Kindle Apps and Games

 Posted by at 6:17 PM  Tagged with: , ,
Oct 182010
 

Scrabble for the Kindle

While it’s no secret that Apple’s iPad is generally better for games than the Kindle (due to its color LCD screen), Amazon has recently released a number of Kindle Games & Apps and leveled the playing field a bit. The games I’ve tried have been surprisingly good — even limited by the slow refresh rate and black-and-white nature of the Kindle’s e-Ink screen — and have proven fun and surprisingly addictive!

So far, most of the Kindle games are word games or “thinking” games of some sort: Scrabble, Sudoku, and strategy games, for example. These games usually work on the Kindle 2, Kindle 3, or Kindle DX models — sorry, Kindle 1 users, it seems you’re out of luck here. Please do check the requirements before buying one of these games.

Amazon earlier this  year announced an upcoming “App Store,” which would allow programmers and developers to create their own Kindle applications and games (similar to Apple’s App Store). So far, however, we’ve only seen a trickle of games released by Amazon itself or a couple of big names, like Electronic Arts. Presumably, sometime soon the floodgates will open and anyone can write an app for the Kindle — and not just games, but also perhaps productivity apps (calendars, to-do lists, etc.), RSS readers, custom screensavers, weather apps, etc.

The good news so far is that several of the already-released apps are completely free — and I’d recommend you give them a try. I’ve played Shuffled Row and Every Word — both Scrabble-like word games — and both are excellent. After a couple of games, they quickly became pretty addicting, as I tried to beat my high score. Playing them felt more “Kindle-like” than your average game: while they were both fun, they also have a solid educational, vocabulary-building element. And the performance on my K2 is great — there’s obviously no color, but the graphics are well-done and there aren’t any issues with the animation speed. The Kindle’s full physical keyboard comes in very handy here.

There are a few paid apps too, including Solitaire (a compilation of 12 solitaire card games), Scrabble, and Sudoku by Electronic Arts. Each of the Kindle games is highly placed on the Kindle best-seller lists: Solitaire is #1 on the list of paid Kindle books (yes, the apps are mixed in with e-books), and Mine Sweeper is #1 on the free list.

There should be something on this list for everyone:

  • EA Solitaire (12 card games): $3.99, rated 4.5 stars on 11 reviews
  • Triple Town by Spry Fox (a board/strategy game): $2.99, rated 5 stars on 13 reviews
  • Panda Poet by Spry Fox (a word game): $2.99, no reviews yet
  • Scrabble by EA (the word game): $4.99, rated 3.5 stars on 57 reviews
  • EA Sudoku (grid numbers game): $3.99, rated 4 stars on 5 reviews
  • Mine Sweeper (popular computer tile game): FREE, rated 3.5 stars on 7 reviews
  • Every Word (letter-rearranging word game): FREE, rated 4 stars on 114 reviews
  • Shuffled Row (fast-paced word game): FREE, rated 4 stars on 75 reviews

Good luck, I hope you find something on the list you enjoy. Just remember not to let these games distract you too much from reading! 🙂

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Kindles at Staples; Kobo $129 at Borders

 Posted by at 8:25 PM  Tagged with: , ,
Aug 312010
 

Staples announced today that they will be carrying the new Kindle 3 e-readers in their retail stores “this fall.” They will carry the $139 Kindle 3 Wi-Fi, the $189 Kindle 3 Wi-Fi + 3G, and “in late fall,” the larger $379 Kindle DX 2. This should offer more people the opportunity to see in person how easy on the eyes and paper-like e-Ink displays really are. Until then, you can still see the older Kindle 2 models at Target, or see the Nook at Barnes & Noble or Best Buy.

In other news, on the heels of the introduction of the lower-price Kindle 3 Wi-Fi for just $139, Kobo has wisely discounted its own Kobo E-Reader (which trails the Kindle and Nook in speed and features) to $129 to compete. While I like the Kobo’s light weight and focus on reading, I still think the new K3 is a better value. But the lower price is a step in the right direction — you can go check out a Kobo at a Borders store near you.

