The big news in the e-reader device world this year is the introduction of the Kindle Fire, a 7″ touchscreen LCD tablet that goes head-to-head with the new Nook Tablet, and undercuts the larger, more expensive Apple iPad 2. There is also a new generation of e-Ink-based e-reader devices, mostly focusing on adding touchscreens to the reading experience. And prices have come down fairly dramatically from last year, with sub-$100 e-readers fairly common.

Click on the device names in the bullet point lists for my more detailed posts about each model.

E-Readers

On the e-reader side, Amazon, B&N, Kobo, and Sony all have new e-Ink based offerings, each offering touchscreen models. Prices have come down to about $100.

Amazon's new Kindle Touch

Amazon Kindle

Amazon has an array of new 4th-generation Kindles this holiday season, starting at just $79 for the simply-named “Kindle,” which is their basic e-reader, lacking a touchscreen and keyboard (the 3rd-generation models are now called “Kindle Keyboards”). They make up for lacking these features with a small size, low weight, and very low price, starting at just $79 ($109 without “special offers“).

Amazon also offers the Kindle Touch, which adds a touchscreen and starts at $99 ($139 without offers). Both models come with Wi-Fi connectivity. If you want to add 3G, the Kindle Touch 3G is $149 ($189 without offers).

Black Friday Deals:

Find the Kindle Keyboard 3G (normally $139) for just $89 at Best Buy. Target is offering it for $85 in-store on Black Friday.

Staples offers the $79 Kindle (with offers) with a free $15 gift card. Radio Shack does the same with a $10 gift card.

Of course, $79 for the basic Kindle is hard to beat — and you can order from Amazon or buy it anywhere without waiting in Black Friday lines.

UPDATE: The 9.7″ Kindle DX is $120 off, just $259 from Amazon until Monday.

Nook Touch

Barnes & Noble Nook

Barnes & Noble’s Nook Simple Touch has the same 6″ e-Ink Pearl screen as the Kindles, and (as the name implies) comes with a touchscreen. It is 7.5 ounces, has Wi-Fi, and adds an SD memory card reader. It retails for $139.

Black Friday Deals:

The Nook Simple Touch is just $79 for Black Friday, matching Amazon’s non-touchscreen Kindle, even without “special offers.” Alternately, Target offers a $30 gift card with the purchase of the Simple Touch for $99.

Kobo Touch

Kobo Touch

Kobo offers its $99 Kobo Wireless and $139 Kobo Touch, both of which have the same 6″ e-Ink screen as the B&N and Amazon models. Both models offer Wi-Fi connectivity, and the more expensive Touch (as the name implies) adds a touchscreen. They have only 1 GB of storage, but do include an expandable SD card slot, and come pre-loaded with 100 free public domain books.

Black Friday Deals:

Kobo is offering its Touch e-reader with “offers” for just $99.

Sony PRS-T1

Sony PRS-T1

The latest Sony e-reader, the PRS-T1 (also called the “Reader Wi-Fi”), continues Sony’s touchscreen tradition (while the Kindle, Nook, and Kobo are recent touchscreen converts, Sony e-readers have had touchscreens for years). Like the other 3 above, this model also comes with the 6″ e-Ink Pearl screen and Wi-Fi connectivity. The Sony touts itself as the lightest 6″ touchscreen e-reader (just 5.9 oz) and, like B&N, takes aim at Amazon’s ad-supported “special offers” models by calling itself “Awesomely Ad Free.” Sadly, at nearly double the cost of Amazon’s entry-level model, Sony maintains its tradition of overpricing.

Black Friday Deals:

I haven’t seen any yet, but I’ll keep my eyes peeled and update this post if I find any.

Tablets

Amazon and B&N’s new 7-inch offerings highlight the new tablet/e-reader hybrids, and Apple’s iPad 2 continues to be the top-selling tablet by a wide margin.

