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I Call Myself ZOMBiE CYGIG
"Educated" At Maha Bodhi School, Victoria School, Anderson JC, LASALLE College of the Arts
What I Do Lazing, Hobby Crafting, DIY, Graphic Design, Computer Stuff that you don't get it
What I Avoid Hipsters, Soccer, Apple Brand, Outings
How Am I Like Logical, Practical, Off-Beat, Anti-Social, Sarcastic
Amazon Kindle seems to be such a mysterious device in Singapore that most of the people whom I know of had never heard of it before. I wish to clear up most of the uncertainties in this review and aim to let you understand Amazon Kindle 3 (3G, 6") from a Singaporean's point of view. In view of the burning questions everyone had been asking me, I would unconventionally begin my review with a FAQ.
The Kindle 3. Photo from GadgetVenue.
Frequently Asked Questions Q: Is the Kindle like iPad? A: Nope, they have different primary purposes, different hardware and different pricing.
Q: What is so special about the Kindle then? A: It has an E Ink screen instead of LCD. It displays in grey scales and it looks like printed paper.
Q: Why to buy Kindle? A: There are several retail stores and forumers selling Kindle locally. But it's always cheaper to buy it online, which I will cover later.
Q: But Amazon don't ship to Singapore leh? A: You use route shipping services like vPost to get it to Singapore.
Q: What is Whispernet? A: Whispernet (or referred to as a 3G version of Kindle) is a service for your Kindle to access internet on almost all parts of the world that has 3G coverage, with no additional cost like monthly bills or roaming charges at all. The only price you got to pay for Whispernet is the price difference between a Wifi-Only Kindle and a 3G Kindle, which is around S$60.
Q: Can I use Whispernet in Singapore? A: Yes! You can use it to surf net, and you can use it to purchase books and apps too. That is at least for the Kindle 3 that I owned, I have heard that on older generations of the Kindle, you are not able to do so in Singapore.
Q: How many different kinds of Kindles are there? A: You can wiki for all the different variants. Generally, I am now reviewing the 3rd generation of Amazon Kindle, unofficially known as Kindle 3. There are, during the time of writing this, five variants of Kindle 3. They are : Kindle Wifi Only (6" screen) Kindle Wifi Only with ad support (6" screen) Kindle Wifi+3G (6" screen) Kindle Wifi+3G with ad support (6" screen) Kindle DX (a 9" screen version of those above, Wifi+3G)
Q: What are those ad-supported Kindles? A: Those are Kindles with a lower pricing but display advertisements when they are in screen saver mode.
E Ink Screen The Kindle 3 features a 6" E Ink screen of 600x800 pixels. E Ink screen is totally unlike LCD or LED screen (not the same as Pixel Qi LCD either). E Ink screen simulates prints on paper, mimicking the look of how words look like on a printed book. For some people, when they first saw an E Ink screen, they might thought that it is some sort of decorative printed paper of the device's screenshot stuck to the screen for advertising purposes. While E Ink screen does not look 100% like printed paper, it has a very high level of resemblance and inherited a lot of the properties of a traditionally printed page.
E Ink screen, like paper, can be photocopied and scanned normally.
Each pixel of the E Ink screen is made up of a capsule. Inside this capsule contains black and white floating pigments, where the black ones are negatively charged and the white counterpart positive. A plate at the bottom can vary its magnetic polarity to control how much black and white pigments float and thereby controlling the grey shade of the pixel. In a sense it is very similar to a piece of printed paper as both of them are made up of elements of pigments embedded on the surface of the medium, and that they do not produce light (unlike LCD) on their own, you see the contents when ambient light is reflected off the medium into your eyes. Therefore, you will need external light to read on the Kindle just like a paperback book.
I illustrated a diagram to show how E Ink screen works.
Hardware Other than the E Ink screen, the Kindle 3 spots a pair of built in speakers, 3.5mm headphone jack, volume control, QWERTY keypad, two sets of Next Page and Previous Page buttons, a micro-USB port, rubberised back panel, power slider and supposedly a mic which is not being documented. It runs on ARM11 532MHz Freescale processor, unspecified RAM and 4GB flash storage (3GB user available).
The QWERTY keypad is a bit too big for Asian hands and the lack of number keys is irritating. To enter numbers, you must bring up the Symbols Menu by pressing the "Sym" key, or press Alt + Q to P for number 1 to 0.
