About

On e-Reader Tech News we track down the latest e-Reader news. We will keep you up to date with whats hot in the bestsellers section, including books, ebooks and blogs... and we will also bring you great e-reader tips and tricks along with reviews for the latest devices and accessories.

Recent Comments

October 2017
M T W T F S S
« Jan    
 1
2345678
9101112131415
16171819202122
23242526272829
3031  

Amazon Caps Kindle 3G Use at 50MB/Month

The Kindle Keyboard has been the overall recommendation of this site, and myself in particular, since it was first introduced.  It stands out from the current generation for a couple reasons, but mostly due to its unrestricted internet access.  The Kindle Touch 3G has its cellular connectivity restricted.  Apparently that sort of freedom was costing Amazon a bit more than they liked.  Users will now find their internet usage capped to a mere 50mb each month.

For the most part this will prove little problem.  The Kindle’s screen, while amazing for reading, is not well suited for most of the bandwidth-intensive tasks that people generally put their portable devices to.  You’re not going to have the option of watching a movie on your Kindle eReader, which is part of the reason the Kindle Fire was made.  Even music downloads, which make sense knowing that the Kindle has the ability to play MP3s, are largely difficult to manage except through storefronts and social media pages that the Kindle’s Experimental Browser is less than suited for.

The most likely explanation for this change to the service agreement is that too many people have caught on to the possibility of using the Kindle’s 3G access on another mobile device.  This hack was widely publicized when a reliable method developed and seemed likely to end up little more than a bit of trivia in the days that followed.  Yes it is possible to enable wireless tethering of a sort, but it is obviously against the terms of service and the practice is far from anonymous.

Apparently people have been doing it anyway.  Amazon has been cracking down on these Kindle abusers individually, limiting their device’s access to the Kindle Store and Amazon.com, but that takes manpower and there is almost certainly a waiting list as each abuser is warned.  Adding the 50mb per month cap prevents outright abuse in the meantime.

Given what we know about software changes from model to model, this may be the start of something more significant for the Kindle line in general.  By limiting the usefulness of the Kindle Keyboard, Amazon is setting things up to remove the device entirely.  This allows them to save on everything from firmware updates to 3G charges as customers move into the hardware we’re expecting to see in the next few months.  They clearly want to make some of the new features like X-Ray into Kindle brand selling points, but that’s not going to happen while so many users are still happy with their older model.

If you like to have your laptop hooked to a Kindle Keyboard for free 3G access, you’re probably going to be very unhappy in the days and weeks to come.  Amazon hasn’t commented, but this crackdown is likely to get bigger and stick around.  If you’re a normal user who just grabs the occasional eBook or website then you’ll likely never run into this new limitation.  Either way, keep an eye out for the hardware upgrade that’s around the corner.  Amazon is likely to be pushing upgrader incentives to build interest.

Kindle Keyboard 3G Tethering May Provide Emergency Options

Kindle Keyboard

Kindle Keyboard

The Kindle eReader has long come with unrestricted 3G access on its more expensive models.  This has been such an expected option that when Amazon stopped offering the feature on the newer Kindle 4 and Kindle Touch models it shocked many of us.  Fortunately, for those who are still interested in the service, there is always still the Kindle Keyboard 3G.  While they aren’t really being pushed as a current product any longer, Amazon still seems to have plenty of the older model with its unrestricted access available on their site.

The biggest problems with taking advantage of this feature for anything besides simply purchasing from Amazon have been tied to the shortcomings of the eReader itself.  The Kindle Keyboard’s 5-Way directional controller is nice enough, but can be incredibly tedious to use.  The web browser is extremely basic at best, and will almost certainly enough fail to load important pages or crash completely from time to time under regular use.  Still, it is a free lifetime 3G connection that accomplishes the goal of keeping you connected to the Kindle Store no matter where you happen to be.  It is hard to complain about that.