Amazon's Kindle Fire

Kindle Fire

Amazon’s Kindle Fire boasts a 7″ LCD touchscreen, a dual-core 1 GHz processor, and 8 GB of storage for movies and other content. More impressive than the hardware is Amazon’s custom software (including its cloud-computing-accelerated Silk Browser and unlimited cloud storage for Amazon content) and content ecosystem, which includes Amazon Video on Demand, the Amazon MP3 store, the Amazon Android App Store, and of course the Amazon Kindle Store with over 1 million e-book titles.

Probably the most impressive thing about the new Kindle Fire, however, is the price: at just $199, it undercuts B&N’s tablet substantially and is well under half the cost of the least expensive iPad 2.

Black Friday Deals:

I haven’t seen any yet, but I’ll keep my eyes peeled and update this post if I find any.

Nook Tablet

B&N Nook Tablet

B&N’s Nook Tablet is an update of last year’s Nook Color, and is of similar size to the Kindle Fire, with the same 7″ LCD touchscreen (although B&N boasts a laminated & bonded “VividView” display that is said to reduce glare and improve readability).

Its hardware specs are a little better than the Kindle Fire, with double the RAM and internal storage, although B&N only allows users to access a paltry 1 GB of that storage for their own stuff — the rest of the space is kept free to buy stuff from B&N. B&N lacks the large content ecosystem that Amazon has created, although it does have a healthy e-book store, interactive children’s books, magazines, and a small but growing app store.

Black Friday Deals:

If you’re OK with last year’s tablet model (the Nook Color), you can get it plus a $30 Target gift card for $199 at Target stores.

Apple iPad 2

Apple iPad 2

Apple’s iPad 2 is still the 900-pound gorilla of the tablet world (no, that’s not a crack about its weight), outselling all other tablets by a considerable margin. The smaller, lighter, cheaper Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet might be its first serious competition. However, the iPad counters their low prices with a larger 9.7″ LCD touchscreen, an external video camera, GPS, Bluetooth connectivity, available 3G connectivity, and a much more robust App Store.

On the down side, the iPad 2’s price ranges from $499 for the 16 GB Wi-Fi model, all the way up to $829 (plus data fees) for the 64 GB Wi-Fi + 3G model.

  • Apple iPad 2 ($499 from Apple): Wi-Fi (3G avail.), 9.7″ LCD touchscreen, 21.2 oz., 16-64 GB

Black Friday Deals:

Apple will be knocking $41 to $61 off the price of the iPad 2, so the 16 GB Wi-Fi model will sell for $458.

Conclusion

If you’re not sure which tablet you want, check out my Kindle Fire vs. Nook Tablet comparison post here. Whatever you decide, good luck with your holiday shopping, and please be sure to come back and comment if you find a better deal, or to let us know how you like your new e-reader or tablet!

I’ve talked before about self-publishing, how it’s been a huge boon to my writing career, but also how authors should temper their expectations: realize that writing, editing, designing a cover for, formatting and converting, and marketing a self-published book is a lot of hard work, and is less likely than the lottery to make you rich. (For that matter, traditional publishing is hardly a high-percentage method for getting rich, or even making a decent living.)

Of course, just like with the lottery, there are a few unvarnished success stories that provide something for independent authors to aspire to. The two most exceptional are independent authors John Locke and Amanda Hocking. This week, Amazon announced that Hocking joined Locke (along with 12 traditionally-published authors) in the “Kindle Million Club,” by selling over a million copies of their books in the Amazon Kindle Store. (Twilight author Stephanie Meyer attained that lofty mark this week as well.)

Hocking began as a self-published, independent author, and her runaway success led to her accepting a four-book deal with St. Martin’s Press (a subsidiary of Macmillan) worth over $2 million.

The most interesting thing to me about Amazon’s press release was this note:

In addition to the more than 2 million books sold by John Locke and Amanda Hocking, 12 KDP authors have sold more than 200,000 books and 30 KDP authors have sold more than 100,000 books.

(KDP stands for “Kindle Direct Publishing.” It’s the method by which self-published authors may upload their own works to be sold in the Kindle Store.)

