Dangers of assuming Amazon will destroy B&N

A long time ago I’d joked about the ridiculousness of B&N thinking their new CEO William Lynch could hold a candle to someone like Jeff Bezos who has a very proven track record.

Amazon may very well still destroy B&N – However, B&N has been the more impressive technology company when it comes to eReaders and Tablets. Read on if you find that hard to believe.

I owe William Lynch an apology. He and B&N have done a lot of things that everyone thought Amazon would do first.

B&N’s ability to compete with Amazon

This is some of the stuff B&N pulled off in the last year –

  1. Released a Reading Tablet a year before Amazon.
  2. Released a touch-screen eReader months before Amazon. Almost eliminated the page-turn problem.
  3. Turned Nook Color into the #2 selling Tablet after iPad. You can argue technicalities, but the bottom line is that Nook Color has sold more than any other non-iPad tablet.
  4. Showed that there is a market for non-iPad Tablets. This is a HUGE thing. It has given everyone else hope and will lead to the end of the iPad’s domination in Tablets. The biggest lesson it has taught everyone is – Don’t compete on your enemy’s strengths. A lesson that Amazon has learnt very well.
  5. Released a Nook Tablet that pulls off some impressive things – 1 GHz dual-core processor, 1 GB RAM, HD support, IPS screen, 16 GB memory. That’s a LOT of goodness for $249 – Tablets and smartphones with comparable specifications retail for $400 to $500.
  6. Built up a very interesting Nook Color App Store. 1,100 Apps aimed at Tablets.
  7. Added Email support and lots of other features to Nook Color and morphed it from a Reading Tablet to an almost full-fledged Tablet.

These are all things that no narrow-minded person expects a bookseller to be able to do. Glad to learn from that mistake.

Of course, the two most impressive things are –

  1. It Stayed Alive.
  2. It Built the Nook division into a $2 billion a year business.

B&N could just spin-off Nook into a separate company – Suddenly it’d be a company with a very good chance at surviving and thriving. It could also transform itself into a store that sells everything. It has options and it’s in a position of power.

The Main Stream Press are counting out B&N

Reading through people’s thoughts on Kindle Fire vs Nook Tablet, it’s hard not to notice two interesting assumptions –

  1. Kindle Fire is $50 cheaper and it will destroy the Nook Tablet.
  2. B&N is a bookseller that can’t compete with a software company like Amazon.

The first is an interesting assumption. If it’s the iPad, then the $500 price doesn’t matter because it has better features. If it’s the Nook Tablet, then a $50 higher price will kill it – because price matters so much.

It almost seems that the Press is married to two stories –

  1. iPad’s glory will continue to increase forever – until people use it instead of paper plates and credit cards and kitchen towels.
  2. Kindle’s glory will continue to increase forever – until Amazon is selling Prime subscriptions for pet kittens that come with one free baby mouse a quarter.

The truth is that the Press is constantly wrong – it was wrong about the Kindle, it was wrong about the Nook Color, and it’s likely to be wrong about the death of the Nook Tablet.

$50 is not going to destroy Nook Tablet

Firstly, we have a few million Nook Color owners.

Secondly, we have a few million tech-savvy people who want a powerful Tablet they can hack and run Android on. For them, things like 1 GB RAM mean a lot more than saving $50. They know exactly how valuable that 1 GB is going to be by end 2012.

Thirdly, we have a TON of people for whom $250 is not a big deal but $500 is a big deal. These people will have Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet as options – but not the iPad. Perhaps 75% choose Kindle Fire – that still leaves 25%.

Fourthly, we have lots of small groups that will pick Nook Tablet – people who want/need an SD Card slot, people who prefer the Nook Tablet’s screen, people who love B&N or are B&N members, people who MUST see the device in person, people who prefer the Nook Tablet’s design, and so forth.

There will be millions of Nook Tablets sold.

Nook Color is now at $199

One very important factor is that B&N has now priced Nook Color at $199.

