Review: Amazon Kindle 3G

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The Amazon Kindle is one of those devices that raises the “why they didn’t invent this before?”, because with its simple design and even simpler user interface will make sure even people not that computer savvy can use it straight out of the box. And the Kindle works because gives us the chance to not just read more but do it without clogging your bags and hurting our backs.

Because books have been here since the invention of the printing machine in Germany hundred of years ago, and nothing really changed about books until the 20th century was gone, and technology really provided us with ways to carry all our information with us all the time. So basically the same that happened to phones that went from our homes to our pockets, same has just happen with books from the physical and heavy form that we all know and even if they are durable, you have a limit number of which you can carry with you either because of space limits or they are just so heavy that we limit ourselves to one or two at times (like with big college books).

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Kindle comes in two sizes (actual generation) and with the 6” version you can choose between three versions: sponsored messages (more about it later), Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi + free 3G. And there is a even bigger version with 9.7” with Wi-Fi but it lacks of the free 3G connection, something that doesn’t make sense at all to me, maybe is less portable but I think they might be losing some sales because without 24/7 access to the Kindle book store some may lose interest in purchasing the book.

The Kindle 6” is just as big as a paperback novel but a bit lighter. Part of the success of this version is that its smaller physical form makes it ideal to have it with you anytime! Is easy to hold in almost any position in a confortable way and with buttons each side to turn pages back and forth you wont lose control over the book you are reading.

The menu is pretty straight forward with self explanatory options that will make the experience to use it the first time not painful at all. Moving within the main menu is not as fast as most of the electronic devices we use everyday, it takes around half a second to move between items and might take some time to get used to but after two months using it I have used the menu mostly to turn the wireless on and off to sync the book page position after I finish reading just in case I want to continue reading in my laptop.

To me the most impressive part of the Kindle is the screen, even after reading few dozens of costumer reviews on amazon about how good and paper like the screen was, nothing really prepared me for impression that gave it to me the first time I saw it with my own eyes. You have to look twice because its just amazingly clear that you would think the text is actually printed onto the screen. The level of detail that this screen can show with its unique E Ink screen will make you forget that you have an electronic device in your hands and give you the entire book like experience. And is this technology that allows you to read without the eye strain that LCD screens produce. The differences between LCD and E Ink are so tangible from the eye strain point of view. With LCD you have a RGB matrix illuminated from behind that even look good and colorful, that light produces stress in our eyes relative to the overall brightness. Exactly that headache you feel when using your laptop in a dark room for a long period of time. But the E Ink screen behaves just like a regular book so is not illuminated in any form and just like the real thing, you have to get yourself a place well lit or purchasing the original cover with light (more about it later). I have read for over two ours with no eye strain whatsoever and I tried to read with the Kindle for iPad the same book and after few minutes you really feel your eyes asking for a timeout. So LCD might be great for multimedia apps and games but for reading is just useless.

Where the E Ink screen really outperforms the LCD is reading outside where you have to read under the sunlight, since E Ink screen look and behave like real paper there is no problem reading under sunlight. The matte finish ensures that you wont have more glare than reading a real book. But the LCD have a glass cover that reflects everything in front of it (even your face) and its no surprise is almost impossible use an iPad or any other device that uses LCD under the bright sunlight.

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We have reached a point in our technology driven world that battery powered devices are everywhere in our lives. Just look around and TV’s remote control, game platform gamepads, cell phones, laptops, car keys and this is an endless list because we always want to keep them close to us, starting from TV’s remote control when electronic was ancient compared with where we are today. But they all share the same limitation, each device is as portable as battery’s capability to hold its charge. We are all battery worried on a daily basis, mostly with our cell phones because since we have them with us longer than any other device that we have chargers everywhere we go: house, car, office, etc.

The Kindle comes to give us a peace of mind, that’s the way I see it. With the Wi-Fi and 3G off it took 29 days to drain the battery and that’s the kind of thing that set a new standard among the rest of the battery powered devices we have, and I mention that the wireless was off because unless you want to search, buy or sync a book there is no reason for you to leave it on. When you think about an electronic device with battery life measured in days or even months instead of hours, then you have an ultra portable solution. You could charge it before going to a cruise without worrying about bringing the charger with you. Even though batteries get weaker as you get them through charging cycles, if you have a month of charge to begin with I am sure that by the time the battery can only hold its charge for a week you most likely will have a new kindle already. So the peace of mind concept still works anyways because even if the charge last 5 days still ages ahead of any other battery powered electronic device we currently own. And remember the screen itself only needs energy when you are changing the content, and that’s why when you switch it off you get a screensaver instead a blank screen because they put the image (or special offers) and then shut the electronics inside so is not draining energy anymore until you switch it on again later.