So, how likely are you to strike it rich by self-publishing? There are now over 1,000,000 titles in the Kindle Store, and probably at least 100,000 self-published authors selling their books through KDP. E-books on Amazon are sold for a minimum of 99 cents per title (netting the author $0.35), while many independently-published e-books (including my own) are sold for $2.99 (netting the author about $2.05). So, if we assume 100,000 self-published authors, of that number:

  • 2 authors (0.002%) have sold 1,000,000 books, earning at least $350,000
  • 12 authors (0.012%) have sold 200,000 books, earning at least $70,000 (and possibly $410,000)
  • 30 authors (0.03%) have sold 100,000 books, earning at least $35,000 (and possibly $205,000)

Of course, those dollar amounts are before taxes (yes, Amazon sends a 1099-MISC, so you have to pay income taxes) and any expenses for agents, editing, cover design, e-book conversion, advertising, web hosting, etc. And I think it’s fair to assume that the majority (probably the vast majority) of these high-selling titles were sold at 99 cents — I know almost all of John Lock’s titles were sold at $0.99 and most of Hocking’s were as well. So, 44 indie authors in the world have managed to make $35,000+ (before taxes and expenses) through selling e-books on Amazon — and we’re assuming each author may have written about 10 books, which would take several years, if not a decade or more. (Hocking has 11 books on Amazon, and Locke has 12.)

I’m not writing this to either convince you or dissuade you from writing a book, or trying to sell it on Amazon. I’ve long maintained that if you want to write a book, my best advice to you is to write it for yourself, because you enjoy the writing process and have a story to tell — assume you won’t make any money from it, and if you still yearn to write, then go for it. After that, you can decide if the potential monetary payoff is enough to offset the time, effort, and money you’ll spend, and the inevitable criticism you’ll receive by self-publishing. (For what it’s worth, even though I’m not yet one of the 44, I am glad of my decision to self-publish.) But I wanted to include the numbers above, which were the first I’ve seen that really specifically give us a clue as to how common these success stories are. They prove that it certainly is possible to “strike it rich” as an independent author, but it takes a lot of work, and the odds of you even making a living (let alone getting rich) are still quite low.

Slotted as hybrid devices somewhere between full tablet computers like the iPad 2 and pure e-Ink based e-readers like the Amazon Kindle and B&N Nook Simple Touch, both Amazon and Barnes & Noble have unveiled “e-reading friendly” tablets just in time for the 2011 holiday season. So let’s take a look at Amazon’s $199 Kindle Fire and Barnes & Noble’s $249 Nook Tablet.

Both devices use 7″ LCD touchscreens, not the easier-on-the-eyes e-Ink screens of the Kindle. As such, they are designed for full color and video, including watching movies, playing games, surfing the Internet, and reading magazines.

In fact, these mini-tablets seem ideally suited for consuming content: movies, web pages, magazines, music, games and apps, children’s books with audio, and plain text e-books. To that end, Amazon has made it easy to consume lots of content: e-books from the Kindle e-book store, movies from Amazon’s video on demand service, music from Amazon MP3, and apps from Amazon’s Android app store. In fact, Amazon users who purchase Amazon Prime get access to a selection of thousands of free streaming movies and TV shows, as well as a selection of free apps, and a library of free e-book titles as well — and this is in addition to the free 2-day shipping on purchases of Amazon’s physical goods that the $79 Prime subscription already buys users (30 days of Prime is free with the purchase of a Kindle Fire). Amazon also leverages its cloud computing power to offer the Silk Browser (which speeds up Internet surfing by rendering webpages on Amazon’s supercomputers before sending it to your tablet), unlimited cloud storage for Amazon digital media purchases, and WhisperSync, which allows you to resume reading (or watching) when you switch from your Kindle Fire to your Kindle Touch, iPhone, or computer. (For my standalone post on the Kindle Fire, click here.)

B&N is also moving away from the “reader’s tablet” marketing of the original Nook Color and seems to have designed the Nook Tablet (which is really the “Nook Color 2”) as less of an e-reader and more of a tablet computer (the new name is a dead giveaway). To that end, they’ve beefed up the specs with a more powerful processor, and added apps (like Hulu Plus) more prominently to the device. Similarly to the Kindle Fire, it is designed as a content-consuming mini-tablet, able to stream movies, check email, surf the Internet, and display specially-produced multimedia children’s books (where narrators read the stories aloud and kids can interact with items on the screen). At $249 ($50 more than the Kindle Fire), it offers twice the RAM and double the internal memory of the Kindle Fire, and still costs only half as much as Apple’s iPad 2. (For my standalone post on the Nook Tablet, click here.)

