NEW YORK -- Amazon today announced its long-anticipated wireless Kindle e-book reader.
The Kindle, Amazon's first foray into making its own hardware, weighs 10.3 ounces, can contain up to 200 books, has a keyboard, and uses electronic ink display technology. It is on sale today at Amazon.com.
Kindle isn't the first e-book reader. Sony launched its $350 Sony Reader earlier this year (currently, this model is being sold for $280 at SonyStyle.com). Motricity sells e-book reader software for use with Windows Mobile and Palm devices.
At a splashy event here, Jeff Bezos, Amazon's founder and CEO, unveiled the device by starting with a history of printing, from the early days of stones and papyrus onwards. Gutenberg might recognize printed books in their current form today, but he'd be unlikely to recognize Amazon's vision of the future of reading as embodied by the Kindle e-book reader. The device is on sale now at amazon.com.
Three years in the making, the Kindle derives its name from the concept of the device "kindling" people's interest in reading.
In coming up with the device, says Bezos, "We knew we would never out-book the book. We knew we would have to take some of the capabilities of modern technology and do some things that the book can't do."
How It Works
Kindle operates without ever connecting to a PC. Instead, the device can download books--any of 90,000 at launch--directly via the built-in EvDO radio connection to Amazon's new Whispernet service.
Books take less than a minute to download, and their price varies, but new releases and New York Times bestsellers cost $9.99.
The service runs on the Sprint EvDO network; it carries no service charges or contracts--that's all covered in the background by Amazon.
In addition to books, Kindle can automatically download newspapers and blogs, in a return of "push" technology. The device also has a dictionary and Wikipedia access.
The Kindle service also includes newspapers, magazines, and blogs. Publications that you subscribe to are delivered directly to the device. Choices include The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, the Houston Chronicle, the San Jose Mercury News, Time, Fortune, The Atlantic Monthly, Le Monde, and Slate.
More than 300 of the most popular blogs with their full content also are available. You subscribe to the blogs you want, and they're updated throughout the day.
Amazon also integrates a dictionary for easy reference. And for more encyclopedic knowledge, the built-in browser lets you access Wikipedia.
How It's Made
Amazon sources the Kindle's four-color grayscale electronic-ink display from E Ink. The display lacks a backlight, which helps conserve battery life (an optional clip-on front light is sold as an accessory); Bezos says the display is readable in bright sunlight (a claim that I couldn't test today in rainy New York City).
The display measures 6 inches across the diagonal. According to Charlie Tritschler, Amazon's director of Kindle development, 6 inches "is the sweet spot for the portability of the device." The screen is designed to be easy on the eyes, Tritschler continues; "it's one of the reasons we chose a reflective [screen] technology."
The Kindle has 256MB of memory total, of which 180MB is user-accessible.
You can also store more books on an SD Card. The device's SD Card reader can hold MP3s, audio books, and additional Kindle books. Books typically require 500KB to 700KB of space.
Amazon sources the device from an OEM in China.
First Hands-On With Kindle
In this early peek at the reader, it appears that Amazon has done its homework in coming up with features that promote usability as well as a design that people will enjoy handling.
The last page read automatically becomes a bookmark--the place you access when you return to that title, for example. And a bar for moving to the next page runs the length of the right-hand side of the display. Amazon researched how people read, and noticed that people change posture and position.
You use the device's select wheel--located at the bottom of the display--to highlight a passage or make an annotation. You can then e-mail a highlight to a friend, or access your notes--they're stored as text files--via the device's USB connection.
Amazon claims the Kindle has a long battery life: The device can last "a couple of days" with the wireless connection on all the time, or up to a week without the wireless, says Tritschler.
Every Kindle also comes with a customizable e-mail address. You can e-mail Microsoft Word documents, GIFs, and JPEGS to the Kindle, for example.