Those who remember strapping on heavy backpacks full of textbooks before they trudged to school likely never imagined one handheld device could hold all that information and more.
Though it probably would have been welcomed and appreciated.
“Have you seen the size of textbooks lately?” asks Daphne Snook, director of curriculum, instruction and technology at Midd-West School District. “It is no exaggeration that measurements of these texts range from approximately one inch to around three inches thick. You can imagine what it is like for students to carry textbooks to and from classes, but imagine if you had to carry all of them home at night for homework.”
Enter electronic books, better known as eBooks.
With more than 50 electronic devices available for eBooks, the phenomenon of reading without holding a bound book is getting more popular by the day.
But is this good or bad for children?
The issue has both supporters and dissenters among educators.
“It’s coming, and I’m not sure how fast it’s coming,” said Sue Hoffman, an after-school and nonpublic school program manager with the Central Susquehanna Intermediate Unit.
“Technology is advancing in education at a very fast rate,” she said.
It is so fast, in fact, that Greg Clingham, a professor of English and director of the Bucknell University Press, said he’s not even sure if there are even any statistics yet on eBooks having an effect on learning.
“If you just think for a moment about the enormous proliferation of computer technology that has happened in the last five years and all its associated applications,” Clingham said, “the pace is so quick that people, before we even have a chance to kind of assess where we are at this moment, we’re in another moment.”
Though he is not aware of eBooks becoming a primary source of instruction in grade schools, he said, “I’m sure it will come.”
Kendal Rautzhan, of Lewisburg, is a nationally syndicated writer and lecturer on children’s literature. “Clearly there are environmental and monetary benefits to eBooks,” she said, “and unfortunately — in my opinion — they will probably rule some day too soon, for adults as well as children.”
“However,” she said, “as far as I’m concerned, nothing can replace a physical copy of a children’s book to be read aloud to a child.”
Illustrations are compromised when looking at a small computer screen, she said.
She thinks eBooks will compromise the “age-old tradition of hearing a great story told aloud. Humans are wired for storytelling, and I fail to see how eBooks can successfully fill that need for children.”
Patrons of the Thomas Beaver Free Library in Danville can download eBooks for free with their library card.
Most are read simply for enjoyment, said Bonnie White, library director. And most users are middle-aged or older.
Reading to your child is “extremely important,” White said. But, “the same can happen with an eBook.”
While a child does need to get “the sense of book literacy,” such as learning numbers from the page numbers, and page turning, as well as what is upside down and right-side up, once past the beginner reader stages, White said, “It probably doesn’t matter that much … I think the most important thing is if they read.”
The Selinsgrove Community Library also offers plenty of eBooks, available through its website.
“If eBooks encourage reading, then I think that is a good thing,” said Jennifer Johnston, library director.
“Each person is going to have their preference,” she added. “There will always be people, like myself, who will prefer the book that you hold in your hand that you can turn the page and experience it fully. Others will only want to read books on their Kindle or Nook. That’s the beauty of it, I guess — it gives people options.”
For some, like Rautzhan, however, there is a fear that eBooks will take over.
“It saddens me greatly to think that ‘real’ books, as we have always known them, may soon disappear,” she said.
Others, don’t believe that will be the case.
“Not everything they use is going to be electronic,” White said. “Not yet, anyway.”
No one can deny there are many benefits to eBooks, Clingham said, but they do require electricity, and thus, cannot be accessed in every circumstance people find themselves.
“I think there will always be print books, at least for the foreseeable future,” he said.
“I think people will perhaps think differently about books,” he said. “The book will not become a rare object, but a special object.”
In fact, even in the face of the eBook revolution, the number of print books being sold is rising, Clingham said.
“The more they buy electronic books, the more they buy print books,” he said. “It’s a strange psychology, but it’s true.”
The eBook industry may still be in its infancy, and despite uncertainties among educators, many are still including them in their schools and education programs so they aren’t left behind.