What was once just a convenience for people willing to spend some extra money on their initial Kindle purchase might now be a valid thing to keep around for emergencies, however.  You see, somebody has finally worked out a way to make this free 3G coverage available to more generally useful devices via a tethering hack.  While I won’t go into the details here (this is absolutely warranty-voiding and quite possibly illegal enough for action is abused), hacker Andrew D’Angelo has posted the complete method on his easily searchable personal web site.  Using this method, you can now get your PC or laptop onto the internet via the Kindle Keyboard’s cellular connection.

I say that this is an emergency tool specifically because every bit of data sent through this connection runs through Amazon’s proxy servers.  You are tagged with a unique ID number that can easily trace unusual activity back to your personal account.  Since this is, as mentioned above, rather blatantly in violation of the Terms & Conditions for Kindle 3G use, chances are good that both the connection and the associated account will be shut down before too long at the very least.

This could be great to have around for those situations where a storm takes out the local communications, and I can think of some flooding a while back that I would have loved to have it available for, but it is not a tool for daily use.  Still, it might be worth considering the 3G option on any new Kindle purchase now even if you have no interest in it as an aid to your eReader experience.  $40 added to the purchase price for a cell connection with no monthly fee running through a device that only runs out of batteries once every month or two is great by itself, but being able to use that connection so fully when you really need to have that available is invaluable.

Amazon Kindle vs Acacia: Patent Troll Tries Again

By now Kindle users have become familiar with the idea of sponsored screen savers on their eReaders when the devices are on standby.  They are generally unobtrusive, don’t get in the way of the reading experience, and can even offer some decent deals from time to time when you get lucky.  Not many people argue against them anymore, especially since Amazon now allows users to pay the price difference between a Kindle with ads and a Kindle without ads to have the whole mechanism disabled entirely.  Unfortunately, the idle screen’s ads have opened Amazon up to a claim of patent infringement from one of the biggest “Patent Trolls” in operation.

The company making the accusation, Network Presentations Solutions, is a shell company operated by Acacia Research Group.  Acacia Research Group, as some might remember from last October, has taken on Amazon before with regard to Kindle devices.  Last time it was a variety of issues regarding the Kindle Fire.  This time around, they have acquired the rights to a patent for any personal computing device that shows ads on a screen after a certain designated period of idling.  Naturally this would include all recent Kindle offerings, in addition to other companies such as Kobo that have followed in Amazon’s footsteps, one would think.

What are they hoping to accomplish with this suit?  The requested ruling would require Amazon to pay a substantial penalty, recall and destroy every Kindle device ever sold with the Special Offers screen savers, issue a copy of the court ruling along with an admission of wrongdoing to everybody who has ever owned a Kindle, and generally appear contrite and humbled.  More realistically, Acacia is hoping for a substantial payday when Amazon settles to avoid the potentially huge ramifications of losing.  Patent Trolls are not held in particularly high regard at the moment, but that doesn’t mean they always lose in court.  Amazon isn’t exactly the most beloved company around at the moment either, after all.

While there seems to have been no word as to what, if any, progress has been made on the last Acacia vs Amazon lawsuit, it is a fair assumption that Amazon is not in the habit of quietly accepting this sort of thing.  They have placed a great deal of faith in the Kindle line, both eReader and Tablet offerings, and such vaguely applicable patents have questionable standing when held up to scrutiny.  Remember that a software patent holder needs to be able to prove that its patent involves a non-obvious solution to a problem.  It is hard to say whether or not advertisements in place of screen savers would really qualify in the eyes of the court.

Chances are good that this is not the last time we’ll be seeing Amazon hit with patent litigation.  Patent Trolling is huge money and there is a lot of profit to be made in anything somebody can make stick to the Kindle.  With the next generation of Kindle Fire just around the corner and the possibility of a Kindle Phone being whispered about in vague rumors about the distant future, Amazon is just going to be even more open to these things.  Hopefully the added expense of an occasional settlement or legal dispute won’t be enough to scare them off of ongoing hardware development.