The Kindle Fire, Nook Tablet, and Apple iPad 2.

The Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet are really more similar than different. They both share a 7″ IPS LCD touchscreen of 1,024 x 600 pixels, and both connect wirelessly through Wi-Fi. They are both similar in size and weight, with the Nook Tablet being slightly larger (0.6 inches taller) but lighter (by 0.5 ounces). They both sport identical 1 GHz dual-core Texas Instruments OMAP 4 processors. They are both based on customized versions of the Android operating system, and come with software that allows for email, web browsing, movie playback, listening to audio, running Android apps, playing games, and reading magazines and e-books. They are both significantly smaller and lighter than the iPad 2, and are less than half the price, although they give up a few of the iPad 2’s features (like webcams, GPS, and Bluetooth).

As for differences, a couple jump out as critical. First, the Kindle Fire sells for just $199, compared to $249 for the Nook Tablet (and $499 for the cheapest iPad 2). Second, your preferred content provider — Amazon or Barnes & Noble — will heavily influence your choice here. If you’re already a Kindle user with a library of Kindle e-books (or movies or MP3s from Amazon) or an Amazon Prime member, it will be hard to argue against the Kindle Fire. Similarly, if you have a vast library of B&N e-books and prefer the in-store support at B&N stores, the Nook Tablet is the more likely choice for you.

The Nook Tablet also sports twice the RAM (1 GB compared to 512 MB in the Kindle Fire), which should lead to slightly better (but not nearly twice as fast) performance. The Nook has double the memory (16 GB compared to 8 GB), but B&N only lets you use 1 GB of the 16 to store your own stuff; they force you to leave the rest free to buy content from them. Considering that Amazon lets you use all 8 GB how you want and stores all Amazon purchases in the cloud, this would be a loss for the Nook if not for the built-in MicroSD card slot, which can add up to 32 GB more memory (so factor an additional $15-40 for a MicroSD card into your pricing). The Nook also has a built-in microphone, which allows you to record your own voice on certain children’s audiobooks. The Nook’s screen also boasts a “VividView” lamination and bonding process that is supposed to reduce glare and improve readability.

The Kindle, on the other hand, offers the superior software, including the Silk Browser, cloud storage, and WhisperSync. It also has an advantage with a larger Amazon Android App Store, compared to B&N’s App Store, which has a more limited selection of games and apps. The Amazon Video on Demand library, free e-book library, and free content that comes with a Prime membership is another plus.

In the end, both tablets seem to offer a promising content consumption experience, with impressive hardware specs and easy-to-use software. The Nook gets the slight nod on the hardware side, while the Kindle Fire seems to have slightly better software and content. In the end, I think the similarities outweigh the differences, and your affiliation to either Amazon or B&N will likely determine your choice. Barring that, the $199 Kindle Fire likely wins by virtue of being $50 less expensive, which will allow you to start filling up your new tablet with movies and e-books.

Nov 172011

The $199 Kindle Fire, with a 7" color LCD touchscreen

As expected, Amazon entered the tablet fray with a 7″ offering it’s calling the Kindle Fire. At just $199, it promises to be the first serious challenger to the iPad’s dominance in the tablet market.

With a 7″ color LCD touchscreen instead of the iPad 2’s 9.7″ screen, the Kindle Fire is smaller, lighter, and cheaper than the iPad, but is designed even more for content consumption rather than the iPad’s limited content creation capabilities. It boasts Wi-Fi connectivity, and is designed for watching movies, playing music, surfing the Internet, using apps, playing games, and reading magazines, comics, and e-books. It lacks cameras, GPS, bluetooth, and some other advanced features of full-fledged tablet computers, but at less than half the price of Apple’s cheapest tablet (which runs a hefty $499), that’s a trade-off many people will be willing to make.