Hoffman wants to start an Amazon Kindle book club for the children involved in her after-school program. The Kindle is one of the more popular eBook reading devices.
She hopes these students, in grades 7 to 12, will be more encouraged to read, as the program will fit in with their already technology-stimulated lives.
There are more than 72,000 eBooks at the Susquehanna University Blough-Weis Library .
“The library has been purchasing eBooks, which can offer great cost savings when bought in large collections with a consortium of other libraries,” said Kathleen Gunning, director.
Students working on the university’s Global Opportunities programs can access the library’s online collections to learn more about and prepare for their U.S. or abroad experience.
In addition, the university offers a Follett’s Cafe Scribe eBook program, allowing students to highlight, take notes, form study groups and network with other students who are using it, according to Kevin McCarty, campus bookstore manager.
This year, the Bucknell University Press will produce all of its books in electronic book form and prepare them in files to go to many different e-reader handheld devices.
“From this year onward, all Bucknell University Press books will indeed be going into electronic format, but also in print,” Clingham said.
At the Midd-West School District, teachers do use electronic resources that complement the print textbooks, Snook said.
Features such as clickable vocabulary words and online narration, she said, are benefits for children.
“These features not included in a paper book would definitely enhance a child’s level of comprehension,” she said.
“Students could have all their content downloaded on one laptop,” she added, “which would take up less than one inch in their backpacks, weigh considerably less than a stack of textbooks, and be easily accessible.”
Or they could access all the information they need from the Internet in the evening at home.
In addition, print textbooks are out of date within a year or two after publication, Snook said, and electronic books can be updated easily.
But at the same time, CSIU’s Hoffman said, “We have to watch we don’t bore the kids with technology. They need that personal touch and acknowledgement. I still think you need a person there to tell them they’re doing good.”
The new edition of Amazon?s Kindle book reader arrived in the office late in the morning and after a quick charge, I spent three hours on the sofa making my stately way through the better part of Michael Palin?s ?Diaries? and a six-pack of something cold and refreshing.
Yes, there are days in which the lot of a tech columnist is not an unhappy one.
The first thing you?ll notice about the Kindle 3 is the size: it?s about half an inch shorter and narrower than the second edition. That doesn?t sound like much until you spend a half an hour as I did, rummaging through a closet and trying the K3 and the second-edition Kindle out in various pockets. It?s an important half-inch: it allows the new Kindle to fit into most of the back pockets of most of the pants I own, the inside pockets of many of my jackets, and even the occasional shirt pocket.
In a year in which proud men have been forced to start carrying leather purses to tote their 10? iPads in, this is a highly positive advancement.
The size reduction isn?t a sacrifice, either. The screen is exactly the same size as the K3?s predecessors. They just cramped the buttons of the alphanumeric keypad together a little ? no great loss, there ? and trimmed all of the ?dead space? from the edges of the frame.
Which makes the K3 a little harder to handle. The page-turn buttons have been transformed from thick bars to slim lines, mounted on the extreme edges of the device. I found it hard to safely turn pages one-handed. Speaking of buttons, the little five-way joystick has become a flatter (and cheaper) little cluster of arrow buttons. Otherwise, the UI of the Kindle hasn?t changed.
The new screen?s way more comfortable to read, thanks to a vast boost in contrast. Compared side-by-side against the Kindle 2, the ?white? of the new Kindle?s screen is considerably brighter, and the ?ink? is as black as India ink. It makes the Kindle 3 more readable in any lighting situation and in poor light, the improvements in the screen amount to the difference between Readable and … well, Not.
Finally, the new Kindle comes with WiFi in addition to the free-for-life 3G mobile Internet connection.
Other than those three main new features, the Kindle 3 has the same toasted-oat goodness you?ve come to expect from a Kindle. Its battery lasts for weeks on a single charge, you can store thousands of books on the device, you can copy your own Office files (via an email conversion service) or PDF files onto it, and thanks to its 3G (and now WiFi, too) connections, you can buy books and load content onto the device without hunting around for a USB cable.
