25 May 2011

Should you get a Kindle?

Ever since I bought my Kindle 3G late last year, a number of friends and sometimes even complete strangers have asked me how I like it. Honestly, I love it. The purpose of this post is to help you decide whether or not a Kindle is right for you and if so, which one. I have decided to write it in an FAQ or question/answer format, so if any of your questions are not answered here, please feel free to post a comment and I will add the answers.

Why get a Kindle now?
Until recently Kindle's and other ebook readers were so expensive, I never even considered purchasing one. This latest generation of Kindle's are so much cheaper and so feature rich that it is hard to say no. I have found that the new Kindle is one of those things that is hard to know you want until you see one. My dad purchased one last year and that is what got me thinking about it. Once I tried it out, it was only a matter of time.

What is the screen like?
The Kindle uses a fairly new technology for its screen called e-ink. The e-ink screen is excellent for reading because it actually looks like paper. It is a matte screen as opposed to the glossy screens you see mostly today so it has minimal glare. It won't strain your eyes like a computer screen because it is not backlit. It has amazing contrast even (and especially) in sunlight. The screen is only black and white. Color e-ink screens are still being developed.

How do you navigate the Kindle?
Unfortunately the Kindle does not have a touch screen. There is a set of buttons referred to as the 5-way navigator used to select things on the screen.

Does it have a light?
Because there is no built in light and the screen is not backlit, you will need a book light of some sort if you read in the dark. I have a Kandle which works very well and clips on to just about anything.

What is the difference between each of the Kindles?
Once you know you want one, it can be tough to decide which Kindle to get. There are currently five options.
Kindle 3G/Wi-Fi $189
The Kindle 3G comes with a free cellular network connection using AT&T which allows you to purchase books from Amazon.com on the go, but also lets you browse the web. Yes, that's right. There is no contract for the 3G connection and you can browse the web on it for free. More on this later.
Kindle 3G/Wi-Fi ad supported $164
Amazon recently came out with a 3G/Wi-Fi Kindle that is subsidized by ads that are displayed on the screen saver and on the menu screen. The ads do not show while you are reading books or using the web browser.
Kindle Wi-Fi only $139
The Wi-Fi only version is the same as the 3G but only allows you to connect to the web using a Wi-Fi connection.
Kindle Wi-Fi only ad supported $114
Amazon recently came out with a Wi-Fi only Kindle that is subsidized by ads that are displayed on the screen saver and on the menu screen. The ads do not show while you are reading books or using the web browser.
Kindle DX $379
I am not very familiar with the Kindle DX. The main difference is, it is it has a larger screen than the others and costs a pretty penny.

Which one should I get?
I would only opt for the 3G model if you either don't have a data plan on your cell phone (or plan to terminate it) or you do a lot of international travel. My wife has an ad supported Wi-Fi only model and it is fantastic. The ads are not bothersome at all.

Do you have to pay a fee to use the 3G?
In short, no. The 3G Kindle uses the AT&T network for its 3G data connection. When you buy a Kindle 3G you receive unlimited data over 3G for free. There are no contracts. No fees. I have been using mine for about six months now and have never had to pay to receive any data on my Kindle. The only caveat is, Amazon allows you to send personal content to your Kindle via a specially assigned email address. This content could be anything from documents to PDFs to books acquired from other web sites. If you want to have this content delivered to your Kindle via 3G, it will cost an additional per MB fee. But, you can opt to have the content delivered only while connected to a Wi-Fi connection which is free. This is how I receive my daily news on my Kindle.

How is the battery life?
Battery life on the Kindle is fantastic as long as you limit your wireless and audio use. Amazon claims that it will last for a month on a single charge if you just use it for reading and leave the wireless and audio functions turned off. I believe that, but I have never gone an entire charge without using those other functions. I generally turn my wireless on once a day to receive my newspapers. I also listen to my ebooks a lot when I am doing things around the house or driving in the car. I can usually go a few days on a single charge with this type of heavy audio usage.

