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November 19, 2007

Amazon Announced Kindle

Today Amazon announced its foray into selling hardware with a data service. The device is called “Kindle,” and it represents a daring move for an “online bookstore.” You’re going to see two kinds of reviews: bad ones from people who haven’t used it and good ones from people who have. It’s that kind of product—plus Jeff Bezos’s reality-distortion field isn’t as large as Steve Jobs’s. I have used it and if someone gave me a choice of receiving an iPhone or a Kindle, I’d pick the Kindle. Here are the reasons I like it so much:

  • No computer required. Hooking up to, or synching with, a computer in any manner isn’t required. From my perspective, the ease-of-use of Bluetooth is a myth, and half the time a USB connection doesn’t work. Frankly, docking is for losers. You don’t even need to own a computer to use a Kindle. For light computer users (or for a heavy computer user on vacation), a Kindle can replace a laptop.

  • Content flows. Content is pushed to you via the EVDO wireless network. (This is the data network that’s about four times faster than the one used on an iPhone.) Think of Kindle as a Blackberry for blogs, newspapers, and magazines. You get up in the morning, and all the content you want to read is there (see below). You might be thinking there’s a catch: “I’ll have to pay a monthly subscription for EVDO,” but it’s not true. The $400 includes permanent access and unlike WiFi connectivity, you don’t have to find a hotspot and sign in using a WiFi account.

  • Content is king. Amazon has done a great job of lining up content from newspapers such as the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and Le Monde; magazines such as Forbes, Fortune, Time, and Atlantic Monthly (but sadly, not Hockey News yet); and blogs such as TechCrunch, Scobleizer, Huffington Post, BoingBoing, Truemors (!), and Motley Fool. You have to pay for subscriptions, but you will not get on an airplane with nothing to read again. If you’re like me and load up on reading material before a flight, a Kindle (10.3 ounces) will save you several pounds of newspapers and magazines. Amazon has essentially create the “iTunes of documents” if you will.

  • Battery life is good. Considering that content is always being pushed to it, I found that battery life was good—going a couple of days without charging. If I were more judicious and turned off wireless at night, it would have lasted much longer but that defeats the purpose of push technology. If wireless is turned off all the time, it will go about a week on a charge. And it charges up very quickly: about two hours. Oh yeah, the battery is replaceable—what a concept.

  • The screen is perfectly readable. I was skeptical at first, but I had no issue with reading the pocket-book size screen, and I’m an old man who needs reading glasses. It’s not color, but I’d rather have a long battery life than color. Plus, most physical newspapers aren’t in color anyway. Some people will complain about how reading a book is easier than reading a screen, but some people complain about everything.

  • There’s a real QWERTY keyboard. Call me old-fashioned but I like to feel keys go up and down as I type. If Amazon would include a basic email client, life would be really good. Even a Twitter client like Snitter would do the trick. But Amazon’s EVDO expenses might go through the ceiling if people used Kindles as laptops.

Will it replace printed books? Many people are going to opine about whether Kindle can replace a good ole printed book (and Amazon seems very focused on this topic too). Most will conclude that it won’t because of cost, requirement to recharge, dropability, and dunkability (ie, in water), and in these ways it won’t. But this is mostly true for novels and any book that you’d read once and not again. However, for reference books, Kindle kicks butt. For example, I would love to have the Chicago Manual of Style on Kindle, so I can search for rules in a much better way than referring to an index. You can roll your own by sending documents to your account, and they will appear on your Kindle.

There are only two things that I didn’t like about the Kindle. First, the bottom corners of the frame feel like they will poke holes in your palms. There is a carrying case, but reading shouldn’t be a religious experience. Second, there isn’t a page back button for your right hand. This is bad feng shui because there is one for your left hand.

Summary: If you want something that requires very little attention that will deliver your favorite newspapers, magazine, and blogs, you should definitely check out Kindle. Having reference books and documents handy is also quite valuable. Reading electronic versions of novels is cream. If nothing else, you have to admire Amazon for trying things that are as interesting as Kindle, S3, and Mechanical Turk.

Comments

Great post Guy! I had a brief chance to play with Kindle at Gnomedex earlier this year and knew then that I would want one as soon as they became available. I understand and appreciate some of the concerns that people have been expressing (cost, format support - esp. PDF) but like you, I'm of the opinion that there really are two groups of people opining on Kindle - those who have used on and those who have not.

One thing technical folks forget all too often is how small a minority they are. This is a great consumer play and will be wildly popular with two large constituencies - people who buy lots of books and people who travel a lot. As I am a card-carrying member of both groups, I'm excited as can be!

I expect the quality of discourse to go up quickly as early adopters get their hands on the device and really put it through its paces. Mine is on a UPS truck right now and I'm anxiously awaiting its arrival.

I like how the messy thumb prints don't get on. I agree with the no color thing, blogs do need that feel with colors, news paper's don't.

However this is a large step forward and great work Amazon and GUY I'M ENVIOUS OF YOU!!!

Cool device. But I still would prefer a color display, especially if I'm going to read up all my blogs which more often than not have photos as part of the content.

decent battery life. e-ink makes a nice looking display. but the display is typical for an e-ink device -- too small.

this will be yet another service-bound e-ink device to litter the highways.

go look at iRex (http://www.irextechnologies.com) for another company trying (and failing) for the last few years to make this business model work (and they have a nicer looking device, the Iliad).

the problem here is that most people who would be interested in an e-book reader have already paid good money for a laptop with a better display. and they've already paid for internet connectivity, though which they can get free access to much of the data for which amazon wants an additional fee.

this model will only work when they get the price of the device below $100.