And it still includes my favorite feature: an ?experimental? web browser app that?s powerful enough to run the mobile editions most sites. Could you work in Google Documents on the Kindle? Hell, no. The Kindle was designed to be a book reader, not a multifunction computer. Between the cheap keypad (which is mostly there so you can search for titles of books in the Kindle Store) and the slow screen (which was designed to display static book pages, not a dynamic application interface), you can barely compose and send email with the Kindle. Nonetheless, when you point the browser to a ?receive text and read it? sort of website (like Google Reader), you feel like you?ve justified part of the expense of the Kindle.
Which steers us nicely to the single most important new feature of the Kindle 3. All of the other features are nothing more than incremental improvements. But the Kindle?s new price is revolutionary. The device that debuted at $399 and settled down to $259 now costs just $189. If you can do without 3G, the WiFi-only model is $139.
Barnes & Noble has kept right in step with Amazon: their Nook reader now comes in 3G and WiFi flavors and they?re priced just ten bucks higher than the Kindle. All told, it amounts to an aggressive new movement to transform the e-book reader from a pricey gadget for heavy travelers whose bosses don?t examine their expense account reports too closely into a true consumer device.
Or maybe it?s just a reaction to the iPad. Its size aside, the iPad is the best book reader on the market. It has a big, backlit color screen that can display full pages of book text with a careful attention to typography and design, and it?s the only one that?s compatible with content from all of the different e-bookstores (via free reader apps from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other e-tailers). Plus, of course, it?s a real computer that can handle hefty chunk of a laptop?s workload.
The iPad quickly created a toxic cloud around its $499 price. It?s already killed several $350 and up e-readers and mobile devices; it must have been clear to Amazon and Barnes & Noble that it was time to move their readers a safe distance away.
I?m still trying to warm to the Nook. Its core features are just fine. Most of the Nook?s unique features are rather lamely executed, though. If you take a Nook into a Barnes & Noble, you can plant your butt in a seat and read any book in the e-bookstore, just as you can with the paper versions. But only for an hour. You can ?lend? e-books to your Nook-wielding friends. That sounds like a killer feature (passing around a favored book is probably the world?s original form of social media) but you can only do it once per book. The Nook scores over the Kindle in only one area: its support for the ePub digital book format. It?s an open standard that allows any kind of publication to be formatted using existing tools and which can contain nearly any kind of media. ePub is so flexible that publishers can even incorporate proprietary digital rights management into it to prevent commercial titles from being pirated, which is why Barnes & Noble, Apple, Sony, and every other major retailer of digital books has chosen ePub as its main format.
The popularity of ePub means that a you can download a public domain book from anywhere and read it on anything. There?s a whole bunch of easy-to-use tools for converting desktop documents, web articles, and even whole manuscripts into ePubs. It?s a lot of work to convert a favorite out-of-print book into an ePub, but once you?re done, your new e-book is future-proof.
ePub has quickly become the JPEG of electronic publishing. Amazon is starting to look pretty damned foolish foolish for failing to get on the bus. It?s true that many of those e-book-creation tools can spit out a Kindle book as easily as an ePub, but the momentum is clearly moving towards the open standard.
The two best e-book readers available today are the iPad and the Kindle. If you don?t want any bonus features, and don?t mind being locked to a single commercial e-bookstore, then the Kindle is the easy choice.
The star of the Kindle ecosystem is indeed Kindle Store. There are more commercial titles available for the Kindle than for any other device. A more accurate statement is ?the number that Amazon gives me is higher than the number that Barnes & Noble has given me? but the fact is that when I hear about a book and am interested enough to download a sample, I?m more likely to find it on the Amazon e-bookstore than on B&N or the iBookstore.