Nook Color is a very solid and compelling device. It’s also battle-tested. While Amazon’s ecosystem gives Kindle Fire an advantage overall (though I haven’t done an in-depth analysis), there are lots of people who will find things like ePub support and expandable memory more compelling.

Neither company is making Space Rockets

There’s a pretty strong bias against B&N. The assumption that because it started off as a bookseller, it couldn’t possibly compete with a company that started off making a website to sell books.

It’s delicious irony.

Tech journalists love to spout nonsense – It’s really, really tough to do hardware. It’s really, really tough to do software.

It’s not. There wouldn’t be 5,000 different companies doing it if it were that difficult.

We aren’t building a rocket or mapping the human genome. We are taking things that have been done thousands of times and refining them a bit. The real problem is that most companies do a shoddy job. They try to provide $10 of value and charge $100.

The tech media says – B&N can’t compete with Amazon.

Let’s add some facts to that statement and see how ridiculous the complete assertion seems:

B&N built a Reading Tablet and shipped it 1 year before Kindle Fire. B&N proved there’s a non-iPad Tablet market. It sold a few million Nook Colors. B&N shipped a touch eReader before Amazon did. B&N has around 20% of the ebook and eReader market.

B&N can’t compete with Amazon.

Dear Tech Journalists,

You are absolutely right. Apart from a few little things like releasing Nook Color last year, building Nook into a $2 billion a year business, and releasing a very impressive Nook Tablet, B&N has shown zero ability to be able to compete with Amazon.

Quite frankly, the tech journalists are just upset that Nook Color was obstinate enough to survive.

There is no purity and there can be no clean endings

What are Amazon’s aims with eReaders and Tablets – expand, sell other things, sell digital products, sell kitchen sinks, sell books, create more Amazon customers, prevent Google from being the middle-man, prevent Apple from becoming the dominant tech religion, profit at some later point of time, grow Amazon, annoy WalMart, beat WalMart with a stick, poke Google in the eye, show Google how to make actual money from Android.

You know what’s missing – purity.

B&N’s aims are pretty convoluted too – survive, offset the decline of brick and mortar stores, compete with Amazon, show Amazon it can compete, evolve, sell books, sell rugs, capture children and families as customers, make fun of Borders, morph into a monster, survive in the digital age.

Again, the purity is missing.

We don’t have any company that is aiming to make the best possible Tablet, with no compromises. If there were, it would wipe out everyone else. Perhaps itself too.

Since there is no purity, there is not going to be a clean-cut winner.

Let’s see why –

  1. Amazon wants to sell other things so it builds a Tablet + mini Amazon Store.
  2. It bundles Prime.
  3. It uses a closed ecosystem.
  4. It focuses on selling other things when it constructs the UI and design. Ratio of Time spent on buying movies UI vs Transferring files to PC UI = 10:1.
  5. It closes off certain formats and certain features. Limited storage has more to do with pushing people to buying Amazon content than saving price. Do we really think Amazon was super concerned about the extra $5 to go from 8 GB to 16 GB?

At every step, it loses a small subset of customers looking to buy a Tablet.

It’s the same with Nook Tablet – However, it is making other cuts. So it’s losing other subsets of Tablet customers.

Because each and every Tablet maker has multiple goals and is lacking purity, we will have a market with multiple winners.

Amazon only knows two directions to attack in

Another factor in B&N’s favor is that Amazon seems to be wedded to two things –

  1. Very Strong Ecosystem.
  2. Very Cheap Device.

There are lots of things it isn’t even attempting i.e.

