Kindle Fire HDX coming to the UK, but is it any good?

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Rumours of an Amazon-branded phone continue to swirl around the tech world, but in the meantime the company is focusing on its Android tablet line with its new Kindle Fire HDX range. The competition is fiercer than ever: cut-price slabs from Tesco and Argos are now fighting it out with Google’s better-than-ever second-generation Nexus 7, so Amazon can’t afford to stand still.

Pre-ordering has just gone live for the new range in the UK. There are three key models: the top-of-the-range 8.9″ Kindle Fire HDX, the smaller 7″ Kindle Fire HDX and the budget 7″ Kindle Fire. Each one comes with the option of 4G connectivity (supplied by Vodafone), a selection of storage options and the choice of Amazon’s ‘special offers’ embedded advertising.

With so many configurations to pick from, there’s a price to suit every wallet size: the cheapest 7″ Kindle Fire HD will set you back £119 with 8GB of storage, no 4G and special offers enabled, while the most expensive 8.9″ Kindle Fire HDX costs £489 with 64GB of space, 4G connectivity and the ads switched off. For comparison purposes you can pick up a new Wi-Fi-only 16GB Nexus 7 for £199, while a Wi-Fi-only 16GB iPad mini is priced at £269. Apple is expected to refresh its iPad line at an event next week (22nd October).

The new HDX range of tablets come with 7″ or 8.9″ screens and the option of 4G connectivity provided by Vodafone.

The entry-level 7″ Fire HD brings with it a 1280×800 pixel display and a dual-core 1.5GHz processor. Upgrade to a 7″ Fire HDX and you get a 1920×1200 pixel resolution screen with a 2.2GHz quad-core CPU powering everything behind the scenes. The same processor is featured in the top-of-the-range 8.9″ Fire HDX, but the screen display is upped to 2560×1600 pixels. As on earlier Kindle Fire tablets, the slabs are running a heavily customised, Amazon-branded version of Android.

Also of note is the new ‘Mayday’ feature that comes as part of the support package when you buy any HDX model. Via one button press you can connect live to an Amazon support representative who will guide you through any problems you’re having with your tablet, free of charge. The service is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and Amazon is aiming for a response time of 15 seconds or less for each call.

kindle-mayday-button
Tap the Mayday button and tech support can guide you through any problems with your tablet.

The units have been out in the US for several weeks and early reviews have been very positive. CNET’s Eric Franklin describes the new Kindle Fire HDX as “a performance monster” that offers “incredible value for its price”. The Verge’s David Pierce is equally enthusiastic:

The Kindle Fire HDX does its primary job brilliantly — with a great display and fast internals it’s the best way ever to consume all of Amazon’s content, from books to movies to music to banana slicers. It’s also a much more broadly capable device, finally able to replace your computer in places and not just complement it.

However, he did bemoan Amazon’s Android customisations and the lack of full access to the Google Play Store. Elsewhere, Ars Technica’s Jason Inofuentes also emphasised that Amazon’s existing customers will get the most out of the company’s new hardware:

The Amazon Kindle HDX is a powerful, capable device with one of the best displays we’ve ever seen. Amazon has produced a top-tier device whose only condition is adoption of its services. If you’re a longtime Amazon Video and MP3 customer, that’s great news.

Engadget’s Brian Heater was impressed too, calling the new HDX tablet “a compelling proposition” that offers “plenty of user-friendly features and specs that match the Nexus 7 blow for blow”. If you’re tempted to get your pre-order in straight away, your brand new Amazon tablet will land on your doormat on the 13th of November.

Amazon launch 6th gen “Kindle Paperwhite” touchscreen e-reader

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When Michael Cronan was asked to name Amazon’s new e-reader, the branding consultant suggested Kindle. Kindle, as we know, means “to light a fire” and Cronan felt it would be an appropriate metaphor for reading and intellectual excitement. Since the original Kindle was released in November 2007, six generations of the Amazon e-reader have followed. While Amazon has not released official sales figures, according to Forrester Research, as of mid-2010, sales estimates for the Kindle were around four million.

Yes, it’s safe to say that six generations and millions of sales prove that Amazon remains the undisputed leader in the e-reader category. However, will the sixth gen Kindle, the new Kindle Paperwhite live up to the product’s “to light a fire” metaphor?

It was only announced on the Amazon website on September 3 and won’t be released until October, 2013, so it’s a little premature to dissect the technical powers – or even lack of them – of the Paperwhite, right? Not according to the wave of excitement the yet-to-be-released product has already ignited in gadgetry media.

