A few days before my birthday, I got a pleasant surprise in the mail today: a new Kindle 3 from my wife. I own (and am quite happy with) a Kindle 2 already, but after reading and writing about the Kindle 3 for almost 5 months now, and seeing photos and being able to play with one at the local Target, I finally decided I wanted the upgrade — and I’m glad I did.
I decided on the $189 graphite 3G + Wi-Fi Kindle 3 — while the $139 Wi-Fi-only version is a great deal, only $50 extra for 3G connectivity and free-for-life 3G wireless service was too good a value to pass up. For $50, I’d rather have it and not really need it than need it and not have it.
The first thing that struck me is just how small, thin, and light it is. While my old Kindle 2 is hardly enormous or heavy — only 10.2 ounces — the Kindle 3 is smaller in every dimension and only weighs 8.7 ounces (about half a pound). It’s very easy to hold and read one-handed, especially since I haven’t gotten a case for it yet.
The second thing I noticed is the new e-Ink Pearl screen, which promised increased contrast. It definitely delivers. Just check out the photo above: see how much darker the blacks are on the K3 compared to the K2? On the K3, I find the blacks to be noticeably darker (almost a true black), and the background to be slightly lighter (still not a true white, but a lighter shade of gray than on the K2). In combination, the text really pops off the page on the K3. While the K2’s contrast was fine by itself, when I look at it compared to the new K3, it seems a bit “muddied” in comparison.
Helping text readability even more is the K3’s new support for 3 different fonts (normal, condensed, and sans serif) and 3 line spacing options — in addition to the 8 font sizes shared with the K2. After playing around with them a bit, I like the sans serif font (which is bolder than the normal) with the medium line spacing option, on the 4th text size. Check out the difference in the photo below:
The text on the Kindle 3 is significantly darker than on the K2, and the background is lighter. The combination makes for a noticeable improvement in readability. Another nice improvement: notice how much more text you get on the K3 screen — an extra 5 lines of text. This is from a combination of the font being more condensed (but more readable), and the location bar being moved all the way down to the very bottom edge of the K3’s screen. Even better, once you click the next page button on the K3, the title bar (that shows the name of the book and the battery indicator) disappears, giving you more room at the top and bottom. Even with the same font type and size, the K3 will get several extra lines of text per page. In total, it seems like I’ll get 25-33% more words on the K3 screen, which is great for a few reasons: having to press the page turn button less frequently (which is nice in itself) also means I should be able to read faster, and the battery will last longer, since e-Ink screens only use power when you change pages (you should get about 10,000 page turns per battery charge, regardless of how many words are on each page). In other words: a book that used to take 1,000 page turns (and use 1/10th the battery life) might now only take 750 page turns (and 1/13th the battery life).
A few other notes: the K3 has a few improvements I haven’t really noticed yet, including longer battery life (both will last for weeks), more storage space (I’m nowhere near filling up either one of them), and faster page turns. I did a side-by-side test, and the K3’s page turns are a little faster, but this is honestly a non-issue for me, as the K2 is plenty fast enough anyway — faster than turning a page in a physical book. Whether the K2 is 0.8 seconds and the K3 is 0.6 or whatever, they’re both fast enough that I don’t notice any delay.
I played around a bit with the K3’s improved web browser (and Wi-Fi connectivity, which for some reason didn’t “see” my network, but once I entered the network name and password it connected with no problem), and it does seem to be much improved. Using the web browser on the K2 could be described as frustrating at best: you could do it, but only if you really had to. The K3 browser is still far from pleasant (compared to a computer or iPad), but it’s much faster, more usable, and seems to render more sites properly. It had no problem with my Yahoo portal, Yahoo mail, this blog, and Amazon’s DTP book sales reports … which I’m embarrassed to admit that I check way more often than I should. (Ironically, Amazon’s DTP page had problems loading properly on the K2.) The K3’s zooming and panning functions (a necessity due to the 6″ screen) worked pretty well, and the “article mode” (which strips out extraneous stuff and just presents the main text from some web pages) works great so far — this blog came up looking great in article mode. Of course, the Kindle’s e-Ink screen is 16-shade grayscale, and it doesn’t do video, so certain sites are just not going to look that great. And the speed is so-so over Wi-Fi; I think it’s slower over 3G but haven’t tested that yet.