  1. Aesthetics. It could try to steal away Jonathan Ive – give him a chance to get all the credit and live in England. Let’s admit it – He could design the most magnificent TV ever and people would just say it’s Steve Jobs’ last gift. Jonathan Ive has a chance to show that he was the real genius behind the designs. If he goes to Microsoft or Google or Amazon and designs the next big device, then he becomes the real design genius. Do it in a company other than Apple and everyone will know who’s the man behind the magic. Right now, he’ll be forgotten in all the idol-worship. It’s sad in some ways. All these amazingly talented people like Steve Wozniak and Jonathan Ive and no one will ever remember them because one person will get all the credit.
  2. Validation. Lots and lots of kids who want to show they’re cool. It’s hard to understand that everything you need is inside of you. Let them ease their journey to self-validation by sporting the SuperValidatingKindle_Status++.
  3. Religious stuff. The current crop of technology people seem to be almost feudal in their need to have some Tech Overlord they can bow down to. Provide it.
  4. Social Connections between Readers. Social does not mean Book advertisements on Twitter and Facebook.
  5. Making a Tablet that will be the very best Tablet – even without the ecosystem.

Apart from a golden stretch with the Kindle 3, Amazon has never had the best eReader. It’s always the website and ecosystem that have been the difference makers. It’s the same with Kindle Fire. Silk Browser and Amazon Prime are the difference makers.

It’s as if Amazon has decided to completely ignore Maslow’s Needs Hierarchy and focus only on what it currently knows best – the Cloud and the Website and Scale and Low Prices. Not a bad strategy to focus on its core competencies – but it leaves a lot of opportunities for Amazon’s competitors. Can B&N take advantage of those opportunities?

Well, the solid technology in the Nook Tablet suggests it can.

We have already passed the Inflection Point

We passed the inflection point for B&N’s death with the launch of the Nook Color. Mr. Leonard Riggio must have seen those 700,000 Nook Colors being sold every month and felt Tiger Blood coursing through his veins.

We’re talking about a company that everyone claims is dying and it’s built a completely new business that’s worth $2 billion a year. You know what company would love to be able to do that – Google.

There are very few companies that can build multiple billion dollar businesses. Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, … and a few more. It’s not a long list.

B&N has done it. It’s at around 20% in eReaders and perhaps at 10% to 20% in Tablets. It’s tasted blood. Right now, we are seeing the beginnings of a very long climb up. B&N went through its death rattle and survived. This fact is lost on everyone because people mis-understand inflection points.

If a company has 20% of the eReader market, and has one of only two viable competitors to the iPad – it’s neither dead nor endangered.

Look at the $99 Nook Touch. The $199 Nook Color. The $249 Nook Tablet. These aren’t the product offerings of a company that is on its deathbed. These are products from a company that has survived and is reborn.

Amazon is going to regret not buying B&N. It had a chance to snap up the only credible threat to the Kindle, and it didn’t. Now it is faced with a company that is a threat to both Kindle and Kindle Fire. Amazon is going to have a lot of opportunities to think back to when B&N was almost dead and was available for a billion dollars or so. Instead of buying Zappos and its ‘feel good and sell shoes for no profit’ strategy, Amazon should have bought B&N. You probably couldn’t write a Mother Teresa meets Dalai Lama book about it, but you’d have one heck of a business.

Which Kindle? Kindle Buying Guide

With Kindle Touch, Kindle Fire, and the new Kindle, Amazon now has a confusing number of Kindles to choose from.

This ‘Which Kindle?’ Kindle Buying Guide will help you pick the right Kindle for your needs.

Which Kindle – The Top 3 Choices

This section is the conclusion of the entire Kindle Buying Guide (so you don’t have to go through the entire Kindle Buying Guide if you don’t want to). The three best Kindles and the ones we recommend are –

  1. Kindle Fire (if you want a Tablet).
  2. Kindle Touch (best Kindle eReader with touch).
  3. Kindle Keyboard (best Kindle eReader with keyboard).

Please Note: Kindle Fire and Kindle Touch are not yet out. So the recommendation is with the Qualifier that these devices might not be as good as expected. With Kindle Touch it’s quite likely (given past Kindles) that it will be a very safe and solid bet. With Kindle Fire, we will only know when it’s actually released.

A little on why these were the winners.

Kindle Fire – A good choice if you are looking for a Tablet

Kindle Fire is a Kindle Tablet. It is optimized for consuming content (movies, books, TV shows, music), for surfing the web (with a fast browser), and for games (thousands of apps and games from Amazon’s Android App Store).

