.1

Patches were tested by several volunteers and all results were positive. The patch works and doesn’t cause any problems. You can now read books on your Amazon Kindle 2 in Russian, Chinese, Japanese and probably number of other languages.

Currently I’m releasing hack with two different fonts: Liberation that comes from RedHat Linux and Droid that comes from Google Android project. Both fonts are open-source and they are the best ones I could find that suit the needs of this hack. Finding good fonts was much harder than creating the hack itself.

Instructions and download links can be found here. Please-please-please-please-please do be very-very-very-very-very careful if you decide to experiment with adding your own fonts to the hack. If you find good free or reasonably priced fonts that work – please let me know – I’ll test them and make more versions of the hack available here and give you proper credit. Please spread the word about this hack as it will increase chances of someone finding better fonts that can be used with it.

Here are some screenshots of what Kindle 2 with hacked fonts looks like:

kindle-ufhack-v01-liberation

kindle-ufhack-v01-droid

I would like to thank John, Ted and some other folks for helping me test this patch. Another big thank you goes to Igor who created the python script that creates Kindle 2 update packages.

I’ll now shift my attention to figuring out creating custom recovery mode updates. Once this is done – I’ll have much more freedom in messing with fonts and other settings without fear of bricking my Kindle 2.

Cyrillic Kindle – Beta testers needed!

Update: Testing is completed. You can download release version of the hack here: Kindle Fonts Hack.

After quite a bit of tweaking I was able to create a patch that replaces default Kindle 2 fonts with ones that support wider range of Unicode characters. I was able to test it on Cyrillic texts in particular. I believe that any characters can be displayed – it’s just a matter of picking correct TTF fonts. The patch works in books and in web-browser as you can see from the screenshots. Patch is also fully reversible. I’ve tried installing and removing it several times and my Kindle is working fine.

I plan to make this patch available here on this website for anyone to download. However before I do so I would like to have it properly tested by volunteers. If you would like to be on the front-line of Kindle hacking – drop a comment here and I’ll email you the patch and the instructions. Volunteers will be honorably mentioned in the post containing the final patch. Although I’ve tested this patch to the best of my abilities and as you can see from the screenshots – it works, I can’t guarantee anything and if your device ends up being bricked – I’ll try my best to advise you on fixing it but in no way I should be held responsible – responsibility is all yours. So again – if you are interested – drop a comment on this post and I’ll email you.

kindle-russian-home-screen

kindle-russian-text

kindle-russian-wikipedia