The Amazon Kindle e-reader is a superb device and its latest iteration commonly referred to as the Kindle 3 is the best yet. The device provides a very natural reading experience using its E-ink display that makes the screen look just like a page out of a normal book. The Kindle 3 comes in two models; a Wi-Fi version and a Wi-Fi plus 3G version.
As I have already mentioned the Kindle screen makes use of an E-ink electronic paper display that measures six inches diagonally or just over 15 cm if you prefer. This makes the screen only slightly smaller then today’s common paperbacks and a perfectly suitable size, though you might have trouble displaying .pdf files suitably. The E-ink display is the true star of the kindle and unlike a normal display such as you would find on a computer or iPad the Electronic Paper display works as follows; millions of tiny microcapsules, about the diameter of a human hair are aligned beneath a transparent electrode layer. Each microcapsule then contains positively charged white particles and negatively charged black particles suspended in clear oil. When a negative electric field is applied, the white particles move to the top of the microcapsule to become visible to the reader. This makes the surface appear white at that location. By reversing this process, the black particles appear at the top of the capsule, which now makes the surface appear dark at that location.
In truth then the display does not merely look like electronic paper but really is electronic paper. By using such a display the Kindle delivers a sharper resolution than current generation iPads can display and with the screen mimicking paper book so perfectly the kindle delivers a very natural reading experience. Further the kindle makes a very deliberate choice in not being backlit, while this means you can only use the device if you are near an external light source it also means that by choosing to forgo backlighting the Kindle removes the number one cause of eye strain caused by traditional electronic displays and means that you can read on the Kindle for very prolonged periods of time with no worries.
Of course the E-ink display has its problems as well. Two disadvantages it has over more traditional displays are that it only comes in greyscale and that it’s not fluid. Neither is a problem in regards to the Kindle’s primary purpose of displaying books however. I can’t recall when last, or if ever, I have read a book colour and while the screen needs to refresh each time it displays new content it takes less than a second and is comparably faster to the time it would take you to turn a books page by hand. For some of the Kindle’s experimental features such as its webkit browser it poses a significant challenge however, but more on that later.
The Kindle 3 is the lightest, smallest and sleekest design yet produced by Amazon, coming in at just 250 grams means that the Kindle 3 is now 21 percent smaller in size and weighs 15 percent less than its past incarnation. The Kindle 3 is in fact directly comparable to the paperbacks it is replacing and will never become uncomfortable. My favourite change to the Kindle’s form however is its new rubberized back that provides a secure and comfortable grip. Some changes however were not so nice. The Kindle possesses almost a full QWERTY keyboard except Amazon saw fit to remove the top row normally reserved for numbers. They can still be accessed from the symbols menu but it is an inconvenient and aggravating change.
One of the coolest features of the device is two in built dictionaries, one English UK and the other American. Using it you can search the meaning of words in your book without interrupting your reading experience for even a moment. In addition the Kindle allows you to search your books, mark favourite passages and even add footnotes.
The new kindle also boasts a few experimental and even hidden features. One of the more interesting is the Kindles Text-to-Speech function. Providing that the books publisher has not specifically disabled it (presumably because they worry they will lose out on sales of their actual Audio books) the Kindle can read to you in either a simulated male or female voice any text that is displayed on screen. I find the feature very impressive from a technological point of view but alas find it rather deficient from a consumer point of view. While they do a good job of making the voices come across as human they cant as yet make it come across as natural as the Kindle will read every piece of text whether a shopping list or love scene with the same neutral tone. So while the feature is good for continuing your book during a short car ride it’s a far ways away from replacing true audio books or your own eyes, though I imagine that those with eyesight difficulties may learn to love this feature.
Another experimental feature the Kindle has is its new webkit browser. Unfortunately its here where the Kindle’s electronic paper display suffers the most; every move of the cursor requires a screen refresh, its done subtly but it still makes the experience of using the browser a very clunky one. It also as I have mentioned will have to display every website in greyscale. This means that while the Kindle is useful for perhaps reading Wikipedia, Wikitravel and blogs (making it akin to a real life Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) you will likely find it too bothersome for anything else. Still the kindle at its heart is an E-reader and a damn good one; see these things as possibly useful extras not as poorly implanted core features.
Lastly I want to point out because few people know and because for some reason Amazon chose to hide these features if you press Alt and M together you can access two hidden games; Minesweeper and GoMuku. Again both are like the browser just nice bonuses to have but not really important.
The Kindle 3 has come down remarkably in price since the the original Kindle was first introduced. A Kindle 3 Wi-Fi will cost you $139 whereas the Kindle 3 with Wi-Fi and 3G will be $189. As cheap as it has become however, I can understand if you consider that a sizeable chuck of change. However with any device designed specifically to deliver content it pays to examine the cost of that content as well and its here where the kindle shines. Books on the kindle will cost approx between $5-10 with $7 seemingly being the most common. That’s half the price you would normally pay for a paperback here in South Africa with the added benefits of being able to receive your book immediately. If you read as much as I do it adds up to a significant saving over time not to mention the second bookshelf it has already saved me from buying. Besides that though, using your Kindle you have access to literally millions of books whose copyrights have now expired and are available legally for free download.
Kindle vs. iPad
I hate this comparison and yet a lot of people bring it up, and Amazon itself has given it some credibility with their addition of an experimental web browser obviously intended to give it some of the functionality of a tablet, and so I thought I would tackle it somewhat. In my own view comparing the Kindle and iPad is like comparing oranges to well an apple. The Kindle is a dedicated e-reader suitable for long periods of reading in comfort the iPad is a tablet computer for media consumption which can be used (among other things) like an e-reader. Good luck with that backlit screen and awesome weight of the device however. The two devices are intended for wholly different functions and it must be up to you to decide which you are really after.
The Kindle 3 is a superb e-reader and is as good, in-fact better then the real thing. Its E-ink display is just like a reading a real page and through the Kindle store books become cheaper and since it can store 3500 books alone you wont be needing any extra storage space for your library. It has a long battery life of up to a month and since it greatly increases the portability of your library you will find yourself reading more and in the places you might least expect.
Final Rating: A+