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Kindle 3 Reviews Roundup

 Posted by at 8:18 PM  Tagged with: , ,
Aug 232010
 

The New Kindle 3 (in charcoal gray): Lighter, Smaller, Faster, and Less Expensive Than The Kindle 2 (white).

Amazon’s new Kindle 3 debuts in a few days, and reviews are starting to roll in. Below are links to some early reviews. The consensus? Most reviewers agree it’s the best e-reading device out there. The average ranking is 8 or 9 points out of 10 (or 4 to 4.5 out of 5). Most agree that it combines a number of evolutionary improvements (as opposed to one or two huge new features) to make it much more refined, and a significant improvement over its predecessor, the Kindle 2 (which was already the most popular and best e-book reader available). Many of the reviewers also expressed the opinion that the Kindle 3 was “ready for prime time” or “the first e-reader they’d recommend to the general public” — not just the most avid readers (who probably already have an e-reader and are yearning to trade up).

The basics: the new Kindle is less expensive, smaller & lighter, faster, has increased contrast on its 6″ e-Ink screen, has longer battery life, more memory, more font choices, better PDF support, and several other improvements. It weighs only 8.5 ounces (Wi-Fi model) or 8.7 ounces (3G + Wi-Fi model). It has 4 MB of internal storage, good for 3,500 books. And the battery lasts a month. Both models come with free 2-day shipping from Amazon and a no-questions-asked 30-day return policy (they’re pretty confident you’ll like it). Your two options are:

One other quote that jumped out at me:

These days, when anyone who enjoys reading tells me he doesn’t want a Kindle, my answer is simple: “That’s only because you haven’t tried one.”

Enjoy the links to the reviews below!

  1. Kindle Nation Daily says “This Kindle 3 is a Triple Wow. Five Stars. Two Thumbs Up.”
  2. Len Edgerly has a 12-minute YouTube video explaining “What’s So Great About The Kindle 3.”
  3. PC World’s Melissa Perenson says the K3 “feels ready to meet the mainstream masses.” (4.5 / 5)
  4. PC Mag’s Dan Costa calls the K3 an “Editor’s Choice” and “the best dedicated ebook reader you can buy.” (4 / 5)
  5. CNET says the K3’s lower price makes it “a solid value for readers looking to make the jump to e-books.” (4 / 5)
  6. Wired calls it “something readers will want to carry around with them, even in the emerging age of tablet computers.” (9 / 10)
  7. Telegraph UK calls it an “excellent device” that “is the first ebook reader that has a credible chance of cracking the mass market.”
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Do I Need An E-Book Reader?

 Posted by at 5:22 PM  Tagged with: , , ,
Aug 062010
 

Amazon's Kindle 2 and Barnes & Noble's Nook

I thought I would present this E-Reader Buying Guide for people who may not know much about the different e-book readers out there (like the Kindle and Nook). I’ll try to explain the benefits and drawbacks of e-readers in general, and help you figure out if you’d benefit from owning one or not. Then, I’ll also look at which one might be right for you.

To decide if an e-reader might be right for you, let’s first ask a few questions:

Do you enjoy reading?

The first thing to figure out is whether or not you even like reading. Do you enjoy curling up with a good novel? Do you fondly remember books you’ve read? Do you get sad when you come to the end of a good book, and re-read the last page a couple of times, because you don’t want it to end? (Yeah, I do that.)

If so, odds are that you will enjoy an e-reader — we’ll find out in more detail below. If, however, you just don’t enjoy reading books and never did, then an e-reader isn’t the device for you. It won’t magically make you like reading if you hated it before. You may prefer an iPad (where you can play games and surf the web and watch movies), but it doesn’t make sense to buy a device designed for reading if you don’t enjoy reading at all.

How often do you read?

Are you an avid reader, reading a book (or several books!) a week? Are you an average reader, reading a book or two a month? Or just an occasional reader — maybe you read a couple of hot books a year or read a bit when you’re on a flight or on vacation?