I do have to include a few early nitpicks: I miss the number keys (both have full keyboards, but the K3 loses the top row of number keys from the K2 — instead, you need to press ALT + the letters on the top row). I think this will turn out to be minor, since I hardly ever use the number keys normally, but I had to use them a few times in the initial set-up (mainly punching in location numbers to get to the right place in certain books). But it seems like they could have fit the number keys, or at least printed the corresponding numbers on or near the top row of letter keys. My second nitpick is that I hit a few buttons accidentally: the page turn buttons (which now depress toward the edge instead of the middle like on the K2) and the buttons near the new 5-way controller. I think the side button issue will go away once I get a case, and hopefully I’ll just adjust to the 5-way button and it won’t continue to be an issue.
What else? I’ll have to read more on it (I just got it a few hours ago) to give you more detailed thoughts on the reading experience, and I’ll write a follow-up article in a couple weeks when I can give a more thorough review. But my early impressions are very favorable: the main reason I wanted the K3 was the improved screen contrast, and it delivered. I think the combination of better contrast, more words per page, and lighter weight are going to combine to make the reading experience — which I already found superior to a printed book with my K2 — even better.
UPDATE: For the 2011 version of this post, please CLICK HERE.
In anticipation of Black Friday and the upcoming holiday gift-giving season, I thought I’d put together a post for anyone thinking of picking up an e-book reader for themselves or as a gift this holiday season. I’ll discuss the different e-readers out there, give my experiences and recommendations, and tell you the best places to pick up a copy of each (in-store and online) — making sure to cover special Black Friday deals, which mostly consist of older models on sale for under $100.
If you’re not yet sure if an e-reader is the right gift, you may want to take a moment to consider my “Do I Need An E-Book Reader?” post, which details the types of people who would enjoy and get the most use out of e-readers.
I anticipate that e-readers will be a very popular holiday gift this year, as prices have come down and the technology has improved pretty dramatically from even a year or two ago. There are now more choices than ever, from black & white e-Ink-based devices specialized for reading, along with color LCD multi-purpose tablet computers that can read books along with checking email, going online, and watching videos.
The first decision to make is whether you want a device focused on reading, or more of a multi-function device. For avid readers, e-Ink screens are generally preferred, as they are easier on the eyes and the batteries last much longer (click here for more information on the difference between e-Ink and LCD screens). For those who only read occasionally (1 book a month or less), they may prefer a device that does lots of other things, like play games and run apps and watch videos. Here is a rundown of the leading e-readers available this year, with links to more detailed reviews, as well as links to purchasing information:
|Amazon’s Kindle 3 is the most popular e-reader, and for good reason. It comes in two versions: the $189 Kindle 3 Wi-Fi + 3G, and the $139 Kindle 3 Wi-Fi. The $189 version comes in two colors: white and graphite, and the $139 version is graphite only. Each model has a 6″ e-Ink screen, a full keyboard, and a battery that lasts for a month. The difference between the two models is that the $189 Wi-Fi + 3G version can connect wirelessly through AT&T’s cellphone network (with no monthly fee, as lifetime 3G access is included) and where you have access to a Wi-Fi hotspot (like at your house or office or coffee shop), while the $139 Wi-Fi only model can only connect at a hotspot.|
I own a Kindle 2, and I strongly recommend the new Kindle 3 to anyone who enjoys reading fiction books: it is the most full-featured e-reader, with a built-in dictionary, adjustable font sizes, text-to-speech, notes & highlights, limited Internet browsing, some apps and games, and more. It also comes at a very reasonable price, has the newest and best e-Ink Pearl screen with increased contrast, is very small and light (only 8.5 ounces), the battery lasts for a month, and Amazon has the world’s largest e-book store, with over 750,000 titles. My recommendation: avoid sales tax and buy it from Amazon.com (with free shipping), their customer service and generous return policy is legendary.
Almost a separate animal, Amazon also offers the large-screen $379 Kindle DX 2, which offers a huge 9.7″ e-Ink Pearl screen. It’s great for reading PDFs, and much better at browsing websites than its smaller sibling. Of course, it’s far heavier (18.9 oz), less portable, and more expensive — I personally don’t think it’s worth double the price of the K3.
