Amazon Kindle (2014) Review

Kindle LogoArriving in 2007 with its e-paper display, the Amazon Kindle revolutionised reading and has become almost synonymous with e-readers. Seven years on, there’s been a steady evolution of the Kindle, introducing whiter screens, backlights and touch. On review here is the Kindle, 2014 edition. This is the standard model – not the Paperwhite, not the Voyage – so let’s take a look at what Amazon has done this time round.

Kindle with Box

The headline news for the Kindle e-reader is that it now has a touch screen and the power button is the only moving part on the e-reader. This brings touch right across the Amazon range, and while some diehards may mourn the demise of the buttons, navigating round the Kindle is much easier. Besides, whenever I had anything go wrong with electronic devices, it was always the buttons.

Kindle Library

In other news, the Kindle has picked up the same design cues as the Fire tablets with a slightly chunkier look and the bevelled plastic back of its siblings. The new Kindle is perhaps not as svelte as previous iterations, it’s still light at 191 g. Reviewing the exterior, there’s not much to talk about – 6″ 800 x 600 Pearl e-paper screen, micro USB socket, power button and reset hole. That’s it, but that’s all you need. There’s no backlight on this model, so no reading in the dark.

Kindle Bottom

Speaking of what you need, potential purchasers should note that there’s only a charging cable in the box and there’s no charger. This has been the case with Kindles for some time now but I thought I’d mention it to avoid an unpleasant surprise.

Getting started with the Kindle is easy. Hook up to a wi-fi connection (b/g/n) and then enter Amazon credentials to see all the literature on the account. 3G is no longer an option but given the ubiquitous nature of wif-fi, I doubt anyone will miss it. As with the Fire tablets, there’s a clear distinction between content on device and content in the cloud but it’s a simple tap to switch views. There’s 4 GB of storage standing by for holiday reading and for ordinary novels, 4 GB goes a very long way.

Without the buttons, how does one navigate? At the “home” level, it’s a case of tapping on icons as if it were a full-blown tablet. Once in a book, it’s tap on the right to go forward, tap on the left to go back and tap at the top to get the menu bar up. From here you can leave the book or adjust settings. While taps are reliably recorded, the response time isn’t quite up there with a tablet but it’s still quick enough and it’s not unsurprising given the limitations of e-paper. The presentation of the books can be adjusted with six different typefaces, eight text sizes, three line spaces and three margin settings.

In addition to books, the Kindle brings into the hand much of the Amazon experience. It’s easy to shop for new books, especially now with the touch screen, and features such as Kindle for Kids and Household registration will be familiar to users of the Amazon Fire. X-Ray is present too, providing a ready reckoner for characters, plot points and referenced terms: it’s handy, especially when reading a new genre of book or hitting a series midway through. Kindle FreeTime helps parents set reading targets for children and rewards the children with badges when they hit their goals.

Shop Kindle

As with all previous Kindles, the e-reader is designed to work with ebooks bought from Amazon. Books from other on-line stores can’t usually be loaded unless they’re DRM-free and there’s no Overdrive app for library books.

Overall, the new Kindle is a satisfactory evolution of the entry level model and the touchscreen makes the e-reader easier to use, especially when browsing for books. Currently priced with a £10 discount for Mother’s Day, the Kindle is priced at GB£49 with special offers and £59 without ads. Even without the £10 offer, it’s a great value product.

Thanks to Amazon for the Kindle review unit.

Read An eBook Day

Read an ebook dayJust in case you were going to miss it, Thursday is “Read an a eBook Day“, a celebration of modern storytelling. Surprisingly, it’s not sponsored by Amazon on behalf of the Kindle but rather OverDrive whose apps let you borrow library books for free. Yes, for free.