For avid readers, I almost can’t see NOT having an e-book reader. There are many benefits. First, you’ll probably save enough money on less expensive (and free) e-books to pay for the device several times over; e-books typically cost less than printed books, and millions of classic books (anything published before 1923) are free. Second, you’ll probably enjoy the reading experience more, as e-readers offer adjustable text sizes, the ability to search and bookmark and write notes, a built-in dictionary, text-to-speech, and ultimate portability. Third, truly avid readers often have issues with storage space, and run out of bookshelves (and closets, and storage units) to keep all their old books. Imagine carrying thousands of books with you anywhere you go (including on a trip), yet it takes up the space of a single paperback. And you can find any book (or even a favorite passage hidden somewhere in your library) with a quick text search. Nice.

For the average reader, e-book readers are compelling for many of the same reasons listed above. Depending on how many e-books you buy and what types of printed books you used to buy ($25 hardcovers, used books, or the library?), you may or may not save a lot of money by going electronic. On average, e-books cost less: new releases are $10–$13 (instead of $20+ for hardcovers), older titles are $5–$8 (instead of $7–$12 for paperbacks), there are lots of low-cost options (like $0.99 to $2.99 emerging authors), and millions of free classics like Shakespeare, Pride and Prejudice, Sherlock Holmes, etc. And it’s still convenient to throw your entire library into your purse on a trip, to adjust text sizes so every book is easy to read, to have any word definition at your fingertips, and to wirelessly download books in 30 seconds instead of making a trip to a book store or waiting for shipping. For these reasons, people who enjoy reading but don’t read as much as they’d like to, often find that they read more on an e-reader since it’s more convenient and less expensive to buy books, and it’s easier to bring their entire library with them and sneak in more reading time on the subway or at a doctor’s office.

For the occasional readers, it’s a tougher call. You probably won’t save enough money on e-books to pay for the cost of the device, unless you read mostly free classics or very low-cost e-books. You’ll still get the portability and readability benefits I mentioned above, and you can use your e-book reader to do some light Internet browsing, book shopping, or Wikipedia lookups. But if you prefer watching movies or surfing the Internet to reading books, you may prefer a device like the iPad, which is more multifunctional (but more expensive and worse at actually reading books), as that will give you the option to buy an e-book or two through the iBook Store or Kindle for iPad app if you ever get the urge.

Are you attached to paper?

I hear this a lot, even from the biggest reading fanatics, people who I KNOW would really enjoy an e-book reader if they got one. People talk about the “smell” and “feel” of books — which I quickly realized was nonsense when I got my Kindle 2. Look, I’ve always loved reading, but it’s the words on the page that move me, not the smell of paper and ink and glue. I don’t bury my nose in a book — I immerse my mind in the words. And the words are still there — better than ever, since they’re whatever size I want them — on an e-book reader. I literally have not heard of a single person who tried an e-book reader and didn’t like it because they missed the “smell” or “feel” of paper.

But if you’re still not sure, Amazon is very generous: order a Kindle and try it free for 30 days. If you don’t like it, send it back and get a full refund — including shipping — no questions asked. What do you have to lose?

What will happen to my e-books? Will they become obsolete?

Since e-books are digital, like MP3 music files, they can theoretically remain perfect forever — the pages will never turn yellow or fall out. You can back up your e-book files on a DVD or hard drive (just like you might back up other computer files) and retain them forever. And Amazon and B&N store your purchases online for you as well — even if you lose or break your e-reader, you just download them again. You can also read your e-books on PCs, Macs, and smartphones, and none of those are going away anytime soon.

Some e-books (like the free classics, and many inexpensive e-books by independent authors — like mine) do not have copy protection, or “DRM” attached to them. This means you can always convert them from one e-book format to another, and can easily read them on any device made now or in the future. E-books are digital, so they’re not like a VHS tape or LP record that gets replaced by a new physical format (DVDs or CDs). If a new e-book format emerges, there will also be software to convert your books into the new format for you.

On the other hand, most best-selling books by large publishers do have DRM attached, and you can only read them on the family of devices you bought them for: so e-books bought from Amazon will work on any Kindle (or Kindle 2, 3, or 10), and B&N e-books will work on the Nook. I recommend Amazon and B&N partially because I have confidence those two companies will be around and selling e-books and e-book readers for a very long time.

Can you afford an e-reader?

