Kindle eReaders - A Comparative Review

Kindle has come a long way since our review from early last year. Kindle2 had failed to fascinate us then for the following reasons (click for a Kindle 2 Intro & Review):
  1. The available Kindle titles and versions are a mere minority of what the printed book world has to offer,
  2. Amazon is yet to develop a “Used Book” pricing/selling model for eBooks.
  3. Pricing is not palatable. To enchant the masses, a better model would be the tried and true approach adopted by game console manufacturers of giving the hardware away at below-cost while making it up in title sales.
  4. Title pricing is overkill, especially since there is no used book market.
  5. Lending is not a Kindle virtue – not even to other Kindle owners.
  6. Kindle’s wireless purchase/download interface (Whispernet) is restricted to within the US. Even within the US, coverage over Sprint’s network is limited. Once the connection is in place, the Internet access over the network comes free, courtesy of Amazon’s deal with the carrier.
  7. Kindle’s ergonomics are below par. Although lightweight at just over 10 ounce it is still heavy to clutch for extended periods of time, especially with one hand. In fact, given the placement of buttons single-handed operation is impossible.
  8. Kindle’s e-ink screen, while a big improvement over LCD screens, doesn’t compare well to printed text on real paper. Akin to real books, the absence of back-lighting makes Kindle unsuitable for night reading – ideally, non-intrusive lighting which can illuminate the text and the background in a graded manner is required.
  9. Kindle lacks any support for the visually impaired.
Amazon lowered the lofty launch pricing of Kindle2 in three tiers. From the February 2009 price of $359 – the pricing went down to $299 in July, to $259 in October, and to $189 in June of 2010. A premium version called Kindle DX was unveiled in June 2009 for $489. A larger screen size (9” vs 6”), accelerometer (auto-rotate pages between landscape and portrait display by turning the device), and native support for PDF files set it apart from the Kindle 2. In October 2009, an international version of Kindle 2 replaced the US domestic version with added standard GSM and 3G supports, thereby allowing the use of the Whispernet interface in over hundred supported countries. Pricing was a slight premium at $259. In June 2010, the price decreased to the original Kindle 2 exit pricing of $189. In January 2010, an international version of the Kindle DX was released. As with the international version of Kindle 2, the Kindle DX also ships in over 100 countries.

Amazon introduced a new generation of Kindles’ (nicknamed “Kindle 3” by the media) in July 2010 - shipping began in late August. Amazon subdued the critics on pricing with this release, by offering a toned down version called Kindle Wi-Fi (no 3G support) for $139. For $50 more, a version with 3G is available and it replaces the Kindle 2 International Edition. A premium version called the Kindle DX Graphite priced at $379 replaces the Kindle DX International.

The major new features and improvements of the Kindle 3 include WiFi, audible and voice guides, additional dictionary and languages, better contrast, more storage, quieter page turns, smaller form factor, twice the battery performance, etc. Below is a summary of the features in the three Kindle 3 models:


ProductKindle 3 WiFiKindle 3 WiFi + 3GKindle 3 DX
Price$139 ($114 with Special Offers)$189$379
Display6”6”9.7”
Screen TypeE-Ink with 50% better contrast than previous modelE-Ink with 50% better contrast than previous modelE-Ink with 50% better contrast than previous model
Battery Life1 month – wireless off, 3 weeks – wireless on1 month – wireless off, 10 days – wireless on2-3 weeks – wireless off, 7 days – wireless on
3G WirelessNoYesYes
Wireless CoverageLocal WiFi only100 countries – fee coverage100 countries – free coverage
Wi-FiYesYes No
Supported File FormatsKindle (AZW), TXT, PDF, Audible (Audible Enhanced (AA, AAX)), MP3, unprotected MOBI, PRC natively; HTML, DOC, JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP through conversion.Kindle (AZW), TXT, PDF, Audible (Audible Enhanced (AA, AAX)), MP3, unprotected MOBI, PRC natively; HTML, DOC, JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP through conversion.Kindle (AZW), TXT, PDF, Audible (Audible Enhanced (AA, AAX)), MP3, unprotected MOBI, PRC natively; HTML, DOC, JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP through conversion.
Archive SupportYes Yes Yes
Text-to-Speech FunctionYesYesYes
Portrait & Landscape View (Accelerometer)Yes Yes Yes
Storage3500 books3500 books3500 books
Download Speed60 seconds60 seconds 60 seconds
WhispecsyncYesYesYes
Weight8.5 ounces8.7 ounces18.9 ounces

Through the different iterations in the last eighteen months, Amazon has successfully altered Kindle from a niche product to one with mass-market appeal. The path was bumpy with several missteps, but Amazon to its credit attended to nearly all of these concerns in a satisfactory manner.
  1. Terms of Service violation: This occurred when Amazon withdrew George Orwell’s Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four in July 2009 and then remotely deleted the files from the devices and provided a refund to the purchasers. A lawsuit requesting class-action status was settled in September of the same year with Amazon offering to restore the deleted files and altering the TOS to explicitly state that content once purchased will not be remotely deleted without user consent or request of refund.
  2. Abuse of Pricing Power: Jeff Bezos declared in 12/2009 that 65% of the revenue from eBook sales belongs to Amazon and the remainder split between the author and the publisher. The press was all uproar over this revenue sharing ratio – especially in the face of Apple’s App Store ratio of 70% to the publisher. Almost immediately, Amazon retracted offering to match publisher royalty at the App Store, subject to the publisher agreeing to certain conditions.
  3. Download Charges: Absence of additional charges to download purchased content over Amazon’s Whispernet and Whispersync facilities is a key selling point of Kindle. However, this applied only for US customers using Whispernet within the US – elsewhere a fee of $1.99 applied. This fee has since been reneged. Also, there is an email-based mechanism to convert documents to Amazon’s proprietary DRM-restricted format (AZW). To get the converted files directly to the Kindle, Amazon charged a fee of $0.15 per MB. The free alternative provided by Amazon is to get the converted files via email and then upload it to the device via USB or Wi-Fi.
Summary & Recommendation:

Undeniably, Kindle has matured, tending to several of our original concerns such as pricing, international usage, and ergonomics. It now sports features that alleviate concerns like readability compared to real paper, support for reading in dim light or darkness, support for the visually impaired, etc. However, Amazon is at sojourn on what we regard as core functionality for Kindle, without which, it will not be considered evolved:
  1. Developing a used eBook marketplace,
  2. Allowing lending of books - this feature was announced on 04/20/2011 although they did not give a time frame, and
  3. Accelerating the availability of Titles.
While it is understandable that, negotiating with publishers to arrive at a market viable deal is a monumental task in itself, it is not a justification for disregarding these features. The only respite is that the competition is even further behind in almost all of these aspects, though some like B&N’s Nook allow lending of books for short duration.

Overall, we recommend the purchase of the Kindle. Pricing has settled well, title availability is improving, and the odds of Amazon releasing in the near future, a vastly improved version, consequently causing buyer remorse has diminished. Kindle WiFi is the Best Value, unless extensive travel is involved. If so, the better option is the Kindle WiFi+3G version for $50 more. With the product maturing fast, it is highly likely that Amazon will decelerate the pace of new versions and/or feature-sets in future releases. Further, most of the features that Kindle currently lacks can be incorporated without being tied to a particular hardware version. Hence, it is probable that such features will get released with backward compatibility built-in.





Related Posts:

  1. Best Values in eReaders - A Comparative Review.
  2. Kindle eReaders - A Comparative Review.
  3. Kindle 2 eBook Reader - Is it Bleeding Edge? - A Frugal Take.

Last Updated: 05/2011.




2 comments :

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