It’s probably one of the best keep secrets in the whole tablet and ereader business. Contrary to what Amazon would  have you believe, you don’t have to buy ebooks from them as there are plenty of up-to-date novels available from your local library. The downside is that transferring books isn’t that slick and you need an ereader that’s not tied in to the Amazon ecosystem. I have a Nook, but ereaders from Sony and Kobo are supported as well, and you need to load the books via a PC rather than downloading across the Net.

If you have tablet, it’s much easier as the OverDrive app is available for iOS, Android, Kindle and Windows Phone, as well as for Windows and Mac desktop platforms. Check the appropriate app store or else try OverDrive‘s web site. Once you have the app, all that’s needed is a membership of a library and you can download directly from your library to your tablet.

Instead of “Read an eBook Day”, Thursday should be “Read a Free eBook from your Local Library Day”.

Free eBooks From Your Local Library

These are tough economic times and if you want to save yourself a few pennies, stop buying ebooks, join your local library and borrow ebooks for free. The OverDrive Media Console app lets you download and read ebooks offered by your local library for nothing, and if audiobooks are of more interest, the app can handle those as well. The OverDrive app is available for most common smartphones and tablets, including iOS, Android, Windows Phone, Blackberry, Kindle Fire and Nook tablets. If you have a Kobo, Sony or Nook ereader, you can still borrow books from your library but you’ll need to use Adobe’s Digital Editions to download via your PC. If you have a Kindle ereader, you’re out of luck.

The app can be downloaded from most app stores and directly from OverDrive if your device’s app store doesn’t host the app. In the first instance, the app asks you to find your local library via simple search. Poking around I was able to find libraries in UK, USA, Canada, Mexico, Germany, India and Japan, so it has worldwide coverage but I’ve no real idea of how extensive it is.

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For my library, I had enter my borrower number and again I assume it will be similar for most public libraries. Once you are in the system, you can browse for your favourite novels and authors, and then borrow the book you want. Before you can download the book, you’ll need to sign-up for an Adobe ID and put it into Overdrive’s settings. This is all part of the ePub DRM, but getting an ID is straightforward and free of charge.

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Obviously the range of books is entirely dependent on your library but I found a good selection of books available (several of which I already owned!) and once you’ve got your reading selection downloaded, you can swap to Overdrive’s bookshelf to see what’s available for reading.

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As a reader app, OverDrive Media Console is good. There’s a bit of delay when opening a book for the very first time, but after that it’s snappy. All the other usual features are there – typeface selection, font size, line spacing, colour schemes, animations, but overall it’s well done. Reading books is easy and a pleasure.

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So, if you don’t want pay for ebooks and you’ve a tablet or smartphone, download the OverDrive Media Console, join your local library and start saving money. It’s a no-brainer!

The Paperback is an Endangered Species

Nook ClassicPicture the scene….I’m on holiday, lying by the swimming pool, relaxing in the summer sun. It’s a 4-star hotel, nothing fancy, catering to families from all round Europe; Britain, France, Germany, Norway. As I look around my fellow guests, I notice that many of them are reading from ereaders – Kindles, Kobos and the odd Nook. A few people are reading celebrity magazines like Hello and Chat. What does surprise me is the total absence of paperbacks – in all the rows of sun loungers that I can see, there’s not a single paperback book. It’s as if the paperback became an endangered species from one year to the next.

In reality this shouldn’t be a surprise. Ebooks and ereaders have become popular and the continual reductions in weight allowances by the budget airlines have encouraged travellers to leave heavy paper at home. The result is children, parents and grandparents are all lying round the pool, electronics in hand. The paperback is on the verge of extinction.

And while the paperback is all but gone, this isn’t the death of the novel. By all evidence round the pool, the written word is still alive and well. Only the medium has changed from paper and ink to glass and eInk. I see a bright future for authors and novelists.

I’ve certainly no regrets myself, but it does make it very hard to see what your fellow sun-worshippers are reading.

Eason Fails to Sell eBooks via Billboard

…or “Why DRM is killing ebook sales outside of Amazon or Barnes & Noble”.

