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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.

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A Kindle 3 vs Kindle 4 Comparison

While the new Kindles have been announced, right now all we have to choose from if we want to read something right this minute are the Kindle Keyboard (formerly the Kindle 3) and the Kindle (or Kindle 4 as we were calling it to differentiate).  While neither one is a bad option at all, it wouldn’t have been worth announcing new versions of the Kindle if the old ones weren’t going to be exceeded in some ways.  What makes this launch unique, however, is that rather than simply improving on just about everything, such as in the jump from second to third generation devices, here we have a variety of different feature sets to choose from, each with some merit.  It seemed worth a look at the two we can get our hands on for comparison.

Superior Reading Experience: Kindle 4

As might be expected, the Kindle 4 definitely seems to offer the better reading experience.  It is smaller, lighter, slightly faster, and somehow just more comfortable to hold.  This is not to say that there is any problem with the Kindle Keyboard, but if all you care about is the feel as you flip from page to page, the Kindle 4 has an edge.  This is especially noticeable in the reduced page refresh time, though even on the Kindle Keyboard it is fast enough to be a non-issue.

Book Browsing: Kindle Keyboard

Whether you’re talking about searching your library for a particular book you’ve been wanting to read or finding a passage in that book that you were hoping to share with some friends, it is simply easier to do on the Kindle Keyboard.  Being limited to nothing more than a directional controller and an on-screen keyboard makes that sort of thing quite tedious on the Kindle 4.  If you have a particularly large library then navigating without searching might take you quite a while. This is also, incidentally, the case when it comes to annotating your books as you read them.  Obviously, anything involving text will be simpler when you can type, though highlighting is about the same.  Of course this ease of use will likely be surpassed by the Kindle Touch, but that’s a whole other blog.

Shopping & Internet Browsing: Kindle Keyboard

This essentially comes back to the same point as before.  While it is certainly possible to use the Kindle 4 to do all the things that the Kindle Keyboard can do, it is slower and more obnoxious.  Unless you are prone to buying nothing but bestsellers, for example, you’re better off hopping on a computer to do your Kindle Store shopping rather than using the actual eReader.  The Kindle Keyboard also offers optional 3G coverage with full internet connectivity for life (albeit in the rather limited experimental browser) where the Kindle 4 does not, which is worth taking into consideration.

Battery Life: Kindle Keyboard

Battery life is an important factor in some ways, but might be trivial here.  If I were comparing the iPad and any Kindle device, it would be a major difference since the E INK screen allows for battery life measures in weeks rather than hours.  When comparing the Kindle 4 and the Kindle Keyboard, however, it’s the difference between one month and two between charges.  I don’t know about anybody else, but if I only have to charge once a month my biggest problem becomes remembering where I put the charger rather than getting the most possible life out of the battery.  I only point it out because the Kindle Keyboard is supposed to last twice as long, making it slightly superior for heavy readers or long term travel.

Adaptability to User Preferences: Kindle 4

Not only is the Kindle 4 the smaller, lighter device, it is also available to a wider audience right out the door.  By doing away with the English keyboard, Amazon gave themselves an opening to allow language changing in the device’s OS.  If you like to enjoy non-English books for any reason, this can make a difference in avoiding jarring language switching while navigating.  Also, perfect for non-English speakers.  Sadly Amazon has not yet found a good way to allow customers to move from one country to another with their Kindles, which really removes some of the appeal for this feature.  We can hope that this is on the horizon, though.

Price: Kindle 4

This one is probably a bit obvious, but the Kindle 4’s ad supported model is 20% cheaper than the Kindle Keyboard’s.  While they are both incredibly affordable, it’s a factor that many people will want to take into account.  Also, be aware that should you decide to remove the Special Offers feature from your device, it will be $10 cheaper to do so on the Kindle 4.  You are required to pay the difference between ad supported and normal models when you make the switch, which in this case makes a bit of a difference.

Summary

When it comes right down to it, these devices are hard to compare feature for feature because they are essentially the same thing.  The keyboard is nice if you’re the sort of person who uses it (once you get used to it), but most people won’t need it at all.  Unless you have a good use for it, need to use your eReader via 3G due to lack of WiFi connectivity, travel enough (and lightly enough) to have trouble charging more than every 6 weeks or so, or just plain hate the new aluminum casing on the Kindle 4, there isn’t a compelling reason to prefer the Kindle Keyboard.  That said, if you truly want a stand alone device for reading then the Kindle 4’s lack of ease in shopping might be a major problem for you.  Trying to find the book you want using the directional controller to peck at an on screen keyboard is painful and will likely put you off entirely unless you know in advance exactly what book you want to purchase.  There are definitely good cases to be made on both sides of the comparison.

Kindle Touch Review (Pre-release)

As might be obvious based on the posted release dates at this point, it would be very unlikely for me to have a Kindle Touch handy to review right now.  That’s OK!  I won’t let anything as minor as that stop me.  We already have some media to work with, and there’s a lot of information to be gleaned if you look for it.