The combination of low price, good features, and multi-purposeness make it a good Tablet. It offers a lot of value for money and lets you both read books and also do lots of other things. It has a good-sized 7″LCD screen with IPS and color and two-finger touch.

Kindle Fire can be used as a reading tablet but does not have the eInk screen that is great for reading and is not focused on reading. It does have a reading light. It will not work in direct sunlight (you won’t be able to read off of it in direct sunlight).

It seems to be a very good choice (once it is out we’ll know for sure). If your budget is higher than $199 (the Kindle Fire’s price) then also consider iPad 2 (around $499) and Nook Color ($249, $170 for refurbished). Nook Color 2 is rumored to launch soon and iPad 3 and a 10″ Kindle Fire are rumored to launch in early 2012.

Touch Kindle – The best eReader choice if you don’t need a physical keyboard

Touch Kindle is just $99 for the version with ads and with WiFi only (ads are not in books, only in screensavers and on home page). It has a 6″ eInk Pearl that is great for reading. There is no color. There is touch. The touch is via IR so there is no layer over the eInk and no glare.

It is the 4th generation Kindle (though there aren’t very many advances over the 3rd generation Kindle) and thus offers the latest features. You get a focus on reading, the great eInk Pearl screen, and the convenience/appeal of touch. There is no backlight so you have to use a reading light. You can read it in sunlight. The eInk screen is great for reading and easy on the eyes.

The Kindle Touch and the Kindle Keyboard (Kindle 3) are the best choices if you are looking for a device for reading.

Kindle 3 aka Kindle Keyboard (WiFi only version)

Amazon has continued the Kindle 3 and it’s a good decision given the benefits of having a physical keyboard and the good, solid design and ease of use of Kindle 3.

Kindle 3 has a 6″ eInk Pearl screen (same as Kindle Touch) but doesn’t have a touch screen. Just like Kindle Touch, the Kindle 3 is great for reading and is readable in sunlight but doesn’t have a backlight for reading at night.

It has a physical keyboard which makes note-taking and highlighting and searching much easier. It also allows for lots of keyboard shortcuts (Alt+B to add a bookmark) and makes things convenient.

Kindle 3 is a good, solid choice.

Which Kindle – the Full List

Let’s look at every Kindle available and at what makes it unique and what situations and uses each is optimal for.

Please Note: There are sections later on that cover ‘Kindle WiFi or 3G’ and ‘Kindle with Ads or Kindle with No Ads’.

$79 New Kindle (Kindle 4 with Ads)

This is a very solid Kindle and incredible value for money. The downside is that there is no keyboard and no touchscreen – which makes things like taking notes very difficult and some other things awkward. There is also no text to speech and no music since it doesn’t have speakers. It has less storage space and less battery life than the $99 Kindles – However, it shouldn’t matter very much as there’s still space for 1,400 books and there is still 3 weeks battery life with WiFi on.

My recommendation: Add on $20 and get Touch Kindle or Kindle 3 Keyboard.

$79 Kindle 4 Review – Kindle 4 Review, Photos.

Thoughts on Ads: Not a problem. You get ads instead of screensavers and ads on the main page. No Ads in Books so it doesn’t hurt the book reading experience.

$109 New Kindle (Kindle 4 with no Ads)

Same as above. Just with no Ads. Don’t really see any reason to buy this instead of the $79 version.

$99 Kindle Touch (with WiFi only, with Ads)

Probably the best Kindle option.

For $99 you get – 6″ eInk Pearl screen that is great for reading, touch screen, ease of use and simplicity, access to Kindle Store (the best ebook store), text to speech, great battery life (2 months with WiFi off – assuming half an hour of reading per day). It is the latest generation Kindle (Kindle 4 Touch) so you get the benefit of all the lessons from the past 3 Kindle generations.

You don’t get – Color, Ability to do things other than read.

