Kindle Paperwhite: Initial Impressions

I received my new Kindle Paperwhite yesterday evening (WiFi-only with “Special Offers”). Unfortunately it turns out mine is defective, but I have not seen anyone else reporting my problem yet, so hopefully I was just very unlucky. My problem is that the touch screen malfunctions whenever the power/USB cable is attached. When not attached it works fine and I quite like this new e-reader, so I’ll be having a nice chat with an Amazon rep soon to discuss an exchange.

I like the lighted screen and increased resolution, and the touch screen both feels and responds better than on my Touch (when no cord is attached!). While there is a bit of blotchiness (is that a word?) at the very bottom of the screen when the built in LED lighting is in effect, it does not extend up into the actual text of the book (or only very marginally so) and as such does not bother me, though I’ve seen other first-day customers displaying displeasure about this. (Unfortunately, my cheap point-and-shoot camera cannot provide a useful illustration of what I’m seeing on mine.)

The Amazon leather case cradles the Kindle snugly and with a minimum of additional bulk. If the Kindle is in sleep mode, it automatically turns on when you open the case (I’m assuming something is triggered by the magnetic clasp in the cover?). Since I have a “Special Offers” unit, it initially displays a full-screen ad at that point, but a simple finger swipe on the screen takes you to wherever you were when it went to sleep. Again, some initial responders are irritated by having to do this quick swipe after opening the case, and some have decided paying $20 to remove the special offers is worth it. For me, it’s no big deal, and I actually take advantage of the special offers from time to time.

I’ll have more info here soon (and maybe some photos), but I wanted to get my first thoughts posted. Overall it’s probably more evolutionary than revolutionary, though for those who like to read in the dark, it may, in fact, be revolutionary.

No Audio on “PaperWhite” Kindle?

From the ffeature list and comparison chart for the new PaperWhite Kindle, you can see that it does not support audio of any sort (no speakers, no headphone jack), the same as the bottom-of-the-line Kindle.

Since I do not use my Kindle for anything but (visual) reading, this does not matter to me. However, if you like to listen to the occasional audio book or use the text-to-speech feature available on other models, then you may want to wait and see if the PaperWhite display technology will make it into any audio-enable Kindles.

On a side note, I find this audio omission a bit surprising, based on the lengths Amazon went to a couple years (?) ago to get Kindles accepted by educational institutions, eventually leading Amazon to include an audio option for the Kindle’s menu system as an accessibility feature. Perhaps they are no longer courting that market, or maybe only with the Kindle Keyboard — or the Fire?

Good News, Bad News

Good news: I’m ready to start updating this blog again. Now that I’m moved into my new apartment a few long stone throws from The Big Apple and feeling settled in, I once again have time to read. (Before the move, I was spending 5-6 hours every day commuting!)

Bad news: I just started reading Infinite Jest, which is something like 1,000 print pages long, so it may be quite awhile yet before I’m prepared to write a review. At this point I’m only 3% into it, and while finding the writing rather captivating, I have no idea where it’s going (which is not necessarily a bad thing).

Good news: Amazon has announced a new lineup of Kindles and Kindle Fires that look pretty nice at first glance.

Bad news: They already sucked me into pre-ordering the Kindle “Paperwhite,” 6-inch High Resolution Display with Built-in Light, Wi-Fi

Good news: I decided to update the theme/layout of this blog, and I think I like the cleaner look. I removed a bit of the clutter and reduced the ads (not like I made much money off them anyway, mind you).

Bad news: Noggin the (late) wonder dog does not appear in this theme, but I’ll figure out some place to sneak him in here before too long. Until then:

Noggin, 1998-2011

Kindle Touch: My First Impressions

I have now had my Kindle Touch (WiFi, Special Offers) for four days and figured I should get some sort of review up here, even though I have not yet spent a lot of time with it yet due to the holiday weekend.

My very first impression was the nice clean look of this device, though upon further review (I’m watching an NFL game as I type this), from a functionality viewpoint I would have preferred a darker color for the front of the Touch’s frame. I find a dark border around the e-ink screen seems to help increase the perceived contrast of the text. The fact that the Touch’s frame has a brushed metallic look also increases the likelihood of at least slightly distracting glare in some situations. The only button (other than the on/off button on the bottom edge) is a “Home” button, placed at the bottom center of the front, and rather cleverly designed for a modernistic and simple appearance.

