WANTED: Amazon Kindle, 3rd Generation

Kindle with books

Amazon's newest Kindle (simply called "Kindle," though it's sometimes referred to as the "Kindle 3") is the best ebook-reading device on the market. It's better than the Apple iPad, the Barnes & Noble Nook, the various Sony readers, and certainly better than any smartphone.

Of course, it doesn't really excell at anything else. Its web browser, now based on WebKit (like modern smartphone browsers) is much improved, but due to the limitations of the hardware (most importantly the greyscale e-ink display) it's easily bested by any modern smartphone. The browser is listed as "experimental," and aptly so. It's not a great music player, magazine reader, or communication device, either.

But for reading books and newspapers, it can't be beat. The newly revamped e-ink screen is startling in its clarity and contrast; gone are the days of dull greyish screens. The Kindle's text absolutely pops. The screen is also the fastest in terms of page refresh times of any e-ink screen I've used. Turning pages is very quick, never interrupting your reading rhythm.

It's still black-and-white, but really, that's for the best. The screen almost glows outdoors. In comparison to the iPad, which turns into a pretty but useless mirror in sunlight, the Kindle only gets more readable. This is a gadget that loves the beach.

The Kindle has also been considerably shrunken since its last iteration. It's razor-thin and feels great in the hand, small and light enough to hold comfortably for as long as you care to read (unlike the 1.5-pound, 10-inch iPad). The new button layouts are mostly for the better, though the navigational pad could stand to be a little larger. And Amazon still has the easiest shopping experience of any ebook store, with a large selection and typically $10 pricing.

Battery life is estimated at one month. I've only had mine for about a week—check back with me in mid-September, and I'll tell you if Amazon's estimation is accurate. Mine's still showing full bars.

The price drop which took the formerly $260 gadget to $190 (or $140, for the Wi-Fi-only version) puts the Kindle in an entirely different price category than before. Now it's easily giftable, or a fairly guilt-free purchase after payday. The price drop is a big deal—you can read more about that in Kit's excellent piece on the subject (though I disagree with his conclusion).

It's not perfect, like any gadget. The Kindle, for some baffling reason, does not support EPUB, the rapidly emerging ebook standard. That means, most troublingly, that Kindle users can't rent ebooks from their local library. Amazon told me that the process for getting library-rented ebooks onto ebook readers is cumbersome, which is why they left out the feature. Well, why not just fix the process, rather than ignore it altogether?

The weirdest flaw for me, coming from a Sony Reader, is that the Kindle does not play nicely with page numbering. Instead of a page number, it gives a percentage completed as well as a "location" number that continues to confound me. Oh, I'm on "Locations 1,020-28 of 1,210"? Thanks for that helpful information, Kindle!

But those flaws don't take away from the fact that this is an amazing ebook reader, one that's great for the ebook industry as well as for consumers. The new cheap price, combined with a great new (if incrementally improved) model, will net lots of new ebook customers. And given Kindle's inability to read EPUB files, more Kindle owners means more sales for the Kindle Store.

That makes it easier for authors like Seth Godin to embrace digital text, and may make it easier for the industry as a whole to shift some weight to ebooks rather than traditional publishing. Ebook sales are way up, and ebook readers (not tablets, and not smartphones) are mostly the vehicle on which they're being read. Amazon told me that 80% of its Kindle ebook sales are sold on the Kindle device itself, so an affordable, well-made ebook reader is a major help for ebook authors.

What's hard to get across to someone who hasn't owned—and having picked one up doesn't count—an ebook reader is how enjoyable the Kindle is to use. I've bought more ebooks in the three months I've owned an ebook reader than I've bought physical books in the last two years. I've certainly read more in those three months than in any other three months since I was in college. You remember how fun it is to accumulate books, to read them, and to talk about them. An author friend of mine told me, "I'm not old fashioned or a purist. If it's getting people excited about reading and making writers money, it's good."

Kindle is good.

The newest Kindle is priced at $189 (3G and Wi-Fi) or $139 (Wi-Fi), and is available for pre-order now. If you ordered earlier this month, your Kindle could ship as early as Friday, but orders placed today or later won't ship until September 17th.

Dan Nosowitz, the author of this post, can be followed on Twitter, corresponded with via email, and stalked in Brooklyn (no link for that one—you'll have to do the legwork yourself).

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  • Levi Smith

    One of the things I really enjoy about a Kindle is Amazon's highlights and notes site, which syncs up with my Kindle. Makes reviewing and sharing what you've read very easy. I wrote a blog post not too long ago about how eReaders like the Kindle can help you become a more effective leader by making it easier to share what you've learned.


