Wal-Mart just announced that you will be able to try out and purchase Kindles at Wal-Mart starting tomorrow, May 5. The announcement claims they will sell the $189 Kindle 3 Wi-Fi + 3G and the new $114 Kindle 3 Wi-Fi with “Special Offers” (meaning “ads” — detailed further here) — no mention of the $139 Kindle 3 Wi-Fi.
Kindles are now available direct through Amazon, and in retail stores at Wal-Mart, Target, Best Buy, and Staples.
If you haven’t had a chance to see a Kindle or an e-Ink screen hands-on yet, I definitely recommend you check one out at your next trip to one of the stores listed above. The Kindle 3’s light weight, and how easy on the eyes the e-Ink screen is consistently amazes people when I show them my Kindle.
Today Amazon announced that you can get the normally-$139 Kindle 3 Wi-Fi for just $114 … but there’s a catch. The catch is advertising: screensavers and ads at the bottom of the home screen. You can find the deal (with free shipping) at Amazon here:
Now, getting a Kindle 3 for $139 is already a great deal for the best e-reader out there, in my opinion. So getting one for $114 is even better. But is it worth saving $25 to have to deal with advertisements? For as long as you own it? (Note, you can still get the Kindle 3 Wi-Fi for $139 and Kindle 3 Wi-Fi + 3G for $189.)
On the one hand, the included screensavers are nothing to write home about anyway — mostly a rotating selection of dead authors — and some of the ad screensavers might not be so bad.
But what would annoy me are the ad banners that show up on the bottom of the home screen (see the lower left photo). I use my Kindle enough that I’d probably pay the extra $25 to avoid seeing those and losing that screen real estate. But they might not bother you, and saving $25 is nothing to scoff at. And Amazon assures us the ads do not show up while reading books.
Also, Amazon says that it will tailor the ads to readers’ needs, and offer great deals and other things that you might actually want to see. From Amazon’s description:
New, Lower Price
When you buy Kindle with Special Offers, you are getting the same bestselling Kindle for $25 less—only $114. Special offers and sponsored screensavers display on the Kindle screensaver and on the bottom of the home screen—they don’t interrupt reading.
You’ll receive special offers directly on your Kindle. Examples include:
- $10 for $20 Amazon.com Gift Card
- $6 for 6 Audible Books (normally $68)
- $1 for an album in the Amazon MP3 Store (choose from over 1 million albums)
- $10 for $30 of products in the Amazon Denim Shop or Amazon Swim Shop
I mean, a $20 Amazon gift card for $10 is a great deal, one that would be of interest to most Kindle owners. And getting notifications of legitimately good deals might even be a good thing. But not all the ads will be great deals (even the example ones in the photos are just Visa ads).
My gut instinct is that $99 would have been a more fair price for this ad-supported version.
What do you think? Is it a great way to save $25? Are the ads an abomination? Please leave a comment below with your thoughts.
The $114 “Kindle 3 Wi-Fi With Special Offers” (meaning “ads”) is available for pre-order from Amazon now, and is scheduled to ship on May 3.
I recently purchased a Kobo Wireless E-Reader, as a backup to my Kindle 3. The Kobo has more limited functionality than the Kindle, but its light weight and low price somewhat make up for the lack of features. In fact, the Kobo’s strict focus on reading — without Internet access or the ability to play games or apps, for example — might appeal to some people, as might its simple interface (a power button, 4 side buttons, and a 5-way joystick).
The Kobo Wireless is Kobo’s second-generation e-reader, which boasts Wi-Fi connectivity (to shop the Kobo store directly from the device), a better screen, more speed, and a built-in dictionary over its predecessor. It retails for $139, the same price as the Kindle 3 Wi-Fi, but you can often find it discounted below that price.
First, a list of the Kobo Wireless’ features:
- 6″ e-Ink Vizplex screen (16-shade grayscale)
- 7.8-ounce weight
- 1 GB internal memory, plus an SD memory card slot
- 10-day (10,000 page turn) battery life
- Reads ePub files (including ADE / Overdrive-compatible library e-books)
- Also reads PDF files
The Kobo Wireless comes in 3 colors (white front/silver back, white/lilac, and black/black). The first thing you notice is the light weight: at 7.8 ounces, it’s even lighter than the already-light Kindle 3 (8.5 ounces) or Sony Touch (7.93 ounces). It also has a textured (“quilted”), rubberized back that feels good in your hand. On the other hand, the front and 5-way joystick button feel a bit cheap, and the joystick can be a bit loud.