The basics are still in place, of course.  The display is the usual E INK Pearl screen technology that all current generation eReaders are pretty much required to have.  The battery life is just as good as the Kindle 3 (or the Kindle Keyboard as we’re now supposed to refer to it I suppose) and will give users weeks or months between charges even during periods of heavy use.  The connectivity includes built in WiFi and optional 3G coverage depending on which model you go with.  Storage will remain more than sufficient for carrying a library worth of reading material while also allowing you to offload extra books to the Amazon servers.  Whatever springs to mind when you think “Kindle” will probably be pretty accurate still.

There are obviously a few things that are new and unique to this Kindle family addition, though.  The obvious one is the touch screen.  It will be making use of the increasingly popular IR touch system also utilized by the competing Nook Simple Touch eReader.  This avoids the problems that Sony had with their early touchscreen eReaders, where the extra layer required for the touchscreen reduced readability on the device.  It also allows for the use of gloves, which many of you will be aware can be problematic on devices like the iPad unless you get specialty products to compensate.

Along with the new screen technology, Amazon has clearly sped up the refresh rate on the new Kindle.  It is “optimized with proprietary waveform and font technology”, which I am taking to mean that they have worked out a process to absolutely minimize the refreshed area of the screen during each page turn.  The extra speed is quite noticeable and again seems comparable to the Nook Simple Touch based on the currently available video footage.

The only other immediately obvious difference from the Kindle 3 is the physical presence of the device itself.  The Kindle Touch is smaller, lighter, silver, and lacks any form of mechanical button.  Everything is tied into the touchscreen, so there is no need for anything extraneous.  While the new Kindle 4 without a touchscreen manages to be even smaller and lighter, this is a noticeable improvement over the Kindle 3 and will likely improve long-term reading experiences somewhat.

At a glance, this new addition to the product line is a perfect response to the competition.  It is light, fast, attractive, and has a touchscreen display.  I will admit that I wish there were physical page turn buttons as a matter of personal preference, but that’s hardly a deal breaking factor.  Most of what makes it such an attractive deal, however, is how little they have had to change since the last Kindle.  It seems to basically be a new screen on an old device.

In terms of functional differences in the software, we’re left without much right now.  The EasyReach feature will partition off the screen in such a way as to make page turning more intuitive and less dependent on swiping than might otherwise be the case.  That’s a nice addition.

There is also “X-Ray”.  X-Ray is a feature that will allow users to quickly scan passages containing references to particular keywords while drawing upon information from Wikipedia and Shelfari.  It is hard to anticipate exactly how well this will work in practice, but Amazon has proven fairly adept at making use of predictive algorithms.  While I don’t believe they will be able to, as they claim, find “every important phrase in every book”, this could be a great reference tool.

Annotation may also be significantly improved by the addition of the new input.  Highlighting, placing the cursor, and generally navigating in small motions is problematic on the Kindle Keyboard’s 5-way controller.  It isn’t bad, but it’s too slow to be used as extensively as some may want.

I would claim that the new personal library browsing has been improved by the inclusion of a cover display shelf type of interface, but I don’t really consider this a useful feature.  While for some titles it is perfectly simple to pick out their cover from the crowd, many still have not been optimized for E INK’s monochrome displays.  Even more problematic is the importing of titles from other sources.  If the focus of the Kindle is really going to be the reading experience, highlighting the pretty pictures should not be a major sales point.

While this is only a minor hardware and firmware improvement over the last model and competing devices, it addresses demand and gives customers access to one of the cheapest, most useful eReaders available today.  Keep in mind that the Kindle platform brings huge value to the table as well with the inclusion of Whispersync, library lending(yes I know it’s new and late in coming, but it’s definitely the easiest to use at the moment now that it’s here), cloud storage, and perhaps the most impressive eBook store currently open.

So, is this a better eReader than its main competition in the US?  The Nook Simple Touch is the obvious point for general comparison.  Barnes & Noble took everything they learned from the original Nook, copied a few more things from the Kindle, and created a really fine eReader.  I would say that the playing field has tipped slightly in Amazon’s favor, though.  Not necessarily because of the superior physical properties of the device, but because the Kindle Touch brings equivalent hardware to the table and leaves the Kindle’s superior software and content to win out.  This isn’t to say that a major B&N update can’t change things, but for now they might have a problem with Amazon.

Kindle 4 Cost Breakdown

Recently Andrei managed to thoroughly break a perfectly good new Kindle 4 in his quest for ever more complete understanding of what’s going on inside our favorite devices.  The information and photos accompanying these posts got me thinking about Amazon’s new pricing gambit.  There’s a lot of focus right now on how cheap the Kindle Fire is being sold at, especially in light of the fact that recent reports have Amazon selling it at a loss, but nobody is really talking much about the fact that there is now a fully functional eReader connected to a major platform available for only $80.

