Product: Amazon International Kindle
System Specifications: 6-inch screen, e-ink, 16-level grayscale, 167 ppi, 2GB, microUSB, HDSPA, EDGE, 3G
Price: $259, £158 plus shipping
AMAZON'S BEST SELLING electronic ebook reader has gone international, which basically means its second generation model can now be purchased in over 100 different countries around the world with a built-in HSDPA modem and SIM card for receiving e-content.
It has taken nearly two years for the online reseller giant to bring its popular ebook reader to the UK, while the Kindle is now on its third generation in the United States. Since its first incarnation the Kindle has gone through several changes, from having a 6-inch, 4-level grey scale graphical display and 250MB of memory to the latest large screened DX version with a 9.7-inch display and 4GB of memory.
The international version is Amazon's second edition of the Kindle, which replaces the original version and has the same 16-level gray scale as the DX version only on a 6-inch screen, with half the memory at 2GB or around 1,500 ebooks. One of the reported reasons why the Kindle took so long to reach the UK was down to the hunt for partners for its global roaming, as the ebook reader has a built-in SIM card for its HSDPA modem for delivering Amazon's DRM books, magazines and newspapers.
This has now been resolved, as the international Kindle version can have content delivered over GPRS, EDGE and 3G networks free of charge via its global roaming setup. There's no word as yet on how long this will last, or if it needs to be renewed annually, as Amazon is keeping shtum on the matter despite our many requests for this information. As it stands Amazon has stated that 360,000 books are available from its website, with over 85 US and international newspapers and magazines, all of which can be delivered effortlessly to the Kindle. However not all titles on Amazon in the USA are available in the UK, especially bestselling titles such as Dan Brown's latest book, which we were denied sending to our Kindle just before payment.
The Amazon ebook reader has a slightly larger footprint than the average paperback at 203mm in length and 135mm in width, so the device fits comfortably in a over-coat pocket, briefcase or purse. It's thinner than a magazine at 9.14mm thick and weighs 289grams. Other ebook readers with comparable screen sizes are fairly similar in their overall dimensions, although the screen on the Kindle seems sharp with its 167ppi resolution even though other devices claim higher ppi counts.
Getting content onto the Kindle requires using the data cable or the built-in modem as it has no WiFi or SD card slot. One can buy content from the reselling giant from either Amazon's website or the Kindle book store. The Kindle is linked to an Amazon user account at all times, and your payment for content is taken as if you were using the website on a PC. This is all well and good, but if the device is stolen or lost a large bill can be run up, as the Kindle isn't password protected nor is the account on the device.
The Kindle's screen detail and clarity of text are displayed very well, much better than on the Sony ebook readers or Irex devices we've seen. It comes close enough to the actual printed work more than ever before, which might help gain the favour of Luddites who resist venturing down the electronic book route. Operating the Kindle is all very straight-forward, even for people who are new to ebook readers. If you can operate a mobile phone to make a call and type an SMS, you can operate the Kindle.
There are a few key physical buttons on the Kindle, such as the main ‘home' button. This takes you to the Kindle's content screen which indexes Amazon's delivered ebooks or text and PDF files that have been manually added, as those are all the formats natively available to the device. There are two ‘next page' buttons on the device, curiously, one on the left side and another one on the right . Presumably these are to address both left and right handed folks who have their own preferences for turning pages.
The Kindle's menu button offers access to the Kindle Store, which is a lite version of the Amazon ebook ordering webpage for getting books onto the device. One of the attractive aspects about the content on offer is that most of the available books offer the first chapter for free, for you to read before you buy the entire book. Within the first few hundred words you can usually gather if it's a book worth reading, rather than wasting money and time persevering through a book you wish you hadn't bought in the first place. We have heard there is a surcharge added to all ebooks bought from Amazon on the International version of the Kindle to cover global roaming costs for the device and content delivery over partner networks. This isn't obvious to the end user, as it's worked into the initial cost of the book if purchased from outside of the US. At press time Amazon has yet to comment on this, despite our many INQuiries.
There are some aspects of the International version of the Kindle that, er, do not work internationally. These stem from both hardware and software issues, and proved to be a bit of a letdown when it came to using the Amazon ebook reader. The first issue is the web browser, which is accessible from the menu button on the Kindle. Whenever we tried to use the browser we were presented with the error message "Due to local restrictions, web browsing is not available for all countries". This is down to Amazon having crippled full global roaming access on the Kindle. After wandering through all of the bookmarks on the device we managed to find just one working, the mobile version of Wikipedia. This puzzled us no end, as to why Amazon would intentionally block all the offered websites, including its own, whilst allowing Wikipedia access. We're still awaiting a reply from Amazon as to why it did this, and remain perplexed.
One of the other more astonishing issues has to do with power. Supplied with the Amazon Kindle is a power adaptor to charge the device, only it's a USA adaptor and not one for the UK. Luckily we're used to this happening and we have a trusty supply of power convertors and adaptors, but most people will not. The data connection for the device is by a microUSB port, so an accompanying USB data cable will suffice as a way of charging in a pinch, but it's not the most ideal solution as a PC has to be powered on to recharge the Kindle.
Below the screen is a keyboard that can be used for entering queries on Wikipedia searches, with the additional possibilities of creating bookmarks and notes surrounding text on an ebook. It's a decent enough keyboard for text entry although we feel it isn't capitalised on enough. We would have liked to have seen a lightweight text editor for creating documents or even accessing Google docs.
The Kindle's battery life seems to be very good, greater than we initially had expected. After reading a couple of lengthy books over the period of a week, along with general use of the device, we only needed to charge the reader at the end of the last day. Turning off the device's modem reportedly can add a week to the Kindle's battery life. All of which means there's a decent amount of reading time to be had in between recharges, for surely the last thing you want is for an ebook to lose power in the middle of a gripping chapter.
There are a lot of ebook readers around today, far more than when the first Kindle came out in the US back in 2007. The key to the Kindle and the International version is the vast array of content on offer by Amazon. Along with how easy it is to receive content over its in-built SIM card and free global roaming without the need for a PC to get involved, this is the major selling point for the device. How versatile it is as a great ebook reader for different file formats is open to debate, since the Kindle can only access a limited number of formats as the likes of the open source ePub are missing and it's therefore almost solely reliant on Amazon for content. This isn't such a bad thing if you buy a lot of books, as the ebook versions are considerably cheaper and Amazon's prices are in dollars too, where money can be saved in the long run. The Kindle comes without any content whatsoever, while for a better user experience it should tip up with a few ebooks or at the very least some public domain books. Perhaps Amazon could even offer up an all-you-can-read buffet book deal for the Kindle, or for every physical book purchased a free Kindle version just to lure people to its otherwise decent ebook reader. µ
Decent ebook reader, 3G data connection built in, Amazon content.
Missing SD slot from original Kindle, lack of WiFi, no UK plug, limited file formats.
Web browsing badly crippled on international version, no content on arrival.