While it has the same size 6″ e-Ink screen as the Kindle, it lacks the newer e-Ink Pearl screen (which provides darker blacks and 50% more contrast) of the Kindle 3 and newer Sony e-readers. However, it is still quite readable, and you can see the difference for yourself in the photo above. To be honest, the Kindle 3’s bolder font accounts for about half the difference. In fact, I found the Kobo to be a quite decent e-reader … but it repeatedly fell short when compared to my experiences with the superior Kindle 3. I think if I wasn’t already used to (spoiled by?) a Kindle 3, I would have a more favorable impression of the Kobo.
I found some things to really like about the Kobo: the light weight is really striking, and the back of the device feels good in your hand. I also liked how, when the Kobo went to sleep or turned off, the screen changed to show the cover of the e-book you’re reading, and told you what percentage of the book you had read. A simple, but very nice touch, and far preferable to the Kindle’s rotating dead author screensavers. I also liked the “I’m Reading” shelf, which lists only those books you’ve started to read (and shows the book cover of the current e-book); the rest of your books are found on the “Books” shelf. Once you’ve finished reading a book (by turning the last page), a book moves from “I’m Reading” back to “Books.” It’s a pretty good system, although I’d like to add an “Already Read” shelf to the “I’m Reading” and “Books” shelves. The latest software update (1.9) allows you to manually move books from “I’m Reading” back to “Books.”
Although I haven’t tried the process yet, I also like the option to access library e-books on the Kobo. Kobo (like Amazon and B&N) has software for PCs, Macs, iOS devices, Android, etc., which allows you to read your Kobo e-books on multiple devices. Another nice touch is that the Kobo comes pre-loaded with 100 classic, public domain (free) e-books. While you can find and download these yourself to read on any e-reader, the fact they come pre-loaded makes things simpler and lets people start reading right away.
A few things are different from the Kindle: the most obvious is that you can buy books from the Kobo e-book store instead of the Kindle store. While the Kindle store is #1, the Kobo store has good availability and comparable prices, so I don’t see it as a huge weakness. Of course, you can also “side-load” books (using the included USB cable) that you’ve downloaded to your computer from Project Gutenberg, Smashwords, or numerous other sites.
The Kobo lacks text-to-speech, Internet access, and the ability to run apps. While lacking these features is generally a negative, for some readers it won’t be an issue and might even be a selling point: the lack of distractions from reading could appeal to parents who want their kids to use an e-reader, but don’t want them playing games or surfing the Internet.
The Kobo also lacks a full keyboard and many of the buttons of the Kindle. This makes certain tasks (like entering a password to connect to a wireless network) cumbersome, as you have to navigate an on-screen keyboard with the 5-way joystick (think of entering your character’s name using an old video game controller). I also prefer the easy-press page turn buttons on either side of the Kindle to the louder, harder to press joystick used to turn pages on the Kobo; the low placement of the Kobo’s joystick makes it hard to read one-handed, even with the light weight. On the plus side, there is less clutter, and navigation is pretty straightforward with the more limited selection of buttons.
While the Kobo only comes with 1 GB of internal memory (compared to the 4 GB of the Kindle 3), it does have an SD card slot, which is a nice feature. You should have plenty of room to hold hundreds or even thousands of e-books on either device.
There were a few definite negatives about the Kobo (especially when compared to the Kindle): the Kobo is slower, and takes some time to turn on (about 29 seconds when I timed it). Not an outlandish amount of time, but it is annoying since the Kobo’s battery seems to drain relatively quickly when asleep (lasting about a week, even if not used), and performs much better when turned off completely. By comparison, Amazon recommends you leave the Kindle in sleep mode most of the time (the battery drain doesn’t seem to be as bad), and the Kindle wakes from sleep mode almost instantly.
The Kobo is also slower when opening books (you get a loading screen, which only takes a few seconds, but the Kindle is nearly instant), changing pages (again, not a HUGE delay, maybe about a second, but slower than the Kindle 3), and loading new books onto the device (the Kobo spends about 10–15 seconds per book “processing” them, which adds up if you load several books at once). Again, nothing deal-breaking, just noticeably slower when compared to the Kindle 3.
