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Amazon Kindle 3 Review

Amazon Kindle

Unless you've been hiding under a rock for the past year or so you can't fail to have heard of the Amazon Kindle and the impact that the device reader has had on the eBook and eBook Reader market. Amazon's third iteration of the basic Kindle is slimmer, faster and more user-friendly then it's predecessors, and packs a wealth of features into a diminutive shell.

eBook readers - you either love them or you don't get the point. This year Amazon have kicked the whole concept of buying the words of a book, devoid of any physical container, right into the public eye with the launch of the third in the basic Kindle lineup. The new device isn't officially called the Kindle 3, but the moniker has stuck.

The first impressions when unboxing the new Kindle is that it's incredibly thin - not for nothing is the thickness compared to a pencil.  It's only 8.5mm at the thickest point.  The front face is 123 x 190mm - comparable to a medium-sized paperback.

The second impression is that gorgeous e-Ink screen. Odds are you will remove the protective plastic film and be amazed that the picture doesn't come off with it - that image is actually on the screen when you receive your Kindle, not part of the packaging.

Kindle Screen Super Closeup Although the screen is only 600x800 - not a fantastically high resolution by any stretch - the characters on the screen are crisp and clear, and with careful anti-aliasing they look much smoother than they actually are.  The background is not pure white but a pale grey and looks darker than all but the cheapest of pulped paper, but the device remains easy to read, especially in sunlight.

This is the only area where the e-Ink screen really falls down. It is not backlit and requires illumination from an external source. Nor have Amazon included a built-in lighting system with the Kindle, preferring instead to preserve battery life by omitting it as a feature.

Amazon quote anywhere from one week usage with wireless on, to a month with wireless off.  I was hoping to have a more accurate figure but forgot exactly when I had last charged mine, so I left it plugged in overnight to the 1st November, and will let you know how I get on. As a guess, however, a month with wireless switched off certainly seems realistic for around an hour's reading a day.

There are two versions of the Kindle 3, aside from Black or White casing: the 'Normal' WiFi-only version at £109 and the WiFi/3G one at £149. The normal version has only 802.11b/g connectivity whereas the 3G version will connect to Amazon's mobile data network - Whispernet - as well.

When you buy a Kindle it is initially tied to your Amazon account, allowing you to buy eBooks via Amazon and have them delivered directly to your device over Whispernet. Through the magic of Amazon's 1-Click technology, however, you can buy eBooks direct from the device itself using the built-in browser function. Making it easy to buy books is where Amazon wins big - it's almost too easy to click the 'Buy' button and have your account charged. You don't have to rely on Amazon for your purchases, however - the Kindle 3 supports several popular book formats, and Project Gutenberg has 33,000 copyright-free titles available for absolutely free.

The 3G service is available in 100 countries with no roaming charges or contract fees of any kind, leading me on to an absolute gem hidden in the Kindle's 'Experimental' menu.

Kindle 3 as an Internet Device

Kindle Web Browser The Kindle comes with a web browser - a perfectly capable browser built on Webkit which, while not supporting Flash or Java, is nonetheless a very useful piece of kit. More importantly, however, the browsing experience is not sandboxed in any way, meaning that if you bought the 3G version you have a decent emergency Internet device that you can use wherever you can get a compatible mobile phone signal. For free.

I tested this by taking the Kindle out into the middle of a field - I was able to access Twitter, BBC News and Tide Times (amongst others) without any problem.  The e-Ink screen is not suitable for animation, and it's only 800x600 and it's only 16 shades of grey, but the fact that Amazon allow you to do this, for free (aside from the extra £40 for the 3G version) adds massively to the Kindle's usefulness. Since the 3G, which piggybacks on other mobile data providers' networks, is available in 100 countries worldwide, this cannot be understated.

So what's it like for reading?

Until you've tried an e-Ink screen, you'll probably expect the experience to be similar to reading a document on a laptop. It's not the same at all - not even the same as reading on an iPad. The screen is, without a doubt, far closer to reading something printed on a surface than any laptop, iPad or even LCD that you've experienced before. The letters appear to actually sit on the screen rather than beneath a clear layer (as with LCD) and removing the need for a backlight only emphasises this.

Despite the lack of built-in lighting, the screen is perfectly readable in twilight conditions, or when lit by a bedside lamp. Almost anywhere you would expect to be able to read a normal book, you'll be able to read your Kindle.  You can also select from Regular, Condensed or Sans-Serif typefaces, three levels of line spacing and eight different font sizes to personalise your reading experience.

Page turning takes a little getting used to due to the slow redraw speeds of e-Ink screens. The Kindle takes roughly half a second to redraw the whole screen which is on par with, and often better than other readers on the market.  The Kindle has Prev/Next buttons on both sides of the screen to cater for both left- and right-handed users, with the Next buttons being larger, since they will be in use more often.  The page-turn delay is annoying at first, but after a while you'll find yourself pressing the Next button just before you've finished the last line on the current page.

Since the e-Ink screen uses no power when displaying a page there's no reason to switch the device off at all, although the screen will switch to a random literature-related image after a while. Quite why it does this is unclear, since the screen doesn't suffer from burn-in and the device isn't drawing any power. While it's an oddity, it is nice to see a random image when you come back to your Kindle after some time away.

Protecting your Kindle 3

The Kindle 3 does not come with a cover unless you order one as an additional extra from Amazon or from the multitude of sellers offering covers on eBay. The bezel around the screen, while sufficiently wide, is not actually very thick, and as such that oh-so-fragile screen is very close to the exterior of the device. There have been reports already of Kindle screens getting broken, rendering the device utterly useless, so you really should consider some form of protection.

Personally I think the official Kindle 3 covers are overpriced and went for a Tuff-Luv case via eBay - cheaper than the official one and slightly more useful, having a document flap and business card holder.

Overall Impressions

I haven't been this excited or impressed by a gadget since my P1510 Lifebook - the Kindle 3 is simply great at what it does. Buying eBooks over Whispernet is a quick and painless experience (at least as long as I can stay away from the more expensive titles) and the device's shortcomings are few and far between. Not only does it meet all my expectations of an eBook reader, but it is encouraging me to read even more than I did previously.

If you know someone who loves to read then this is a great device. It's still a little expensive to buy just to keep you entertained on holiday, but if you're like me and read most days, it's an absolute winner.



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