Being a international superstar and global jetsetter*, I had the pleasure of passing through Dublin’s Connolly railway station today. In the atrium there was a billboard display of book covers complete with QR codes.

Billboard of Books

“Totally cool,” I thought. Scan the QR code, buy the ebook, download to my tablet and start reading. The bookstore, Eason, had helpfully included free wifi in the area to get on-line. (For those not familiar with Ireland, Eason would be the leading newsagent, stationers and bookstore, comparable to WHSmith in GB). I scanned this book:

Book cover

The QR code took me to this page. Strangely, the book offered was a paperback and not an ebook. Huh?

Book purchase

Then I looked at the original poster, “1. Choose your book 2. Scan your QR code 3. Make your purchase 4. Wait for the post 5. Enjoy your book!”

Seriously…”Wait for the post”. Have these guys actually heard of ebooks or did the Kindle completely pass them by? Sure enough, Eason does have a section for ebooks on their website. It says, “Eason eBooks are compatible with Sony, Iriver and Elonex eReaders, as well as all devices that support Adobe EPUB DRM eBooks. Our eBooks are not currently compatible with Apple iOS, Google Android or Amazon devices – this includes iPads, iPhones, iPods, Android phones and tablets, and Kindles.

So let me get this straight….Eason is appealing to a travelling customer, offering the QR codes to smartphones that will typically be iPhones or Android devices, but ebooks can’t be offered on these because of Adobe’s ePub DRM? Fail, fail, fail.

It’s both totally unbelievable yet completely expected. It’s no wonder Amazon and the Kindle are dominating the market because everyone else is fighting with one hand tied behind their back with DRM. Eason, I had a two hour train journey ahead of me and you had a 100% chance of an ebook sale but you blew it. I’ll turn on my tablet, fire up my Kindle or Nook app and buy directly from Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

Fail.

* This is completely untrue.

Tech Coming to the UK

It’s a good time to be in a geek in the UK at the moment. Over the past week there’s been a raft of announcements for predominately US-based offerings making it across the pond so here’s a quick round up of the latest news.

NookBarnes and Noble are bringing the Nook to Britain and if the marketing is right, it could be hit. Public libraries are still popular and they offer ebooks in the .epub format, which the Amazon Kindle doesn’t support but the Nook does. Some shrewd money-saving marketing and the Nook could give the Kindle a run for its money. I have the original Nook which I’m hoping will be supported in the UK, despite it being no longer sold. Pricing for the current Nooks to be announced but Argos and John Lewis are on-board to sell the hardware.

Amazon rolled out its Android Appstore to UK residents and parts of Europe, presumably for the as-yet-unannounced launch of the Kindle Fire. Coming with the Amazon Appstore is the App of the Day, which will have some great apps for nothing so it’s worth keeping an eye out for those. I’ve installed Appstore on my tablets already and have downloaded a few apps – all looking cool so far.

If you are looking for a small tablet, I think UK readers will be spoilt for choice with the Nexus 7, Kindle Fire and Nook Color / Tablet all likely to be available soon.

AmazonLocal Finally, Groupon has some competition in the shape of AmazonLocal, offering similar group deals. At the moment it seems to be focussing on London with a few national offers. Presumably city or regional deals can’t be that far away. There’s a 2 hour flying lesson currently on offer for £99 which looks fun. (As an aside, I always thought Groupon was a rubbish name until someone pointed out it was like group-coupon. Duh!)

All round, it’s good news for geeks in the UK.

Apple to the DOJ: You are Wrong.