Amazon also has the advantage of connecting their new Kindle Fire to their burgeoning content marketplace: Amazon Video on Demand, the Amazon MP3 Store, the Amazon Android App Store, and, of course, Amazon’s class-leading Kindle E-Book Store. In fact, a $79 subscription to Amazon Prime (which nets users free 2-day shipping on Amazon purchases) comes with a library of free streaming movies and TV shows, free apps and games, and even a free library of Kindle e-books.

Amazon is also leveraging the power of its impressive cloud computing ability in improving a critical function of the Kindle Fire: the Internet web-browsing experience. Called the Silk Browser, it allows the Kindle Fire to off-load the rendering of webpages (including processor-intensive tasks like parsing Javascript functions) to enormously powerful Amazon computers. Those computers then render the webpage and shoot the finished product to your tablet for a faster browsing experience. It’s a neat feature that no one else currently matches.

Similarly, Amazon offers to store any content you purchase from them (movies, music, apps, newspapers, magazines, e-books) in their Cloud storage for free — so you can always download your content and don’t have to worry about running out of space on the device itself. Amazon’s WhisperSync service also saves your place in e-books and movies, so you can pick up reading or watching where you left off if you switch to your Kindle or computer.

Now for some specs on the $199 Kindle Fire:

  • 7″ IPS LCD touchscreen display, 1,024 x 600 resolution
  • 7.5″ x 4.7″ x 0.45″
  • 14.6 ounces
  • 1 GHz dual-core Texas Instruments OMAP 4 processor
  • 512 MB RAM
  • 8 GB flash memory
  • Battery life: 8 hours reading, 7.5 hours video playback (Wi-Fi off)

Still, the most impressive spec is probably the sub-$200 price, which gets you a portable mini-tablet connected to the Amazon content ecosystem. For current Amazon customers (especially Amazon Prime subscribers), it’s an almost irresistible gadget for the price. And for anyone looking for a 7″ tablet, it’s a great bargain — handily undercutting the competition.

My only gripe about the Kindle Fire is the same gripe I have with all LCD-based tablet computers being marketed as e-readers: most people find LCD screens tiring on the eyes, and would prefer the reading experience on an e-Ink screen (which is easier on the eyes, visible in bright sunlight, and allows for much longer battery life). But as a movie-streaming, game-playing, Internet-surfing device, the Kindle Fire looks like a hot gift this holiday season.

New Nook Tablet from B&N

Posted by Always Write at 6:14 PM Tagged with: , ,
Nov 072011

B&N's new Nook Tablet, a 7" tablet for $249

Today Barnes & Noble updated its Nook Color “reader’s tablet” with a new version (which I’m calling the “Nook Color 2”) with a faster processor and the same $249 price. B&N, in keeping the tradition of using overly-descriptive but not very helpful names that eschew numerals (like the “Nook Simple Touch” for the Nook Classic 2), is calling it the “Nook Tablet.”

It comes with the same 7″ LCD screen as its predecessor (the original Nook Color). LCD screens are backlit (like those on your computer or cellphone), and aren’t as easy on the eyes or energy-efficient as the e-Ink displays used on the Kindle or Nook Classic e-readers. On the other hand, they do allow for color and video, and the “VividView” laminated, IPS, LCD display of the Nook Color (and Nook Tablet) is said to be quite good.

The new name shows that B&N is positioning the Nook Tablet as more of a tablet than a reading device, as more of a multi-function device that can play videos, browse the Internet, display magazines, offer interactive children’s books, and run a small selection of specially-curated apps (like Angry Birds and some of the popular ones, but not the thousands of apps on the Apple App Store or Android Market). Being a general-purpose tablet (as opposed to a single-purpose reading device like the Nook Classic or Kindle) means it’s competing against Amazon’s new Kindle Fire ($199), as well as Apple’s larger (and more expensive) iPad 2 ($499+).

The new Nook Tablet looks very similar to the original Nook Color; the changes are mostly under the hood. It comes with a faster processor and more RAM: a dual-core 1GHz Texas Instruments OMAP 4 CPU with 1GB of RAM. It sports 16GB of internal storage, plus an SD card slot for expansion.