Updating Kindle DX or Kindle 2 to Kindle 3.x Firmware

Having discovered an already functional jailbreak for the Kindle Touch recently thanks to independent developer Yifan Lu, I was also pleased to note that there is a way to get your older Kindle devices somewhat more up to date.  It turns out that the hardware improvements in the Kindle 3 as compared to the Kindle 2 and Kindle DX, particularly the processors, were not significant enough to make it impossible to run the newer version.

To get this update installed, you will need a few things.  The most important, and possibly the hardest to get in some cases, is a working Kindle 3 (Kindle Keyboard) that has been jailbroken.  Assuming you have a spare Kindle 3 laying around, the same site linked in the instructions to follow contains detailed instructions on the jailbreaking process under the “Projects” tab.  You will also need a minimum of 900mb free on your Kindle 2/Kindle DX and 720mb free on your Kindle 3.  Naturally a USB transfer cable will be important as well.

Assuming you have all of these things, check out this page on Yifan Lu’s site.  The included instructions are simple to follow and while it will probably take you anywhere from one to three hours to complete the entire process, there is little room for error if you follow the order of operations correctly.

There are several things that you must be aware of before starting in on this:

  • Should you allow either of your Kindles to lose power while they are in use, it is likely to cause some major problems.  Charge them before you begin.
  • Once completed, you will have to repeat the process for any future firmware updates.  The Kindle 2 or Kindle DX will not be able to automatically access the files released for the Kindle 3.
  • While the hardware difference between these Kindles is not large enough to make the process inadvisable, as it would be if going from the Kindle 4 to the Kindle 3, there is a difference.  You will experience slight lag as the downside of your improved functionality.
  • Active content such as Kindle games will not work as a result of the update.  The developer of this update process doesn’t know exactly why, nor does there seem to be any major fix for this.  Be aware.
  • Sound/Music playback on the newly updated device will be flawed.  Since it will have been jailbroken it is possible to install an alternate music player to fix this, but it is an additional step for people who make much use of the eReader’s audio playback abilities.
  • There have been some unconfirmed reports that extremely large PDF files have issues on devices updated in this fashion.  This is likely the result of slightly inferior hardware and will probably not be an issue compared to the greatly improved PDF handling, but it is worth noting.

We can’t quite say why Amazon chose not to update these older Kindles, although it has been speculated that they were consciously abandoned to drum up business for the Kindle 3.  Also possible is the idea that faster processing simply opens more doors to new features that couldn’t be productively implemented otherwise.  Either way, at least now it is possible for owners of older Kindles to get the most out of their devices.

While the newer Kindle 4 and Kindle Touch are great, eReaders are made to last and there is no reason for a satisfied owner to throw away their perfectly good Kindle 2.  With the Kindle DX it’s an even more obvious choice, since there is yet to be a hardware update to the larger form and it looks increasingly like there never will be.  This update makes it even more desirable for those who need the 9.7″ screen.

Special Offers Now Available For All Kindle eReaders

The addition of advertisements to the Kindle line is what has allowed Amazon to drive prices down as low as they have on all eReader hardware in the US.  It’s really the only reason that the eReader was finally pushed down to the $99 and beyond.  While many people were initially upset about the idea of advertising intruding into their reading experience, something that has in recent decades proven fairly inefficient and therefore been disregarded, the way Amazon tackled the problem has left most people satisfied.  No ads in the books themselves is the most important part, of course.

The most surprising thing, in a lot of ways, is how effective the Special Offers have been in providing genuine value for customers.  Among other things, Kindle w/ Special Offers owners have had the chance to buy $20 gift cards for $10, $1 Kindle Edition eBooks, and more.  Amazon has been their own best customer when it comes to these ads despite having some big name partners join in from time to time, and recently there have even been some great local deals springing up as a result of their attempts to take on Groupon.  Naturally this has left some owners of older Kindles, as well as people who avoided the opportunity due to suspicion over the ads, feeling rather left out.

Recently an option was introduced to remove these ads from the Kindle by paying for the difference in initial purchase price.  Definitely an appealing option since it effectively allows new buyers who are hesitant to accept the idea of ongoing advertisements buy into the device now and get the rest of the experience they want when it’s affordable.  It doesn’t hurt that this makes it that much more appealing for new customers to give Amazon’s Special Offers scheme a chance to prove its worth.