The sliding power switch resembles that of a Nintendo DS, which you push and it will slide back on release. It is prone to getting stuck: It was fast and smooth when I got my Kindle 3 and rapidly became "sticky", taking more than 3 seconds to slide back into place. It does not affect the function though, and can be fixed using by sliding a tissue ply with WD40 between the contact area of the swtich and the Kindle body. Some other online sources claim that blowing air through the switch while holding it half way using a compressed air duster can helps too.
Reading Books And Other Contents The Kindle 3 comes with a micro-USB port for data transfer and charging, which is becoming more popular as a standard IO port for gadgets (shame to Apple). Kindle 3 supports AZW (Kindle's offical format for eBooks), TXT, PDF, Audible (Audible Enhanced (AA, AAX)), MP3, unprotected MOBI, PRC, JPEG and some other picture formats. Most of the time you will be dealing with AZW and MOBI files.
All you have to do is to hook up your Kindle via USB and drop your eBook files into the "documents" directory. Or, you can visit the Kindle Store and buy books. All your documents are listed linearly on the home page. There is no other way of categorizing your documents other than creating Collections, which are like folders. Collections cannot be nested. The most recently accessed items are listed on top. The best way to find a book from a huge library is to use the Search function.
JPEG pictures can be viewed by either zipping them up in the "documents" folder, or dropping them into the "pictures" folder, which you have to create yourself. In this way, you can manage mangas and comics easily. It is recommended that you crop and resample the pictures to 600x800 pixels before transferring them to your Kindle. Comics with small words do not display well on Kindle, it helps to convert the pictures into grayscale, sharpen and increase the contrast on a PC first.
PDFs can be opened, but due to the inability for PDF files to alter their page dimensions on the fly, most of the time PDF files would either look too small due to different aspect ratio from the screen or you have to do tiresome pans around the documents. The large 9" Kindle DX is recommended if you think you are dealing with PDFs often. Either way, you can also crop and manually reformat your PDF files using Adobe Acrobat or the like.
While reading, you press the elongated Next Page button to advance a page. Moving the keypad left and right will skip to the next key point (usually the next chapter), while pressing up and down presents a cursor which you can navigate around the text to view the dictionary explanations of the word through a pop up window. You can select text and make notes or share them on Facebook and Twitter. Also, you can listen to music via the built in mp3 player when you read.
There is a dedicated "Aa" button on the keypad, pressing it pops a menu where you can choose among the font sizes, fonts & typefaces, margins, leadings, Text to Speech toggling and screen rotation. There are two unnamed typefaces, one serif and one sans serif. The serif typeface has two fonts to choose from: regular and condensed. There is no automatic screen rotation for Kindle 3, so you got to manually set the rotations if you want it.
Pop up menu for text adjustments.
Whispernet Whispernet is a service by Amazon to access 3G networks. It will fall back on GPRS or EDGE if 3G is unavailable. It is much like your Singtel/Starhub/M1 mobile broadband plans, but the difference is that Whiserpnet is free. Other than the ~S$60 pricing difference between the Wifi-Only and 3G+Wifi models of Kindle 3 and other additional services related cost, there are no additional charges for using 3G. You can surf the net, browse Kindle Store and use Whispersync on Whispernet for free. Kindle 3 does not support tethering.
For Kindle 3 models with 3G, you will need to select USA as your residing country for Whiserpnet to work, or else it will report that you are not able to access the web due to content restriction. Once done, you should be able to access internet almost anywhere in the world with 3G support. I have tested Whispernet in both Singapore and Malaysia, and most of the time, you will be able to get a high signal strength. If a Wifi network is available and Wifi is enabled, it will use Wifi in lieu of 3G. The transfer speed of Whispernet feels speedy for its intended use, but sometime seems hindered by Kindle's hardware which I will mention later.
Amazon provides each and every Kindle with two email addresses, where you can send documents and pictures to those addresses, where they will be converted to a compatible format for Kindle and delivered right to you. This is a very convenient feature, but do note that one of the email address (eg email@example.com) will send the converted documents via 3G (Whispernet) for a fee of US$0.99 per MB, while the other one (eg firstname.lastname@example.org) sends them for free via Wifi only.
You can use Whispersync to synchronize your books, notes and bookmarks among other gadgets that have the Kindle apps. It will also be backed up on Amazon's server.