One of the things that really sold me the Kindle was the “Free 3G” part of the name. Amazon promises to pay for the 3G connection you use browsing, buying and syncing books, but no internet browsing without Wi-Fi connection but even then the browser is so primitive that even if you feel curious to see how it performs I can assure you that in few seconds you will be closing the browser and back to reading books. But where the free 3G shines is with what Amazon calls Whispersync that takes care of the books you purchase by keep in them in your personal online archive that will hold your books forever free of charge, so even if you delete them from your kindle you can always re-download them for free anytime you want. How about that?

The Wi-Fi is what you would expect from any other device, it connects to any router even if is password protected (I haven’t tried all types of encryption yet) and I sure connected with my house protected router at first try. Just nothing out of the regular Wi-Fi from our laptop.

It has 4gb onboard flash memory and there is no way to alter that amount because there is no memory slot that we can use to expand it. Not that is a bad thing because Amazon claims can hold up to 3500 books! And that’s an entire library that can fit in your hands. Once you have more books in the home screen than you are confortable with you can group them into collections to keep everything organized the way you want it. I personally order them by themes because is the logical way to do it.

To be honest the thing that really sold me the Kindle in first place was the fact that you can be reading that book you really want in less than a minute no matter where you are in the world, and to me since I live in the Dominican Republic it was kind of a big deal since the regular shipping cost of anything I buy in amazon would double the price of a $10 dollar book since its 2 to 3 dollars shipping to my courier and then 8 dollars a pound to get it in Santo Domingo and by the time it reaches my hand the final cost would be around $18 dollars plus the extra time from USA to Dominican Republic. So this means that $10 dollar book will still be a $10 dollar book when its in my hands (actual inside my Kindle but you get the idea). So no more shipping and no more waiting anymore! You could just download it straight to the computer you are using to buy it and use the Kindle for PC (or Mac) and start reading at the office and then download it to your Kindle when you are home and you could take it from where you left it when you were reading in first place after it syncs automatically.

One concept that is really cool about the infrastructure that’s behind the Kindle is the “buy once, read everywhere” concept. Actually you don’t need the actual device to read Kindle books. There is an application for every device you could own right now so you could read it with out the cost of the Kindle reader itself, although would be a shame that you couldn’t feel the pleasure of reading in such a beautiful screen. Plus you would be reading the book in a LCD or LED and either of those would cause eye strain so you won’t be reading that long to surely enjoy the book. So basically Amazon offer Kindle reading applications for Blackberry, iPhone, Android phones (and tablets), iPad, PC and Mac, this line up I am sure that you own at least one of those devices so you can continue reading in London even if you forgot your Kindle in Chicago. What this does is brings us the commodity to read everywhere we go because since you have your personal archive at Amazon Books Store, you just can re-download the book into any of those device with your Amazon login and password. This also means that in few years when you get a newer generation Kindle, you just login and download your books again like nothing happen.

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The Kindle Book Store has something really unique to offer, you can read the first 10 pages of every book for free so you can decide if you like it before you buy it. So this means the almost 1 million books are at your disposal to try them for as long as you want and then if you like them you can purchase the book and continue reading. This is a win-win situation because you get to read them and decide, and for the publishers because the books themselves to draw attention from potential buyers. I guess all those new kindle versions of books better have a great first 10 pages if they really want to sell.

Reading a book on my Kindle is such a grateful experience, you just read and read, and to be really honest with you I feel that the Kindle itself makes reading more confortable since you don’t have to hold the book in a certain way to keep it open and when you switch hands you are being forced to awkward positions in order to hold it open while you are in bed or couch. No matter which hand I use still the same method to hold it and turn pages back and forth. The whole page turning process is faster and quitter than the real thing so I don’t wake up my wife when I am reading in bed late at night.

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But what if you are tired to read or maybe you are driving, well you can make the Kindle read the book to you. That’s right! This thing has a great text to speech technology that will read the book with either male or female voice. May not be the most human voice in the world but still far from sounding like the text to speech in your computer. You can also select the speed of reading so you can get to a pace that really fits you. Also you can pause it to take that phone call and just click resume to continue reading. Sometimes I use the text to speech feature to read it along with me, but that’s just a personal choice and to be honest I find it more confortable sometimes when I have a quiet place. You can hear it either using the built-in speakers in the back of the Kindle or use a regular 1/8” plug at the bottom edge. Either way is a nice feature to have at hand when your eyes are tired from a long day and want something to take you away from reality for a couple of minutes. This feature will sure drain more power from the battery because the hardware has to work more to process the sound and to reproduce it, in my 29 days battery drain test I never used either wireless or text to speech because I wanted to keep it as book-like experience as I could be and books neither talk or connect to internet (at least not the ones in my bookcase).