It’s “zippier and better than the original Paperwhite” CNet insists, pinning the new Paperwhite’s superiority on being the first product to feature E-Ink’s Pearl 2 display, which offers better contrast. CNet’s also quick to associate the new Amazon e-reader’s greatness to its 1GHz processor, which is 25% faster than the 800MHz processor that the original Paperwhite comprises of. The latest model is also a hair lighter than the original Paperwhite, weighing 7.3 ounces instead of 7.5. But will we really notice such a marginal difference in weight?

Meanwhile Bloomberg Businessweek Technology emphasises how the new Kindle is showing how Amazon Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos is, “Link by link, constructing a wall around his digital reading ecosystem that manages to be both alluring to readers and virtually insurmountable for competitors.” The Kindle-loving Bloomberg reporter is especially excited about the Paperwhite’s Vocabulary Builder feature, which stores all the vocab words that readers look up while reading and then enables them to quiz themselves with flash cards.

So let’s not beat around the bush, what exactly is all the fuss about what makes the new Kindle Paperwhite allegedly better than ever?

One of the Kindle’s biggest assets is that reader’s can read without straining their eyes. With higher contrast and better reflectivity, means that as Amazon states, “White are white and blacks are blacks, so the pages are virtually indistinguishable from a physical book.” What’s more, with next generation built-in light that guides light towards the surface of the display, readers won’t get any eye strain.

With a 25% faster processor, pages turn faster than ever and with the new Kindle Flip Page, ‘skim readers’ can be in their element, scanning chapters, skipping to the end or browsing pages without losing their place.

Another key feature that is new to the latest Kindle is the Smart New Lookup. This pioneering trait integrates a full dictionary along with Wikipedia so that user’s can access information and definitions without leaving their page. Although it has to be said that resorting to Wikipedia for information is a a little on the dubious side of credible.

There’s tonnes more we could say about Amazon’s sixth generation of Kindle, such as maintaining its eight weeks of battery life and having built-in Wi-Fi but what we really to know is the price and availability.

The new Kindle Paperwhite is £109. Pre-ordering started on 4 September at www.amazon.co.uk and shipping in the UK will start 9 October.

Amazon Kindle sets world (well UK) on Fire

After snubbing the UK for some of its recent releases, Amazon finally extended a warm embrace to the British Isles and in fact over compensated with a slew of exciting announcements for anyone trapped on this godforsaken isle.

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Kindle Fire and Kindle Fire HD
The Kindle Fire has been a states-side smash for the past year and a beefed up version of the 7-inch tablet is now coming to Blighty with a faster processor, twice the memory and longer battery life for a ridiculously low £129.

As if that wasn’t enough, the brand spanking new Kindle Fire HD is also coming to these shores. Adding an customised HD display, super fast wifi and more powerful processing whilst delivering 11 hours of battery life, and 16 GB of storage is pretty impressive. The Kindle Fire HD is only £159 so it’s not exactly breaking the bank either. The 7-inch tablet space is really heating up, and Apple are becoming increasingly conspicuous by their absence (although to be fair they are doing just fine as is).

“Not only does Kindle Fire HD feature the most advanced hardware, it’s also a service. When combined with our enormous content ecosystem, unmatched cross-platform interoperability, and standard-setting customer service, we hope people will agree that Kindle Fire HD is the best 7” tablet available anywhere, at any price.”
Jeff Bezos, Amazon.com Founder and CEO

The Kindles aren’t just about hardware and they have a few nice touches built into the software as well. X-Ray adds one of the best features of XBMC to the tablet world, harnessing the power of IMDb so you can eradicate all those “wait … who’s that guy … what was he in?? … it’s thingy … from Game of Thrones” moments. I have a lot of those moments. X-Ray is also available for books and with a single tap, readers can see all the passages throughout a book that mention ideas, fictional characters, historical figures, places or topics that interest them, as well as more detailed descriptions from Wikipedia and Shelfari, Amazon’s community-powered encyclopaedia for book lovers.

Old-fashioned Kindles
And if you just want the old-fashioned reading experience all-new (old) Kindle features 15% faster page turns and weighs just 170 grams. And it’s so cheap. Having a some-frills entry point experience into the world of ebooks for just £70 is pretty amazing.

But wait … there’s more
Amazon also announced that it will create more than 2,000 permanent jobs over the next two years with the opening of three new fulfilment centres in the UK. And up to 3,000 temporary jobs will also be created at the three new fulfilment centres during the Christmas peak period.