The fun flip side is that they quietly introduced the option to turn Special Offers on for Kindle eReaders that either never had them in the first place or decided to buy out of them at some point.  By going into the “Manage Your Kindle” section of the Amazon.com website, most of the work is already done.  Find your eReader in the list (which may include no more than one Kindle depending on how invested you are in the line) and, under the “Special Offers” heading, choose the Edit option.  Turning the ads on and off takes place almost instantly, requiring nothing more than that you turn your Kindle on and connect it to the internet.

I no longer have a Kindle 2 to test out this process with, but I think it is safe to assume that it would not work.  The Kindle 3 (Kindle Keyboard) definitely works, and all newer devices should handle it without any trouble.  If you haven’t had a chance before now to check out the options, it might be worth a try.  Just today I’ve seen a couple tempting ones flipping my Kindle off and on.  I especially recommend if you are in an area covered by the AmazonLocal deals.  Amazon is clearly not pushing people into this, nor do they make it hard to change your mind.  If there’s value to be found, why waste the opportunity?

Kindle Keyboard 3G On The Way Out

In the past several months, especially since the announcement of the Kindle Touch, I’ve mentioned regularly that I expected the Kindle Keyboard to be a thing of the past by early 2012.  While nothing concrete has happened just yet, there are beginning to be small indications that this is beginning to happen.

The most obvious early sign was the fact that the Kindle Touch’s 3G option did not include the same freedoms that we have come to expect in previous models.  Where up until now you could browse freely, albeit in a limited fashion due to the nature of the Kindle’s screen and experimental browser, now users are stuck with only Wikipedia and Amazon’s own store.  Given the size of the ongoing 3G bill that Amazon has to have been racking up over the past several years, this change should be no surprise.  Lifetime 3G for free is going to be hard to keep going without limitations.  What is surprising and makes this stand out is the fact that the Kindle Keyboard did not start having the same restrictions.  If this was really the direction that Amazon has chosen to go, the only easy explanation is that they were waiting to run out existing stock.

More recently, the Kindle Keyboard WiFi w/ Special Offers has silently disappeared from the Kindle Store.  You can still get the more expensive ad-free model, but somehow I doubt that is because Amazon has suddenly decided to drop their advertising subsidized eReader plans.  Not only is it gone, but the newer versions of the sales banner for the Kindle Family are now focused entirely on the newest devices and don’t display the Kindle Keyboard at all.

It would not be surprising to find that even more signs have been given that were just too subtle to be noticed at the time.  I seem to recall there being white versions of both WiFi and 3G Kindle 3 models, for example, but now that is only available for the 3G model.  Hard to say for certain at this point since the graphite frame was so appealing at launch that I didn’t bother picking up a white edition.

Will this be the end of eReaders with physical inputs?  Quite possibly!  The major competition has already moved to entirely touchscreen, though the Nook Simple Touch eReader still has some actual page turning buttons.  The virtual keyboard allows for a lighter, more compact device that is even less intrusive than previous Kindles.  I’m still dealing with mixed feelings regarding this move, having gotten used to my keyboard and not quite having had the same amount of exposure to the new design, but it does seem the way of the future.

If you are still interested in the Kindle Keyboard (formerly Kindle 3), now is really the time to buy.  Lefties will find it especially valuable since the Kindle Touch requires swiping if you want to flip a page forward with your left hand. It offers pretty much everything that the Kindle Touch does aside from X-Ray and the ease of use in highlighting and annotation, but you get the reassuring presence of buttons.  The option won’t be around much longer, I’m sure, but for now you can get either the normal Kindle Keyboard or the Kindle Keyboard 3G w/ Special Offers for just $139.

Amazon Kindle Special Offers Still Picking Up Steam

One of the ways that Amazon has managed to bring down the price of their Kindle eReader to a point that nobody else has been able to match is through their Special Offers.  This feature saves customers $30 – 40 on their new Kindle by displaying advertisements in place of the otherwise uncustomizable screen saver images that the device carries by default as well as on the bottom of menu screens.  In doing so, Amazon makes enough off the ads, in theory, to offset the discount and maybe even get word out about useful offers they could be interested in.