I?m also keen to see if Amazon manages to make anything of its Kindle Development Kit. Like the iPhone, like the iPad, like Android, like Blackberry ? oh for God?s sake, like the box of Cheerios I bought a few days ago ? the Kindle now has a software development kit so that programmers can write (and sell) their own apps for the Kindle. In theory, support for ePub could be added with a new app, as could a Twitter client, a text editor, and a whole slew of software designed to work within the limitations of the Kindle?s pocket calculator-style keyboard and a screen that struggles to refresh itself more than once per second.
Early indications aren?t encouraging, though. Despite the fact that the KDK was released back in February (as an invite-only beta), the only apps that have shown up so far have been two simple word games. It would appear that the KDK, like the Kindle browser, will do nothing to redefine the Kindle as something more than a static book reader.
Which is perfectly fine. The whole point of a $139 Kindle is to snatch the concept of an e-book reader away from the nerds and the elitists and finally turn it into a mainstream device. The Kindle 3 can accomplish things for electronic books that the $499 iPad can?t and as such, if this device succeeds everybody wins.
Society is definitely on the precipice of somethingorother. I still have discussions with people who think reading a book on an electronic device is as appropriate as giving the Boston Public Library?s Rare Books librarian a friendly pat on the butt as a thank you for locating an 1822 book on Dutch trade negotiations from John Adams? personal collection.
But they?re not as confident about their position as they once were. The chintzy and quirky devices of five years ago have been eradicated from the cultural memory. Now, ?e-books? are synonymous with slim, attractive readers whose text is as clear and readable as print, that offers instant access to all of the books you own and acts a portal to a bookstore that sells almost any book you ever hope to buy, at prices well below print, and delivers it to the device just a minute or two after you read the first few chapters for free.
I keep saying the same thing: if you love books, you won?t ever be happy with a Kindle or any other e-book device. But if you love reading, it?ll bring your love to a whole higher level.
It feels as though within the past year, the concept of e-books has finally crested the top of a hill; it can only pick up speed from here.
Look at the state of that world. There’s a presumption that new books from each of the major publishers will be available in electronic editions alongside the usual flavors. And there are tools and resources in place that allow the smaller publishers (and even individual) authors to turn manuscripts into polished, structured e-books and get them listed with all of the major retailers.
True, the prices of e-reader devices are still high enough to scare away anyone who hasn’t already opened a slate-sized space in their souls for e-books. But it’s more than a one-horse game now, and prices have plummeted. If you just want a dedicated, straightforward e-reader, you’ll pay a fraction of last year’s prices for the same array of functions. And the money you would have spent on a first-generation Kindle back in the day will almost buy you an iPad now.
Maybe the most significant metric of e-books’ acceptance is the volume of mail I’ve been getting about them from folks who are mentally psyching themselves up for buying an e-reader either pre-holiday (as a gift for a friend) or post-holiday (when they’ll be armed with the usual $100 gift card from Mom, Dad, or maybe a particularly awesome aunt or uncle).
My advice is consistent: right now, the two best e-readers are the latest edition of Amazon’s Kindle ($139 or $189, depending on configuration), and Apple’s iPad ($499 to about $860). You’ll want one of those two. They’re easy to choose between because they’re polar opposites in every way.
1) The iPad is big. The Kindle is tiny.
The iPad’s big screen doesn’t force you to turn pages any more frequently than you’d be turning them on a paper edition. The Kindle doesn’t force you to carry your e-reader in a bag or a folio; it slips neatly into most pockets on men’s clothing.
2) The iPad can display any kind of content. The Kindle has been optimized for books.
Even when you download something as complicated as an electronic comic book or a magazine, the iPad displays the pages in full color with the original page designs intact, instead of smacking the content around a little to make it conform to a threadbare “one long column of scrolling text” layout. But because the Kindle is focused on books, it can use a super high-contrast black and white display that’s sometimes indistinguishable from printed text, and a battery life that’s measured in weeks (three or four) instead of hours (ten to twelve, on the iPad). The Kindle’s text is just as readable as the iPad’s’s, at a fraction of its cost, size, and power demands.