Best e-readers for the summer holidays

If you’re travelling this summer, an e-reader is an essential companion. Instead of cramming your suitcase full of books, an e-reader can save your valuable luggage space. The average e-reader can hold at least 1,000 books at a time, so you’ll never be stuck for something to read.

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Amazon Kindle

The Amazon Kindle is the most popular e-reader on the market. Buyers have a choice of model, ranging from the basic Kindle, to the Kindle Touch with 3G. The Amazon Kindle Store has millions of free and paid books, as well as newspaper and magazine subscriptions, and Kindles support MOBI and PDF documents. Weighing in at less than 370 grams, and small enough to fit into your pocket, the Kindle is the perfect companion to a long journey.

The Kindle is available from £89.

Sony Reader

Billed as the ‘world’s lightest ebook reader’, the Sony Reader is perfect for anyone who wants to go digital, but doesn’t want a Kindle. The Sony Reader has a 6-inch screen, and stores up to 1,200 books or documents, including EPUB and PDF formats.

The Sony Reader retails for £120.

Kobo

The Kobo comes in three different models: the Kobo Vox, Kobo Touch and Kobo Wifi. The Kobo Vox offers coloured books, a multi-media screen, and access to Google Play, while the other models use E ink. Books start at 99p.

The Kobo e-reader range is available from £59.99.

Bookeen Cybook Opus eReader

The Bookeen Cybook Opus e-reader is perfect for both novice and experienced digital readers. With  5-inch screen, 1GB memory (enough to hold up to 1,000 books), and up to two weeks battery life, the Bookeen Cybook Opus e-reader has something for everyone.

The Bookeen Cybook Opus eReader retails at £109.98.

iPad

The Apple iPad isn’t technically an e-reader, but it’s still worth a mention on this list. As one of the leading tablets on the market, the iPad is designed for people who want to be able to work and play on the go. The built-in iBooks app gives users access to a huge range of free and paid books that you can download directly into your iBooks library. The iPad doesn’t have E ink, and instead uses a backlit screen, but the device is compatible with a variety of formats, especially when using apps like Stanza.

The iPad is available from £329.

Amazon unveils Kindle Fire and Touch: Threatens Android cousins more than iPad 2

The worst kept secret since civil servants decided to leave al-Qaeda dossiers on trains, Amazon finally ended the will-they-won’t-they speculation over its entry into the tablet game. The 7 inch Kindle Fire is full-colour dual core tablet running a customised version of Android 3.1 Honeycomb. Unlike the vast majority of 7 inch Android tablets however, the Kindle Fire has a the benefits of Amazon’s content ecosystem and incredible pricing power (the Kindle Fire wanders into impulse buy territory at $199 although what this will mean in Sterling is highly debatable – it most certainly won’t be the £127 that the exchange rate suggests and it may not even come to the UK if certain reports are to be believed).

Kindle-Family

Some of the highlights of the Kindle Fire include the co-opting of the Kindle’s amazing Whispersync technology and it’s amply use of the cloud, which explains the lack of 3G (when test 3’s MiFi dongle this week it’s been fascinating (yes fascinating) to stare at the screen and watch data charges rocket up for simple services – I’ve used up a gig alone today. I digress). There was also a snazzy new browser called Amazing Silk that leverages Amazon’s cloud prowess to load pages very clearly. They were also keen to point out that you can hold it with one hand.

In essence, the Kindle Fire is what the detractors would derisively label the iPad when it first hit the shores – a device solely for consuming content. Of course they were wrong in the case of the iPad (I’m writing this on one) but in terms of the Kindle Fire it’s not really a criticism. Rather than go on about the Fire’s tablet like qualities, lumping it with its Android brethren, it instead leaned on the strength of the Kindle brand – which places it alongside e-readers – a field in which it is the clear leader.

Of course the old-fashioned Kindle was also thrown some love and received a much needed revamp in the form of the Kindle Touch. All the precious screen real-estate take up by the keyboard has now made way for glorious text. The Kindle Touch uses infrared sensors to interact with your digits. Like it’s big brother the Fire, the Kindle Touch stores info in the cloud, allowing you store thousands of books for free on Amazon’s servers. Also pretty cool was the “X-ray feature” that logs information from dictionaries and Wikipedia pertinent to your text – handy if you suddenly forget what a thurible is (this happened to me the other day and I was incensed). The $99 version of the Kindle Touch is WiFi-only, and there is a $149 version with 3G access. And if you hate touch, there will be $79 non-touch version of the Kindle.

