True to their promise, Amazon and UPS tuned up at my front door this morning with a Kindle International, the new, albeit somewhat kludged (more of that later) version of their previous US only EBook.
I had lusted after one of these for a long time so when the announcement came that the International version was being released and could be pre-ordered I put my name down that very day.
Later, having read some of the restrictions of the International Kindle such as no web browser, no access to blogs, no images in newspapers or magazines etc I cancelled my order. At least I thought I had until the email announcing dispatch arrived. Ooops ….
And so here I am with a Kindle International. And first impressions are very good. It’s smaller and lighter than I had imagined, about the size of a paperback in width and height and 6mm thick. It is very light in the hand and comfortable to hold, much better than struggling to keep the cover of a thick paperback open or supporting a weighty hardback.
The much vaunted e-ink works superbly with clear, crisp images that look very much like a printed page. The clarity can’t be conveyed on a computer screen, it is very, very different to looking at text on screen. I’m certain it will be much easier on your eyes long term. Type can be re-sized, the text-to-speech option is very good and much less robotic than early attempts and other features like dictionary look up, notations etc all work well. Next and Previous page buttons sit either side of the screen and so long as you are right-handed there is a duplicate ‘next’ button on the left so you can flick forwards and backwards through a book single handed.
I’ve also discovered Calibre, a superb open source app for Mac, Linux and Windows that allows you to import and convert documents and non-DRM’d EBooks in a variety of formats. The star feature for me is it can be configured to scrape an RSS feed at set intervals and create an EBook. So point it at the Guardian’s RSS URL or the BBC’s and every day it’ll give you a summary of the days news, brilliant! It syncs with the Kindle and will copy the files across automatically.
The downsides however are all to do with the restrictions of the International version. Currently the International is only available in the US Amazon Store even though it can now be officially bought by customers from a long list of supported countries. This means purchase prices are all in US Dollars which is annoying.
Previous Kindles used CDMA for their wireless data access (called ‘Whispernet’). This allowed free access to Amazon’s book store and wireless downloading of new books in the US. The international version they have had to move to GSM. This requires a SIM Card necessitating a re-design and the two are not interchangeable.
This means that when a UK customer uses their International version in the UK, they are effectively ‘roaming’ on a foreign network for data access. As the data service is free of any charges Amazon have taken the decision to restrict what you can and can’t via the wireless service to limit data usage. This means you cannot subscribe to blogs, you do not get images in Newspapers or magazines and the limited web browser is locked out.
Much of this I can understand even if I don’t like it. But when you pay for a book, there is a supplemental charge for “VAT & International wireless delivery”. As books, magazines etc can be downloaded over the air or via a computer, why not have the image heavy option available via the computer only? Indeed why not have every item available via the two methods with a discount if you choose to install manually?
I am hoping that Amazon will move to a full UK version in due course with web access, blogs, images etc. Further, I hope they will allow us early adopters to switch to that model when it arrives.
I’ve bought an EBook from the Amazon store to read and evaluate. Purchase was problem free and as promised, the book synchronised to the device within 30 secs and appeared in the browse list.
The only other point of note is it charges from micro-USB. Great news if you already have some gadgets that use this connector. It is the new smaller than mini-USB type that the EU have mandated all new mobile phones must have as of next year.
But whilst the Kindle comes with a USB – microUSB cable, it ships with a US 110-240 Volt 2-pin Plug to USB adapter for charging from the mains. You can use this in countries where the local voltage is 220-240 volts but you will require the necessary pin adapter to use. Or you can do as I do and charge it from the laptop. Given the Kindle battery lasts a very long time this isn’t a huge issue.