But how practical is it? I’ve talked above about how an e-book reader could pay for itself, or even save money in the long run for avid book readers. Even if that’s the case for you, there’s the initial outlay of $139–$199 to contend with. I don’t have access to your bank account, so I can’t answer the question for you. All I can say is that I am a pretty frugal guy (I don’t even have a TV, let alone cable), and I think the Kindle is a phenomenal value at $139.

Which e-reader is right for me?

This could be a whole separate article (or 3), so I’ll be brief. The bottom line is that my only recommendations for serious readers would be Amazon’s Kindle or Barnes & Noble’s Nook. Both are more similar than different, and both make excellent e-readers. Both are roughly the same price and size, and have similar e-Ink screens (see this post for the difference between e-Ink and LCD screens). But Amazon just came out with the new Kindle 3 (which I review in more detail here), which has a better screen, and is smaller, lighter, and a little cheaper than the Nook. The Nook does have certain advantages: a small color LCD screen in addition to the main e-Ink screen, support for free library e-books through Overdrive, an SD memory card slot, and a user-replaceable battery. On the other hand, the Kindle 3 is faster, has text-to-speech, has generally better software, and the battery lasts longer. Another factor is whether you prefer shopping at Amazon or Barnes & Noble. UPDATE: I cover this topic more thoroughly in this Holiday E-Reader Buying Guide.

Both the Kindle and Nook come in two versions: Wi-Fi only, and Wi-Fi + 3G. The Wi-Fi only versions can connect to wireless networks the same way your laptop can: you may have Wi-Fi access at home (if you have a wireless router), at work, at Starbucks, McDonalds, or some hotels and airports. The Wi-Fi + 3G models can connect through Wi-Fi or through the AT&T 3G cell phone network — so they can connect pretty much anywhere a cell phone gets signal, and they include free lifetime 3G service. Keep in mind you don’t need any sort of connection — you can read books without it, and you can buy books on your computer and transfer them to your e-reader with the included USB cable. But wireless access allows you to shop, buy, and download books on-the-go, connect to the Internet, and sync your place in the book across your e-reader and Kindle for iPhone or B&N eReader apps. The Kindle 3 Wi-Fi costs $139 and the Kindle 3 Wi-Fi + 3G costs $189 (with free 2-day shipping). The Nook Wi-Fi costs $149 and the Nook Wi-Fi + 3G costs $199 with free shipping.

At the end of the day, my bottom-line recommendation is for most people who enjoy reading to purchase the Kindle 3 Wi-Fi for $139. At that price, you’re getting the newest and best e-reader on the market, the device with the best screen, longest battery life, best software, lightest weight, and best e-book store. If you prefer the flexibility of free 3G coverage and can afford another $50, the Kindle 3 Wi-Fi + 3G for $189 is also an excellent value. Finally, if you prefer B&N, or if one of the Nook’s advantages (like library e-books) is a “must-have” feature for you, then I’d recommend one of the two Nook models. People who like to read won’t go wrong with any of those 4 choices.

E-Ink vs. LCD: What’s The Difference?

 Posted by at 9:38 PM  Tagged with: , , ,
Aug 042010
 
The iPad vs. the Kindle 2 in sunlight

While I’ve compared the e-Ink screen of the Kindle and Nook with the LCD screen of the iPad before, I might have glossed over the differences too quickly. Today, I was struck by a conversation with a friend who wasn’t really aware of the differences between the e-Ink screen used in the Kindle and the LCD screen of the iPad; he thought the iPad had a “reading mode” that made it easy on the eyes and as pleasant to read on as e-Ink.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Steve Jobs Reality Distortion Field is in full effect.

Let me start off by saying that I am a HUGE fan of Apple; I’ve had Apples since my Apple IIe, and have always preferred Macs over PCs. Heck, Apple should cut me a check for influencing my wife, mother, father, sister, in-laws, and multiple friends and other relatives to buy Macs instead of PCs over the years. But, in this case, Apple seems to be overhyping the abilities and performance of the iPad as an e-book reader.