Remember, remember remember: Set your country to USA.
Experimental Features MP3 files can be placed inside a "music" folder on the root directory (create one if it does not exist) and the very simple music player can provide you with tunes while you read. It almost does not spot any graphical interface, playing/pausing and skipping tracks are controlled via keyboard shortcuts. There is no playlist or any way to choose which track you want to play directly as well. The lack of features and support make it an almost crippled function of the Kindle.
The other interested feature is the text-to-speech function. Granted, it still sounds very mechanical and supports only English, but reading a book while listening to it creates a new experience. It is especially good for people who cannot speed read (like me), and together with the dictionary, Kindle can be a good English language aid.
Kindle comes with a web browser as well. To be very honest, surfing the net on Kindle is painstaking. Although the internet access is speedy, it is bottled-necked by the slow hardware. With a ARM11 532MHz processor, that should be ample to render most mobile versions of webpages. The way Kindle freezes and crashes when there are lots of images on the page seems to indicate insufficient memory. Not only that, E Ink screen has a very low refresh rate, there are no official numbers but from my naked eye observation, it seems like the screen is capable of refreshing less than five times a second. To add on, ghosting is common on E Ink screen, that is why when turning a page, the screen goes through alternations of all black and white to remove ghosting. This does not happen when you are using the web browser (that would make the low refresh rate problem even worst), and you will see faded imprints of the previous image on screen. Fanciful features like multi-tabs and Flash are not available. Do not even think about viewing videos on your Kindle. Irritatingly, uploading of files are not supported too. File downloads are limited to AZW, PRC, MOBI and TXT only. The overall experience of web browsing feels like a pre-2005 handphone, but still, it is quite alright for Facebook and Wikipedia, when paired with Whispernet, works wonders when you are not in Singapore or do not have data plans.
This is not funny, at all.
Kindle Store Kindle store is the online app store by Amazon, which allows you to buy apps and ebooks at the comfort of your Kindle. If you are an iPhone fan, you will be disappointed at the severely low number of apps available for Kindle, probably due to its screen and hardware. Unlike web browsing, accessing the Kindle Store is smooth and easy. The straight forward layout and indications speed up the task of searching for a publication you need. You can browse by categories or do a search to find a book you want, you will get detailed information about the book such as the publisher, author, number of pages etc. You can even sample the books and perodicals, if the publisher allows, and a stripped down demo version of the eBook or magazine will be sent to your Kindle via 3G or Wifi. Some eBbooks even allow lending to another Kindle, which after a set number of days, will be inaccessible or deleted from the other device.
The typical Kindle Storefront.
Not everything about the store is perfect though. The search results cannot be sorted in any other ways like by pricing or by publication dates. The One-Click Buy is really one-click: When you browse to an eBook's listing page on the store, the "Buy" button is automatically highlighted. A single click is all you need to purchase the book and get it sent over to you immediately. Although there is a button after purchasing to undo the process, it still warrants me to be extra careful when I am at a book's listing page, especially if I am to lend my Kindle to my friend, as common users are well know to anyhow press buttons. There is no way to disable One-Click Buy in the Kindle Store (but you can for regular purchases in Amazon on a PC). Alternatively, you can add a set of dummy credit card information and address and assign it to your One-Click buy to prevent accidental purchases or simply remove all credit card details, but that proves to be troublesome if you genuinely want to purchase from the store.
Example of a book list page. Note that "Buy" is automatically selected upon entering the page.
Battery Life Forget about the 2 months battery life claimed by Amazon. My Kindle 3 lasts me around 1 to 2 weeks with some use of wireless (around an hour or two altogether between charges), around one to two hours of reading daily and sometimes playing with the apps. If you leave your wireless on constantly, the battery dies in around three to four days. Note that I never turn off my Kindle at all, I merely let it slip into screen saver/sleep mode after some time of inactivity. E Ink screen supposedly need no power to maintain its display, where power is needed only when the display refreshes.
Still, the battery life of Kindle is amazing.
Buying Kindle 3 in Singapore Kindle 3 cannot be bought in Singapore local stores at the point of writing. To make matters worst, Amazon do not ship them to Singapore via online purchasing as well. The most straight forward way to get one (other than asking your friend to buy one for you from overseas or flying over to USA yourself) is to use a reroute shipping service like vPost (by SingPost). Basically vPost will give you a USA address and you request Amazon to deliver to that address upon ordering, and then you pay vPost a fee to bring that parcel from USA back to your Singapore home. There are other reroute shipping service providers other than vPost, but I did not use their services to be able to review on them. Some people question the reliability of vPost, but they did deliver the items to me on time as stated on their website.