For more information head to www.amazon.co.uk

Sony e-reader – hands on

I attended the Sony Reader demonstration with one thing in mind – to buy an Amazon Kindle later that day. Somewhere between seeing the Sony Reader and forcing the European Product Manager outside to demonstrate its display in bright sunlight, I changed my mind. I realised quality eReader devices were not just novel to Amazon. I turned a page.

sony-e-reader

On paper, the products are pretty similar. They both store more books than you’ll ever need, although the Sony Reader Touch has an expandable memory of up to 32GB (perfect for listening to music). They’ve both got massive battery lives of about three weeks, and they both have eInk displays.

Despite these key similarities, the first thing that strikes you about the new Sony Reader is how un-Kindle like it looks. While the Amazon device seems to imitate a piece of A4 paper, both the Sony Reader Touch and the Pocket look and feel more like paperbacks. Aluminium paperbacks.

Then you turn it on. When it boots up (in less time than the Amazon reader) you realise that the screen is very Kindle-like. Which is a great thing. The two devices uses the same eInk screen, with massively improved contrast and faster refresh rates over the older version.

The result is an almost identical reading experience, brilliant reading in bright sunlight and the feeling that you’re reading from tree-originating paper.

Unusually for eInk displays, Sony’s addition of a touchscreen has absolutely no effect on the quality of the display. Normally, a resistive touch layer dulls the screen (as screen on previous models), but Sony has innovated their way out of this constraint.

They use a Sony-unique infra-red touchscreen technology to ensure that you can flip pages with your fingers, or annotate with the included stylus, without hindering the reading experience. There is no screen dulling at all.

In fact, the addition of a touchscreen makes the reader a complete delight to use. Not only can you swipe to change page, but you can also double-tap words for definitions (or translations in up to 10 languages), highlight text with your finger and perhaps most importantly, use the new image-heavy interface.

Books can still be chosen by clicking the titles, however there’s also the option to choose books based on their cover image. Sure, the images are in black and white (they’re not miracle workers!) but it’s a nice addition, one that makes it feel like you’re choosing a book from a shelf, rather than opening a text document on the PC.

Of course, you shouldn’t judge a book reader by its cover, which is why Sony have been working on some massive book deals. Not only can you purchase books from any major book publishers in the UK (except Amazon – those fiends!), but you can also download books from Google at www.sony.co.uk./reader. That means 500,00 free books are at your disposal, and are easy to download.

They’ve also started a library scheme. Which may sound dull, but it actually enables you to digitally download eBooks from libraries in 50 councils around the UK. You don’t even need to go into the dusty building – perfect for asthma-suffers and lazy people.

Digitally find the book, chose to download and it is yours for 14 – 21 days. After a set period, the book will automatically return itself. If you’re not quite done, simply click “re-borrow” and it’ll be delivered back to your device.

Strangely, publishers are still running this like a normal library. The institutions will have to buy a certain number of licenses, each representing a book. When all of them are rented out, you’ll not be allowed to borrow the book until a previous copy is returning. A bit archaic, perhaps, but its up to the publishers and libraries, not Sony, to sort that out.

The Sony Reader also promises “intelligent PDFs”, where the text reflows to fit the screen’s zoom level – something the Kindle sorely lacks. Sony also claims that PDFs are quicker on the Reader – and they are quick – but we didn’t get to try a side-by-side with the Amazon offering.

As well as reflow, the Reader offers page a quick-display of pages when you’re scrolling through. Hold down the page change button and it’ll preview the up-coming pages with no visible refresh time, making browsing for a certain page a cinch.

All in all, the new Sony Readers are pretty exciting. If Amazon hadn’t decided to dramatically undercharge for the Kindle, massively undercutting the rest of the market, then the Sony Reader may be the perfect choice. As it is, the £109 Kindle is more pocket-friendly than the Reader Pocket, which rolls in at £159 with a smaller, 5.5″ screen and no music playback.

The Reader Touch is full-sized and fully-featured, but will set you back £200 – an extra £50 on the premium Kindle.

The final chapter on the issue will come next week, when we’re getting an extended hands-on with the Reader. We’ll let you know whether the added functionality is worth the premium price.

Amazon Kindle 3 review roundup

Amazon has announce that the newest version of its famous Kindle e-reader device will be hitting the (virtual) shelves on August 27th. At £109 for a Wi-Fi device, and £149 for 3G + Wi-Fi, the reading device is certainly one of the most affordable readers available – but is it better than a book? We’ve scoured the web to find out if the Kindle really is the droid we’ve been looking for.