Are they still making any money at all, or is this Kindle even more heavily subsidized than the Fire?  Let’s look into it a bit.  I’m not claiming any inside information beyond a working knowledge of searching the Internet, but what I found was fairly interesting.  The component list is based on the disassembly I mentioned:

  • 6″ E INK Display – ED060CF(LF)T1 REN60B7075(C62)
  • ARM Cortex-A8 CPU – MCIMX508CVK8B N78A 8TFC1130E
  • WLAN 802.11 b/g/n – Atheros AR6103T-BM2D 26AR0620.142D PAF284.1B 1126
  • Flash – SanDisk SDIN502-2G
  • Memory – Hynix H5MS2G22AFR E3M 129A
  • E INK Controller(?) – Winbond W25Q40BV
  • Power Management Chip – Texas Instruments SN92009 A4 TI 18IG2 AOR5 G4
  • Battery Controller – Freescale MC13892AJ CQQD129D
  • 30 Day Lithium Polymer Battery – 3.7V, 890mAh, MC-265360
  • Aluminum Case

Some of this was hard to find.  Other bits, like the Atheros AR6103T, don’t really seem to exist as far as the internet is concerned.  Where necessary I’m using best guesses, product families, and superficially equivalent parts for comparison.  After a bit of inquiry, here are the numbers I’m coming up with:

  • Display: $48 (Based on similar 6″ E INK Displays, no bulk pricing calculations)
  • CPU: $13
  • WLAN: $6 (Based on Kindle Fire breakdown by iSuppli. May be cheaper here since performance matters less)
  • Flash: $2.50 (Assuming similarity with previous models)
  • Memory: $1 (Researched as low as $0.01 in bulk orders.  Rounding up)
  • E INK Controller: $9
  • Power Management: $4 (Assuming similarity with previous models)
  • Battery Controller $3.50 (Rounding up from $3.32/1000 units.  Probably cheaper in batches of millions)
  • Battery: $3
  • Case: $5 (Assuming slightly more expensive than older Kindle models based on materials used)
  • Manufacturing Costs: $8 (Based on iSuppli Kindle Fire breakdown)
  • Other Materials: $10 (I’m sure I missed something)
    • Total Costs: $113

Given that I have done my best to be extremely conservative in these estimations, this should probably be considered an upper limit of the actual device costs.  Amazon will probably be quite a bit better at finding component discounts at this point than I am after my 48 hours or so of experience.  Even so, given that the basic model with no Special Offers integration is going for $109, I think I got pretty close.

One of the biggest things that I think we have to keep in mind with this new Kindle is that there is every indication this device is not meant to be serviced under any circumstances.  According to multiple reports so far, it is almost impossible to open the case without damage even if you know exactly what you are doing.  Even if that is accomplished, there was more glue used in this Kindle than makes sense.  It is clearly not meant to be serviced, either by customers or by Amazon themselves.  That means it has to be cheap enough for outright replacement of the hardware in the case of necessary servicing, with salvaging of little more than the E INK screens likely.

With this information, I think it is safe to say that Amazon won’t be throwing any money down a hole by subsidizing the Kindle 4.  They have gone above and beyond to build a new generation of the line that is far more cost effective than before while still offering maximum reading functionality.  Some money was definitely able to be saved by the exclusion of audio and touchscreen capabilities as well, of course.

The largest expense remains the E INK screen, but since this is the essential component of what makes a dedicated eReader worth having, it is hard to underestimate the importance.  You really can’t do without it and as yet I haven’t heard of any worthwhile substitutes.  For the moment this may mean that any further price drops will rely on the success of Kindle-based advertising.  With the baseline model already available for under $100, though, there’s not really much room left to complain about price.

Verdict: Amazon doesn’t loose money on Kindle 4 non-touch. Even with retail component prices, manufacture costs come very close to what device sells for. Kindle with special offers has been around for a while so it is safe to assume that Amazon know how much money they are going to make from advertising in the long run and it is reflected in $30 discount and the fact that you can remove special offers from your device for the same price of $30. It also seems that there is still room left for price reductions in the future.

$80 Kindle 4 Might Be Problematic For Amazon’s School Penetration

It is no secret that Amazon has its eyes on getting Kindles into schools.  That was pretty clear even before the Kindle DX pilot programs and Kindle textbook rentals.  The best part of that for them is that many students and teachers would just love to adopt the new technology.  Unfortunately the issue of accessibility has gotten in the way of such efforts in the past and seem likely to intrude even more so now with the release of the $80 basic Kindle.

The initial efforts to get students and teachers to adopt the Kindle met with some complications.  There are objections to the eReader in general, based on the idea that, since students are trained from early on to highlight and annotate their books while reading actively, they will find themselves less engaged than usual in non-paper books.  This isn’t unreasonable, but it basically amounts to the argument that things shouldn’t change because things have always been this way.  A bit circular.  At best, this side implies that early adoption is essential.