Can you listen to your Kindle books?
Yes, depending on the publisher. The Kindle will read to you using a text-to-speech functionality. For books purchased from the Amazon store, this function is enabled by the publisher, so not all books have it. But most do. Personal content generally will allow text-to-speech unless it is in a weird format.

Can you lend and borrow Kindle books?
Amazon lets you lend Kindle books purchased from their store for up to 7 days, but just once per book. This is also up to the publisher and cannot be done with all books. When you lend a book, it is temporarily removed from your device while on loan. Once you have lent a book, you can never lend it again.
A few services have popped up recently that facilitate using this lending feature to share books with more people. The way they work is, you sign up and list all the books you have purchased from Amazon that you haven't lent yet. Then when someone requests that book through this service, you receive a notification and have the opportunity to lend it. Each time you lend, you are given a credit that allows you to request to borrow. I have used a service like this to read many books. One such service is called Lendle.

Can I get news subscriptions for free on my Kindle?
Yes. There are some programs and web sites that will aggregate RSS feeds from your favorite news sites and email them to your Kindle email address. As long as you send them to your Wi-Fi only, free address, they will be delivered to your Kindle for free when you are connected to a Wi-Fi connection. I use a program called Calibre to do this. Calibre is a program that helps you manage your ebook library but it also has a built in list of popular news sites that it can automatically download and send to your Kindle however often you want.

How robust is the Kindle?
Unfortunately, just like most electronics these days, the Kindle is susceptible to wear and is not terribly robust.  I would definitely recommend getting a case of some sort and maybe a screen protector. No one likes scratches on their screens. I found a decent faux-leather case on ebay for $9 including shipping and it works great.

How big is it?
It is as thin as a pencil, and can fit into a standard suit coat inside pocket.

Can I use it when I travel internationally?
Yes. Amazon has a deal with 100 countries and territories that allows you to use the cell network on the 3G Kindle. We recently went on a cruise to Mexico and not only was I able to use the 3G network in Mexico for free, I was able to use the ships GPRS cell network to check my email while we were sailing through the Gulf of Mexico.

How much do books usually cost?
There are number of classics that are available for free from Amazon as well as other sites like Project Gutenburg. Amazon also has some books that are free on a promotional basis. Other than that, they probably average about $10 per book depending on how popular they are and so forth. Some of the free books can be lent to other Kindle users and can be used on lending sites to gain additional requests as discussed above.

How is web browsing on the Kindle?
The Kindle web browser is based on Web Kit which is a popular mobile web browser engine. It can display almost any web page excluding portions that use Flash, which it does not support. There are a few other drawbacks. The web browser uses the 5-way navigator buttons to highlight and select links and text boxes. It only allows you to select elements that it recognizes, which means sometimes there are links or fields that it doesn't recognize and you can have a hard time selecting some things. It also does not support tabbed browsing or new windows, so if you have a link that opens in a new window, such as a news article, it won't load. One neat feature is Article Mode which will take the page you are viewing and strip everything but the main text of the article so that you can read it more easily.

Does it do GPS or location tracking?
No, it doesn't have support for location information, but it can load google maps just fine and bring up driving directions. You just have to manually enter your location.

Can I listen to audiobooks? Music?
Yes and yes. Not only can you use then text-to-speech functionality described above, but the Amazon store also sells audiobooks that can be loaded onto your Kindle and listened to. The Kindle also has a very basic (and I mean very) MP3 player. You can connect the Kindle to your computer and copy MP3 files over. The only functions it supports are Play, Pause, Stop, and Next Track. There is no previous track, repeat, random or even any way to pick what song you want to play. It just starts with the mp3 with the oldest datestamp and plays through them.

Are there games for the Kindle?
Yes. The Amazon store sells "active content" for the Kindle. There are a handful of free word games as well as some paid games like Scrabble and NYT Crosswords. I love to do the NYT Crosswords.

I have written a few other articles about the Kindle that you may find interesting as well.

Ultimately, if I have helped you decide to purchase an Kindle, please consider using one of the Amazon.com links above so that I receive the referral. Also, feel free to ask questions or leave comments on this post.

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