My recommendation: Best Kindle available (alongside Kindle Keyboard). If you prefer touch over a physical keyboard then this is the best choice.

$99 Kindle Touch Review – Kindle Touch Review.

Thought on Ads: Same as earlier, or please see Section later on ‘Kindle with Ads or Kindle with No Ads’.

$139 Kindle Touch (with WiFi only, no Ads)

Same Kindle Touch as Above. You pay $40 extra to be freed of ads in your screensaver and on your Home Page.

$139 Kindle Touch 3G (with 3G and WiFi, with Ads)

This is the same as the $99 Kindle Touch except $50 more expensive and with 3G.

WiFi and 3G are types of wireless technology. 3G means you can use AT&T’s cellphone towers and get wireless anywhere there is wireless coverage from AT&T. WiFi means you either have to have your own home wireless network or use a WiFi network at Starbucks or MacDonald’s or a Coffee Shop or at your work. Note: With any Kindle you get free WiFi access to all AT&T WiFi hotspots.

3G is more convenient. With 3G you get free Internet browsing and can browse the Kindle Store and buy and download books. It also extends (provided you are a US Kindle owner) to 100+ countries. You can be in England and still shop the Kindle Store and surf the Internet on your Kindle – as long as there is 3G coverage (from AT&T or a partner).

When do you need Wireless: You only need wireless when buying a book or downloading a book or surfing the Internet. You DO NOT need wireless when reading a book.

My Recommendation: Get this if you travel a lot OR don’t have a home wireless network OR will be reading on your commute or at work and won’t have WiFi access. Do get this is you travel internationally.

Quick Thought: If $50 isn’t a big deal to you, then always get Kindle Touch 3G instead of the WiFi-only Kindle Touch. The convenience more than makes up for it.

Thought on Ads: Same as earlier. Not a big deal.

$189 Kindle Touch 3G (with 3G and WiFi, no Ads)

This is the Kindle Touch 3G with no Ads. Same as above except no Ads.

$99 Kindle Keyboard (Kindle WiFi with WiFi only, Ads)

This is the Kindle 3. This is a really good Kindle and neck to neck with Kindle Touch.

For people who prefer a Keyboard this is the best choice. For people who prefer a touchscreen the Kindle Touch is the best choice.

For your $99 you get – 6″ eInk Pearl Screen, all the improvements learnt from Kindle 1 and Kindle 2, text to speech, very good usability, good operating system that’s easy to use, lots of options for font size, access to Kindle Store (the best ebook prices and the widest range of new ebooks), same 2 month battery life as on the Kindle Touch.

What you don’t get – the latest Kindle, touch screen, color, ability to do more than read.

My Recommendation – If you want a physical keyboard, then the Kindle 3 is the best choice.

Kindle Keyboard Review – Kindle 3 Review.

Quick Thought – A very safe choice. This is the third generation Kindle and third generation devices tend to be very solid.

Ads – Not a big deal. Saves you $40 if you are OK having Ads as screensavers. No ads when reading books.

$139 Kindle Keyboard (Kindle WiFi with WiFi only, no Ads)

Pay $40 extra and get the Kindle 3 without Ads.

$149 Kindle Keyboard 3G (Kindle 3 with WiFi and 3G, Ads).

This is identical to Kindle 3 except that you pay $50 extra to get 3G capability.

The exact same benefits as we discussed with Kindle Touch 3G – free 3G Kindle Store browsing, free 3G Internet, more convenient (works wherever there’s AT&T coverage), get free 3G in 100+ countries.

My Recommendation: If you travel often, or don’t get WiFi at home and work, or don’t want to bother with WiFi, then Kindle 3 with 3G is a great choice.

Convenience vs $50: If $50 isn’t much to you, then always get the 3G.

Wireless only needed for buying and surfing: You can read a book without wireless.

Ads: Not an annoyance.

$189 Kindle Keyboard 3G (Kindle 3 with WiFi and 3G, No Ads)

This is Kindle 3 with 3G and No Ads. Pay $40 extra and get back your screensaver and the bottom 20% of your home screen.