Simply put: the iPad is a portable computer. It is closer to a laptop than to an e-book reader. It is smaller and lighter than most laptops, but is also more limited in performance and capabilities. But it can be used to check email, surf the Internet, watch movies, and run a variety of apps — many of which are games. Its defining characteristic is its 9.7″ touchscreen LCD display. An LCD (liquid crystal display) is the same type of screen used on your computer monitor, a laptop screen, cell phone, or even most flat-screen TV sets. It is backlit (meaning it produces its own light and you can read/watch it at night), and displays pictures and video in full color.

All current Kindle versions (including the Kindle 1, Kindle 2, Kindle DX, and the new Kindle 3) use an e-Ink screen. Quite simply, you have to see an e-Ink screen in person to understand it (I recommend going to Barnes & Noble to see a Nook, or to Target to see a Kindle), but I’ll try to describe it. e-Ink screens are black and white, and mimic ink on a printed page. Imagine a series of tiny dots of black ink, suspended in little tubes. The Kindle moves the ink drops around — it moves some to the top to create a black dot on the screen, and moves some to the bottom where you can’t see them (this isn’t perfectly accurate, just a visualization to give you a general idea). There is no backlight — meaning that you can’t read it in the dark. e-Ink screens currently can’t show video — it takes about 1/2 a second to switch what’s showing on the display (like to change pages).

While e-Ink lacks color and video, it has some important advantages when it comes to reading. First, it is much easier on most people’s eyes than LCD screens. Since it’s not backlit, it’s more like reading a newspaper than like staring at a computer screen (which can cause eyestrain). I know when I work in front of a computer monitor all day, the last thing I want to do when I get home is stare at another backlit LCD screen. Reading a Kindle feels like reading a book.

Second, e-Ink screens are easy to read outdoors and in bright sunlight (just compare in the picture above). In fact, the more light, the better for an e-Ink screen. Conversely, have you ever had to shade your cell phone screen to read it at the beach? LCD screens (like on the iPad) are hard to read in bright sunlight.

Finally, e-Ink screens take much less power than LCD screens, so the battery in the Kindle 3 can last for a month, while the iPad’s only lasts for 10 hours. The reason for this is that e-Ink screens take no power at all to display an image — they only take a little power to change an image (for example, to turn a page in a book). In fact, my K2 arrived in the box with a welcome message and graphic on the screen that I first thought was a sticker! But you could literally put something on an e-Ink screen and take the battery out, and the image would remain on the screen.

Here’s a quick chart of LCD vs. e-Ink advantages and disadvantages:

LCD

+ Full color

Harder on the eyes

+ Can display video (movies)

Takes more power (battery doesn’t last as long)

+ Backlit, so you can read in the dark

Hard to read outdoors or in bright sunlight

e-Ink

Black & white

+ Easy on the eyes; like paper

Can’t display full video

+ Takes very little power (battery lasts longer)

Can’t be read in the dark (like a regular book)

+ Easy to read outdoors, the more light the better

+ Very crisp and sharp

You may notice a pattern: e-Ink screens mimic many of the strengths and weaknesses of ink on paper, which isn’t a coincidence, considering it was designed to emulate printed books. On the other hand, LCD has many of the same strengths and weaknesses of your TV set. But which one would you rather read a book on? 😉

There are a couple of other reasons why the Kindle makes a superior e-book reading device than the iPad: it costs a small fraction of the price ($139 vs. $499), it weighs 1/3rd as much (8.5 ounces vs. 24 ounces), and it’s smaller and more portable. But in this post, I wanted to focus on the displays, and hopefully I’ve been able to dispel some misconceptions and describe the differences between e-Ink and LCD screens. I really highly recommend that you try to see an e-Ink screen in person at a Barnes & Noble store, Target, or Best Buy — or find a friend with a Kindle or Nook. Most people are amazed by how “paper-like” and easy to read an e-Ink screen is. (I do have some more photos of e-Ink screens here.)

If you’re still a bit confused by the differences between the Kindle and iPad, I’ve included this handy chart I found, which I thought was pretty clever. =)

Rock, paper, … iPad?
Jul 282010
 

Kindle 3

Amazon today announced the new Kindle 3, and it’s quite an improvement. The price for the 3G model remains at $189, and the new Wi-Fi only model is only $139 (narrowly edging out B&N’s new $149 Nook Wi-Fi). They should be available August 27, and both include free 2-day shipping.