One of the most notable initial offers was that of a $20 Amazon.com gift card for only $10.  This was only available to active Kindle w/ Special Offers owners and got a fair amount of press at the time as a smart move on Amazon’s part.  Other ads have included Buick, Olay, Visa, ABC, and more.  There was, and for some still is, some question as to how effective this advertising method would prove to be in the end, but responses are coming in from Advertisers that put that to rest for the time being.

For example, while Buick was mainly concerned with building a connection in customers minds between their brand and what they viewed as an innovative new product (the Kindle), they have been reported as noting that their customer engagement matched what they’ve come to expect from other, more established media.  ABC’s promotion also went well, with over 24,000 people taking advantage of their free script offer in support of new show “Revenge”.

In the past month, however, people in supported areas might note having seen a focus on the new Amazon Local service.  This is meant, by all appearances, as Amazon’s own competition for the popular Groupon site.  Nationwide offers in such areas have been somewhat scarce as a result.  This has led some to jump to the conclusion that Amazon has been having trouble finding people interested in advertising via Kindle.  One Amazon advertising VP, however, was able to come right out and say that there has yet to be a drop in the number of interested advertisers.

In spite of the fact that this appears to be a fairly narrow media venue to exploit, the Kindle has brought reading back to the front of peoples’ minds in a way that many wouldn’t have believed possible five years ago.  Millions have been sold and, while Amazon does not and is unlikely to ever, release sales numbers for the Kindle, it is safe to say that several of those millions had the Special Offers included.  These devices are cheap, allow for an unhindered reading experience wherein ads will never appear to disturb you, and can even come in handy when bringing deals to your attention.  Personally, I was just glad to stop seeing the same dead author portraits over and over again.  It seems clear that while there is expansion to be done and experience to be gained, this was a smart move on Amazon’s part.

Kindle Fire vs Kindle eReaders: Interface Differences and Why They May Matter To You

With the Kindle Fire opening up whole new avenues of entertainment in the product line and the Kindle Touch providing the affordable touchscreen eReader that people have been asking for for years now, there is a sense that both the Kindle Keyboard (Kindle 3) and just plain “Kindle” (Kindle 4) are superfluous.  Sure the low price on the basic Kindle is great, for example, but for only a $20 difference over the touchscreen model you are asserting that you will never need an audiobook and don’t have much interest in note taking.  Sometimes it is nice to retain those capabilities just in case, even if you have no interest in them from day to day.  This absolutely does not mean that there is no situation where that is the smart move to make, it just means that being aware of your needs is important.

I think that the obvious contrast will be between the Kindle Fire and the Kindle products with mechanical interfaces.  While I will maintain that there is a definite difference between the new tablet and the eReader line it is billed as a part of, Amazon’s association of the two types of hardware under the same brand name makes the comparison important.  It’s true that much of the argument also goes for the Kindle Touch, right now we can look at the Kindle and Kindle Keyboard hands-on.  That makes things a bit simpler.

Naturally I could go on again about the superior reading experience to be found in an E INK Pearl screen over pretty much any LCD we’re ever likely to see.  Fortunately, I think most people have come to accept that already.  The battery life issue is also a big one, but not worth dwelling on.  It is not likely that people would fail to see the benefits of only having to charge a portable device every few weeks.  What I will contend is that there is an advantage to be found in the simplified experience of the Kindle and Kindle Keyboard over that we can expect from the Kindle Fire.

Since the Kindle is traditionally associated with reading and I’m talking about the virtues of the less expensive members of the Kindle family, it’s only natural that a great deal of weight is to be placed on the act of reading.  For example, I consider it a great advantage to be able to read without the distractions offered by a multi-functional device.  I won’t deny this owes to my own easily distracted nature, but that’s hardly an uncommon trait.  Reading a book should not generally be an act of willpower overcoming the urge to do something else.  That detracts somehow.  With a Kindle or Kindle Keyboard, not only can you do little besides read, most of what else you are able to do revolves around acquiring more things to read.  It is a cohesive experience.