We also get people concerned that a Kindle will be a bad long-term investment due to the stranglehold of the Agency Model on pricing, which results in less substantial savings than seem reasonable.  This was more of a concern in the past, and will probably come up rarely now that an $80 Kindle is available.  The fact that students now have an extremely cheap option open to them that can borrow library books and rent texts from Amazon will likely be a big draw.

Official endorsement, and the potential for textbook replacement that that would provide, is still unlikely.  The legal complication regarding accessibility remains a large one.  Since eBooks cannot provide equal access for the visually impaired, they can’t replace textbooks in most school systems.  The Kindle seemed to be on its way to addressing these concerns with features like Text to Speech, but even that isn’t quite there yet.  It doesn’t help that publishers can turn the feature off, of course.

With the new Kindle’s complete lack of audio capability, the existing objections gain even more traction.  Now even if Amazon did find a reasonable way to address the conversion of print to audio that satisfied opponents, there would still be the problem of it not being applicable to the most affordable level of the price tier system.

If I had to make a guess, honestly, I would say that Amazon seems to have given up on the idea of formal adoption by the school systems.  The new approach, which definitely seems to have more potential, is a direct marketing to the students and parents of students.  It avoids bureaucracy and still manages to save everybody money in the long run.

As eReaders in general and the Kindle in particular become ever more common, it won’t be too hard to get educators to be a bit more open to their presence in the classroom.  Lots has been done to make it more possible, from real page numbers to shared annotation, to make the Kindle more appealing in this market.  They’re not going to abandon it entirely.

Kindle 4 Review

My Kindle 4th generation finally arrived in the mail towards the end of the day. Here is a hands-on review based on my first impressions. If you feel geeky, be sure to check out my Kindle 4 disassembly post.

Although Amazon sticks to not adding numbers to their device names, software on the unit that I’ve received is 4.0 (1308590058). Serial number starts with B00E, leaving B00B, B00C and B00D unaccounted for at this moment. Surely some of the gaps in serial numbers are going to be filled in with Kindle Touch and/or Kindle Fire.

Kindle 4 Setup

Although Kindle 4 comes preconfigured with your Amazon.com account just like previous generation devices, it does ask you a few questions during the initial start-up:

  • Language that you prefer to use. It can later be changed in Device settings. This is a new feature of Kindle software 4.0. You can choose from German, US or UK English, Spanish, French, Italian and Portuguese.
  • Connect to WiFi network. This is essential for getting books and further working with the device since keyboardless Kindle 4 lacks 3G connectivity. Perhaps this feature will stay in Kindle Touch 3G as well. This will encourage more users to use their home WiFi networks to cut 3G costs for Amazon and provide better battery life and faster download times for users.
  • Confirm amazon account to be used with the device. I guess that people often gifted Kindles but still had them initially bound to their own account. This might have created extra customer support calls for Amazon and they decided to address this issue as well. Of course you can always deregister and re-register your Kindle through settings just like before.

Kindle 4 Apps and Games

Ever since the keyboardless device was announced during the press conference in NYC I couldn’t help but wonder: “what will happen to Kindle apps?”. While some of them can get by with only 5-way controller, physical keyboard is essential for many. I wonder no more – applications are disabled in keyboardless Kindle 4. If I were to venture with a guess – they will also be disabled in Kindle Touch. Touchscreen is nice, but it would still be cumbersome to use in Kindle games and apps that rely on keyboard shortcuts. It looks like Kindle Fire games and apps are “going to be the way of the future”. Rather than letting customers have a sub-par experience, Amazon decided to cut the feature altogether. Although most apps don’t work on the new device, some do. Amazon has inspected apps and certified some as compatible with devices that don’t have a keyboard. For example you can get “Jewels” and “Grid Detective” on Kindle 4 and play these games. Amazon will work with app developers to make as many existing titles compatible with Kindle 4 as possible. The same will be true with Kindle Touch once it is released. It will have a separate certification program of its own.

What is new in Kindle 4?

In terms of software – not a whole lot… Here are the things that I’ve noticed so far:

  • UI language selection. You can change Kindle UI language in the device settings. Doing so causes the device to restart. Please not that it only affects menu and UI language. Dictionary lookup will still be based on the dictionary that you currently have installed. By default this is English Oxford. If you would like to use translation dictionary (including translation from different languages) – take a look at selection of dictionaries that we offer.
  • Menus were cleaned up a bit in PDF viewer. Irrelevant controls are completely hidden rather than shown as disabled.
  • Power button is now pressable rather than slideable. Personally I like pressing more. Perhaps this is because sliding the button though zip-lock when reading in bath tub is a pain.