The jury is still out for me in terms of how well I like using the touch-screen interface. I’m still at the stage of getting used to it and finding out how hard and quickly I need to touch things to activate them. I have, however, quickly adapted to the page turning, and find it easy to read one-handed with my right hand and then tap the screen with my thumb to turn the page. (This will not be as easy if you hold it with your left hand, as the left edge of the screen is for going back to the preceding page.)

The screen appears to have the same contrast as the Kindle 3, and so far I have not noticed any issues with smudges or fingerprints from using the touch screen. Additionally, I have not found the “special offers” feature (which saves you about $40 on the Kindle’s price) to be at all distracting or annoying. It only appears as one item at the bottom of the Home screen, plus in the sleep screen (a.k.a. screen-saver). In fact, I’ve already taken advantage of two of the offers I’ve seen.

I’m not crazy about typing with the on-screen keyboard, but then again, at least I can read the letters on that keyboard, versus my K3’s physical keyboard which is now virtually unreadable due to the way the letters rubbed off the buttons — probably the worst design decision for the K3. Again, this is likely something I’ll get more used to as time goes on.

For now, my initial impression is that I quickly adapted to the Kindle Touch for reading books and have found it quite comfortable for that. I’m still pretty clunky at trying to use the web browser and other functions not directly related to reading, so we’ll see over the next few weeks how I grow into it. My only real disappointment is the JIVO Kindle Case I ordered with my Kindle Touch, as I found it too thin and lacking in any mechanism to keep the cover closed. I suspect I will return it soon and try to find something with a bit more padding and preferably with a magnetic closure — something like the JAVOedge case I liked so well with my K3, perhaps.

Kindle Fire: Not an iPad Killer, But…

First off, I have not had my hands on a Kindle Fire. On the other hand, I’ve not had them on an iPad, either. On the gripping hand (bonus points to those who recognize that reference), I feel obligated to post something about it now that the first units have been in the early adopters’ hands (gripping or otherwise) for a whole day.

The first professional review I saw was at PCWorld online, rather unpromisingly entitled “Amazon Kindle Fire Misfires.” Upon reading the review, I think the title is overly pessimistic relative to the actual contents. The last couple paragraphs summarize things as:

The Kindle Fire: Bottom Line

The Amazon Kindle Fire makes trade-offs to achieve a $200 price. It’s easy to dismiss some of the compromises and weaknesses of the Kindle Fire as the sacrifices necessary to achieve a price point, but the reality is that the Fire may not meet your expectations if you’re looking for an Apple iPad 2-like tablet.

For those people who go in knowing what they’re getting, and who want an inexpensive tablet that capably–though not spectacularly–handles their Amazon books, music, and video, the Kindle Fire’s limitations may be acceptable. However, the Fire falls far short of providing a full and satisfying tablet experience.

I think the reviewer made the same mistake many did when comparing the Kindle e-book readers to the Apple iPad: the idea that the two devices were direct competitors. I assumed from the moment Amazon announced a two-hundred-dollar tablet that it would not be in the same technical ball-park as the much more expensive Apple product. The real question then becomes: is there a market for a tablet (or e-reader on steroids) that can provide a rewarding means to consume all sorts of digital content while not being an all-round personal computer replacement?

To judge by the first responses at KindleBoards.com, the answer would seem to be, arguably, yes. The general theme I have seen there so far is that many of the Day 1 buyers did, in fact, “go in knowing what they’re getting, and…want an inexpensive tablet that capably — though not spectacularly — handles their Amazon books, music, and video.” At least a couple of them appear to be happy with owning a Kindle Fire as well as an iPad, each for different purposes; again highlighting the idea that the two devices are not necessarily direct competitors (though undoubtedly there will be a significant overlap where the decision could be difficult for those who cannot rationalize owning one of each).

I, for one, have not yet felt compelled to own any tablet computer. I have no desire to watch movies on a 7-inch (or even 10-inch) screen, and I am more than content with reading books on my e-ink screen, dedicated e-reader. However, in another week or so, I should be getting my Kindle Touch (WiFi) to replace my Kindle 3, at which time I’ll be ready to give you my own hands-on review.

Larger Kindle Tablet in the Future?

PCWorld is reporting that it appears there will be an 8.9-inch Kindle tablet in addition to the soon-to-ship 7-inch Kindle Fire.

“According to [Digitimes], panel suppliers Chunghwa Picture Tubes and LG Display have begun to prepare production capacities for 8.9-inch displays. However, there may be even larger models — between 9.7-inch and 10.1-inch — coming at some stage in 2012, possibly as part of a third wave.”