By contrast, the Kindle Fire comes with a similar dual-core 1GHz processor, but only half the memory: 512MB of RAM and 8GB of internal storage. Both devices use a 1024 x 600, 7″ LCD touchscreen. Of course, the Kindle Fire’s $199 price undercuts the Nook Tablet by $50. The Nook Tablet weighs 14.1 oz (compare to 14.6 oz for the Kindle Fire and 15.8 for the old Nook Color) and claims a battery life of 11.5 hours of reading or 9 hours of video (compared to a claimed 8 hours of reading and 7.5 hours of video on the Kindle Fire).

To recap, the Nook Tablet’s specs:

  • $249
  • 7″ VividView IPS LCD touchscreen display with 1024 x 600 resolution
  • 1 GHz dual-core processor
  • 1 GB of RAM
  • 16 GB of internal storage (plus SD card slot)
  • 14.1 oz
  • battery life: 11.5 hours reading / 9 hours video

Certainly an interesting contender in the 7″ tablet arena. On paper, the specs are a bit better than the Kindle Fire, although Amazon counters with its super-fast Silk browser and by offering to store all your media purchases in the cloud, ameliorating the lesser memory of the Fire. I think Amazon’s $50 price advantage may be the most important difference to many buyers. In any event, both $199 and $249 certainly look good when compared to the iPad 2’s $499 starting price.

Sony PRS-T1 E-Reader Sale: $129

Posted by Always Write at 1:00 PM Tagged with: ,
Nov 072011

The Sony PRS-T1 e-reader is now just $129

Sony announced today that it is dropping the price of its new touch-based PRS-T1 e-reader by $20, from $149 to just $129.

This new Sony e-reader, which boasts wi-fi connectivity in addition to the touchscreen, weighs in at just 5.93 ounces.

While still above the Kindle 4’s starting price of just $79, the price drop brings the Sony reader down into the right price range. Sony had a history of badly overpricing its e-readers, which prevented it from gaining much market share, at least in the U.S. This holiday season is certainly shaping up to be the year of the sub-$100 e-reader, with Kindles, Nooks, and now Sonys all slashing prices in recent weeks.

For more info on the PRS-T1, please see my previous post here.

Oct 292011

Aug 2011 e-book sales rise to $88.8M

Clocking in with what many cultures will consider an auspicious number, August 2011 e-book sales increased to $88.8M, the second-highest month on record (behind only February 2011’s $90.3M). That marks an increase of 116.5% over last year. Meanwhile, according to the Association of American Publishers:

All trade print segments had a decline in August sales with the largest coming in mass market paperback where sales from reporting companies fell 36.4%. … Sales were off by double digits in all trade print segments in the January-August period.

Ouch. For those of you keeping score, e-book sales in the first 8 months of 2011 are up to $649.2M (an increase of 116.5% over last year, more than double). The AAP now only sporadicly reports print book sales figures, but based on percentages, mass-market paperback sales in August were about $34.9M, well under half of e-book sales.

For the past 13 months:

  • Aug 2010: $39.0 M
  • Sep 2010: $39.9 M
  • Oct 2010: $40.7 M
  • Nov 2010: $46.6 M
  • Dec 2010: $49.5 M
  • Jan 2011: $69.9 M
  • Feb 2011: $90.3 M
  • Mar 2011: $69.0 M
  • Apr 2011: $72.8 M
  • May 2011: $87.7 M
  • June 2011: $80.2 M
  • July 2011: $82.6M
  • Aug 2011: $88.8M

July E-Book Sales at $82.6M

Posted by Always Write at 1:02 PM Tagged with: ,
Oct 142011

July e-book sales came in at $82.6M, more than double the amount from July of last year, and slightly above June’s total of $80.2M.