The Kobo also lacks the ability to play MP3 audio files (including audiobooks), does not have text-to-speech, and doesn’t let you bookmark, highlight, or take notes within e-books. Since I don’t use these features much, it’s not a deal-breaker for me, but they are limitations to be aware of. It’s also a little harder to get around e-books in the Kobo; while the 1.9 software update adds the ability to jump to a specific location, the lack of keyboard makes the process cumbersome.
One definite negative is that, while the Kobo Wireless adds a built-in dictionary (that the older Kobo Reader lacked), it only works with e-books purchased from Kobo, not books side-loaded from the computer. For me, the dictionary is a must-have e-reader feature, one that I end up using far more than I first expected because it’s so convenient. Since most of my books are side-loaded from various sources (I haven’t bought any directly from Kobo yet), it means there’s no dictionary a good chunk of the time. Even where it does exist (like on the pre-loaded books), the process is slower and more cumbersome than the Kindle: press menu, select “Dictionary,” press the joystick, choose the word, press the joystick, wait a few seconds, and a definition pops up (covering most of the screen). Like on the Barnes & Noble Nook, this multi-step dictionary implementation pales in comparison to the Kindle, where you simply select the word and a short definition pops up at the bottom of the screen (you can press “enter” to see a longer definition if you want).
Another odd quirk: on side-loaded e-books, you’ll see small page numbers in the right-hand margin, and these numbers can intrude into the text area (causing nearby text to dim). Not a huge deal, but a minor annoyance that nonetheless was noticeable and jarred me from becoming engrossed in a book a couple of times.
The battery life is listed as 10 days, very good compared to most electronic devices, but inferior to the Kindle 3’s claim of 1 month on a single charge.
All in all, the Kobo Wireless makes a decent enough e-reader. If you’re looking for light weight, limited features (if you don’t need Internet access or consider the lack of it and focus on just reading as a positive), and the ability to read library e-books, the Kobo makes a decent choice. It does have some nice features, like the light weight, pre-loaded books, and book covers as screen savers. It seems to generally work pretty well for just plain reading, which is the #1 priority. Unfortunately, it falls short when compared to the speed, features, and e-Ink Pearl screen of the Kindle 3, and Kindle owners may find it disappointing in comparison. The Kobo Wireless does compare pretty well to the Nook (the Kobo has similar speed and lighter weight) and Sony E-Readers (the Kobo has Wi-Fi and a much lower price), when looking at other e-readers capable of reading ePub library e-books.
My overall conclusion is that, for the same $139 price, the Kindle 3 Wi-Fi is a clearly superior e-reader for most people. However, the Kobo Wireless can make a compelling low-cost alternative (as when the original Kobo was first introduced and the Kindle 2 was still $259): since the Kobo Wireless can sometimes be found on sale (or on clearance at a closing Borders store), it can be a good buy as a second e-reader or low-cost alternative if you find a good deal (under $99).
While the Kindle is designed and best-suited as an e-reader, it does have a number of other functions. For example, it can surf the Internet, read books with text-to-speech, view photos, play music, and it even has some games and other applications (called “apps”) available for it. (You can find posts about other available Kindle games & apps here.)
While these apps are undeniably cool, I was a little disappointed that the early app releases were pretty much all games, with a lack of productivity tools. (True, many of the games are word-related games, but still.) So I was pleased to see the release of a Notepad app for the Kindle, a program that will allow you to use your Kindle to type, read, and store quick notes (think grocery lists, phone numbers, to-do lists, or a quick scene for your next book that just popped into your head).
The Notepad app is just $0.99, and has stellar reviews: a near-unanimous 5-star average on 34 Amazon reviews so far. It boasts quick, simple note-taking, auto-saving of notes, adjustable font sizes, notes are saved in .TXT format for export to your computer, and a search function across multiple notes. It’s definitely worth checking out if you’d like to add note-taking functionality to your Kindle for a buck.
Note: Kindle apps and games (also known as “active content”) work on the Kindle 2, 3, DX, and DX 2, but not on the Kindle 1.
