Amazon’s A-list ebook reader has finally come to the UK. Is the Kindle the iPod of books?
Ah, it’s arrived then. Variously described as both the ‘iPod of books’ and the death of books, the Kindle is online superstore Amazon’s ereader system.
We say system, not device, for although this gadget is called the Kindle 2, it’s part of an expanding infrastructure of Kindle services, including software for iPhone and PC. (Mac soon, too, we’re told.)
Previously unavailable in the UK, this is the Kindle Global Wireless version that works in the UK, but is posted from the US.
Consequently, it comes with a US plug, which isn’t really as much of a problem as some critics have made out. The plug itself is merely a USB power adaptor.
You can either plug the Kindle into your computer, a UK USB power adaptor or a get a US-UK adaptor for the Kindle’s own end. Many options; no problem.
Anyway, the Kindle. It is beautifully built and packaged. It comes in minimalist recyclable cardboard packaging, with story book design touches.
On opening the box, you find that the Kindle is already on, displaying a screen telling you how to plug it in and get started. Nice touch; e-ink screen, so no fears about it running out of battery in the post.
Also, because you buy the Kindle through your Amazon account, it comes set-up, even with your name at the top of the home screen. Small things, perhaps, but in comparison to a Sony Reader, which won’t do much of anything until you plug it into a PC, big differences.
Books over the air
The Kindle has another major advantage over ereaders that are slaved to a PC – a 3G SIM card. This allows you to browse the Kindle store, buy and download entire books in seconds, and also subscribe to daily, weekly or monthly newspaper and magazine feeds.
Because of the e-ink screen, the browsing experience is minimalist but functional, and it will recommend books based on your buying history. The wireless affects the battery life if you leave it on, but is still in the order of days, rather than hours. Or it can be turned off in two button presses.
Slinky but slippery
Holding and using the Kindle is a good experience, although it is very thin, and quite slippery. The keyboard – used for searching for books in the Kindle Store – makes the device bigger, with a lower screen-to-size ratio than rivals.
We also have concerns about the garish white finish – fine for invoking iPod comparisons, but also the attentions of ne’er-do-wells. The $35 Kindle leather case, or a third-party alternative, would solve both the slipperiness and to a certain extent, the thief-attracting finish.
The screen is excellent in all sunlight conditions. As with all e-ink screens, it is not backlit, so you’ll need a head-torch for reading under the covers. There are two ‘Next Page’ buttons on either side of the device, which both allows for shifting positions over a long period of reading, and for left-handers.
All good, then? If you can handle the somewhat garish looks and size, then your only consideration is cost. (If not, then look at the Sony Pocket Edition. Smaller screen, but light, cheap and good.)
Delivered, from the US, and with lifetime wireless downloading, the Kindle is £203. Cheaper than Sony’s other rival, the non-wireless Touch Edition, by nearly £50 and only a few tenners more expensive than rival ereaders from smaller, less desirable brands, such as Cool-er or Elonex.
You’re tied in to Amazon’s ebook store, which means you might miss out on the odd title that, for curious publishing reasons, only turns up in smaller online stores like www.booksonboard.com.
But, we estimate that most Kindlers will be keen readers, and will happily scour the well-stocked Bestseller lists for something new to read. And a fine thing to read them on the Kindle is.