July 2011 e-book sales: $82.6M

The recap for the past 13 months:

  • July 2010: $40.8 M
  • Aug 2010: $39.0 M
  • Sep 2010: $39.9 M
  • Oct 2010: $40.7 M
  • Nov 2010: $46.6 M
  • Dec 2010: $49.5 M
  • Jan 2011: $69.9 M
  • Feb 2011: $90.3 M
  • Mar 2011: $69.0 M
  • Apr 2011: $72.8 M
  • May 2011: $87.7 M
  • June 2011: $80.2 M
  • July 2011: $82.6M

Sadly, it seems that Publisher’s Weekly has stopped giving us much data regarding print book sales, making it harder to compare and analyze the data, as I am wont to do. All they provided this month was the adult hardcover figure, which was $91.2M. They did tell us that:

Despite the strong July performance, adult hardcover sales were down 17.8% for the seven month period, while e-book sales were up 152.8%, to $560.5 million. With the exception of adult hardcover, sales were down in all other print trade segments in July.

UPDATE: Undaunted, I went back and estimated sales based on the percent changes provided and my records of last year’s sales figures, and came up with the following chart of e-book sales as a percentage of total e-book plus print book sales.

Percentage of e-book sales to total print + e-book sales

The raw figures: 23.4% for January, 26.6% in February, 16.9% in March, 18.8% in April, 23.5% in May, and 26.9% in June. Note the huge bump just after the holidays (as people fill up the new e-readers they got as gifts), and then the reversion to the continuing upward trend thereafter.

The new Kindle 4: the $79 "Kindle" and $99 "Kindle Touch"

Today Amazon unveiled their newest Kindle versions (what would be considered the Kindle 4), and is calling them simply the “Kindle” and the “Kindle Touch” for the touchscreen version. Both keep the 6″ e-Ink Pearl screen of their predecessors, and both lose the physical keyboard (replacing them with on-screen keyboards). The big news is probably the price: the Kindle now starts at just $79. Considering that people have predicted for a while that e-reader sales would explode when they got below $100, $79 (for the Kindle) and $99 (for the Kindle Touch) is pretty big news.

Of note, the new “default” price is the price with “special offers,” which means you get ads as screensavers and at the bottom of your home screen (but not during reading). I discuss it further here, but the ad-supported versions have become Amazon’s most popular, and some of the ads are even legitimately great deals (like a $20 Amazon gift card for $10). The non-ad-supported versions are $30 or $40 more each.

The breakdown:

  • Kindle ($79, or $109 without ads): Wi-Fi, 5-way controller, 5.98 oz., 2 GB
  • Kindle Touch ($99, or $139 without ads): Wi-Fi, touchscreen, 7.5 oz., 4 GB
  • Kindle Touch 3G ($149, or $189 without ads): Wi-Fi + free 3G, touchscreen, 7.8 ounces, 4 GB

The older (Kindle 3) model has been renamed the “Kindle Keyboard,” and has been discounted: $99 for the Kindle 3 Wi-Fi ($139 without special offers), and $139 for the Kindle 3 Wi-Fi + 3G ($189 without special offers).

  • Kindle Keyboard ($99, or $139 without ads): Wi-Fi, 5-way controller + physical keyboard, 8.5 oz., 4 GB
  • Kindle Keyboard 3G ($139, or $189 without ads): Wi-Fi + free 3G, 5-way controller + physical keyboard, 8.7 oz., 4 GB

While I am not as convinced of the merits of a touchscreen as most people seem to be, what jumps out at me is the $79 Kindle: you get the same 6″ e-Ink Pearl screen, access to Amazon’s world-leading e-bookstore, all Kindles now have access to library e-book lending, and it weighs just under 6 ounces. That is a very impressive bang for the buck, and the light weight makes it pretty perfect for a lot of users. The lack of a physical keyboard mainly only comes into play for those who like to take lots of notes or surf the web a lot; for the few times you might need the keyboard during normal use (to create and name a new “collection,” for example), I’d imagine the 5-way controller and on-screen keyboard will be fine. At the bottom of the Kindle (Kindle 4? New Kindle? Kindle Sans Keyboard & Sans Touch?) is the 5-way controller from the previous Kindle, as well as home, back, keyboard, and menu buttons. It also retains the narrow page turn buttons on each side, which I like in my Kindle 3.