$199 Kindle Fire – The Kindle Tablet

A very good choice if you are looking for a low-priced Tablet that lets you do a lot more than just read.

The Kindle Fire is a 7″ Tablet. It has a color IPS LCD screen which makes it great for photos and movies and TV and games. It’s decent for reading and Amazon is doing some things like adding an anti-glare layer/treatment to make it a good reading tablet.

There is a gorilla glass display to make it tougher.

It’s a steal since the components alone cost $191. Add on manufacturing and software development and marketing and it’s probably costing more than the price Amazon is selling it for – perhaps as much as $50 more. Amazon is subsidizing it against the hope of future content sales.

That means you get a $250 to $300 Tablet for $199.

Kindle Fire vs Nook Color 2: Since Nook Color 2 is not out or announced, we don’t know what it will be. It is, however, a good idea to wait and see. You can still preorder a Kindle Fire to book your place. Then, if you find you like the Nook Color 2 more, just cancel the order.

Kindle Fire vs iPad 2: They are different devices. Can’t really compare a $199 Tablet with a $499 Tablet.

Kindle Fire Review: Not up yet. Here’s a post on Kindle Fire Specifications & Details.

My Recommendation: If you want a device for more than just reading, then Kindle Fire seems promising. Preorder one to book up a spot. If Nook Color 2 ends up being more tempting, you can always switch.

$379 Kindle DX 2 – The large-screen Kindle

Kindle DX 2 is the large screen Kindle. It has a 9.7″ eInk Pearl screen which is great for reading and offers all the benefits the smaller eInk Pearl screen offers – easy on the eyes, optimized for reading, readable in sunlight. It doesn’t have a backlight.

Kindle DX 2 is OK but not great for PDFs. The larger screen size is great and you can use landscape mode to get even better views. However, the PDF support is a bit limited – There is no text to speech for PDFs and highlights don’t always work.

In fact, something like the Kindle Fire or the Nook Color might be a better PDF reader due to color and touch and better PDF software.

Value for Money: When you can get a $79 Kindle 4 and a $99 Kindle Touch, the $379 price of the Kindle DX 2 becomes really unappealing.

My Recommendation: Wait for Kindle DX 3 or buy a Reading Tablet.

Kindle DX 2 Review: Here’s my Kindle DX 2 Review.

Thought on All the Kindle Choices

The introduction of the WiFi or 3G choice with Kindle 3 in 2010 made things confusing.

Now, with Ads or No Ads and 2 new models of Kindles, Amazon has made choosing a Kindle a royal mess. Hopefully this post (including the sections below) clears up the choice for you.

My recommendation would be –

  1. Kindle Tablet (Kindle Fire) – preorder one and then wait to see what Nook Color 2 is like.
  2. Kindle Touch – Best Choice if you’re looking for a touchscreen Kindle and want the latest model.
  3. Kindle 3 – Best Choice if you want a keyboard and the most stable, battle-tested Kindle.

Between Ads and No Ads – The Ads version is OK as Ads are not in the actual books.

Between 3G and no 3G – If you can afford it, or if you travel, or if you don’t have WiFi at places where you will want to buy books or surf the Net, then do get the 3G variant.

Which Kindle – eInk or LCD?

Kindle Fire is the only Kindle with a LCD screen. It is also a Tablet and not an eReader.

Kindle Fire Tablet with LCD screen – 7″ screen, usable for movies and TV shows and color games, two finger touch, IPS panel for great viewing angles, can be used for more than just reading, backlight so readable at night.

Kindle eReader with eInk screen – 6″ screen, eInk (with Touch if you get Kindle Touch), no color, no backlight, readable in sunlight, easier on the eyes, optimized for reading.

They really are two completely different devices.

If you read 2 or more books a month, or would like to read more

Then a Kindle eReader with an eInk screen is the best choice. Even if you get a Kindle Fire you should consider getting a $100 Kindle Touch or Kindle 3 for your reading.

