REVIEW: Amazon Kindle 3G – the poor man’s iPad

Posted by Craig on Wednesday Mar 30, 2011 Under Bits, bobs, odds, sods, Reviews

Tablets are still the hot topic and, being a geek, I have of course lusted after one since the iPad came out. However, the price, battery life and weight of it put me off a bit – especially as 90% of the time it would be a glorified book. But I finally caved in and treated myself to a Kindle.

And you know what? It’s probably my favourite piece of tech kit ever…

I’m a bookaholic. I don’t deny it. I’ve got about 1400 titles in various shelves and boxes (and I’ve thrown out twice that many books). The first thing I do in anyone’s house is look at what books they read. It’s my thing. Sadly, I am well past the point of having space for books so if I was to continue to indulge in my habit, I needed to either start throwing more books out (gasp! No!) or find a Plan B. Plan B came digitally…

Why iBooks isn’t that great

When Apple announced iBooks I figured it was only going to be a matter of time before an iPad turned up in my hands. However, their bookstore selection (and prices at launch) were awful – it just wasn’t a good choice at all. But it had whetted my appetite. The I

saw Amazon had Kindle software for the iPhone, so I tried that.

Where it worked well for me was in darkened rooms and in the wee small hours, when one of the kids had woken up and needed cuddles to get back to sleep. It was easy enough to sit and read while the little one drifted back off.

The only downside to the screen on a phone was that it was very small and, if being perfectly honest, it felt like you weren’t taking a lot in. It was a decent way of reading but you couldn’t help feel that it could be better – especially for reading longer works.

iPad v Kindle

So I thought about a Kindle and then thought against it – especially as it’s not a colour screen. And then thought about it again. Then the iPad 2 came out and it still wasn’t cheap inexpensive – especially compared to the US price (I can’t believe we still have to moan about that in this day and age). It was also a bit big for just reading books (which would have been the primary function of it).

The iPad 2 pricing

wasn’t what pushed me into Amazon’s arms though. Alongside the price difference was the suggestion that the Kindle could be kicked off the iOS platform. That was what pushed me over the edge for a few reasons:

  • When Apple acts OTT in demands with others, that’s what Apple normally starts to decline,
  • The book choice on the Kindle was far, far superior so if I was going to be stuck with a platform, better to be one with a lot of books
  • Amazon are a good company to deal with – I’ve never had any hassles with them at all.

But what Kindle to get? There’s a wifi one and a wifi/3G one. The 3G one comes in at £40 dearer but the 3G is free – and there’s a web browser…

3G for me

Being quite blunt about it, I knew that whatever I bought, the odds were that would be me – in terms of a tablet – for a while. An iPad would have to wait until other computer kit in the house was upgraded, the next kid has come along and a few other things (I also think Apple were miserable not putting Facetime HD in the iPad 2). So if I was buying something, I wanted it to be as functional as possible, so I went for the 3G option, effectively making it the poor man’s iPad.

Kindle usage

There’s not actually too much you can say about the usage. You take it out (the massively oversized) box, turn it on, set up an account and away you go. It’s as idiotproof as anything Apple ever made. It’s nice and light – yet solidly built – it drops nicely from 30 feet onto grass and still works, you can hold it one-handed for long periods of time, you can get really stuck into a book – and the claim is that it can hold 3,500 means it should do for a while, especially as the Kindle store is quite varied and seems to moving past the crime, horror and SF roots that it started with.

Having said that, it’s turned me into a right sad git. Not only am I going on spending sprees for new books and using the cheap prices to discover new authors like Gordon Ferris (The Hanging Shed is really good and probably the best spend of £1 ever – I liked it so much I’ve bought the hardback as a gift for someone) but I’m actually going and buying digital copies of books I already own.

It also plays MP3s but I haven’t given that a go yet.

Also, the battery life is good but not ’30 days without a charge’ as some people state. You’ll get a week or two out of it no problems though.

The 3G is really good – it gets a signal in parts of the country where few of the mobile operators do.

Newspapers on the Kindle

Newspapers look as good on it as books do – when someone takes the time to format them correctly – and the whole process is just nice and simple. Having said that, it is tragic that there’s no Scottish newspapers on here, but this device could easily become my primary news outlet so that’s more money for The Indy, The Times and Daily Telegraph – papers I wouldn’t normally buy but if that’s all I can get, I’ll take it – the convenience over-rides everything else. (The Kindle also gets round the NY Times paywall).

The newspaper aspect also makes the 3G very handy. Wherever I am, it just updates every morning for me without the need to hook up to a PC/mac.

I know Calibre gives you options for adding newsfeeds to the Kindle but for the love of me I cannot get it to work. I will at some point though. (Same with Instapaper…)

Browsing the web on the Kindle

This is weird. Who knew the web came in monochrome? It’s like watching a B&W telly and remembering how things used to be – except the web was always colour. As a browser it’s not perfect but it does in a pinch. You can access webmail and Twitter – didn’t try Facebook – and general pages. There’s not much more you can say – it works for a basic browser.

Kindle quirks

That’s not to say it’s perfect though. In fact, there’s a few places it could be improved:

  • What’s with the wacky screensaver pics? Let me add my own, pick one that I like or at least get rid of the John Steinbeck pic where he looks like Kevin Costner with a ‘tache.
  • Organising. If you buy a Kindle and set up collections – as you will because if you fill this thing you’ll have 350 pages to scroll through – do it from the start. The file organising structure on this thing is terrible, slow and clumsy.
  • I can play MP3s but not view pics? What gives. I can view comics.
  • Reading in darkness is impossible. Why it doesn’t give you the option to do white text on a black background I do not know. Would probably be useful for those with sight impairments too. The odds are this was to sell the over-priced cover with light but WOB would have been a great feature.
  • The more popular this gets – along with the iPad – will we see a rise in book piracy? It’s already fairly rife…
  • You don’t see the covers of the books – just a list of titles – which is a shame

Suggestions for Kindle 4

  • You could lose the keyboard and probably have it as a basic on-screen touchscreen keyboard, making this device even smaller. But that may push the price up.
  • It lacks a lot of the ability to personalise

Overall

This is the best gadget I have. Yes, it doesn’t have the same relaxing feel as reading a paperback but all that means to me is that when I pick up a paperback or hardback now it needs to be for a special reason or a book I really want. Everything that’s a casual purchase can be Kindled – especially when the Kindle prices are better than the paperbacks.

But it’s not sexy. While it’s nice, don’t think ever whipping this out somewhere will get you laid. But that’s a good thing because if you whip this out, you’ve probably got a good book you want to read anyway…

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