Kindle 4 vs Kindle 3

On the other hand, several features that were present in Kindle 3 are missing in Kindle 4:

  • Hardware keyboard. This is the most noticeable change and it truly is a double-edged sword. On one hand I really appreciate reduced weight and size while retaining the same 6″ screen (while Sony PRS-350 is lighter still, it has smaller screen that may be harder to read if your eyesight is not perfect). On the other hand you never truly know what you had until you loose it. And loosing a keyboard is a major inconvenience. While most of the time you use Kindle for reading and the only button you care about is “Next page”, you do need to type text from time to time:
    • To find already purchased book in your “archived items”.
    • To find a new book in Amazon Kindle Store and purchase it. I’m pretty sure that Amazon will soon notice reduced book purchases from keyboardless devices. And this reduction can only be partially attributed to more frugal audience. Buying books without keyboard is less convenient. On the other hand, having WiFi and not needing a PC is still a whole lot more convenient than Sony way of buying books via PC.
    • To do a quick google/wikipedia search if you don’t feel like getting up and using your other Internet connected devices
    • To use apps. Especially productivity apps like Calendar and Notepad
  • Kindle Apps are disabled. Only limited number of apps are supported at the moment.
  • There is no audio at all. Not even a headphone jack. This eliminates “text-to-speech” “read-to-me” feature and “voice guide” accessibility. It is also not possible to listen to background MP3s while reading a book or listen to audiobooks. While small – this is still an inconvenience.
  • There is no 3G version. Accessing WiFi on the go can be problematic sometimes and I would have gladly paid extra $50 for lifetime 3G and assurance that I’ll be able to get new books pretty much anywhere. According to my Kindle 4 disassembly, there is plenty of space inside to accomodate 3G modem and larger battery to feed it. So it seems that this choice was made either to cut costs or/and to make purchasing Kindle Touch more desirable.

Kindle  4 Ergonomics

Kindle 4 is one inch shorter and 1.5 ounces lighter than Kindle Keyboard. Personally I find lighter and smaller better. I don’t think that Kindle 4 is too small. While buttons are easily reachable in the center where they are, it would have been easier if they were shifted to the right. This would have made the device much less convenient for left-handed people of course. Page turning buttons are smaller than in K3. Initially I found Kindle 3 buttons uncomfortable. I’ve grown used to them since and not I don’t have a problem with either Kindle 4 or Kindle 3 buttons.

Kindle 4 Accessories

When buying Kindle 4 from Amazon you have the option of adding following items to your order:

  • Power adapter. If you plan to travel a lot – do get it. It is much more convenient to charge from the AC outlet than keep you laptop running just to let your Kindle charge via USB. If you already have USB charger for your smartphone or similar device it will most likely work with Kindle. Or maybe you will want to be the cool kid on the block and go with solar USB charger
  • Leather cover (no light)
  • Zip Sleeve to protect your Kindle from scratches.
  • 2-year squaretrade extended warranty. $25 warranty on $79 device that already has one year of top-notch Amazon support (with polite customer reps and cross-shipping replacements) doesn’t seem like a good deal to me.

Accessories

Lighted cover power connectors have moved to the back and became more exposed. So don’t throw powered on Kindle in a bag with lots of metallic things – they might short out the battery. When Kindle is powered on there is 4 volt on these contacts next to the power button and USB.

Kindle 4 Connectors

Kindle 4 Connectors

Bottom line

If you are choosing between Kindle 4 and Kindle 3 – choose based on how important to you is reduced size vs lack of apps, audio, 3G and keyboard. If these features are not important to you – you should get Kindle 4 and enjoy it’s compact size. Otherwise get Kindle Keybaord (K3) for $20 more which is a great device to begin with.

Kindle Touch, Kindle Fire – New Amazon devices announced…

Today, on September 28th, 2011, during Amazon press conference in New York, Jeff Bezos has announced several new versions of the Kindle Device: Kindle Touch, Kindle Fire and Kindle 4 mini.

Kindle Touch

 

Kindle Touch 3G

Will have a 6″ latest generation eInk. There will be no keyboard, not even page flipping buttons, with all features accessible via “easy reach” system touch interface. Touchscreen uses the same infrared technology as latest generation Sony eReaders. Kindle Touch is made of silver plastic (again similar to latest Sony eReaders). It will be available on November 21st with pre-orders starting today in two flavors – WiFi only for less than a $100.00 (!!!!) -$99 and 3G for $149. Amazon is pretty consistent with charging $50 for “lifetime unlimited 3G access available in over 100 countries”. It seems like the software has gotten an upgrade as well with the new X-Ray feature that lets you do rich text lookups that go beyond looking up single words in the dictionary. It seems to pull Wikipedia description of general concepts mentioned on the page you are currently reading.

Features and specs:

Kindle 4 (mini)

Kindle 4 mini

Same 6″ screen, but no touch, no keyboard, only with page flipping buttons. Because of this the device is both very compact and inexpensive. It is 18 smaller than Kindle 3 and weights under 6 ounces. Priced at only $79 with Special Offers and $109 without and shipping today. The device is actually called just “Kindle”, with Kindle 3 being creatively renamed into “Kindle Keyboard”.

