Product Type: Amazon Tablet PCs / eBook Readers
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Seemingly infinite books at my fingertips
Amazon Kindle 3
Member Name: beckyX
Amazon Kindle 3
Date: 28/12/10, updated on 30/05/11 (172 review reads)
Advantages: Great for reading books, light, cheap, 3G functionality great
Disadvantages: Books themselves are pricey, navigation is very hard, keyboard is hard to use
==What is a kindle?==
A kindle is an e-book reader. For technophobes amongst you, don't worry, it's a very simple and convenient way of reading books electronically. It's not at all like reading a computer monitor - no eye strain here, and the screen is very similar to reading paper. It's very light and can store thousands of books and other documents, which makes it great for taking on trips.
==What does it look like?==
The kindle is a rectangular tablet device, dark grey in colour with a large pale grey screen taking up most of the device. A tiny, fiddly keyboard is below the screen. At the base is a sliding switch to turn it off and on nad a headphone socket and miniature USB socket to connect it to the computer.
==What size is it?==
It weighs only 241 grammes (about half a pound), which as they proclaim is less than a paperback. However, if weight is an issue you will need to pick your case carefully - some of these are pretty heavy in comparison.
In size, it is 190mm x 123mm x 8.5mm (about seven inches by five by half an inch deep) with a screen that is six inches at the diagonal. The rest of the device is taken up with the keyboard.
The 3G model of kindle costs £149 (to be compared with the wifi only one which is £109). If you get the 3G version, it gives free 3G access for immediate download of books without a contract or monthly fees.
==What is the difference between 3G and wireless versions?==
With the wifi version, you only have wireless access to downloading books if you are in the range of any wifi networks that you have access to. And if you are not at home, this is likely to cost money and may be few and far between. And books can also be transferred via USB cable in either version.
However, if you have 3G, then you have wireless access in much the same way as your mobile phone does - think of the kindle as a bit like a mobile phone but instead of making voice calls or texting, you can download books instead. It has a backup signal of the GPS network. The coverage varies over the world, but in the UK I have found it to be comparable to my telephone. I will update my review with my findings as I travel. Unlike your phone however, the kindle does not have any monthly fees for downloading books or browsing the web. However, it is easy to accidentally spend money other ways by buying too many books!
Being able to download books for free internationally was a big selling point for me, I am crossing my fingers that I will be able to use the web browser internationally as well!
==Setting it up==
I ordered it from my amazon account which meant it was pre-set up with my details, though they are very simple to change via the options menu as I found out when I was setting it up with email addresses.
Most of the instructions were in the online manual rather than a paper one - all it had with it was a small concertina-folded piece of cardboard with some basic options on it. The online manual is immense and I still find myself looking things up on it.
All I had to do to start using it was charge it up and switch it on and I could order books over the 3G connection. I added several amazon vouchers to my account to fund my book purchases. Credit card is the normal way, but I try to limit myself as I have poor impulse control. To my never ending shame, it only takes a glass of wine before I think it's a fabulous idea to download the latest Dan Brown! That's what I tell my friends anyway!
The wifi setup is a little bit frustrating if you have any non-alphabetic symbols as they are so fiddly to enter. The additional characters available are very limited and in one case I found that it did not have all the non-alphabetic characters needed for a wifi key. But I have succeeded in connecting it to two of the three networks I tried to. The third was running an incompatible wifi network.
Moving about the screen is via 4-way cursor keys with a central selector to highlight or enter to the side of the keyboard not via a touch screen. It moves a few cm each time if it is in web browser mode or a row at a time if it is in home/menu/book mode. Moving between pages is via the page forward and back buttons to the side of the kindle.
The home page is the start point. It contains a list of all the books you own. Because they quickly run over multiple pages, I have put mine into collections which sit at the top of the list. From here, to read a book, just navigate down using the cursor keys. All I do is navigate down to the book I want and hit enter to open it, where it opens it at the point I left off.
There is a menu accessible via its own button that changes its content depending on what you are doing at the time. It offers special kindle options, a link to the kindle store to buy books, functionality to jump to a certain point in the book, view book marks, and switch off wifi (saves the battery).