3) The iPad is a computer with the form of an e-reader. The Kindle’s text is an e-reader that can handle limited computing functions.
The iPad’s OS and processor is muscular enough to take on much of your laptop’s workload, and there’s a huge library of mature apps available for it.
I’ll put it this way: this whole column has been an iPad production. I wrote it, researched it, edited it, and sent it to my editor completely on my iPad. I didn’t arrange that just so I could make a point, either. It happened that way because my iPad has replaced my $1,600 MacBook as my standard “I think I’ll work in the coffeeshop this afternoon” computer.
The Kindle has no such ambitions. And that’s why it costs $139 instead of $499. Nonetheless, it comes with WiFi (3G is another $50) and a surprisingly muscular web browser that’s based on the same browser engine as the iPad’s browser. You wouldn’t want to rely on the Kindle as a productivity tool, but it’s very efficient with simple Internet errands. And the 3G service is free for the life of the hardware.
4) The iPad is open. The Kindle is closed.
And when’s the last time an Apple product has been on the right side of that kind of comparison? Okay, it’s relative, but still.
Apple would be very pleased if you chose to favor their own iBookstore with your consumer dollars, but the iPad will read books from any source. It’s hands-down the most ecumenical e-book reader on the market. You can add any ePub file to your iBooks library. ePub is to digital books as JPEG is to digital photos; it’s the standard that the whole world is backing. The default format for freely-downloadable books is ePub and it’s supported by all of the consumer tools for making your own e-books, from online utilities that convert the webpage you’re reading to desktop apps that convert documents and even full manuscripts.
Free, downloadable iPad apps add the option of buying and reading ebooks from Amazon’s Kindle store, Barnes & Noble, Borders, and most of the other online bookstores. Moving beyond simple text, there are stores and iPad apps for reading comics from every major publisher.
The iPad’s OS also has built-in readers for all of the most popular desktop file formats. Copy a PDF or a Word file (etc.) to the device through your desktop iTunes app or access it via cloud storage (such as a Dropbox.com account) or as an email attachment.; just give the file a tap to read it.
With the Kindle, we come back to the notion that the device is designed to be “an e-reader with benefits” and nothing more. It excels at purchasing and reading content from the Kindle store; everything else is a bit of a kludge. It does have a (somewhat sluggish) PDF reader, and you can load it up with desktop Office files by emailing them to your Kindle’s unique Amazon.com address.
Support for ePub titles is, sadly and somewhat bizarrely, absent from the Kindle. The only easy source for Kindle content is Amazon’s Kindle store.
But that’s kind of OK. Amazon’s Kindle Store has more titles than any other store. Excuse me: “the largely-unverifiable number that Amazon gives me is resoundingly higher than the largely-unverifiable number that the other online bookstores have given me.” And that includes more free public-domain texts than you or I want to hear about.
Plus, simple desktop apps can convert an unlocked ePub (like the titles you can download from Google Books) to a Kindle book with just a few clicks. Despite losing its designation as the 800-pound gorilla of e-readers, the Kindle is still big and smelly enough that Amazon’s proprietary Kindle book format is well-supported by third-party apps.
All told, the “Kindle or iPad?” question really comes down to a basic question: do you want a new kind of book? Or do you really want a new kind of computer?
(Also, parenthetically: “Do you not care that the iPad costs $360 more?” and if so, “Would you mind picking up the check for this lunch?”)
The iPad is a perfect fit for my personal and professional lives. My mobile consumption of media isn’t limited to single columns of text; it includes magazines, comic books, artwork, and “the real Web.” And the ability to write a column, work my way through my Inbox, or do a little online research whenever the mood strikes me more than justifies the added expense.
It also delivers a first-class reading experience. You get full pages of text. The iPad has supreme typographical chops, too. The text is simply more pleasantly-rendered on an iPad than on any other device. And the screen is backlit.