  • Marilyn

    If you change your email address, you lose all the books you bought on the old email address. I just spent 30 minutes with a Kindle rep. They have no way to link email addresses. I think they need a new software vendor!

  • Rob Siders

    Great piece... but I have a nit to pick with calling the ePub format the "rapidly emerging standard." I think there're to problems with this. The first is that among the devices and installed software that play ePubs, there's no standardization in how they render the books. As it sits, ebook designers have to make a version for the nook that's different from the one for the iPad (largely because of a bug in the rendering engine) that's different from the one for Calibre. The whole point to a standard is that it should be universal regardless of the player.

    The second problem is that Amazon has more commercial content than everyone else. It's not even all that close. From where I sit, that pretty much makes Amazon's format the standard.

  • Andrys Basten

    I agree that, at first, it's jarring. I think the point is this:

    Since percentage won't get you to a certain paragraph on a page, the location number has the same function as a paper book-page except that there are many more of them covering specific paragraphs and they're absolute 'locations' -- there's no guessing. People who share paper books will communication what book location they're at by specifying a page number.

    With the Kindle, with the font-size affecting page numbers so that two people couldn't match them if they were using different font-sizes, this absolute-place-number (rather than a relative page number in a font-size affected e-book) helps get people "on the same page" when they want.

    If I'm reading a 400 page book, and I see I'm on page 300, I know I'm 3/4ths done (the percentage bar helps too). If I'm on a 4000 location e-book and see I'm on page 3000, same thing... At the right hand side, you get the total number of locations for that e-book.

    If you bookmark the page or location, same thing. Just a point of agreement as to where you can be sure to find a paragraph or chapter.

    I must say I don't understand Amazon's reply on public-library-ebooks other than that they pride themselves on processes that don't require a computer and I suppose library book loans could throw a wrench in that marketing claim. But they can write a disclaimer. :-) I've never read a statement by them at all on the missing public library loan feature so I was amazed you did get -something- out of one of their spokespersons.

  • Andrys Basten

    Dan, enjoyed your review and the fact that you got a couple of answers from Amazon at all when they normally don't answer those in any way.

    As for Locations -- traditional page numbers are less meaningful on an e-reader because they can't match up with whatever edition of a book you're interested in. If you increase the font, there are less words on a page, and the page numbers change as a result, giving you somewhat different content.

    NOW, if publishers hardcoded Begin & End page info for each page digitally, then there could be a 2nd number indicating what original book-page you're on if that's wanted.

    In the meantime, a location number is an absolute number or range identified which will always bring you to the same paragraph(s) - no matter what your font size is.

    It's very much like page numbers except that there will be 4000 of them instead of 400 and will usually indicate a range, like 2568-74, meaning location area 2568 to 2574. I always choose the first number.

    In comparing two versions of a DX today (one being sold), I brought up a page I wanted to make a photo of and then looked at the location number. On the other DX, I pressed Menu button, then on "Go to" and typed that location number and then clicked on "Location" and was on the same 'page' as a result.

    The status line will indicate your location number at any time, as is done with a page number, and the percentage bar below tells you how far you are into the book. The one I'm one was 72% so I know I don't have that much further to go.

    - Andrys

  • Dan Nosowitz

    Yeah, I understand the point of the "location" numbers, but they're still jarring. I'd prefer there was at least an option to have traditional page numbers (even if that means one Kindle screen doesn't match up to one page).

    The problem with the location numbers is that they have no relevance to anything in the real world. I have no idea how long it'll take to read another thousand "locations," so I mostly end up ignoring it in favor of the percentage. So I wonder what the point of having the location numbers is in the first place.

  • Sarah Lambert


    Nuff said.

    Back in the day, Swatch decided to randomly invent a more easily-memorizable type of time system, based on the decimal system instead of various multiples of 6. (12, 60, 24, etc) Of course, nobody used it. Using it was *optional*, so there was no logical reason for anybody to bother buying an expensive watch and spending months getting used to a new way of doing something they'd done all their lives.

    Only one thing would have guaranteed a system like that would get adopted - forcing it on them. Even if people complained at first, they'd eventually get used to it, and someday say that they found it much improved and that they were quite silly for ever liking anything else.

    The thing that gets me about location numbers is that ideally, they're a more effective system overall. A conceptual child of that system could very well see use all over the place, even in PC web browsers and things like that, once standardized information about what a "location" consists of is published. In other words, they're jarring, but they do make sense.

    Amazon's in the position to force their system of measurement on anyone who buys a Kindle, and there appear to be a fair few people who fit that criteria. That Amazon's set on including this little annoyance probably means that they're trying to passively sneak in a new way of doing things. I wouldn't expect a page number system, ever, unless it winds up killing sales. Which it probably won't.