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Some of you might think, what if I like to write notes and highlight content in my books? Well you can still do those things with your kindle books! It will allow you to use the 5-way pad to move through the text to reach the point where you want to start highlighting and select text to the point you want it to. One cool feature about highlighting is that it will show you popular highlights and the number of people that did it, so that way you may notice an interesting paragraph or quote, you can choose to disable this feature anytime you want. But still great to see a popular part of the book that might help you understand its content better. Other thing you can also do is write notes, kind of the same process you use for highlights but instead of selecting the text you just move the cursor to the point of the note and then use the keyboard to type the note and when you are done you can either just save it or save it and share it. Both highlights and notes are really helpful when you want to reread a book so you might digest it better with all the previous highlights and notes and maybe with the popular highlights that other people already did.

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But what if you are reading and there is a word that you don’t know? Well Kindle has a built-in dictionary that will give you a brief description of any word you move the cursor to, and you can expand the description by clicking enter. So no more confusion at the middle of the night forcing you to stand up and get a dictionary or continue reading without know the entire context of the book you are reading. This is a feature that every Kindle user will appreciate.

Something even better about the Kindle Book Store is there is a great selection of books that are totally free to download because its copyright its been open, mostly books prior 1930. That means most the the literature classics are available for you to download right away totally free, that way you could have an entire library inside your Kindle without paying a dime. Sure nobody is going to argue that free books is a concept worth trying to spread culture to the world.

Maybe some of you are asking, is it only for books? Not exactly, because it has a built-in PDF reader so you can just transfer the files with the provided USB cable to your Kindle from your computer and maybe read that file the client emailed you when you were already getting ready to go lunch, so you don’t have to bring that heavy laptop with you to read it. No brainer here actually, if you have large documents and your eyes can keep up with the strain of reading a 120 pages document on your computer, just drop it to your Kindle and read the entire thing faster and painless. That’s pretty much it. We live in a world that uses PDF files for anything that has to be read without sacrificing quality and keep it the file size small enough to sending in an email.

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Once you have it with you, maybe you will find it nice but want to protect your precious investment in that cool electronic reading device right? Well there is a broad selection of covers for Kindle on Amazon and even eBay. But here is the deal, Amazon also makes its own leather cover that also offers a LED light for you to read when its too dark. I have it and I find it a great solution that offers protection to the screen without being too intrusive with the entire reading experience. Its confortable to touch and comes in many colors so you can get the one that fits your taste.

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The elastic band that keeps it close feels strong enough to take years of use without getting loose and has a flab that says Amazon Kindle so you don’t forget what’s inside (sorry for that joke). The Kindle its attached to the cover with two metallic hinges that will get inside onto the holes in the left edge of the screen, also those will draw power from the battery to power the light which in find it genius because you don’t have to carry extra batteries just for the cover.

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Of course it will shorten the battery life but is a price we have to pay for the luxury of a portable light that goes along with our Kindle. Even though it projects the light from the screen’s upper right corner it does provide light to the entire screen, more intense closer to the light but at the end it does its job.

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A newer version to the Kindle line up is the Special Offers version, which delivers advertising to your kindle from Amazon. It comes at a reduced price so basically the ads pay for the rest of the rest of the regular price tag. A friend of mine has one and he tells me he actually finds those ads nice and are not intrusive at all while reading. They just appear at the bottom of the home screen and the screensavers. It will only take some more development of the advertising network until we reach the point where the Kindle itself will be free to keep up watching those ads. As long as does not pop out while I am reading I am confortable with the ads, we already have them on TV and internet so is something we are used to.

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At the end of the day those of you looking for a reliable platform to read your books, magazines, newspapers and any other digital document on the go will find the kindle extremely convenient to fulfill your needs. I am not saying that printed books will die or anything else but maybe some of us rather have our books everywhere available to be read anytime we want than having a bookcase full of books gathering dust just eating out our space. I find that the Kindle as an entire product with the archives, free 3G, dedicated book store and compatibility with many of the electronic devices we already own is the key of the success of the product itself. And let’s don’t forget that it has the internet giant Amazon behind it to provide excellent service and almost a million books available to be download anytime with no shipping cost and no waiting, just click and its yours to read anywhere you are in the world.

Maybe I will still be purchasing photography books because those need to be seen in full color and see the techniques and some nostalgic sense of knowing you own something tangible that you can reach and feel. But you could finish a book and send it to Kindle Books Store with one click and have a thousand downloads before your editor send it to be printed.

Kindle is the future of the way we will be reading our stuff in the years to come. It does mimic the natural way we use to read books and gives you the comfort to have all your books right there with you without breaking your back. I love it and those who know me have been hearing it ever since I got it back in April, as my friend Erika Valenzuela says “the Kindle is to books what iPods are to CD’s”. That sole line sums up everything I already said in the post.

I think this is one of those post that you have to update later on, lets see what Kindle does in the near future.

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