The Kindle makes many compromises, but with huge payoffs to the user. It’s much lighter than a book or an iPad, and unlike either one of those things, you won’t need to support a Kindle on a table or a chair arm after your first fifteen or twenty minutes of reading.
The chief advantage of the Kindle is, of course, its price. The first-generation Kindle was $399. For that much dough, it would only be of real interest to avid readers. It would have failed miserably as a product if it weren’t the pet project of Amazon’s CEO.
$139 is still a lot of money for what is essentially “a purchase that allows you to make additional purchases” but at least it’s within reach. Many potential buyers have emotional, romantic attachments to analog books that won’t be broken by anything even half the price of the iPad.
There are other e-readers out there. I just don’t think they’re terribly competitive in a city that’s already dominated by Godzilla and King Kong. Only two devices even stand out strongly enough to warrant some discussion.
Barnes & Noble has executed pinpoint maneuvers to keep up with Amazon. Like the Kindle, their “Nook” reader is now available in both 3G and WiFi-only editions, and each model is priced only ten bucks higher. One innate advantage of the Nook is that (like damned-near every other reader device) it’ll read any unlocked ePub file in addition to titles purchased from Barnes & Noble’s ebookstore. Plus, it’s based on the Android operating system. In theory, that would open up the device to hoards of third-party apps.
… Well, it’s a nice theory, anyway.
The Nook is a lovely device. I just wish it could distinguish itself from the Kindle in any meaningful way. The Nook slaps ineffectively at that kind of ambition with a feature that lets you “lend” e-books to friends, and the ability read the entire commercial Nook library for free so long as you’re sitting in a Barnes & Noble store and connected to the store’s WiFi.
But those features have been so watered-down that they’re almost homeopathic. You can “lend” an individual book only once, and only for two weeks. And if you’ve settled in at the store with your Nook and a $5 latte from the coffee bar, the device will curtly tell you “this ain’t a library, kid” and close the book after an hour.
And then there’s Sony, with its line of Sony Reader devices. They’re designed with a terrific goal: to be as open as possible. It’s an ePub reader that can read content from multiple bookstores and which has native support for PDF files and other desktop file formats. You can download content through WiFi or 3G, copy it via a built-in memory card reader, or just dock it to your desktop as a USB device.
The Sony Reader system also supports a neat feature: borrowing books from your local public library. The system generates a license that self-destructs when the “lending” period is over. At that point, a download slot opens up on the library’s website for another member of the community.
The Sony Reader Touch Edition costs little more than a Kindle or a Nook ($169 from Amazon for the WiFi-only edition … and it’s discounted elsewhere) and it includes a touchscreen interface.
But without the flexibility of the iPad or the huge library of the Kindle, a Sony Reader requires its user to be a little more savvy and proactive about finding content. Despite the presence of a well-stocked Sony Reader e-bookstore, I don’t think it delivers the no-brainer experience that first time e-book users are looking for.
That’s the competition for the Kindle. The iPad has no real competition. That’s going to change soon: iPad-style tablets from Samsung, Toshiba, HP, Notion Ink, and other manufacturers are coming soon. Some models will be even available by the end of the year, and at iPad-competitive prices.
If you’ve played with an iPad and thought “Gosh, that’s for me” then there’s no reason to wait. It’s going to take several months more for these devices to achieve the iPad’s state of polish and maturity.
The big hitch is the software. With the exception of HP (which bought Palm this year mostly to get their hands on its WebOS touch interface) all of these tablets will run the Android OS. There are already plenty of good reader apps for Android. There are even Android phone apps for reading books from the Kindle and Nook stores.
Historically, however, Android is a platform where a usable app for any given task appears in the app Marketplace within days and a good one doesn’t arrive for months. Or it just won’t arrive, period. From what I’ve seen of these Android tablets thus far, I suspect that they’ll prove to be excellent mobile computers “… that can also read books.” The iPad excels at multiple tasks.