Specs and feature:

  • Latest generation eInk Pearl screen (600×800 16 grayscale) – same as Kindle 3
  • Size: 6.5″ x 4.5″ x 0.34″
  • Weight: 5.98 oz. This is 2.5 ounces lighter than Kindle 3, and only 0.5 ounce more than Sony PRS-350
  • Storage: 2GB internal flash, with 1 1/4 GB available for user content
  • RAM: 512MB SDRAM memory
  • Battery: 1 month battery life
  • Wireless connectivity: 802.11b/g/n WiFi. No 3G option available at this time
  • Wired connectivity: micro-B USB 2.0 connector
  • Audio: headphone jack and built-in stereo speakers
  • Pricing:
  • Available: Can Order Now!

Kindle Fire

Kindle Fire Tablet

Amazon’s entry into the tablet market, currently dominated by Apple iPad. Kindle Fire features:

  • 7-inch color backlit LCD display based on IPS technology that allows good viewing from wide range of angles
  • LCD is protected with extra-strong Gorilla-glass.
  • Dual core ARM CPU
  • Weighs 14.6 ounces
  • Runs heavily modified version of Android operating system

Kindle Fire will have direct and easy access to a broad range of content:

  • First and foremost – over 1,000,000 (and counting…) of Kindle eBooks
  • Color versions of newspapers and magazines
  • 100,000 movies and TV shows streaming from Amazon. 11,000 of these are available for free to Amazon Prime subscribers
  • 17 million DRM-free MP3 songs
  • Amazon’s own Android app store.

Kindle Fire seems to rely heavily on Amazon Cloud Storage.

Same WhisperSync technology that synchronizes book reading position across multiple devices now works with movies and TV shows – it automatically remembers last watched position. You can resume watching the movie on your TiVo or any other Amazon-connected streaming video device.

Touch UI supports swipe gestures to bring out extra controls, very similar to Windows 8 concept. It looks nothing like vanilla Android. Homescreen features 3D carousel of most recently accessed content regardless of it’s type: in the demo Angry Birds game is shown right next to the latest issue of Vanity Fair magazine and Kindle eBooks. OS supports multitasking. So you can listen to music while you are reading a book. You can pin any kind of content (including a website bookmark) to your Home screen bookshelf. Full color magazine display seems to be much smoother than with original version of Nook Color.

Browser user interface has tabs at the top. Kindle Fire features Amazon Silk – “cloud based mobile browser”. The browser automatically off-loads part of the page parsing and rendering to Amazon EC2 servers, helping the mobile device to load desktop oriented websites heavy with dynamic content and javascript quickly.

Price point is $199 as was previously announced. This includes 30-day trial of Amazon Prime service that normally sells as $79/year subscription. Kindle Fire ships on November 15th, 2011 with pre-orders starting today.

Specs and features:

  • Screen: 7″ backlit IPS LCD with multi-touch and gestures. 1024 x 600 resolution with 24 bit color
  • Size: 7.5″ x 4.7″ x 0.45″
  • Weight: 14.6 oz. This is 1.2 lighter than Nook Color
  • Storage: 8GB internal flash memory. No expansion slots (SD/MMC/etc) are available. It does however have access to Amazon Cloud Storage which is unlimited for Amazon content
  • Battery: Up to 8 hours on a single charge. Very similar to Nook Color. There is no cheating laws of physics there.
  • Wireless connectivity: 802.11b/g/n. No 3G option at this time
  • Wired connectivity: micro-B USB 2.0 connector
  • Audio: headphone jack and built-in stereo speakers
  • Data formats: on top of supporting the usual bunch that Kindle 3 supports, Kindle Fire adds native support for DOCX and a number of DRM-free audio-formats
  • OS: heavily modified Android
  • Sensors: Accelerometer
  • Digital content:
    • 1,000,000+ in-copyright books. 800,000+ of these are priced at $9.99 or below. Millions more – out of copyright
    • 100,000+ movies and TV shows available for streaming
    • 1000s of Android apps. This is only a subset of what’s available for Android. On the other hand, acceptance criteria is much higher so overall app quality is much better than you average Android app. Nook, Kobo app availability… I’m guessing not.
    • 17,000,000+ DRM-free Mp3 songs from Amazon MP3 store
  • Email client that works with major providers like Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo, AOL, etc. Additional email support is available though apps that can be separately purchased.
  • One month trial of Amazon Prime.
  • Pricing: $199
  • Availability: Ships on November 15, 2011. Pre-orders available now.

Amazon Kindle Fire TV ad

Size comparison

I’ve added these new devices to the eReader Size Comparison page. So now you can visually compare how they stack.

  • Kindle Mini is smaller than Sony PRS-350 while featuring same buttons and screen size.
  • Kindle Touch is smaller than Nook Color again while featuring the same screen diagonal.