The $189 3G + Wi-Fi model ads Wi-Fi connectivity to the free, lifetime 3G wireless coverage of the Kindle 1 and 2 models. Both new models have:

  • 50% better screen contrast (darker black and a lighter gray background), with E-Ink’s new “Pearl” display (also used on the graphite Kindle DX 2).
  • A choice of graphite (pictured) or white casing. The graphite may make the screen background seem lighter.
  • Smaller size and lighter weight: with the same 6″ screen, the new Kindle 3 is 21% smaller and 15% lighter — only 8.7 oz (3G) or 8.5 oz (Wi-Fi).
  • 20% faster page turns.
  • Double the internal storage, now 4GB (enough for about 3,500 books).
  • An even longer-lasting battery; Amazon claims a full month with wireless off and 10 days with wireless on.

This is really a killer list of features. What strikes me is that they took what the Kindle was already great at, and made it even better. As the owner of a Kindle 2, I can attest that the device is already small and light enough for easy one-handed reading — it’s as light as most paperbacks. Now, it’s even smaller and lighter: only 1/3rd of an inch thick and about half a pound. And the battery life was already phenomenal — I’d get 2 or 3 weeks out of it — but a full month without recharging is absurd. The page turns were also fast enough (about 1/2 a second) so they weren’t obtrusive, but faster is even better. And the extra storage is also nice, although 2GB is more than enough for most users: not only can you hold thousands of books, but you can always back up extras on your computer and Amazon backs up all your purchases through the “cloud,” so you can delete them to free up space and can always re-download them when necessary.

They’ve also made important improvements in areas that could use them: the contrast of the screen, for example. If I had one gripe about my K2, it’s that the background looks more like the gray, newspaper-like paper of mass-market paperbacks than the clean white paper in higher-quality trade paperbacks. I haven’t seen it myself, but the new “Pearl” display is supposed to be a slightly lighter shade of gray.

Additionally, they changed around the layout and button placement a bit: mainly, they’ve redesigned the 5-way controller, added “home” and “back” buttons, removed the number keys (you now have to hit ALT + the top row buttons), and re-designed the next page and previous page buttons (supposedly making them quieter as well). There will also be three user-selectable fonts (with, of course, the existing 8 font sizes), support for Asian language fonts, and software improvements including a better web browser, text-to-speech on menu items (for better accessibility), and support for notes and the built-in dictionary with PDFs.

I think it’s also a great move to make a lower-cost model: the Kindle Wi-Fi for just $139. This was partially to compete with B&N’s $149 Nook Wi-Fi, and it makes the new Kindle 3 very affordable — it’s several times less expensive than Apple’s $499 iPad. Consider that the original Kindle was $399, and the Kindle 2 was still $259 just a few months ago, and you can see how aggressively they’ve driven the prices down. It makes the value proposition that much better, as anyone who reads more than just occasionally can almost certainly recoup the cost of the device through the fact that e-books are generally less expensive than hardcovers or paperbacks — and many great, classic e-books are free. It doesn’t take very many free and $2.99 e-books (compared to $10 paperbacks, let alone $25 hardcovers) to recoup the initial cost of the device. And the extra $50 for the 3G model seems quite reasonable, considering that it includes free, lifetime, global 3G wireless (compared to $30 a month on the iPad 3G!).

I think Amazon did a great job with this update. I wasn’t expecting so many features — just the graphite casing (ho-hum) and Pearl screen (which is nice). Now I’m a little jealous… 😉

 e-readers  Comments Off on Kindle 3 Announced: 3G for $189, Wi-Fi for $139

Kindle 2 Just $150 at Woot Today Only

 Posted by at 3:53 AM  Tagged with: ,
Jul 012010
 

Woot! Just $150!

If you’re quick about it, you can grab a new Kindle 2 at woot.com for just $149.99 (plus $5 shipping). But if you’re interested, I’d act fast since (a) they’ll probably sell out quickly, and (b) Woot.com is known for “One Day, One Deal,” and they have a new deal up each day at midnight (Central time). So this deal will only last until the end of today (July 1) at the latest.