If you act fast, you can grab a Nook Color from eBay for $199, which is $50 off the normal price of $249. Use coupon code “CBARNESDD” at checkout through the “Buy It Now” link on eBay. Barnes & Noble is the seller, and it comes with free shipping. You might have to act quickly; the deal is “while supplies last,” and says it expires at 8 AM Pacific time on March 3, although there’s also a countdown timer on the page that shows just under 14 hours remaining.
This is the best deal I’ve seen so far for a new Nook Color.
The Nook Color (discussed more here) is an Android-based “reader’s tablet” with a 7″ LCD screen, and is made by Barnes & Noble and linked to B&N’s e-book store.
So, Apple burst onto the e-book scene almost a year ago with the release of their iPad and the iBook Store in April. But, as of 6 months ago, Apple was still only a minor player on the e-book sales scene, with Amazon dominating 75% of e-book sales and B&N with another 20% or so. Apple was hindered by (a) being late on the e-book scene, (b) the fact that reading on a backlit LCD screen just isn’t as “magical” as Apple wants you to believe, and (c) the iBook Store doesn’t have the selection of other e-book stores, with no Random House titles and only about 30,000 total in-copyright titles (compared to Amazon’s 800,000 or so).
Adding insult to injury, a Codex Group survey from November 2010 found that even iPad owners were buying more e-books from Amazon (which can be read on Amazon’s Kindle for iPad app) than from the iBook Store: Amazon e-books accounted for 40% of iPad users’ purchases, while Apple e-books were 29%.
Most observers have noted that Apple’s e-book business is struggling, including The Unofficial Apple Weblog, who looked at the iBook Store 6 months after launch and found that:
I figured that this would be a good time to see just how the iBookstore has progressed. The answer, in a word: poorly … very poorly.
Or how about this review?
However, after six months of offering up downloadable text content to capable iOS devices, it appears that the once seemingly mighty contender hasn’t been able to do much more than land a few rabbit punches. Despite the iPad’s rabid popularity, neither major publishers, nor the book buying public have embraced iBooks.
After more than half a year online, Apple’s iBook Store is still only offering up approximately 60,000 titles. When held up against the 700,000 titles offered by Amazon for their Kindle reader software and hardware solutions, Cupertino’s library looks pretty weak. Did we mention that about half of the titles available as iBooks are also available from Project Gutenberg? C’mon Steve, this is embarrassing.
And that came from the staunchly pro-Apple folks over at Mac Life. Ouch.
So, did Apple take these criticisms to heart and improve the iBooks experience? Did they prove they’re serious about the e-book market? Has Apple gotten Random House to sign on? Increased their selection to at least keep up with Amazon’s rate of growth, let alone closed the gap? Improved their store navigation or implemented a recommendation engine? What have we heard from Apple about the iBook Store in the months since those less-than-glowing articles were written?
Nothing. Well, I can’t say I’m shocked, since the whole iBook Store and marketing of the iPad as a reading device never seemed sincere to me. It’s just so far inferior to a Kindle 3 as a reading device (harder on the eyes, triple the weight, far less battery life, etc.), it’s not really in the discussion for me. Add in the fact that the K3 is around 1/4th the price ($139 for Wi-Fi, $189 for free-for-life 3G), and there’s no comparison when it comes to reading.
More telling is the fact that Apple pretty much abandoned the marketing talk about the iPad as an e-reader soon after launch. I always thought that was just a marketing ploy, a way to position itself as the #1 seller in the e-reader category (a “Kindle killer”), instead of as a minor player in the much larger laptop or netbook market. And Apple hasn’t mentioned the iPad’s e-reading capabilities in a long time, they haven’t added titles, they haven’t upgraded the shopping experience at all, and they’ve made only minor updates to the iBooks app. Contrast that to Amazon, which incessantly markets their e-readers as devices focused on reading, has commercials touting their outdoor reading ability as superior to the iPad, upgrades their Kindle software and Kindle apps often, adds about 30,000 new titles every month, and even came out with the much-improved Kindle 3 in August. As a reader, you know Amazon is devoted to reading, e-books, and the Kindle. And Apple never really cared about reading to begin with, and it shows. After all, Steve Jobs dismissed the Kindle and reading in general as recently as 2008, saying that:
“It doesn’t matter how good or bad the product is, the fact is that people don’t read anymore. Forty percent of the people in the U.S. read one book or less last year. The whole conception is flawed at the top because people don’t read anymore.”