Apple vs DOJ As I reported before Apple and various publishers have been sued by the DOJ for price-fixing and collusion in US VS Apple. Apple responded today with a brief statement saying “ it’s not true.” Apple stated that they broke Amazon’s e-book monopoly and therefore did a good thing.  Others, myself included would argue that the agency model has artificially raised prices for the consumer. This is a case where clearly the market is being manipulated to the advantage of a certain segment. In Apple’s statement they pointed out that before the iBook Amazon controlled ninety percent of the e-book market two years later it is down to 60 percent. The question may become whether which is more important the percentage of the market in numbers that a business controls or is it the ability to control pricing within that market. Apple controls less than 40 percent of the eBook market but because of their agreement with the publishers they and the publishers control the prices. Many legal experts think that it maybe difficult for the DOJ to win this case, especially the collusion charge. The papers filed by the DOJ clearly show that the various publishers met in secret in an attempt to block Amazon’s ability to sell their books at a discount. However there is little evidence that Apple participated in those meetings. Apple can argue that the publishers may have colluded but they had nothing to do with that. Apple definitely has the money to fight this case, so don’t expect a quick settlement. Sit back and relax, because this fight has just begun.

The DOJ Sues Apple and Various Publishers for Ebook Price Fixing

DOJApple and several publishers including Penguin, Harper Collins, Macmillan, Pearson and Simon & Schuster and Hachette have been accused by the U.S. Department of Justice of price-fixing and collusion. According to the Bloomberg various high level officials of these companies along with a representative from Apple met several times in secret at various locations in New York city prior to the release of the iPad 1. They agreed that the prices of e-books should be set by the publishers and the retailers could not make any changes. It also appears they agreed to the price they would be set at. According to the DOJ this was clearly directed at retailers especially Amazon, who had offered discount prices on e-books.

Simon & Schuster, Hachette and Harper Collins have settled the suit with the DOJ and have agreed to cancel any contract that would allow the publishers to set prices. They also agreed that for two years all contracts must allow for discount pricing by the retailers. Apple, Penguin and Macmillan Publishing have refused to settle. They are fighting to keep what they call the agency model. Apple appears to be the one that encouraged this model. They get 30 percent of all books sold in the iBook store. The agency model means the books will cost more for the consumers but it also means more money for Apple and the publishers. “Sales of e-books rose 117 percent in 2011, generating $969.9 million, Publishers Weekly reported Feb. 27, citing estimates from the Association of American Publishers.”

The European Union is also investigating the arrangement made between Apple and the publishers. It clear that the major publisher like the agency model. The cost of creating and publishing e-books is much lower than physical books and before this agreement the prices for books was going down. With this agreement, prices were stabilized or raised to a level agreed on by all participants and competition was removed. I have to admit I am a fan of Apple products, but I have found that I am less of a fan of some of their business practices and this is one of those times.

CourseSmart On-Line eTextBooks

CourseSmart logoCourseSmart is a higher education content delivery system that delivers e-textbooks to over 2.5 million students and faculty members. Sean Devine, CEO of CourseSmart talks to Jeffrey and Andy about the system.

CourseSmart brings together content producers and content consumers, typically publishers, lecturers and students in over 7,000 universities and colleges. The organisation is owned by a group of publishers but it distributes content from a wider range of content producers. Over 30,000 original textbooks and other products are on-line at their website and the publications can be integrated into the college’s electronic learning environment.

As with most things digital it’s not possible to buy or sell e-textbooks secondhand and the book is really just rented. The CourseSmart books are typically 60% cheaper than a new paper book and naturally they’re always in stock. For today’s mobile student the books are delivered through multiple devices – web browser, web app, iPad, iPhone and Android apps.

Interview by Jeffrey Powers of Geekazine and Andy Smith of Geocaching World.

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Starbucks’ Free Pick of the Week

Starbucks Coffee CupI’m possibly a bit slow on the uptake here, but Starbucks in the UK are offering a free “Pick of the WeekiTunes download. Some weeks it will be a music track, other weeks it will be an e-book, some will be well-known, some will be up-and-coming.

I came across this freebie last week while frequenting my local coffee house but after checking on-line, it looks like the promotion has already been running for a few weeks.

You’ll find little credit card-sized vouchers with a download code on the back close to the tills. I picked up The Damned United by David Peace. Enter the code into iTunes / iBooks and it’s added to your collection. Easy.