Considering that the Kindle was $259 just a week or so ago, and is currently $189 at Amazon, this is a pretty phenomenal deal. Remember, the price includes free 3G wireless coverage (for e-book downloads and basic web browsing) for life. If you’re an avid reader, or know one with a birthday coming up, this post is for you.

Apparently, Amazon bought Woot.com yesterday, and this is how they chose to celebrate.

P.S.: In somewhat related news, the larger Kindle DX 2 was also announced today, with a graphite casing, better screen contrast, and a price cut down to $379.

UPDATE: It sold out 5,000 units in only 8 hours! But Amazon has been listing refurbished K2s for only $109 lately … but they sell out quickly at that price as well.

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Jun 212010
 

Kindle 2 now just $189

A huge day today as Barnes & Noble lowered the cost of its Nook e-reader to $199 (from $259) and also introduced a Wi-Fi only model for only $149. The $199 version gives you Wi-Fi + unlimited 3G wireless coverage, while the $149 Wi-Fi only model comes with coverage at Wi-Fi hotspots including B&N stores, and is a great deal for a full-featured e-reader.

The Nook comes with a 6″ e-Ink screen, as well as a 3.5″ color LCD screen across the bottom, which can be used to show color book covers and surf the Internet. It has an expandable memory card slot, reads ePub books, and is connected to B&N’s e-book store.

In response, Amazon reduced the price of the Kindle 2 to $189, which is a $70 price cut and a great deal for the leading e-reader and unlimited 3G wireless coverage. (Note: Amazon will provide a $70 refund if you purchased one in the past 30 days.) The Kindle 2 has a 6″ e-Ink screen, 2-week battery life, and text-to-speech, among other features. It reads books in MOBI format, and is connected to Amazon’s e-book store, which has the greatest selection.

Any of these three options (Nook Wi-Fi at $149, Kindle 2 at $189, or Nook WiFi+3G at $199) is a great deal and great value. I had previously mentioned a couple of low-cost e-readers around $100-$150, but the Kindle and Nook have more features and are connected to larger e-book stores. While I was very impressed with the Kobo E-Reader for $149, at these lower prices, I’d recommend sticking with a Kindle or Nook.

I don’t normally comment on rumors, but there has been speculation of a Kindle 3 coming out in August with a slightly improved screen (better contrast and faster page turns), or perhaps the introduction of a Wi-Fi only model at that $149 price point. But it looks like B&N’s price drop has forced Amazon to lower prices sooner than they had planned. Personally, 3G wireless coverage isn’t a big deal for me, as I buy all my e-books through my computer and transfer them with the USB cable — I usually leave the 3G switched off on my K2. But, if you like the idea of wirelessly buying and downloading books right from your K2/Nook while away from home, then another $40 or $50 for lifetime, unlimited 3G coverage is a phenomenal deal (compare it to the iPad 3G, which costs an extra $130 + $30 / month!).

This is an exciting step for e-readers — being able to get the two most popular e-readers for under $200 should expand their audience dramatically. If you’re still on the fence, I’d recommend heading into a Target to see a K2 or a Barnes & Noble store to play with a Nook. If you like to read more than a few books a year, I think you’ll be very happy with an e-book reader, and the price cut means you might even pay for your new K2 in a year through the lower cost of e-books compared to paper books (not to mention all the free classics out there!).

 e-readers  Comments Off on Price Cuts: Kindle $189, Nook $199, Nook Wi-Fi $149
Jun 022010
 

Kindles in the classroom

At Clearwater High School (near Tampa, FL), students will receive a shiny new Kindle 2 instead of stacks of textbooks next school year. While other schools have dabbled with e-readers for specific classes or even started digitizing their libraries, Clearwater High will be the first to transition completely to electronic textbooks, providing one for each of its 100 teachers and 2,100 students.