Buying books is a function enabled on the menu of most pages. It takes you to the kindle store at amazon, which is a simplified version of the amazon website with pages containing the kindle books, magazines and newspaper optionss. It is only too easy to buy books - just pick the one you want and click the buy option (selected by default!) and you've bought it. Fortunately it has an undo option if you click on the wrong one! There are many free books available from Amazon (which has its own free book section). Also many books are out of copyright and can be downloaded freely and legally from places like the Project Gutenberg website.
Usually when I buy a book, by the time I have gone back to my home page, it has finished downloading (in a few seconds). When the signal is very bad, it has taken a couple of minutes.
==Cost of books==
Prices vary for the books - there are many free ones, but most you would pay for especially if they are in copyright. The most expensive book I have bought so far was about 10 pounds. Most of the books I read are the most recent books still in hard back for about 8-10 pounds, but most books that are more than six months old are still usually about 5-6 pounds.
I think they might have priced themselves a bit high in this regard - I find this to be quite expensive compared with charity book shop prices for paper versions of books given that you don't get a paper copy. I think that if they were 2-3 pounds a book I would end up spending much more overall as I would not even think twice about buying a book speculatively and so would just buy it! When it is 8 pounds, I check to see if it is a book I would really like first before I buy it and get far fewer. Plus I can't easily and legally swap books around with my friends or loan them to people in the same way I would do with a paper copy, which means that books from new authors are less likely to spread amongst groups of book lovers like at present.
I don't use any of the subscription options (for blogs, journals, newspapers etc) that they have which cost a few pounds a week each - you can get electronic versions downloasded to your kindle automatically. But when I had paper versions, I never would get through them either, so it just seems like a waste of money for someone like me!
I have found the keyboard very hard to use. The keys are extremely small and round. Only the main keys and a few symbols are on the keyboard. The rest of the symbols are accessed via a symbols button bringing up a special screen, which you have to navigate via the cursor button.
I found that typing anything which needs lots of numbers or symbols (e.g. a web page URL or a wifi key) is an exercise in frustration and takes two or three goes!
The feel of the device is rubbery and has an almost gritty texture, which makes it non-slip. I found the tactile sensation to be a little unpleasant at first, but I did get used to it. Putting it in a cover fixed this problem!
The screen has an E-ink pearl display. It is a light grey in colour and the words appear on it in black. It has anti-glare technology meaning it can be read even in bright sunlight.
As mentioned in other sections, it does not have a touch screen that you can use to navigate. I have covered it with screen protectors because all my friends like to poke the screen because they assume it is like their iPhone. I think the usability of the kindle would be vastly improved if it were to have a touch sensitive screen.
The kindle has a 3GB capacity for books and other material (4GB total including the OS and software) and can contain over 3000 books at one time (books and text are pretty tiny in general), and amazon backs up all your purchases that you make from them on their servers, so if you have ten thousand books, you can keep most of them on their server and re-download them as and when needed.
==Reading a book==
I found reading a book to be its best option (just as well really!). All I needed to do was select it in the list from the home page, click to open it, then press the page forward (or back) buttons to the side of the device in order to change page. It has both forward and back buttons on each of the right and left side of the device, which several of my friends found confusing (they thought it should be forward on the right, back on the left).
When you change page, it makes the screen go black then displays the next page. I found the flickering as this happened very annoying at first. When you navigate on the web browser or on the home page, it does not do a complete refresh meaning you get a lot of ghosting.This method of displaying and updating is part of the E-Ink technology which is integral for its long battery life.
==The experimental web browser==
As it does not have a touch screen or a mouse, the experimental web browser is rather difficult to navigate and hard to operate. Which is presumably why it's marked as experimental! However, it is currently free, and if you have 3G enabled kindle, this means that you can do free web browsing anywhere there is a phone signal in the UK at least. I have found that navigating web pages uses up the Kindle's battery very quickly, because each page I need to get to needs three or four redraws to get through each screen.
==Reading Spanish books==
One of the things I use my kindle for is to read books in Spanish for my evening class. I bought an additional dictionary which I set up the kindle to use as its primary dictionary. Now when I read the book, if there is a word I don't know, I just cursor to it and it automatically looks it up in the dictionary and displays a translation at the top/bottom of the screen. This proves very handy in class!