Did anyone really think he so dramatically changed his mind and did a complete 180 between that statement and when he made the iPad (which came out in 2010 but was probably in development even when Jobs uttered those words)? Or was “e-reader” just a convenient marketing label Apple decided to attach to a multi-purpose device designed primarily to do other things?
A pretty good deal here on various models of Sony and Barnes & Noble E-Readers, where Best Buy throws in a free case with e-reader purchase. The e-readers available are:
- Sony Pocket PRS-350 for $129 (normally $179)
- Sony Daily PRS-950 for $299
- B&N Nook Wi-Fi for $149
- B&N Nook 3G for $199
- B&N Nook Color for $249
The Sony Pocket is an especially good deal, since it’s also $50 off. And, considering that you can select from a number of cases, including cases with built-in lights that retail for $50, a lighted case and Sony PRS-350 for $129 is a pretty good deal — $100 off the combination.
Chess is probably one of the most popular computer games, and it’s a great candidate for the Kindle since it doesn’t rely on great graphics or video or even color — the pieces are, after all, black and white. It’s also a great fit considering the general slant of Kindle games so far: more cerebral, thinking games (like word games and Sudoku) rather than action / arcade types of games.
Chess is available now for your Kindle for $2.99 here:
There is also a steadily-growing list of Kindle games, including poker, blackjack, Scrabble, hangman, Monopoly, and more. Several of them are even free. There are even choose-your-own-adventure Kindle e-book / apps. You can find the current available games & apps here, along with lists of freebies, bestsellers, and highest-rated games:
If you try out the chess game (or any of the others), please leave a comment and tell us what you think of it!
Kindles are really just small computers, and they run software (like an operating system) just like your Mac or Windows PC. Every so often, Amazon will release an update to the Kindle’s software, sometimes to fix bugs and sometimes to include new features.
Amazon, like many software makers, uses an odd decimal system to differentiate the versions of its software. The current Kindle software version is 3.0.3 — where the initial 3 is the major release number; in this case, the software for the Kindle 2 always starts with 2 and the software for the Kindle 3 starts with 3. The second digit is the revision number, so version 2.5 is a fairly important upgrade from 2.4, often adding new features. The last digit is a minor revision number, usually just a simple bug fix, where you might not even notice the difference between versions 3.0.2 and 3.0.3, for example.
This leaves three questions: (1) How do I know which version of the Kindle software I have installed?, (2) How do I upgrade my Kindle’s software?, and (3) When should I upgrade my Kindle’s software?
How Do I Know Which Version of the Kindle Software I Have Installed?
First, we’ll cover how to figure out which version of the software you have currently installed on your Kindle. From your device’s Home screen, press the “Menu” button and choose “Settings” from the menu. From there, you should see the currently-installed software version in the bottom-right corner of the screen (see the screenshot above).
Note that the software version in the screenshot is “3.0.3,” while the long number in the parenthesis is an internal Amazon version number you can usually safely ignore.
How Do I Update My Kindle’s Software?
There are generally two ways to update your Kindle’s software: (1) wait for Amazon to send the update wirelessly (over Wi-Fi or 3G, depending on which type of Kindle you have), or (2) download the latest update to your computer from Amazon’s Kindle Software page, and then transfer that update to your Kindle via a USB cable.
The first option is the easiest. When Amazon feels the update is ready, it will send it out to wireless-connected Kindles. Note that to receive these updates, your Kindle must have wireless turned on. Some people will leave their wireless on overnight when they know a new software version is being rolled out, in the hopes of being one of the first to get it. Otherwise, so long as you turn on your Kindle’s wireless every so often (I usually keep mine off to conserve battery life), you should eventually get a notification on your screen that there’s a new software version available to install. Just follow the on-screen instructions and the update will proceed automatically (it may take 5-10 minutes).
The second option is to visit Amazon’s Kindle Software page and find the latest version of the software for the type of Kindle you have. Through this page, you can get “pre-release” and trial updates, so I’d only recommend it if you feel comfortable messing around with your Kindle a little bit. As I discuss below, this is probably not necessary unless you have a good reason to upgrade right away.