Black Friday Special: So far, there aren’t any Black Friday deals on the K3 and I don’t think we’ll see any, since the K3 only came out in August and has been selling very well; in fact, there are signs it may sell out before Christmas. But the Kindle 2 will be on sale for just $89 from Amazon.com on Black Friday, which is a great deal on what is still an excellent e-reader (one I use every day), and the best of the Black Friday e-reader deals, in my opinion. It goes on sale here, starting at 9 AM Pacific on Nov 26, and I’d expect it to sell out quickly.
|Barnes & Noble’s Nook and Nook Color is the second-most-popular e-reader brand, behind the Kindle. The Nook has recently split into two product lines: the new $249 Nook Color, an Android-based tablet computer with a 7″ color LCD screen that B&N is marketing as a tablet “focused on reading,” and the original $199 Nook 3G + Wi-Fi and $149 Nook Wi-Fi, which each have a 6″ e-Ink screen along with a small LCD touchscreen below it.|
The Nook Color is marketed as being a device focused on reading, and able to read color magazines and interactive children’s books, browse the Internet, and run certain (but not all) Android apps and games. However, I find that its LCD screen means it suffers from a number of drawbacks, including that it’s heavy (15.8 oz), expensive ($110 more than the K3), has a short battery life (8 hours), and lacks 3G connectivity. However, when considered as a tablet that can also read, it is half the price of an iPad. For pure reading, I’d definitely recommend one of the original Nooks (and their e-Ink screens) instead. They share many of the same features as the Kindle 3, although they add an LCD touchscreen, a memory card slot, and the ability to read free library e-books; however, they are heavier, slower, have shorter battery life, and lack the new e-Ink Pearl screen. As the Nook “Classic” line is now a generation behind the Kindles yet they cost slightly more, I can’t recommend them any more, unless library books are a must-have feature for you.
Black Friday Special: Best Buy will have the $149 Nook Wi-Fi model on sale for just $99 on Black Friday, which is a great deal if you are a Nook fan.
|The Sony E-Reader Line includes the $149 PRS-350 Pocket Edition with a 5″ e-Ink touchscreen, the $199 PRS-650 Touch Edition with a 6″ e-Ink touchscreen, and the $249 PRS-950 Daily Edition with a 7″ e-Ink touchscreen. Each uses the new e-Ink Pearl screens, with a touchscreen technology using infrared beams instead of an extra screen layer that would make the screen less crisp. The Sonys have the advantage of reading library e-books and some people may prefer the touchscreen, but their prices are a little high compared to the Kindles.|
Unfortunately, only the expensive Daily Edition comes with wireless (Wi-Fi + 3G) connectivity; the other two models have none, and need to use a memory card or be hooked up to a computer with a USB cable to transfer books. One good thing about the Sonys is that you get to choose the size of your screen: you can pick the 5″ screen of the Pocket Edition, which gives you ultra portability and light weight at only 5.64 ounces; you can stick with the “standard” 6″ screen size of the Touch Edition, which is still only 7.93 oz; or you can opt for the nice 7″ screen of the Daily Edition, which is only a tad heavier than the Kindle at 9 ounces. As I said, the downside is price, although Sony just reduced prices and made their lineup much more competitive. For $249, the Daily Edition is $60 more than the K3, which may be worth it for a larger screen. If you like library books and the touchscreen, or want a slightly larger or smaller screen, the Sonys are your best choice.
Black Friday Special: Dell offers the 5″ PRS-350 for $119, or if you’re OK with last year’s model, the 5″ PRS-300 Pocket Edition (no touchscreen) will be on sale for $99 at Wal-Mart on Black Friday.
|The Kobo Wireless E-Reader is a simple, no-frills e-reader that lacks some of the extra features of the Kindle (no keyboard, Internet access, notes, text-to-speech, etc.) or Nook (no LCD touchscreen or e-book lending feature). While the $139 Kobo Wireless (their second-generation e-reader) added Wi-Fi connectivity and a built-in dictionary to match the Kindle and Nook, and does read library e-books, it still falls short in the feature department, considering that it is roughly the same price.|
On the plus side, the Kobo is simple to use and focused on reading, with fewer distractions (some people might consider the lack of games or Internet access a good thing — parents, for example). But the bottom line is, unless you’re a die-hard Borders fan (the Kobo interfaces with both the Kobo and Borders e-book stores), I think the Kobo falls behind the competition.
