Amazon Kindle review: the e-reader for the mass market

It’s smaller, faster and cheaper than its predecessor. The Kindle is ready for the mainstream, writes Matt Warman

By Matt Warman, Consumer Technology Editor

Amazon Kindle

Amazon’s new Kindle is slimmer and cheaper than previous models.

Amazon’s new Kindle is the first ebook reader that has a credible chance of cracking the mass market. Smaller, cheaper, faster and better connected than its predecessor, the new Kindle is to the old what the paperback is to the hardback, and on Friday it’s finally officially available in the UK. Prices start at an affordable £109.

It’s worth getting some criticisms of this excellent device out of the way first, however: the open ePub reading format is not supported, so you’re tied into the Amazon ecosystem (which is not too bad a place to be, by the way). The screen isn’t in colour, either, and design-wise this, like the iPad, is a device that needs a cover to protect it from the real world. Unfortunately that will set you back nearly £50 and effectively doubles the width of the device.

More generally, however, the iPad is not a spectre that looms large when using the Kindle – the devices overlap in some respects, but the new Kindle is not a rival. At about 240g, the Kindle is more discrete and is easily held in one hand. Turning pages is faster than on the old version and the library is ever expanding. Its e-Ink technology makes extended reading easy – in short, it’s a relatively inexpensive device for reading books, rather than a kind of computer. Illustrations, too, render with remarkable detail now that contrast has been substantially improved, there’s room for 3,500 books and, on the £149 3G version, there’s free access to the Amazon Store wherever you are. That means a computer or even a wifi network is completely unnecessary. Bookmarks, users comments and social media enhance the reading experience, but fundamentally the Kindle tries not to get in the way too much. Key to that is the one-month battery life. The device’s cleverest touch is synchronising your place in a text across a range of devices, from phones to computers or other products.

Apps make games a growing possibility, and there’s also an experimental web browser, which on the 3G version means you get free web access wherever you are. Newspapers, the Telegraph included, are also expanding their use of the Kindle platform, so devices such as this and the iPad are more likely to become ubiquitous over time. The Kindle will also play MP3s, read aloud to you and can be used to receive documents. None of these features is yet individually compelling, but the package is increasingly so.

In due course, there’ll obviously be some coalescence across this range of devices: Amazon admits it would like to do colour screens, for instance, but says the technology is not yet good enough. When it does then electronic textbooks, for instance, will be compelling for every school child and student. At that scale, too, the market might sort out the problems of pricing eBooks that exist at the moment.

For now, however, where the iPad has its place, so too does the Kindle. Speaking as a consumer, I’ll be buying a Kindle; but I’ll be waiting for tablet computers to evolve before I spend any money on them.

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