Kindle Hardware Update Likely, Color eReader Not So Much

A combination of the high expectations surrounding the upcoming Amazon Kindle Tablet and the lack of substantial information regarding the expected hardware update to the existing Kindle eReader line has led to some speculation about secretly substantial change being just around the corner for the bestselling eReading device.  Domain name acquisitions have pushed some people into a belief in the importance of a touchscreen for the Kindle, but more ambitious sources are holding out hope for a truly impressive jump forward.  Wouldn’t having the first affordable Color E INK eReader be quite the coup for Amazon, after all?  It would certainly make the Nook Simple Touch a bit less shiny by comparison.

Still, and I say this with nothing but regret, there is next to no chance that we will be getting a true Kindle Color any time soon.  Sure the Kindle Tablet will have the ability to read, but only in the same way that the Nook Color or your average smartphone can technically be an eReader if the user so desires.  Until screen technology advances a bit further, nobody is likely to want to gamble on a good color reading display.

The problem right now is the tradeoffs.  To make a Kindle Color worthwhile, Amazon would need to have a vibrant color display that didn’t detract from the existing touted benefits of the Kindle’s display.  That means you can’t have a back-light, high battery draw, or less than crisp text.  Nothing currently being produced meets all those criteria while still being affordable enough to keep things competitive.  If they did, the Kindle Tablet would be looking at such a screen and would have a significant advantage over every other Tablet PC on sale today.

Naturally something has to give.  The Kindle device is going strong at the moment, but that’s mostly sue to a combination of momentum and strong backing from the platform as a whole.  If the hardware faces too much competition that can match or surpass it, Kindle sales and by extension Kindle eBook sales will suffer.  Amazon has to know this.  As such, I would say that getting your hopes up for an updated Kindle is totally safe.

What can we expect if not a color screen?  Well, a touchscreen is inevitable to match the competition from B&N, Sony, and Kobo, if nothing else.  Given the Kindle Scribe rumors, it wouldn’t be at all shocking if a stylus were included in the design.  Since nobody else is using 3G coverage Amazon could technically let that slip, but the recent ad deal with AT&T would seem to indicate that they value the ability to bring that sort of thing to customers.  Beyond these things, however, it’s anybody’s guess.  Higher resolution screens?  Bluetooth?  Strange magical powers?  All possibilities!

Current speculation places the updated Kindle‘s release in late October, but that information is several weeks old now.  Given the most recent Kindle Tablet developments, and the fact that Amazon is likely to emphasize the new branch of Kindle products heavily for this holiday season, we may not be seeing new Kindles before late November.  More updates will show up here as we dig them up.

Kindle Scribe: Something To Get Excited About?

While there have been some fairly substantial revelations recently regarding the Kindle Tablet, we haven’t been hearing much about the next generation of Kindle eReader.  It’s understandable, given the potential for some really great Kindle vs iPad competition in the near future, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t anything else going on.  Jeff Bezos said at one point that Amazon will remain mindful of their customers’ desire to always have a dedicated eReading device, and I think we can expect them to follow up on the Kindle 3 in a fairly substantial way.

Perhaps the biggest source for speculation regarding the Kindle lately has been the discovery of some domain names secretly registered by Amazon.  Using a hole in Go Daddy’s security, since remedied, interested researchers were able to figure out that they had acquired “kindlescribe.com” and “kindlescribes.com”.  This has, as might be expected, led to quite a few people being fairly sure they know the name and focus of the next Kindle eReader.

At best, I would say this might be half right.  While the Kindle is long overdue for some intuitive and immersion-maintaining method for annotation, I can’t see the addition of a stylus being an important enough addition for Amazon to base an entire generation of their devices on.  It will probably be present as soon as there is a touchscreen to make use of, which I think we can all agree is an inevitability for any new eReader Amazon comes up with at this point, but as a focal point it would just be underwhelming.

What does make sense is a Kindle Scribe(s) service that allows for tighter integration of the Kindle and Kindle Tablet.  One of the biggest problems that the company faces with their entry into the tablet market is that of avoiding cannibalizing their own eReader sales while still maintaining strong competitive advantages.  If the only way to either access or produce hand-written noted in eBooks turns out to be via the Kindle line of devices, not only does value go up compared to the competition in both categories, but the fact that your notes can be shared between the two would encourage dual ownership for a number of applications.  If for no other reason than that a stylus will be equally useful with either new device, there’s no reason to expect a Kindle Scribe eReader.

This isn’t the first time we have heard about potential naming schemes for new Kindle incarnations, of course.  The same source also discovered “kindleair.com” and “kindlewave.com” several months ago, which led to speculation of an earth, wind, and water theme for the next big Amazon device roll out.  For all we know, those will have some applicable meaning when release day comes around too.

While none of this is set in stone and nobody outside of Amazon can really say for sure what is going to come along in the next generation of Kindles, we do know that it’s coming.  Speculation about release dates has been growing, rumors are spreading, and Amazon is selling off refurbished Kindle models for as little as $99 everywhere they can think of to clear stock before the new device is ready to go.  It’s only a matter of time now.