Kindle-Roundup

The first stop on the Kindle-trail was Amazon’s own website – no-one has laid-out the merits of the new device better than them:

  • All-New, High-Contrast E-Ink Screen – 50% better contrast than any other e-reader
  • Read in Bright Sunlight – No glare
  • New and Improved Fonts – New crisper, darker fonts
  • New Sleek Design – 21% smaller body while keeping the same 6″ size reading area
  • 17% Lighter – Only 241 grams, weighs less than a paperback
  • Battery Life of One Month – A single charge lasts up to one month with wireless off
  • Double the Storage – Up to 3,500 books
  • Built-In Wi-Fi – Connect at home or on the road
  • Books in 60 Seconds – Download books anytime, anywhere
  • 20% Faster Page Turns – Seamless reading
  • Enhanced PDF Reader – With dictionary lookup, notes, and highlights
  • New WebKit-Based Browser – Browse the web over Wi-Fi (experimental)

Outside of these mainstream enhancements, i-Reader Review has revealed 22 interesting things about the Kindle 3, the most interesting of which are:

  1. There’s a microphone on the Kindle 3
  2. Kindle 3 and Kindle WiFi support CJK fonts and Cyrillic fonts
  3. There’s now an Audible section in the Kindle Store. Audible audiobooks can only be downloaded when you’re using WiFi – else you can download to your PC and transfer to Kindle.
  4. Pressing Alt + any character in the top row gives you a number (Alt+Q = 1 and so on). Numbers are also accessible via the SYM key. Removing the numbers row is a terrible decision.
  5. The speakers are now on the top left and the top right of the back of your Kindle 3.
  6. The back is now texturised rubber for a better grip.
  7. There’s a ‘View Downloading Items’ option in the Menu of your Kindle 3 Home Page that will display what items are being downloaded and their download progress. This is pretty cool.
  8. The Kindle 3 Experimental Web Browser supports JavaScript, SSL, and cookies but not Flash or Java Applets.

CrunchGear have shed some light on the use of the microphone, announcing it will be used for a “new voice navigation option”.

The real insight comes from the good people over at Engadget, who actually managed to get their hands on the new handheld. The feedback is mainly positive, reporting that “the Kindle is still very much the reading device you know and love (or hate, depending on your preferences). The build quality and materials used did seem slightly more polished than the previous version, and we really liked the new, more subtle rocker. We can also attest to screen refreshes and overall navigation feeling noticeably more responsive and snappy compared with the previous generation.”

The people at PC Advisor, however, are even  more generous, claiming that the new device is “is unlike any other e-book reader [they’ve] handled before” and that “its lighter weight and its more compact design [gives] a more pleasing experience than with earlier models. The unit felt very balanced in-hand, and the buttons felt like they were in convenient, ergonomic places (more on that in a moment).” The conclusion is that it’s “a winner poised to top the pack.”

Other details have been also been revealed by CNN, including the Kindle’s code-name: Shasta. They also noted Amazon’s intentions for the device, by quoting Amazon’s VP of Kindle content, Russ Grandinetti: “It’s like running shoes. If I’m going five miles, I put on a pair that are designed for running and will be supportive, not my Chucks.”

ZDNET’s have managed to cover it twice already, with one blogger claiming that, “$139 was enough to make me sit up and take notice, though, and give some more serious thought to what it would take for Kindles to start really adding value”, while another announced the “Amazon Kindle will be the sole survivor of the eReader Apocalypse”.

It seems that from various hands-on tests, Amazon’s claims are true: the new Kindle is better than its predecessor in every way. And as a dedicated ebook reader, its stiffest competition was probably its older self – with newer readers, such as the Nook, underwhelming critics.

For everyone who wants a media-rich, iPad-clone, however, the Kindle is still not (and never tried to be) an alternative – sorry, you’ll still have to fork out over £500 and buy Apple.

Even students might think twice about this one – sure, it can post book extracts to Facebook and Twitter (possibly pretentious?), but without a touchscreen or stylus annotation system, it’ll only provide half the experience of a regular textbook.

For me, however, the £109 cost and positive reviews have sold me. The sheer number of out-of-copyright books that can be downloaded for free means that it’ll have paid for itself in about twenty reads. For standard books it seems that the new Kindle is finally ready to take over the bookshelf.