I can’t write even 250 words on this subject without reciting my bumper sticker slogan: “If you love books, an e-book is no substitute. But if you love reading, you’ll never switch back.” You can sample hundreds of thousands of books for free without leaving home. When you buy, you typically get an unbeatably low price. Public domain texts are available after a quick trip to books.google.com, not after a trip to one of the few university libraries that might still have a copy of a book that went out of print in 1892.
I should also point out that spending an evening with one of your favorite books starts off with typing in the first few letters of the title and then tapping a button. Selecting a title from 75% of my paper library involves a 30 minute drive and then an unknown amount of time spent pulling cardboard boxes from my storage locker.
We still need analog books. One of my favorite books of 2010 is a thick, heavily-annotated collection of Adam Hughes’ cover art for DC Comics. Electronic books that handle that kind of content are still a full generation away. Plus, we must never forget that electronic book readers will remain out of reach to people of limited incomes for the foreseeable future. I don’t think I’ll live long enough to see a neighborhood library book sale in which you’re invited to haul as many Kindles and iPads out of the basement as you wish for just $5 a bag.
So if you’re a big fan of opening a creaky book and smelling the excreta of a century’s worth of glue-nibbling insects, then don’t worry about anything. Stories of so-called “shred panels” that will decide what happens to your dogeared college paperback of “Tropic Of Cancer” are the hysterical inventions of the librarian-controlled news media.
Perhaps in five years, you’ll even be in your town’s Fourth of July parade. You and the other analog book-fanciers can march in a studious file, reading hardcovers, following right behind the row of people riding those old-timey bicycles with the huge front wheel. People get a big kick out of seeing that sort of thing, even if it confuses and scares the younger kids in the crowd.
(That paragraph was mean spirited. I’m penitent enough to acknowledge that, but not enough to actually delete it.)
It’s clear to me that e-books are finally on the same track that e-mail was on in the ?80s, the Web was back in the ?90s, and digital cameras jumped on in the first decade of the 21st-century. Very soon, they’re going to cease to be eye-catching conversation-starting pieces of technology, and will simply become parts of the landscape.
I had owned and used digital cameras for nearly fifteen years before the first time someone old enough to be my parent asked me to take their photo in front of a tourist landmark. She handed me her digital camera, and then patiently explained to me how it worked while assuring me that it’s really not all that complicated.
A tiny part of me died that sunny afternoon on Maui.
It came from a bad part of my personality that prides himself on being ahead of the technology curve. But if part of my geek soul must die so that the public’s love of reading can live and thrive, so be it.
Best Buy will start selling the Kindle this fall.(Credit: Amazon)
The Kindle will soon join Barnes & Noble’s Nook and Sony’s Reader on the shelves of your local Best Buy store.
The consumer electronics chain announced Thursday that it will expand its lineup of e-book readers by selling the Amazon Kindle in the coming weeks. Best Buy will display the Kindle and its rival readers at prime locations at the end of store aisles, giving shoppers the opportunity to check out each model side-by-side.
The new Kindle 3G and the smaller, lighter Wi-Fi-only Kindle 3 will both appear in Best Buy stores this fall, while the larger Kindle DX will pop up later in the year.
“There’s no question that e-readers have found their rightful place in today’s digital lifestyle,” Chris Homeister, senior vice president and general manager of Home Entertainment for Best Buy, said in a statement. “Our goal is to help people choose the device that’s right for them by providing the broadest selection of popular e-readers of any retailer, in one convenient place that enables people to easily see, touch, try and buy.”
Though fellow chain store Target also sells the Kindle and Sony’s Reader, Best Buy will be the only retailer to carry all of the top e-readers, according to the company.
In April, Best Buy began selling the Nook and its accessories at its retail outlets and on its Web site to accompany the Sony Reader, which the chain has sold for several years. Of course, Best Buy also sells the Apple iPad, yet another option for consumers who don’t necessarily want a dedicated e-book reader.