The fact that both of the Kindles in question make use of mechanical controls rather than a touch interface can also be an advantage.  Aside from any risk of fingerprints being left, many people will prefer to be able to navigate their eBooks via the page turn buttons on the sides of the device.  When using a Kindle Keyboard, for example, you can adjust your grip to allow for page turning with nothing more than a light squeeze of the thumb.  Even assuming this is possible on a touchscreen, it would involve covering part of the display.  You may only save a small motion, but when Amazon is looking to save on even the effort of a swiping gesture in their touch interface there is obviously a preference for conserved effort in the user base.

The Kindle Keyboard in particular also offers the distinct advantage of being able to interact with your device without tying up screen real estate.  Normally this is not a big deal, I will be the first to admit.  When it comes to making in-text notations, however, it is useful to be able to see as much as possible while forming your thoughts.  I do think that the Kindle Touch and Kindle Fire will offer a greater speed to the notation process since selecting text is a bit clunky with the more basic directional control, but it is useful to be aware of the tradeoff.  Losing the keyboard was worthwhile in terms of reducing size and weight, but for some people the keyboard is still a useful part of the Kindle experience.

This is not a claim for the overarching superiority of the older Kindle Keyboard or even the equality of the Kindle 4 (there is a reason that it is priced lower than all the other Kindles).  What I am claiming is that they each fill niches separate from the Kindle Fire and, to a lesser degree, the Kindle Touch.  Yes the newer, more powerful device can do basically all the same things that the eReaders are able to do as well as many other things that people will find useful, but that does not mean that it is a direct upgrade.  For an affordable tablet, the Kindle Fire is great.  For an eReader I would recommend any other Kindle without hesitation.  There is no more reason to disregard the Kindle or the Kindle Keyboard than there is to ignore the situational usefulness of the Kindle DX, which is an issue I have also gotten into recently.  Know your options and your needs when you decide it is time for a new Kindle.

Nook Color vs Kindle: Does B&N Still Have A Shot?

The Nook Color was not the first color eReader by any stretch of the imagination, for all it beat out the Kindles to that point.  Even if you exclude all of the PDAs, Blackberrys, and smartphone types of devices in general that gave the Microsoft LIT format a space to thrive in, there were others that came before.  Credit where credit is due, however, B&N created the first reading tablet that was worth owning.  Its value might just not come as much from the pure quality of reading experience as it could need to to remain competitive as an eReader.

Analysts have regularly indicated that the appeal of the Nook Color, for the average consumer, is in its ability to access magazines and casual games along the lines of the ever popular Angry Birds series.  The portability, full color display, and Android based operating system make it great for short periods of interaction and immersion, even if the screen is less than ideal for extended reading.  Now, with the release of the Kindle Fire, there is reason for Barnes & Noble to be concerned over their device’s future.

What it comes down to is a practically point by point feature trumping on Amazon’s part, plus a superior media distribution base to draw on in the areas where a tablet is most useful.  The points of comparison stand out a little bit when you consider the Nook Color’s superiorities over the Kindle 3 (Kindle Keyboard).

Kindle Keyboard Nook Color Kindle Fire
Display 6″ Monochrome E INK 7″ Color LCD 7″ Color LCD
Interface Keyboard & Directional Controls Capacitive Multitouch IR Multitouch
Dimensions 7.5″ x 4.8″ x 0.34″ 8.1″ x 5.0″ x .48″ 7.5″ x 4.7″ x 0.45″
Weight 8.5 Ounces 15.8 Ounces 14.6 Ounces
Battery Life 2 Months 8 Hours 8 Hours
Storage 4GB Internal 8GB Internal, Expandable Memory Slot 8GB Internal, Amazon Cloud Storage
Browsing Capabilities Basic HTML Experimental Full Browser w/ Flash Support Silk Browser w/ Flash Support
Price $99 – $139 $249 $199

That comparison is based on what features Barnes & Noble has chosen thus far to highlight on the device specs section of the Nook Color sales page, in an effort to present things fairly.  I’m ignoring the majority of software concerns, especially in terms of file type compatibility, since apps are theoretically able to make up for most any deficiency.  These would still, however, favor the new Kindle.  While the Nook Color is the only one of these with an expandable memory slot, which would seem incredibly useful to many users, this has proven a mixed blessing for the company since it provides people with a simple and effective way to bypass the Nook’s proprietary Android build.