|Apple’s iPad is an interesting device: far more than an e-reader, some love its ability to do many other things (run apps and games, surf the Internet, play movies, etc.), while some don’t consider it an e-reader at all, since its 9.7″ LCD screen makes it much harder on the eyes, heavier, more expensive, and it has much shorter battery life than the e-readers listed above. Starting at $499 for the 16GB Wi-Fi model, and ranging up to $829 for the 64GB Wi-Fi + 3G model (which also carries a $30 per month fee for 3G wireless access — so a whopping $1,549 for a 3G iPad with 2 years of service), it is in a completely different price range than the other e-readers described here.|
The iPad is really a tablet computer that can surf the Internet, play all the cool apps and games on Apple’s App Store, watch videos, perform light computing work, and — oh yeah — read e-books. Personally, I never read on my wife’s iPad — I far prefer the e-Ink screen (much easier on my eyes), light weight (much easier to hold with one hand), and superior battery life (measured in weeks instead of hours) of my K2 for reading. However, the iPad’s full-color LCD screen lets it do things the Kindle either does poorly or can’t do at all, and I find myself using the iPad for playing games, using apps, surfing the Internet, checking email, and watching movies. To me, the question becomes: are you (or the person you’re buying a gift for) an avid reader, or not? For someone who reads more than a book a month or so, I’d recommend a dedicated e-reader over the jack-of-all-trades iPad. For someone more interested in all that other stuff — and who might like to check out a few books a year, or maybe read some magazines — I’d recommend the iPad, or possibly the less expensive Nook Color, described above.
Black Friday Special: Apple’s Black Friday sale (online or at your local Apple store) knocks $41 off the iPad and $21 off the iPod Touch line. Of note, some T.J. Maxx and Marshalls stores have the 16GB Wi-Fi iPad for just $399 — but stock appears to be limited, and quite random.
Final Thoughts: In addition to the e-readers detailed above, there are several other brands of e-readers out there, although I don’t recommend any of them for several reasons. The Kindle, Nook, Sony, and Kobo e-readers are the 4 most popular brands, and for good reason: they have e-Ink screens, the best prices, and the best e-book stores. There are a bunch of other e-readers out there (including the Aluratek Libre, Velocity Cruz, Augen Book, Pandigital Novel, Cybook Opus, Ectaco JetBook, Sharper Image Literati, and a bunch of Android-based tablet computers), but each suffers from serious problems: many use LCD screens that are harder on the eyes, yet don’t even have the redeeming features of the iPad or Nook Color; several are overpriced; most of them lack features; and many don’t interface easily with a decent e-book store.
In summary, my recommendation depends on two things: your budget, and whether the person you’re buying an e-reader for is an avid fiction reader or not. For those who read a book a month or more, I recommend the $189 Kindle 3 Wi-Fi + 3G, as I think it’s the best e-reader out there and a great value for the money (the $139 Kindle Wi-Fi is an excellent choice as well if you can live without the 3G). For those on a budget, I recommend Amazon’s Black Friday special, the $89 Kindle 2. And, for those who aren’t all that interested in reading and really want a mini-computer that does lots of different things (and can read e-books in a pinch), the iPad is the way to go.
UPDATE: For the 2011 version of this post, please CLICK HERE.
Just a quick note that, thanks to everyone who voted for me in the first round, my entry for The Twiller has made the final round in the Red Adept Reviews Eulogy Contest. The three great finalists are vying for free advertising on Red Adept’s book review blog — and I could definitely use it! Anyway, please head over and vote — no registration or anything is required, just a click. (Mine is Entry #2.)
The new Kobo Wireless E-Reader, Kobo’s second-generation e-reading device, is now available at Walmart and at Walmart.com, for just $129 with free shipping. That’s $10 less than Kobo charges directly from its own website. It is available from Wal-Mart in black, lilac (that’s a light purple, for the guys out there), and silver.
