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.