To upgrade, select the proper software version from the page linked above and download it to your computer. Then plug your Kindle into your computer via the USB cable and transfer the downloaded file to your Kindle’s home directory. Then, from your Kindle (once ejected / disconnected from your computer), press “Menu” from the Home Screen and select “Update Your Kindle.” (There are more detailed directions on the Amazon Kindle Software page.) Your Kindle will then update, and restart once or twice. Again, the process will take 5-10 minutes.
When Should I Upgrade My Kindle’s Software?
As I said, minor revisions (e.g., 3.0.X) are usually just bug fixes and the like. In general, if your Kindle is working fine, I wouldn’t bother going out of your way to upgrade it for 2 reasons: (1) if you have no problems now, then there’s nothing an update can solve, and (2) it’s not really worth the time and effort since there are no new features.
Of course, if you’re having problems, it’s probably a good idea to try the update to see if that fixes them.
On the other hand, more major updates (e.g., 3.X) — like 2.5 or whenever they come out with 3.1 — usually have new features that you may want, and it’s probably worthwhile to make those upgrades.
So, if you need the upgrade (to fix some bug or get some new feature you want right away), you may want to go ahead and do the update manually by USB. If not, you may as well just wait until your Kindle updates automatically through wireless.
I’ve seen many people online wondering whether or not they should upgrade their perfectly-fine Kindle 2 to the new-and-improved Kindle 3. “Should I replace my K2 with a K3” is a very common question on the Amazon forums and KindleBoards. As one who recently grappled with that question, perhaps my experiences and opinions might help.
People asking this question are often asking two different things: first, is the Kindle 3 improved enough over the Kindle 2 to make it worth the cost of upgrading? And, second, should I buy a K3 now, or wait until (a) a new model comes out, or (b) the price goes down again?
Kindle 2 vs. Kindle 3
To answer the first question, I’m very glad that I upgraded from the K2i to the K3 in late November. I am a huge fan of the new e-Ink Pearl screen, the contrast is definitely improved and makes a marked difference in my reading enjoyment. I post my experiences here, along with side-by-side pictures showing off the dramatic improvement in contrast and screen readability. I also find that the sans serif font choice and software changes to allow for more lines of text makes the reading experience noticeably better as well. The lighter weight, faster page turns, better battery, etc., etc. are almost just a bonus.
As for price, I think the Kindle 3 Wi-Fi for $139 or the Kindle 3 Wi-Fi + 3G for $189 are both incredible values for the money — and well worth it for anyone who enjoys reading. If you can find a good home for the K2 (gifting it to a friend or family member), it may also help you justify the upgrade for yourself. Alternately, you should be able to sell the Kindle 2 (still a fine e-reader with free-for-life 3G wireless service) for $100 to $150, so you could recoup most of the cost of your new K3.
Buy Now, Or Wait For New Version?
Just to be clear, no one really knows when the next Kindle will come out, or when Amazon will adjust their pricing, so the best I can do is offer you an educated guess from someone who follows news and rumors about the Kindle very closely. That being said, the K3 is new enough (August 2010) that I don’t expect a Kindle 4 for at least 6 months, probably closer to a year (maybe just before Xmas). I think the K3 is pretty close to the limit of what they can do with black & white e-Ink, and the next big jump will be color e-Ink / Mirasol, which is still AT LEAST 6 months away, probably more. Of course, if you don’t care about color, you should be very happy with the K3 for a long time. As for price, if that mythical color K4 DOES come out, odds are that it will cost more than the current K3, at least at first.
Buy Now, Or Wait For Price Drop?
Regarding the K3, when the next Kindle model comes out (or just before), I’d imagine a discount to purge remaining K3 stock … but honestly, prices are pretty darn good to begin with — $139 is a very reasonable price (compared to $399 for the first K1s!), and there’s just not that much room for them to go down. At best, in 6 months, we might see $99 K3 Wi-Fis and $149 K3 3Gs. But, to me, 6 months of use is worth the extra $40.
As I said, these are just my educated guesses, and no one knows for sure! But I would be fairly confident (as confident as you can be with electronics, anyway) that now is a pretty good time to get a new Kindle 3, since I don’t foresee a big price drop or new model coming out for several months at least. In any event, it’s probably best to ask yourself if you like the Kindle 3 enough to get $139 (Wi-Fi) or $189 (3G) worth of use out of it — and if you answer “yes,” then go ahead and buy one and enjoy it, since no future price reduction or new model can change that.