I’ve been waiting for this one for a while: you can now buy Kindle e-books and give them to friends as gifts through Amazon’s Kindle store. The process seems pretty easy:
- Choose from 1 of over 750,000 e-books available through Amazon’s Kindle Store
- Click the “Give as a Gift” button in the upper right of the screen
- Provide your friend’s email address so he/she can collect their gift
What’s cool is that your friend doesn’t even have to have a Kindle — they can download one of the free Kindle Apps (for Mac, PC, iPhone/iPad, Blackberry, or Android) to read their e-book. Presumably, if I know Amazon, they’ll provide all that information in the email sent to the gift recipient.
It seems this option is available for every book in the Kindle store — it’s enabled for all three of my books, and every other one I checked.
One note: the recipient has the option to accept the e-book gift, or apply the amount to an Amazon gift card instead (which they can use on anything available at Amazon.com, which is, well, pretty much anything). This is what would happen if your recipient already owned the e-book you’re trying to give them, for example.
I think lots of people will be getting a Kindle 3 (or the $139 Kindle 3 Wi-Fi) as gifts this holiday season, and even more people will get a few e-books as gifts to get them started. This is a feature that was long overdue.
I thought this was interesting enough to merit a quick post: Electronic Arts has released a Texas Hold ‘Em poker game for the Kindle. It’s available for download now for $3.99.
I’ve posted before about Kindle apps, but what makes this one so interesting is that it’s one of the few Kindle apps available so far that’s not a word game or strategy game — previous games included Scrabble, Every Word, and Sudoku, although EA also released a Solitaire card game last month.
Texas Hold ‘Em is obviously a hugely popular game, so I think a lot of people would be interested in this. It makes me wonder what else we’ll see on the Kindle, and if it will soon become a full-featured game machine that will get more and more cool apps. I was wondering if Amazon intended to keep the apps and games reading-related, or at least “cerebral.” Well, poker can certainly be cerebral, but this seems like more of a “mainstream” game than Amazon’s first two app offerings, which were both word games that really seemed to “fit” the idea of a Kindle.
Of course, the types of games and apps are limited by the Kindle’s black & white e-Ink screen, but I’ve been impressed so far by each of the Kindle games I’ve seen — the screen wasn’t a hindrance, and the games were easy to play (the Kindle’s full keyboard helps).
Anyway, we’ll see if this starts a trend toward more “casual” or “mainstream” Kindle games. And I’m also keeping my eyes peeled for apps — weather, note pads, a thesaurus or translation app, etc. Kinda cool that this capability didn’t exist when I got my K2, so it’s really come as a bonus (although, sadly, these apps don’t work on the older K1).
The September industry e-book sales statistics are in, and sales have remained strong, coming in very close to July and August’s strong figures. Sales increased a bit from the previous month, hitting $39,900,000 in September 2010. This is down slightly from the record $40.8M sales of July 2010, but well above the pace from the first two quarters of this year.
These numbers constitute a 158.1% increase over last September, and year-to-date e-book sales are up 188.4%. This, amidst print book sales declining 12.1% from last year.
For review, the monthly sales figures so far this year:
- Jan 2010: $31.9 M
- Feb 2010: $28.9 M
- Mar 2010: $28.5 M
- Apr 2010: $27.4 M
- May 2010: $29.3 M
- June 2010: $29.8 M
- July 2010: $40.8 M
- Aug 2010: $39.0 M
- Sep 2010: $39.9 M
After averaging $28,833,333 in sales for April, May, and June, e-book sales have now averaged $39,900,000 for July, August, and September, a 38.4% increase in just 3 months’ time. The $119,700,000 Q3 2010 total easily surpasses the previous record of $89,300,000 in Q1 2010, and it puts e-books on pace to be nearly a half-a-billion-dollar per year industry.
Of note: Q2 2010 marked the only decrease in quarterly e-book sales in at least the past 3 years. Back then, I wondered if the Q2 dip was caused by agency model pricing, and predicted it would be merely a “one-time dip” on an overall upward trajectory. My predictions were confirmed, and then re-confirmed by Amazon. Will it be enough data to convince publishers to abandon the agency model? Or are they hoping to slow the ascension of e-books to protect the printed book as long as they can?
