new kindle - a quick review, and other thoughts

You may be thinking: New Kindle? The new tablet?

No, no that one. That’s out in November.

The Kindle with the “Paperwhite” display?

No, no that one either. That one comes out in next week but my order won’t ship until October.

This is perhaps the biggest problem I see with the new Kindle(s) Amazon announced last week: confusion. But more on that in a second. My answer to “should I get it?” also follows.

The new Kindle I’m referring to is the keyboard-less version of what Amazon now calls “Kindle e-Readers.” It’s the cheapest Kindle but it’s also the best suited, in my opinion, for long-form reading.

The best ebook reader

This new Kindle is a bit lighter than the old one, jet-black replacing the dark but dull gray of yesteryear. It is a bit faster. To my eyes, the screen looks a bit better. In other words, it screams INCREMENTAL IMPROVEMENT all around.

That’s fine with me, really. For a sub-$100 device that does exactly what it’s supposed to do and that remains, thankfully, focused primarily on a single function –reading–, this isn’t _that _far from the perfect device. The perfect device would be lighter but probably not much thinner, since if it was thinner it may get in the way of holding it properly.

This model is the primary device in which I read long-form writing. The news-reading king is the iPad, but for books the Kindle wins hands-down. It can be used under any light conditions, it’s lighter, and if the iPad’s battery lasts (seemingly) for an infinite amount of time, this Kindle’s battery is infinity plus one.

If you do a lot of long-form reading, this is the device to get, no question.


Versions, versions, versions

That’s all well and good, but what about all the others? As I mentioned above, this is where the problem starts.

This is the list of the Kindles Amazon is selling at the moment. It’s important to note that these are the names that Amazon uses:

You may be tempted to think that Amazon just decided to splay Kindle versions by _feature _or options, but that’s not the case. Every one of those models has options to choose from: Ad-supported (what Amazon called “With Special Offers”) or not for the Kindles, which lowers their prices, and with different amounts of memory for the Kindle Fire models.

For the any buyer –not just your “average” buyer which tends to appear, unicorn-like, in many reviews– this is incredibly confusing. Each of these products has their own product page, each touting the devices advantages. The “3G” or “4G” monikers in the product name force you to make a choice _upfront _for whether you want cellular wireless or not. Each product page references the other products, and the descriptions are very similar. It’s easy to click on the wrong product page by mistake and think you’re getting one thing while actually buying another. Price may offset confusion somewhat, and the fact that Kindles are less expensive than the alternative, iPad in particular, may entice some buyers to power through all the marketing nonsense and figure out what to buy anyway.

Amazon seems to have decided that strength is in numbers, Paradox of Choice be damned. I think that this is a mistake. It prevents simple, verbal recommendations from happening. “Should I get a Kindle?” is a common question I hear. There is no way to answer that quickly and with accuracy. The best you can do is extrapolate, assume they want an ebook reader, and say: “Yes, just get the cheapest one, less than $100.”

Compare that to the _other _typical question: “Should I get an iPad?” You can easily answer this with yes or no. The iPad is the iPad. True, there are choices to be made once you have decided to get one: price, memory, 3G or not. But the basic product choice has already been made. I, like most others, expect that if Apple announces a smaller iPad at some point it will be clearly distinguished, like, say, “iPad Mini,” but it won’t go beyond that.

What would be simpler?

My own preference for the Kindle line would be something like this. Three products: Kindle, Kindle Fire Mini, and Kindle Fire. (Since Apple hasn’t announced an “iPad Mini” yet, that would work, and it would make sure that stories about an iPad Mini, if it’s released, would also mention the Kindle Mini as a competitor). Drop the original Kindle Fire and the Kindle Keyboard (I have no doubt that Amazon keeps the Kindle Keyboard around because it sells, but my argument would be that at some point whatever you’re making from it is undercutting clarity of choice, and therefore sales from the newer devices). Make everything else an option. Forget about adding “HD” to the name: it will not age well.

Obviously this won’t happen now, but who knows, maybe next year. As for whether the new Kindle Fire models will be worthy iPad challengers, that remains to be seen, but the initial reviews suggest the same lack-of-polish software problems that the original Kindle Fire has. This is somewhat beside the point, however: Amazon’s beachhead into the tablet space is by making Kindle Fire a window into all Amazon content you own, as opposed to trying to match the iPad as a more general computing device. For that purpose, it’s a good tablet.

I’m a huge fan of Amazon as a company and the Kindle e-reader as a product. I also think that the Kindle Fire is important to provide a credible competitor to Apple, so I’m looking forward to seeing it evolve.

In the meantime, though, my recommendation remains the same: if you do a lot of long-form reading, get the cheapest Kindle. For everything else, there’s iPad. :-)