Amazon Kindle 3

Amazon's Kindle has always been the best eBook reader on the market, and with the latest version, the Kindle 3, the gap has widened to ludicrous proportions. There are two factors to this success. First, the Kindle simply offers the best eBook experience anywhere, with none of the horrific onscreen reflection, bulky heft, or lack of available titles that dogs Apple's lackluster iPad. And second, thanks to heightened competition in the eBook market, the Kindle is now reasonably priced, erasing my only serious complaint about previous versions. No software or consumer electronics product is perfect of course. But the Kindle 3 comes awfully close.

[ Read my review of the Kindle 2. ]

I ordered my first Kindle the day the original model was announced, and I jumped on board with the Kindle 2 immediately as well. But I've never been so overwhelmingly positive about the superiority of this product as I am with this latest version. The Kindle 3 is the culmination of years of software improvements, some steady if minor updates to the e-ink screen, some impressive (and Apple-esque) hardware design improvements, and an ever-growing library of content that is available not just on Amazon's devices, but also on PCs, Macs, iPhones, iPod touches, iPads, and even Android smart phones.

Amazon Kindle 3
Three generations of Kindle eBook readers.

The improvements in the Kindle 3 are truly impressive. The device now ships in two models, a correctly priced (at $140) Wi-Fi version that comes in a gorgeous new graphite enclosure, and a higher-end $190 version, in graphite or white, that adds free 3G wireless connectivity with (non-free) global wireless coverage. I purchased one of each: A Wi-Fi model for my wife and a 3G version for myself. (There's also a much larger Kindle DX, aimed at the education market, that sells for $380.)


Compared to the previous generation Kindle, the Kindle 3 is smaller, lighter, and more attractive, but it retains the exact same screen size. That screen, however, is much improved, with dramatically better readability thanks to 50 percent better contrast. The flash/pause effect that occurs when the screen redraws is less annoying too. This screen leaves competing eBook readers, and Apple's reflection-happy iPad, in the dust. There is no comparison, especially in direct sunlight, where the iPad is reduced to a $650 mirror. (For those concerned about the Kindle's lack of backlighting, Amazon sells a cover with an integrated reading light.)

Also, Amazon last year improved the presentation of periodicals, and with the Kindle 3 you also get nice new crisp fonts, making my daily reading of the New York Times all the more enjoyable.

Amazon Kindle 3
The Kindle 3's contrast superiority is obvious.

The form factor changes are equally impressive. The new Kindle is so small and elegant looking, you can't believe there isn't an Apple logo on it. It makes even the previous generation Kindle, which was a huge improvement in its own right a year ago, look stodgy by comparison.

According to Amazon, the Kindle 3 is over 20 percent smaller than its predecessor. And its 17 percent lighter, at just 8.5 ounces. Put another way, the Kindle 3 weighs exactly one-third as much as an iPad. It is thus far easier to hold, and can actually be held and used with one hand. You'd ruin your wrist and your sanity trying that with Apple's device.

Another area in which the Kindle makes the iPad look silly is battery life. Apple claims 9 to 10 hours of battery life for the iPad, whereas Amazon says the Kindle battery life is up to one month long, assuming wireless is off, or three weeks with the wireless on. I've only had the new version for several days, but I've yet to charge it, and the previous version routinely went longer than a week with the wireless on. Again, no contest.

Amazon Kindle 3
Another Kindle 3/Kindle 2 size comparison.

There are other improvements, both to the hardware and software. The storage allotment goes from 2GB to 4GB, though I have never even come close to filling up the Kindle 2, and I buy books regularly. Wi-Fi connectivity means faster book downloading, though this was never an issue with the 3G-based previous model. The PDF reader has been enhanced (as it was previously on the Kindle DX), though I believe Amazon's bigger device would offer a better experience for PDF files.

You want books? Amazon has almost 700,000 books, including almost all of the 100 NYT best sellers. It's compatible with almost 2 million free, out of print titles, too. And most Kindle paid titles--about 550,000 worth--cost just $9.99 or less, undercutting Apple's $15 average. Meanwhile, Apple offers a much tinier library for iPad users through its iBooks store, with just thousands of titles. (iBooks does offer a much better PDF reading experience, however, assuming you can get past the screen's reflective behavior.)

From a form factor perspective, I find the new graphite shell to be much nicer looking (and easier on the eyes) than the old Apple-like white exterior. There's also less "stuff" around the screen, thanks to the smaller new form factor. The back and forward buttons are smaller and quieter--for those who like to read in bed but don't want to bother their spouse--and the keyboard and navigational controls have been reworked a bit. Now, instead of the weird little joystick from the Kindle 2, there's a simple and intuitive four-way control button. Perfect.

As with the previous Kindles, Amazon supports the Kindle 3 with various cases and other accessories. I purchased a leather case for both of our new Kindle 3's, which make them look like classy old books while providing the necessary protection.

Amazon Kindle 3
Kindle 3 with leather case.

The only logical complaint about the Kindle 3 is that it doesn't feature a color screen. Fair enough. But few of the books I read would ever take advantage of such a thing, and I prefer readability over color, as should any regular reader. This is an eBook reader designed for readers, not for trendy technology lovers. (Though it should scratch that itch as well.)

I can't recommend the Kindle 3 enough. I had originally planned to move my wife from the original Kindle to the Kindle 2 as I moved forward to the new model. But the Kindle 3 was so much better than its predecessors that I simply ordered one for her as well. It's that good.

Highly recommended.