I got my first chance to see a Kindle 3 in person yesterday at Target, and I have to say I was impressed. Even though I’ve talked about the K3 before, and pointed out how it’s 21% smaller and 15% lighter than the K2 that I own, seeing (and feeling) it felt like a bigger difference than the numbers indicate. The K2 is already thinner and lighter than most paperback books (at 10.2 ounces), but the K3 felt feather-light and paper-thin in comparison. Weighing in at only 8.7 ounces (8.5 ounces for the Wi-Fi-only model) and less than 1/3rd of an inch thick, the K3 really felt absurdly easy to carry around and read one-handed. Yet, it still felt solid, not flimsy at all, just the right weight to feel sturdy but not heavy. The rubberized back had a nice feel to it as well.
The other thing I was impressed with was the new page turn buttons and 5-way controller. Some people have complained about the thinner page turn buttons on each side of the K3, and how they depress toward the edge of the device. But I thought they felt great: quiet, just the right amount of resistance, and easy to press while holding it one-handed. Similarly, I was concerned about the new controller pad, which replaces the little 5-way joystick knob on the K2 — the K3’s control pad has 4 directional buttons surrounding a center button, and it looks like you could accidentally press one when you meant to hit the other. But I found that not to be the case, and I never accidentally hit the wrong button or any of the adjacent buttons. In fact, in my limited testing, it felt a little better than the K2’s joystick, which can (rarely) be accidentally pressed in when you mean to move it in one of the 4 directions.
Unfortunately, the units at Target are just demo units that aren’t fully functional, so I couldn’t play around with the functionality much or read on it or comment too much on the new e-Ink Pearl screen. Next time, I’ll bring my K2 to compare side-by-side.
The only downside: it made me want a K3 again, after I had nearly convinced myself that I’m fine with my perfectly-functioning K2.
UPDATE: I visited a different Target and, after resetting the frozen demo Kindle by holding the bottom slider to the right for several seconds, it went into a demo mode where it cycled through 10-15 different screens of info. It also invited me to “Press any button to stop demo,” after which it takes you to the home screen and lets you select and start reading some books, adjust the font size, and generally play around with it. That’s a big improvement from the un-interruptable demo cycle of the K2. Oh, the e-Ink Pearl screen looked very impressive: I still need to bring my K2 for a side-by-side comparison, but the improvement in sharpness and contrast seemed significant.
I guess the above headline kinda says it all, but Amazon just surpassed three quarters of a million e-book titles available for purchase on the Amazon Kindle store — up to 750,814 as of today. (This is in addition to the millions of free public domain e-books available at Project Gutenberg and other places that can be read on a Kindle or any other e-book reader.) Amazon has the most in-copyright, new release, and best-selling e-book titles available (compare it to the Apple iBook store, which only boasts 30,000 paid titles). And they’ve steadily added to their total, more than doubling the number of titles since a year ago — adding about 1,000 titles a day. Check out this handy list, courtesy of the excellent I Love My Kindle Blog:
November 1, 2010: 743,692
October 1, 2010: 714,663
September 1, 2010: 687,246
August 1, 2010: 659,479
July 1, 2010: 627,343
June 1, 2010: 596,300
May 1, 2010: 509,229
April 1, 2010: 476,653
March 1, 2010: 450,625
February 1, 2010: 415,100
January 1, 2010: 401,773
December 1, 2009: 385,484
November 1, 2009: 368,813
October 1, 2009: 342,865
September 21, 2009: 355,805
July 28, 2009: 332,813
May 16, 2009: 284,491
Bottom line: sure, some e-book titles still aren’t available (like the Harry Potter series), but I’m never short of something to read on my Kindle.
Hi all, just a quick plea asking you to take a quick detour to the Red Adept Eulogy Contest to vote on this week’s entries (I am slightly partial to Entry #5!).
Voting is free and quick (no registration or anything), and the eulogies are pretty entertaining. You can read the entries (and read about the Twiller’s tragic accident) and vote here:
This contest is pretty important, since the winner gets some great advertising on Red Adept’s very popular book review blog.
I’m currently in second place, so I can definitely use your help! Voting ends this Sunday, November 14.