For those comparison shopping among the Kindle, Nook, and iPad, check out CNET’s quick guide to e-readers.
Product Amazon Kindle 3 e-book reader
Specifications 6-inch screen, 800 x 600 resolution, WiFi, 3G (3G plus WiFi model only), text-to-speech, PDF support, one-month battery life (wireless off), 190 x 123 x 8.5mm, 241g (WiFi model) / 247g (3G plus WiFi model)
Price £109 (WiFi); £149 (3G plus WiFi)
HOT ON THE HEELS of Iriver’s WiFi Story, the Kindle 3 has finally arrived in the UK. Smaller than the previous US-only models, Amazon claims this is the fastest-selling model yet. Like previous versions, the screen is a 6-inch model, but the Kindle’s dimensions have been shrunk to just 190mm x 123mm x 8.5mm, and at just 241g or 247g, barely heavier than the typical paperback book, it’s highly-portable.
Although the technology has been around for a while, Amazon hasn’t opted for a touch-sensitive screen this time. The 800×600 e-ink display on the Kindle 3 has seen some improvements, though. The screen is whiter than before, though still pale grey, the fonts are blacker, and text is very easy on the eyes under all but very dim light.
There’s still only a choice of three fonts – normal and condensed serif, plus sans serif – but there’s a wide selection of font sizes, along with adjustable line spacing and margin width settings. Amazon claims the new screen’s page turns are 20 per cent faster too, which is to say that the full-screen flush required before a new page can be displayed is now not much of a distraction. The screen also supports a partial refresh, which means drop-down menus and moving cursors work almost as well as on an LCD display.
This faster screen refresh also suits the new and improved Webkit-based web browser. This does a bang-up job of rendering webpages accurately, but we found most are too small to read by default and the browser’s fit-to-width option is seldom successful. There are also four zoom levels, but these rarely fit a column of text across the full width of the screen, and the need to refresh the whole screen each time makes panning left and right to read lines of text a chore.
There is an Article mode that does a better job of reformatting long swathes of text, but in our tests this too was a bit hit and miss when it came to displaying part of a page you actually want. That said, the web browser is still accessed via the Kindle 3’s ‘Experimental’ menu, so Amazon clearly doesn’t think it’s ready for prime time just yet.
The launch of the Kindle 3 coincided with the opening of a UK-specific Kindle e-book store, which means book buyers no longer have to pay Amazon US prices at the prevailing exchange rate. As before, e-books can be bought from either the Amazon web site with a PC or on the Kindle itself and then wirelessly synced, but other documents can also be dragged to the Kindle when it’s plugged into a PC’s USB port.
The Kindle 3’s storage has been upped to 3.3GB too, which is enough for around 3,500 e-books, although this figure will obviously decrease with multi-megabyte PDFs. Typed annotations can be added to e-books and PDFs on the go, although the tiny keys of the Kindle 3’s Qwerty keyboard mean this is best done using the free Windows Kindle application. This only works with e-books purchased from Amazon and not, say, with your own PDFs, but annotations made here are automatically synchronised to the Kindle and vice versa.
The other big change for the Kindle 3 is the addition of WiFi, and two models are now available, the 3G plus WiFi for £149 and the standard WiFi-only model for £109. This latter price puts the Kindle 3 into impulse buying territory for many people, although £99 would no doubt be more tempting.
Battery life for both is still pegged at one month with wireless off, but the WiFi-only model has the edge with wireless enabled, lasting for three weeks, while the power-hungry 3G model lasts for only 10 days.
The Kindle 3 is an impressive effort from Amazon and, although it still needs some work, the capable Webkit-based web browser really adds to its appeal. Unless you need to buy e-books when you’re wandering far and wide, the £109 WiFi-only model is the better deal. µ
Crisp and clear screen, lasts for weeks between recharges, bargain price for WiFi-only model.
Small keyboard is fiddly.
Webkit browser still needs work.
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