You might have came across some forumers and local stores selling Kindle 3 but I suspect most of them are not the official dealers. They simply bought the Kindle in similar ways that I described above and sell it to you at a higher pricing. The pricing for Kindle 3 (3G+WiFi) is US$189, which is around S$234. Shipping cost S$25.16 at the time or writing via vPost. That would make your Kindle 3 (3G+WiFi) around S$260. A Kindle 3 Wifi-Only would cost around S$200. These pricings serves as a reference should you decide to buy one locally, and remember to ask the local seller if it is ad-supported or not.
As a kiasu Singaporeans, do look out for discounts. vPost often gives 50% off for first time customers on shipping and Amazon gives free US$25 gift cards at times (I've got one).
Here is the estimated ordering procedure from vPost:
Kindle 3 Accessories Just like any other gadgets, Kindle 3 comes with a variety of cases and screen protectors.
DO NOT USE A GLOSSY SCREEN PROTECTOR, use a matte one instead, as the original screen is matte (like book paper stocks), there is no reason to use a glossy screen protector on a Kindle. Some people might prefer their screen naked, but I would prefer to put on one since I could barely see any visual difference with and without, and having a screen protector keeps the actual screen away from grease while I munch on chips and read at the same time. You can find one on eBay for less than S$1.
It is a tough choice to choose if you would want a casing for your Kindle or not. The Kindle is merely 0.85cm thick, and adding a case makes it at least 50% thicker. I chose to have a faux leather one on since it looks like a book with leather cover that teases the idea of me bringing a "book" around. It adds some shock and scratch resistance to the Kindle as well.
There is a crazy official casing going on for US$60 that leeches battery from your Kindle to power the a little book light. I bought an additional mini light powered from external battery similar to the one provided by the Kindle's official casing and it was far from ideal: LED light beams are highly concentrated that make it unable to illuminate the screen uniformly, which is irritating especially for geeks who cannot stand LCD bleeding like me (though it is an E Ink screen, I still hate uneven lighting). I would assume the book light on the official casing would give me similar problems. Secondly, I do not wish to waste battery from the Kindle.
I got my faux leather case from eBay for S$7.
Conclusion For S$260, Kindle 3 is definitely worth the money. As land and HDB flats in Singapore are sacred, I personally do not wish to cut a large portion of my room to store physical books. Kindle 3 solves this problem entirely as it is only 8.5mm thick, that is still slimmer than a usual single paperback. I, as a graphic designer, love the ability to format the typography of my reading materials as and when I like, and I find the offset white background and rich blacks perfect for reading. E Ink screen had proven itself to me to be a much more conducive screen to read on than LCD, with comfort level that matches that of a real paper back. I took a day to get accustomed to reading on Kindle, but after that, it does not feel far from reading an actual book. Although the device has lots of flaws, most of them lie in the additional attributes, where the core features for reading eBooks are solid, and the most important of all, the pricing is reasonable.
"NO!!!! NO TECHNOLOGY CAN REPLACE THE GOOD OLD PAPERBACKS!!!" I heard that plenty of times. I guess that is more of personal preference. To me, a screen than simulates real paper printing coming to life is much more interesting than transparent/holographic screen depicted in movies actualizing. Five or 10 years back, E Ink screen might have been some crazy talk, potential Sci-Fi material or even something that would appear in a retro-futuristic setting, and even as of today, E Ink screen is not even much heard of in Singapore. Although E Ink screen was first developed in 1997, it did not gain popularity till recent years. I am more than willing to embrace such a new and exciting technology. To me, E Ink screen is definitely a good replacement over paperback novels. It cannot quite replace coloured books and magazines, but hey, colour E Ink screen its already on the way! As of today, I am already planning to sell away all my old paperbacks, to make space in my room.
There is an alternative OS for Kindle 3 known as DuoKan. I have yet to try it, but my friend who did claimed that it is even more customizable than original OS. He said that the installation process is snappy and after which, you can dual boot between the two OSes. It seems like 3G is not usable on DuoKan though.