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Amazon’s New Kindle is Worth the Upgrade

A new Kindle is coming in August, and it will come in two versions: A $189 version with built-in 3G wireless, and a $139 version that is Wi-Fi only. The new Kindle is lighter, faster, has an improved display, and some minor hardware refinements. It isn’t really Amazon’s response to the iPad, but more of a response to the more similar Barnes & Noble and Sony products. Let’s revisit the Kindle this week.

Is the Kindle an iPad Killer?

It is easy to get people excited about comparing the iPad to the Kindle, and taking a position that one is substantially better than the other. But this is like comparing an SUV to a motorcycle. The two devices target dramatically different use cases. The Kindle is a reader, it doesn’t pretend to be anything else, and it excels at reading. The iPad is a big iPod, and it is a multimedia device. It can be a reader, but the display has severe disadvantages in terms of battery life, outdoor use, and contrast. However, the iPad is great for the Web, movies, TV, games and other things the Kindle can’t even hope to do. Amazon’s real response to the iPad was the Kindle reader for the iPad, and at some point the company may bring out something that does more, but if you want what the iPad does, you don’t want a Kindle.

This speaks to the core of what Amazon is trying to do, which is to own the e-book market. That is why they make reader applications for Apple and Google Android platforms. Amazon’s model is different than Apple’s. Amazon wants to sell books, Apple wants to sell apps, and it is likely that the two devices will be optimized differently even when the Kindle eventually does do multimedia.

Kindle Improvements

If you take the first two earlier Kindles and put them next to the new third generation, you’ll see a huge difference in contrast. Amazon quietly slipstreamed this screen into the second-generation Kindle earlier in the year – the only reason I know about this is because my wife’s Kindle broke, and they replaced it for free with a new one, even though it was out of warranty. (I’m told that if you buy a lot of books, they will often do this.) The display is vastly better; in fact it made my larger DX display look so bad, I bought the new DX, which has a similar display. It makes a huge difference in low light, and is generally even more like a good book paper. I read a lot, and for me the display change alone was worth buying a new Kindle.

The new Kindle is about 15 percent lighter, and weight for something you hold for hours is very important. Battery life is also apparently improved, and still measured in weeks compared to hours like on the iPad. Better software will more aggressively turn off the radios when you aren’t downloading books or shopping. The same code has also been integrated into updates, so if you have an older Kindle and have applied the updates, you are likely already seeing better battery life.

Wi-Fi is now an option, and because folks are exploring the device for text-based social networking apps like Twitter, this could be a sign of things to come. If you primarily use the device for reading, my experience suggests that the extra $50 you pay for 3G (even though it is AT&T 3G) is well worth the money. Connecting to Wi-Fi outside of the home is an iffy proposition, and being able to get a book any place that there is cell phone coverage is a godsend.

If you have one of the older second– or first-generation Kindles, or are new to e-books and like the Amazon selection, this new Kindle could be attractive to you. If you are more of a multimedia iPad user, have one of the updated second-generation Kindles or don’t like the e-book model, then it isn’t.

The Real Appeal of E-Books

One of the complaints about e-books is you can’t gift or trade them, and this is true. However, I buy a book to read, and they typically build up until I donate them to a library. Before the Kindle, I rarely had a book I wanted to read when I wanted to read it. After being on the Kindle platform for around three years, I now have around 100 books I’ve purchased that I always have access to, and can reference wherever I am. I’ve even started re-reading some of them, something I virtually never did before. For me, the ability to have something to read anywhere and access every book I’ve ever purchased is worth the sacrifice of not being able to loan it out or sell it. But that is me, and I was never a big book loaner, and was often frustrated when I wanted to look up a reference and either couldn’t find the book I wanted, or it was someplace I wasn’t.

I’ve bought every Kindle Amazon has brought out and it is the one device that goes with me even if I leave my cell phone behind. I’m currently reading the WebMage series (fantasy series about a hacker wizard) and after finishing the first book at dinner last night, bought the rest of the series while I was waiting for the dinner check last night. You can’t do that with paper, and that is why I love my Kindle, and likely why Amazon loves me as a customer.

For Kindle lovers and e-book buyers the new Kindle, while not revolutionary, is a nice improvement, and at $189, a relatively inexpensive upgrade for something some of us can’t seem to live without.

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