Basically it appears that with the Kindle Fire Amazon has looked at what the competition was doing and improved on it.  No surprise, that’s what competing products are supposed to do.  They’ve essentially got a slightly smaller, slightly lighter 7″ tablet that they’re not hooked on the idea of presenting as an eReader.  Overall the technology behind the Kindle Fire is newer and more powerful in every way that matters and still comes in at a lower price for the end user.  The only real question now is what B&N does with this information.

We can take as a given that Barnes & Noble is not in a position to provide the same sort of robust media library that Amazon is bringing to customers.  Even if they were to start pulling in video streaming deals and other things along those lines to fill in the gaps, the time factor would be a problem.  What they can do is work to get Netflix, Hulu, or any number of other streaming services on-board as partners.  With Amazon poised to make a move into that market in a larger way than they have so far, it shouldn’t be too difficult.  It would mean giving up on potential media sales revenue, but it also eliminates the need to build up the infrastructure to support that media.  We know that rooted Nook Colors are able to access services like Netflix already, so it would only make sense to cash in on it given how easily root-able these devices have proven to be.

There is also the rumor of a new Nook Color that will bring hardware upgrades.  Now, this is pretty flimsy in spite of having seen posts declaring it would be released “any day now” since early September, but it could make a big difference to their presence in the device market.  While a price drop in the current Nook Color is a given, having a newer more powerful model available would work well whether it was a more expensive option or as an outright replacement.  In the former scenario it would highlight the fact of the low price point while providing options.  In the latter, there is room to hope that in some way the Kindle Fire will be inferior.  If the hardware option is going to make a difference, however, it needs to happen soon.  Once people start getting their hands on the Kindle Fire, barring major issues with them, the momentum is likely to increase leading into the holiday season.

What we do know is that the Nook line as a whole is pretty much the only part of Barnes & Noble that is growing right now.  They need to keep things going.  As a result, you can be sure that something is on the horizon to keep the situation competitive.  Tablet PCs just tend to be the most useful when it comes to things that aren’t reading, so it might take a bit of a shift for B&N to really make their presence known now that there are comparably priced options available.  Whether or not they manage remains to be seen, but hopes are high.  While the Nook Color has not been my favorite device personally, it did provide us with one of the first reasonably priced yet fully functional tablets almost by mistake (rooting is essential in a way that many are hoping will not be the case with the Kindle Fire).  It would be a shame to seem them fall aside now.

Kindle Touch vs Kindle Keyboard: Is It Worth An Upgrade?

Some of the longest running customer demands for the Kindle line have been a touchscreen, a color display, and a price under $100.  The Kindle Touch and Kindle Fire each manage a different combination of two out of those three.  The big question now is what this means for Kindle owners.  Is the addition of these features worth the cost of purchasing a new eReader, even as cheap as they’ve become?  For that matter, should people just now coming to the eReader experience jump on the newer Kindle Touch or the Kindle Keyboard being sold for the same price?

In order to facilitate a more informed decision, let’s take a look at what differentiates the two devices:

Kindle Keyboard
Kindle Touch
Display 6″ E INK Pearl 6″ E INK Pearl
Connectivity WiFi + Optional 3G WiFi + Optional 3G
Battery Life 2 Month 2 Months
Weight 8.5 – 8.7 Ounces 7.5 – 7.8 Ounces
Dimensions 7.5″ x 4.8″ x 0.34″ 6.8″ x 4.7″ x 0.40″
Storage 4GB (3,500 Books) 4GB (3,000 Books)
Features Full Physical QWERTY Keyboard IR Touchscreen, X-Ray, EasyReach
Price $99 – $139 $99 – $149

Not quite as much as one might think, really.

