Nov 01 2010

My new Amazon Kindle 3

Published by at 7:07 pm under Hardware,Software,Thoughts,Writing

I’ve blogged about why I returned my iPad to Apple, and why I think that the iPad basically is a nice toy but nothing useful. It’s not good for watching movies, because all video players that I’ve used suffer from frame drops because the hardware simply is too weak for movie playback. The web browser is suboptimal because it’s crippled: No Flash, no Java, and I simply need both. The touch interface sucks for typing and writing and when you want to use it as an eBook reader, you have the problem that you’re staring at a computer screen that’s covered with smudges for hours and that the device is too heavy to hold it comfortably. Playing Plants vs Zombies and reading comic books on the iPad is nice, but taking notes with PenUltimate also sucked — the iPad would be much more fun to use if Apple added a stylus and a mouse to it as options. So basically, the iPad fails at a lot of things. It just looks good and has a coolness factor of approximately two minutes. If you want an iDevice, buy an iPhone. The iPhone makes sense because it serves a purpose.

Talking about purpose: The Amazon Kindle also serves a purpose, and that is the reading of books. Unlike the iPad, the Kindle excels at this task. Well, at least as long as you are reading novels. Jeff Bezos said that “people buy an iPad to play Angry Birds, and they buy a Kindle to read Stieg Larsson”. That pretty much hits the nail on the head.

The Kindle does not have something that is like a computer display: There is no glass top or anything that would cause a reflection. It looks like a laser printer output, and it feels more like carton than like anything electronic. The Kindle is a real light weight, and you can hold it comfortably for hours and read without experiencing any eye strain.

Navigating in a novel is easy: Press page forward or page backward. Simple and great for novels and other books that you read from start to end. Of course, you can also search for text passages in a book or navigate to certain positions directly. However, browsing through the pages of a real book still is faster and more natural. Reading reference manuals probably is not what the Kindle was designed for, and if you want to read PDF files a lot, you’re probably better off with the larger Kindle DX or the iPad.

Another minus is the organization of a large library on the Kindle. You can create collections, but it’s cumbersome. But although you have 4 GB capacity to store eBooks on the device, maybe Amazon thought that you shouldn’t really put too many books on the Kindle at a time. Actually, you don’t have to. For once, Amazon provides a free backup service for all the eBooks that you’ve bought from them. Just log on to your Amazon account, go to your Kindle section and tell the system to push a book to your device of choice. A couple of seconds later, it’s there. This simply means that you can wipe out your entire device without having to worry about losing your purchased eBooks.

The Kindle also appears as a regular USB stick on your computer when you plug in the USB cable; you can drop eBooks in various formats on the Kindle’s file system. eBooks in MOBI format work fine, PDFs are also accepted and several other text formats. My personal preference: I use the Open Source software Calibre to convert everything (EPUB, Word .DOC, .TXT, .PDF) into MOBI eBook format. It provides the best reading experience on the Kindle. Of course, Amazon does not archive those files for you – their service is limited to the eBooks that you purchased in the Kindle store. So you have to backup those files yourself.

The Kindle 3 also comes with an experimental, WebKit-based web browser. I’ve only played with it for a few minutes. It works, but this is clearly not what the device was made for. Navigating with the cursor pad is suboptimal. You don’t want to do it as long as you have another device in your vicinity.

There are two versions of the Kindle 3 available: One with UMTS/3G, one without. Both have wireless LAN. Since there is a 50 USD price difference, you might ask whether you need the UMTS version or not. I bought the version with UMTS/3G, but I already wonder why I bought it. Probably because I always like to have the high end version. To be honest, I’ve never even used the UMTS connection so far. It’s only (official) purpose is to provide you with a means to buy books from the Kindle Store from literally ANY place in the world where there is no regular Internet connection available, and to push the purchased books to your Kindle. At the moment, you can also use the UMTS connection with the built-in experimental web browser, and currently Amazon does not charge you for it – but that might change. If you just want to own a good eBook reader, you can safely purchase the WLAN-only version for USD 139. You probably won’t be missing anything.

I must confess that I like my Kindle 3. Unlike the iPad, the Kindle feels right and actually is a really useful gadget. It’s not a toy looking for a justification. For reading eBooks, the Kindle 3 is just great and you should give it a try.

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