Of course, if you like touchscreens, for just $20 more, you can get the Kindle Touch for $99. Like Sony and B&N, the Kindle Touch uses a series of infrared beams to detect your fingers instead of an extra touchscreen layer (which would somewhat muddle the screen beneath). The Kindle Touch (and Kindle Touch 3G, which looks the same on the outside) has no physical buttons on the front or the sides — it seems everything is now accomplished through the touchscreen. Turning pages requires a swipe or tap on the side of the screen you want (left for back, right for forward).

Both models are small and light, with the non-touchscreen Kindle an ounce or two lighter and slightly smaller (6.5″ x 4.5″ x 0.34″ vs. 6.8″ x 4.7″ x 0.4″ for the Kindle Touch). The $79 Kindle also has less battery life (listed at 1 month instead of 2) and storage space (2 GB instead of 4 GB); however, both should be more than enough for most users. The $79 Kindle doesn’t include speakers (so no text-to-speech). Both new models incorporate a trick used on the new Nook Touch: it only refreshes the e-Ink screen (which causes a brief black-on-white flash) every 6 page turns instead of each time. E-Ink flash never bothered me, but some people might prefer the new system.

My analysis? Well, I haven’t been able to physically try one yet, but considering they have the same screen as my current Kindle 3 (sorry, I mean “Kindle Keyboard”), I think I can make some good guesses. I think the $79 Kindle 4 is going to be very popular this holiday season, because I think it gives most people everything they really need in an e-book reader, and at under 6 ounces.

On the other hand, I’m not quite as impressed by the Kindle Touch versions. For people who like touchscreens, they will be great, but I’m just not on the touchscreen bandwagon. And, to compare apples to apples, the prices are really about the same as the versions they’re replacing when you compare ad-supported vs. ad-supported models; Amazon is (probably wisely) just focusing more on the ad-supported price instead of what used to be the “regular” non-ad-supported price. On the other hand, getting an e-reader from the industry leader, with library lending, Wi-Fi, and a touchscreen for under $100 is still a heck of a deal.

A couple of final notes for now (I’m sure I will have more soon about these new models): back in January, I advised readers that the next-generation Kindle would not arrive for “at least 6 months, probably closer to a year (maybe just before Xmas).” That was just over 8 months ago. The $79 Kindle is available now, while the Kindle Touch version should start shipping November 21, pretty much just before Xmas. I also predicted that color e-Ink or Mirasol was probably further away than that.

Speaking of color, today Amazon also announced the Kindle Fire, the long-anticipated “Kindle Tablet,” which sports a 7″ color LCD (not e-Ink) screen and is more of a direct competitor to the B&N Nook Color, and a smaller, cheaper alternative to Apple’s iPad. At just $199 and 14.6 ounces, it will read e-books, play movies (from Amazon’s video on demand service), play music (from Amazon’s MP3 service), and run apps and games (from Amazon’s Android App Store). I will have a separate post about the Kindle Fire shortly. (UPDATE: As promised, here it is.)

Sep 252011

Sony recently announced a new e-reader with both a touchscreen and Wi-Fi connectivity. At just 5.93 ounces, Sony is touting it as the world’s lightest touchscreen e-reader. Compared to the Kindle’s 8.5 ounces (which I find to be pleasantly light), under 6 ounces qualifies as featherlight — easily lighter than most printed books. It is also just 8.9 mm in thickness.

The PRS-T1 should be available in October for $149. Finally, Sony realizes that it can’t charge double what Amazon and B&N charge for the Kindle and Nook! Even better, they finally added Wi-Fi to an e-reader at a reasonable price.

The touchscreen on the PRS-T1 is the infrared-based touchscreen system introduced by Sony that eschews the older touchscreen layer that inhibited readability. The screen is the standard 6″ diagonal, 600 x 800 pixel, 16-level greyscale e-Ink Pearl display that should offer great contrast and readability. It runs on a heavily modified version of the Android operating system. It comes with 2 GB of space (1.3 GB usable), and also includes a MicroSD card slot for memory expansion up to 32 GB. As with earlier Sony e-readers, it reads e-books in the ePub format.

If you’re a fan of Sony products, and like the idea of a featherlight e-reader, it sounds like the new Sony is worth a look.

© 2010 David Derrico