Kindle Touch

The Kindle Touch is the newer device.  As might be expected in the portable electronics field, it is smaller, lighter, and faster (if videos posted to highlight the device’s anticipated user experience can be trusted).  Removing the physical keyboard seems to have saved about an ounce, which while equaling a weight reduction of over 10% still means little enough to not factor into any decisions.  At that point any case you get will probably render the point meaningless anyway.  It is also slightly smaller than the Kindle Keyboard, for obvious reasons.  You save almost an inch on the vertical and all other measurements are comparable. For a direct comparison, check out the device overlay here:

The real differences that come in stem from software improvements.  As you might notice in the table above, though the two Kindles share the same storage space measurement they have different listed book capacities.  This is because there are a couple things going on in the Kindle Touch software that the Kindle Keyboard does not have access to, which decreases the available area of the device’s storage a bit.

The less significant, though still quite useful given the interface, is the EasyReach system.  This partitions off the touchscreen so that the majority of the screen can be tapped for paging forward while the leftmost edge of the screen will work as a backward page turning button.  This eliminates the need for finger swiping.  Swiping was certainly a fine idea and emulates the page turning experience found in a paper book to a certain extent, but it gets old after a few hundred pages as anybody who wore out their original Nook can likely attest to.

More importantly, the Kindle Touch will be coming with something called X-Ray.  The X-Ray feature is basically intended to be an intelligent extension of the search function, based on Amazon’s description.  Not only will it find instances of word use, though, it will supposedly find all instances of a character, idea, place, or topic throughout as well as linking to relevant articles on either Wikipedia or Amazon’s own Shelfari service.  How successful this feature is remains to be seen, but Amazon clearly places a lot of confidence in it and emphasizes their own expertise in machine learning and data processing in explaining how they can make such a bold claim.  The product page literally says that “The vision is to have every important phrase in every book.”  An intriguing, if highly ambitious claim.

Kindle Keyboard

The benefits of a Kindle Keyboard are a bit more modest.  Aside from it being a proven device with very few shortcomings attached to it at this point, you also get physical buttons, more application/game options, and a slightly different experience in 3G usage.

The keyboard isn’t the most wonderful thing in the world, but it does the job.  This will be a benefit for anybody who prefers feedback on their button pressing.  It also means that more of the games and other applications currently available will work for you.  For the most part developers have been able to assume the presence of these controls up until this point and it is unlikely that many will be able to adapt to a touchscreen display.  This is not to say that there won’t be plenty of games and such that exclusively use the touchscreen in the future, but for now Kindle Keyboard owners have a clear advantage when it comes to non-reading eReader usage.

The 3G coverage that I mentioned is also noticeably more useful than that on the Kindle Touch.  Unlike the newer device, the Kindle Keyboard remains able to access the entirety of the internet through this connection (albeit in a sub-par browser), while the new Kindle will be restricted to the Kindle Store and Wikipedia.  Anything more is going to require access to a WiFi network, in which situations you will generally be able to access a more internet friendly device anyway.  Of course, I am personally taking this as a sign that the Kindle Keyboard is either going to be phased out in the near future or blocked off in a fashion similar to the Kindle Touch, but it is safe to say that current owners and near-future adopters will not be affected.

Conclusions:

When it comes right down to it, there isn’t enough difference between these two to really justify an upgrade.  If you own a Kindle Keyboard already and have no particular attachments to touchscreens or potentially super-smart text searches, you shouldn’t feel too bad about waiting a while before getting another eReader.  If you’re new to the whole eReader scene, I would probably recommend the $99 Kindle Touch.  It is the newest and most likely to be supported in the long term, especially in terms of firmware updates.  In addition, you get the touchscreen interface which is certain to be a bit more versatile for most users when compared to the directional control on other Kindles.  Completely worth it considering both devices are the same price anyway.