This is interesting to me, as I had already decided to pass on the Kindle Fire, at least until a 3G or 4G model is available. If I could get mobile connectivity along with a larger screen, it would be just about impossible for me to resist, as long as the pricing is as competitive as the WiFi-only Kindle Fire.

Kindle Touch: Limited Web Access Via 3G

After following a discussion at KindleBoards and the referenced Amazon forum discussion, the current word is that the new Kindle Touch 3G will only have limited web access over 3G, though full access via WiFi when available. In summary, Amazon has stated, “We apologize for the confusion. Our new Kindle Touch 3G enables you to connect to the Kindle Store, download books and periodicals, and access Wikipedia – all over 3G or Wi-Fi. Experimental web browsing (outside of Wikipedia) on Kindle Touch 3G is only available over Wi-Fi. Our Kindle Keyboard 3G will continue to offer experimental web browsing over 3G or Wi-Fi.”

This differs from the 3rd generation Kindle 3G (keyboard) which the Touch will ultimately replace, the K3 having full web access over its browser whenever 3G is available (at least within the US, your mileage may vary in other countries). This need not be a deal-breaker for anyone who mainly wants a Kindle for reading e-books, but if you were counting on full web access via the celluar connection when WiFi is not available, then you should instead get your hands on the Kindle Keyboard 3G while supplies still last. (I’m assuming it will eventually be replaced by the Touch, but I could be wrong, so don’t hold me to that.)

Since I currently use the K3 WiFi-only anyway, this lack of full 3G availability in the Kindle Touch 3G is now making the balance shift a bit toward the Kindle Fire, whenever I’m ready to buy a new Kindle device. (Hey, Amazon, wouldn’t you like to give me a free evaluation unit so that I can give a glowing report on it here?)

Three New Kindles Announced Today

Amazon announced three new additions to their Kindle line of hardware:

Kindle e-reader, 6″ screen, WiFi: $79 for special offers version or $109 without special offers.

Kindle Touch, 6″ E Ink Display, WiFi: $99 with Special Offers, $139 without; and a 3G version at $149 with special offers, $189 without.

Kindle Fire 7″ color tablet computer, WiFi only, for $199.

More info will follow here as I have time (probably this weekend?).

E-Readers vs. Tablets = Apples vs. Oranges

I was reading a web article titled “E-reader ownership doubles in six months”, which spends a goodly amount of words and diagrams comparing e-reader ownership versus tablet computer ownership. This got me thinking about many discussions (and arguments) I’ve seen about the relative merits of each, and whether or not tablet devices would eventually push dedicated e-readers to extinction.

The old saw of comparing “apples to oranges” comes to mind whenever I see such discussions. The more I thought about that today, the more it seemed to me that this is one of the most appropriate situations for that analogy.

  • Apples and oranges are both fruits. E-readers and tablets are both hand-held computers.
  • Apples are very popular for pies, but I don’t recall ever seeing Orange Pie on a menu, though I’m sure there someone makes them. Tablets are very useful for surfing the web, but while you can with at least some e-readers, they are generally not so useful for that.
  • Oranges help prevent scurvy, apples do not. Current e-ink screen e-readers let you read comfortably in most ambient lighting including sunlight, while tablets with their back-lit screens do not.
  • Apples can be stored for a fairly long time and still be edible, oranges not so much. Okay, I’m not sure how that relates to e-readers and tablets, but you get the point.

What I’m trying to get at here is that while there is an overlap in what e-readers and tablets can do, the idea of one supplanting the other is a bit like saying apples will take over from oranges — at least with the current levels of technology and horticulture. I suppose it’s entirely possible one fruit will grab the lion’s share of the market if some new health study comes out showing that one or the other cures cancer, or a new orange hybrid makes it especially good for making pies; but I think anyone who at this time can categorically claim to know that one portable device will be pushed out by the other is, at best, making a lucky guess.

Of course, that won’t stop me from guessing.

In the long term — where in this business “long term” may be less than a decade — I would not be surprised if some sort of general purpose device along the lines of tablets does take over the role of both dedicated e-reader and tablet computer. This would be the result of tablets evolving into both lighter weight and less expensive devices, possibly able to be folded in some way so as to take less room in purses or pockets while being able to display on a reasonably large screen when in use. Then again, in a long enough term, they may just communicate with an implant direct to the vision and sound centers of our brains. (Yes, I read a lot of science fiction.)

It will be interesting to see how things evolve, but for the short term (years you can count on one hand), I think there will continue to be a market for each. But then I love apples and am only so-so about oranges, so what do I know?