Refurbished Kindles Cause Customer Dilemma

I am unable to really express how often over the last year or two I have heard from people the idea that the Kindle will never hit it big until they get their pricing under the hundred dollar mark.  This has not stopped the Kindle from becoming overwhelmingly popular, but it makes a great talking point for people who want to argue for discounts or claim Tablet PC superiority in eReading.  Finally, however, we can have an end to the idea’s repetition.  There is now a Refurbished Kindle available for just $99. There are other factors involved that might make this a deal worth waiting on, though.

The $99 pricing seems appealing and probably will sway a few people.  I seem to recall that discounted refurbs toward the end of the Kindle 2’s life cycle did the same.  Still, before you jump on it, it is important to keep in mind what this move is likely to imply.  Rumors abound, both substantial and completely speculative, about the upcoming next generation of Kindle products.  We can be almost 100% sure that they will be showing up in the next three months, but beyond that there is little total certainty due to the expected overlapping release of the first Kindle Tablet and the difficulties inherent in trying to pick through the bits of information we have to determine which bit goes to which device.  Given competition in the eReader marketplace alongside some business moves that Amazon has made lately, though, we can make some pretty solid assumptions.

Amazon will, it can be assumed, be releasing a new touchscreen Kindle.  It is very, very likely that it will run Android in some form.  There are certain to be several incarnations of it to allow for choice between WiFi, 3G, ad support, and the combinations thereof that we have become accustomed to.  It is very unlikely that the new Kindle baseline model will cost more than the $114 currently being asked for the cheapest brand new Kindle on sale right this minute.

The question potential customers have to ask, then, is what factors matter in their choice.  If this is meant to show Amazon that you will not support Kindles over $100, then it is a good way to put your money into making your point while still getting a great product.  If you are in a hurry and don’t feel like waiting to get the new Kindle, then it makes sense to pick up one of these.  Never any harm in grabbing a refurbished product from a company that is known to have excellent customer service.  If you don’t have a point to make and aren’t in a rush, however, I can’t see that holding back to see how well the Kindle 4/Kindle Touch/Kindle Whatevertheycallit stacks up compared to the competition.  There’s no reason to believe that there won’t still be Kindle 3 refurbs and back stock sitting around by then anyway, probably discounted even further or sold through Woot.com.  While there are rumors going around that many customers will be getting brand new Kindles labeled as refurbished in order to be sneaky about their official new product announcement, it is hard to see Amazon running out completely in the next couple weeks.

New Amazon Kindles Coming This October?

In all of the speculation about the potential for a Kindle Tablet release later this year, few people have speculated much on the future of the Kindle itself.  Possibly we’re simply running out of good ideas to improve the device without causing a problem with the streamlined user experience?  Whatever the reason, we now have news that there are indeed two completely new Kindles on the way.  A recent Wall Street Journal article has indicated, based on sources familiar with the matter, that this October we can expect to be seeing both a newer, cheaper Kindle of the type we are already used to, and a Kindle with a touchscreen.

While at a glance the Kindle Touch, or whatever Amazon chooses to call it, seems to be a reaction to the incredibly popular new Nook Simple Touch, the timing makes that less of an issue.  October is also the anticipated release month for the first piece in the new Kindle Tablet line.  Many people have been wondering if this meant the death of the Kindle, either by way of abandonment in favor of the newer product, or simply by eroding the existing customer base by offering an affordable alternative that does more than can be handled by existing eReaders.  The latter is far-fetched, since customers have shown a distinct appreciation for dedicated reading devices so far and seem more inclined toward dual-ownership rather than abandonment of the Kindle in favor of any tablet.  The former was a concern, but by launching the new Kindles at the same time as the Kindle Tablet, Amazon has the opportunity to provide what I assume will be their first sub-$100 eReader, as well as a new more advanced model, and thereby reaffirm their commitment to providing a dedicated reading experience for their Kindle customers.

Assuming that Amazon can be counted on to take advantage of the time remaining before the release to address any remaining shortcomings in their design as compared to the competition, such as the Nook’s current superiority in terms of speed boosts and social networking integration, these new Kindles can’t really help but make a splash.  The move at least partially away from the physical keyboard will even leave open the potential for true localization of the newer model without retooling the hardware for every country they decide to open a Kindle Store in.  The fact that many expect the Kindle Tablet to come with a customized front end for the Amazon.com site that is geared toward optimized tablet shopping will almost certainly bode well for the new Kindle as well, should it prove true.

It isn’t going to be the color E Ink eReader that many people were, I think, hoping for.  It would just be too much of a shock to see the price of the Kindle’s newest model jump to accommodate the higher production costs of something like that.  That does not mean that the Kindle Tablet won’t pick up the ball as far as that demand is concerned, though.  Time will tell what needs Amazon has chosen to prioritize, but it is heartening to see that they won’t be letting eReading become a minor aspect of their bigger media distribution effort.