It's ugly. I'm not the only one who thinks so - read Fake Steve Jobs' Kindle review. It is locked to Sprint network - not available outside the USA. The keyboard is a joke and the battery life for reading should be 14 days.

"a real QWERTY keyboard"
Forgive me but that is nowhere near a "real" keyboard. I haven't tried it myself (not available in Europe) but those buttons are just buttons -- not keytops. A real keyboard would be like those on laptops, or on the Psion Series 5 PDA. Here's a photo: http://g-b.dk/images/photos/psions5.jpg
The screen seems to be amazing though, and it is good to finally see someone not using a power-hungry backlit color panel again.

Thanks for the really informative article on kindle. It sounds like just the thing I've been waiting for. As for replacing books, we seem to be getting closer and closer to a device that can actually perform all the things you can do with a book. I keep thinking of Issac Asimov's fabulous article as he describes this incredible device, which of course, turns out to be a book.

Nick

Guy,
Great review. Can I get your regular blog on the kindle?

--Zack

************

Zack,

Yes, you can. This blog will be on it too.

Guy

Usually I like new tech toys, but at first glance this really doesn't seem all that compelling to me. I'm just thinking that while content is king, this is yet *another* device to carry around. Also, maybe it's just me, but it seems a bit large for me to really consider it more portable than a laptop or an iPhone. But we'll see how well this does.

I wish I could pay a one-time fee for EVDO access on my PPC-phone...

One thing I can say is that it would be awesome if Amazon let me have digital versions of the books I have already bought through my Amazon account.

Rishi

A nice write up for what appears to be a very cool new device. Unlike others who challenge it before trying I'll wait until I get my hands on one of my very own.

Amazon deserves to be applauded for stepping up and getting something like Kindle to market. Sure, the DRM situation sucks, but we all remember how Apple was demonized over the DRM in iTunes.

The subscription model needs to address the blog situation and they'll have to figure out how the $399 price point works for them. All in all, it will be fun to play with for a while.

I also agree with Josh (see above). This isn't bad, but it'll really be killer when Apple comes out with their version and we can pull everythign off of iTunes...including college text books.

Drag your finger to highlight important material...click assemble and presto...study sheets...which can then be text-to-speeched and listened to as a podcast for my study group.

Come on, Apple. Help poor students and their families by driving down the crazy price of textbooks.

I am surely a fan of technology, disruptive or not, but my love of the printed word far outweighs what is being offered by the Kindle. If you have ever bound a book yourself, you know the care and considerations that go into art of binding a book. The wonderful pieces comprising a book are nonexistent using Kindle. I have tried other readers, as well as reading off my laptop, but it is rather like making love with a prophylactic—simply not the same. Besides, if I do not like a book I can literally use it for kindling versus the Kindle which would probably release toxins. ;)

I'd rather pay a monthly fee for the evdo and then get all my blogs and content for free on the internet. Hopefully this will spur Sony to turn their reader into a proper portable web browser.

I have been waiting for this technology for years now, ever since i came across e-ink some five years ago.
Too bad Amazon is ignoring the international audience.
It seems that we won't have anything to do with this device as the wireless tech will not work out side the U.S
Also, me. and many others, have tons of ebooks we purchased over the years, pdf of books we bought etc. these will not be able to go onto the device.
shame.
Guess I'll have to wait a few more years for some company to really think about the customers when creating an E-book

Guy, thanks for the great post. Dave from the REA Group here. Do you happen to know if it's possible to preload your kindle with all (or most) or wikipedia?

That would be fantastic.

Most people are already carrying too much: cell phone, ipod, etc.

I wish they made kindle into software that can run on all our current devices.

Kudos to Jeff Bezos and his team—I think this is going to be a huge winner!

If it wasn’t for iPhone, the Kindle can easily be the Product of the Year.

Watch this video on Amazon: “Hear Jeff Bezos and Bestselling Authors Discuss Kindle” http://amazon.com/gp/product/B000FI73MA/ref=amb_link_5873612_3/102-6680796-2004147?pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_s=gateway-center-column&pf_rd_r=1FNAMYQFH5TVYPGSK5KE&pf_rd_t=101&pf_rd_p=329252801&pf_rd_i=507846

Mr.Kawasaki is in this video (04:07)—OMG, were you using a Dell Laptop??? I love your orange UA shirt!

I totally agree with you that the fact that Amazon makes the wireless access for free is a huge selling point.

I think one thing is missing is ability to read PDF documents.

It seems to me that this would be a great option for people that read a ton of periodicals, I am with Les though... paying for a blog subscription? There is no way I am going there. Also, for me reading a book is more often than not a relational experience. I enjoy buying a book, reading it, then passing it on to someone that I think would enjoy it or would benefit from it. I love the technology but unless I can give away books that I have purchased on the Kindle I won't be signing up.

You'd really pay $.99 per blog per month to read it on a Kindle? I just don't get it. I follow over 100 blogs on a regular basis... perhaps that's excessive. That means, even if all the blogs I followed were on Amazon's Kindle Blog service, I'd be paying $99 a month to read blogs.

The idea that I get "free wireless delivery" of my blog subscription is just a straight-faced lie.

I think I find myself more inline with Seth on this one.

The hardware might be fantastic but the DRM, purchase rights, and "subscription fees" are so 1990s its a bit laughable.

If they can somehow strike a deal with textbook publishers, I could see a lot of college students switching to this. Get rid of all your text books and have this single electronic device.

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