The benefits of such a switch are obvious: a student can carry a single, 10-ounce Kindle instead of seven textbooks that each weigh a couple of pounds (or more) each. The Kindle could end up saving schools lots of money, considering that the K2 costs them $177.60 (the school apparently got a small bulk discount from Amazon) and typical textbooks cost about $80 each (7 books x $80 = $560). E-textbooks typically cost much less than the printed versions. Heck, students might not even need lockers any more (which could save money, time, and space for additional or larger classrooms).

Students can also use the convenient dictionary lookup feature (even more useful in a classroom setting than for fiction), which is like carrying seven textbooks plus a dictionary. The K2 also allows for highlighting, bookmarking, and note-taking … instead of having students mark up textbooks that will be re-used next year. Students can also use their Kindles to download free and lower-cost versions of all those books they need to read in English class: all of the classics (anything written before 1923) are free in e-book form. And they’ll probably be much more likely to do pleasure reading if their novels are already with them all day at school — why not read a few chapters of Harry Potter on the bus or at lunch?

Some things to consider, though, are the inevitable thefts and damage to the Kindles that the school hands out. The article linked above mentions that parents will be able to purchase insurance for damage that happens off school property. I guess parents/students can already be charged if they lose or damage textbooks, so maybe it’s not all that different. But still, students horsing around and breaking a $177 K2 wouldn’t be pleasant for the kid, parents, or school. On the plus side, all the e-textbooks can simply be re-loaded onto a new device.

Maybe the cost savings will even be enough to give each incoming student their own K2 (to last them all four years), and, if they keep it in good shape, it’s theirs to keep when they graduate (and only if they graduate!). If they lose it, they have to pay $177 (or put down a deposit) for a replacement, which they can either keep or turn back in when they leave school and have their money refunded.

There are certainly some issues to iron out, but I think the advantages and cost savings outweigh the concerns, and I hope the program is successful. I think schools will continue to follow suit in the future, as more and more reading is done on electronic devices.

UPDATE: This article says the Kindle experiment is going pretty well, with most students and teachers finding them to increase productivity. There have been a few glitches, but students have been using them to read textbooks, take notes, and look up information on the Internet.

Kindle in Targets Nationwide June 6

 Posted by at 12:37 AM  Tagged with: , ,
May 242010
 

Demo unit not functional, indeed.

It seems that Kindles in Target’s test locations have been “flying off the shelves,” so Target will roll them out in stores nationwide on June 6.

I went by my local Target today (since I’m fortunate enough to be in the South Florida test location), and, sure enough, there was a K2 display on an aisle end cap in the electronics section. There was a large picture of a huge Kindle alongside a woman sipping coffee and reading, a demo Kindle 2 unit, and a page describing its features (books in 60 seconds, free 3G wireless, paper-like display, 2-week battery life, etc.). Below the unit were several types of cases for the device ($30-$40 each).

Unfortunately, the demo unit at the location I visited was damaged: the screen had been cracked (note: the pattern you see in the above photo is indicative of the Kindle’s screen cracking on the inside). For some reason, this made me kinda sad, as it hardly seems like they’re putting the Kindle’s best foot forward with a display with a broken unit, which is not only useless (and ugly) to look at, but reminds potential buyers that you do have to be more careful with a Kindle than with a paper book. That scene in Modern Family where the kid sits on Al Bundy’s Kindle and breaks it didn’t help either!

(For the record, I hear Amazon’s customer service is extremely helpful and generous with replacement units if you’re unfortunate enough to crack your Kindle’s screen, but I’m not taking the chance.)

On the plus side, all the Kindles at the location I visited were sold out (though they did have stock at other nearby locations). It also appeared that several of the cases were sold out as well (there were stickers and spaces for 6-8 different types of cases, but there were only 4 cases of 2 different types remaining).

It looked like the demo Kindle was set to cycle through a few different pages of text and images (it was hard to tell with the broken screen). As the sticker on the demo unit warns that it’s “not functional,” I doubt you can open books or play with menus, but it is attached by a retractable cord that allows people to feel its weight and note how thin it feels in their hands. I still think the Kindle is a “wow” device, and that most people who see one in action (with, hopefully, a working e-Ink screen) will be impressed and tempted to buy one. Check it out for yourself at Target starting on June 6. And try not to drop it. 🙂