However, the lack of ability to do accented characters is a MASSIVE drawback in my opinion. Without accented characters, searching does not work! So the ability to search books in foreign languages (something I do a lot in Spanish class) is pretty dire.
You can annotate the books you read with comments. All you do is scroll to the right place and select it with the cursor keys, then use the keyboard to write your notes. It also lets you share comments with other people and see the comments other people have written. I don't make much use of this facility, but it is handy to have it.
==The reading voice==
One of my favourite things to do to make friends laugh is to set the E-book to the voice mode and get it to read out poetry, something it is terrible at. The voice makes that of Stephen Hawking and the worst railway station announcement sound harmonic, smelodic and rhythmic in comparison. It comes in a male version and a female version and there is little difference between them in terms of their acting performance.
It does not come with a case, so you will have to buy one separately (or make it yourself). The cases are a bit on the pricey side in my opinion - a leather one with a light costs 50 pounds! I got a natural hemp one for less than half that price.
==Changing size of text==
The kindle has the option to switch between several different sizes of text. On kindle azw formats, it will re-wrap the text properly and increase the number of pages of the book.
However, when it is a pdf format, it does not re-wrap. Instead you zoom pages. This means that to read a pdf, I found that I need to set the screen of the kindle to display sideways and view half a page at a time. As well as sideways and right way up, you can also set the display to show up side down. I do not use this upside down function much.
==Synching on other media==
I also have an iPhone, and have the kindle app on it. I find it really useful to be able to just open the same book on either device and just be able to start where I left off - it automatically synchs with the server when I open it on the other one and tells me that it is doing so. I played around with it and it is only the furthest in the book you have read that it synchs, so if I flick back, it stores the further one.
When you buy books, you send them to one device only. It can be a bit annoying to have to force it to download the books on the second device.
==What else can I read on it?==
You can transfer PDFs over to it by emailing it to a special kindle account. These are downloaded to your kindle over wifi for free, or over 3G (this costs money). Or you can also transfer them with a USB cable to the computer.
One option is to convert PDFs to AZW format automatically via their conversion service. However, if the document has formatting or any pictures, this automatic convert is pretty terrible!
As well as the amazon kindle format (AZW), it also supports doc, HTML, txt, pdf, audible, MP3, unprotected MOBI, and several image formats. I find though that this is only if you transfer the documents with the USB lead or email them to yourself - just navigating on the web browser gets you an error message, which I find really frustrating!
The kindle does support MP3 music so you should be able to listen to your music as well as read your book. I find it a little big for a music player so do not really use this functionality.
==How have I found it to use?==
I found that quite often I would not read it for a few days and then discover that the battery was so completely and totally dead that it took half an hour of charging just to get it to switch on! Rather different from a book! But if I remember to charge it regularly then each charge lasts a fairly long time if I am just reading - a 3 hour train journey took up about 20% of the charge.
I found the claims that it would last 3 weeks with wifi on or a month without to be far-fetched for mere mortals like me who put it in their bag and forget about it. I've never got it to last that long even when I haven't been using it much! I would love to know what kind of tests gave those idealised results.
I found the way that the screen would go black when changing between pages to be annoying at first. But I soon got used to it and stopped noticing it except when other people pointed it out to me.
So in short, I would say that it is excellent as an e-book reader, and a poor choice compared to a smart phone for most other things, such as browsing the web. I suppose that making navigation better would reduce the battery life and make it much more expensive.
I found that having its main instruction manual on the device itself was a good idea - the paper manual that comes with it just offers a few getting switched on hints.
I can confirm that the Kindle worked as advertised and gave me free internet access in Russia, Denmark and Switzerland
I found this an excellent birthday present and would recommend it both as a gift to give and to receive. I definitely recommend the 3G version over the wifi option - it's just so much easier to be able to get books anywhere, and it's much friendlier for technophobes. Drunk book buying is however a major drawback of this product.
Summary: As an e-reader it is great- easy to read, good battery life. It will never replace my smartphone.
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