Which Kindle – 3G or WiFi

Firstly, wireless is only needed when buying and downloading a book and when surfing the Internet. You don’t need wireless to read a book that’s already on your Kindle.

Secondly, if you can afford the extra $50 then it’s almost always a great idea to get the 3G version. It’s a lot more convenient, it works in 100+ countries (if you are a US Kindle owner), and it gets you free Internet browsing.

Thirdly, here’s the difference:

WiFi – A wireless technology where a router creates a wireless network in a particular spot (like a cafe or a house or a store). So your Kindle (both WiFi-only model and 3G model) can connect to this network and then connect to the internet through the router.

3G – A wireless technology where cellphone towers create a large wireless network over huge areas (like an entire city, or large areas of a city). So you Kindle (only the 3G model) can connect to this network and then connect to the Internet through the cellphone tower.

They are both ways to connect to a wireless network and then to the Internet. However, the latter (3G) is much more expansive as it works wherever an AT&T cellphone would work. It also works in 100+ countries where there is an AT&T partner 3G network.

WiFi will only work if there is an accessible WiFi network. You might have one at home. There are 10,000 AT&T hotspots in the US that your WiFi-only Kindle can access.

However, WiFi won’t work in a lot of cases like when driving around or when travelling. 3G will work much more often.

My Recommendation: It’s better to get the 3G Kindle but you can get by on the WiFi Kindle if you have WiFi at home or are OK downloading books to your PC and then transferring to Kindle via USB.

Which Kindle – Touch or Keyboard or Neither

This is usually a clear preference – If you like typing notes and prefer a physical keyboard then the Kindle 3 is the clear choice. If you fall into the camp of ‘touch is so cool and I can type faster/as fast on a touch keyboard as on a physical keyboard’ then the Touch Kindle is the clear choice.

Please keep in mind that the Touch Kindle isn’t here yet so we don’t know how well that on-screen keyboard works.

Which Kindle – 6″ eInk screen or 9.7″ eInk screen

At $379 the Kindle DX 2 is too expensive to consider. If Kindle Fire is just $199 and Kindle Touch is just $99 then the Kindle DX 2 at $379 becomes a puzzling choice. Just buy a Kindle Fire and a Kindle Touch instead and still have $80 left over.

Which Kindle – Should You get a Refurbished Kindle? What about a used Kindle?

Not a fan of all the refurbished Kindles and used Kindles.

Kindle Touch is $99. Kindle 4 is $79. Kindle 3 is $99.

There really isn’t a strong argument for buying a refurbished Kindle. The two exceptions would be:

A refurbished Kindle DX 2 if it is significantly cheaper than the $379 price of a new Kindle DX 2. My thought: Yes, as long as you don’t expect it to be a fantastic PDF reader.

A refurbished Kindle 3 with 3G and no Ads if it is in the $100 to $120 range. My thought: Yes, this is a good deal.

In nearly every other case it makes no sense to pick a refurbished Kindle over the latest generation, super-low-priced Kindle 4 and Kindle Touch.

Which Kindle – Reading Experience

One thing worth pointing out, especially if you are looking primarily for a reading device, is the core reading experience. My rough ranking would be:

Please Note: Kindle Fire and Kindle Touch are not out yet.

  1. Tie between Kindle 3 and Kindle Touch.
  2. All variants of Kindle 3 and Kindle Touch.
  3. Kindle 4 and variants. The lack of both keyboard and touch screen takes away from the reading experience.
  4. Kindle DX 2. The large size gets in the way.
  5. Kindle Fire. Equivalent to other reading tablets like Nook Color. Slightly better than general Tablets like iPad 2.

All Kindles have a very good core reading experience. Kindle 3 and Kindle DX 2 and Kindle 4 and Kindle Touch have the same identical eInk Pearl screens with very minor improvements in the latest generation Kindles.

Kindle Fire’s LCD screen is neither optimized for reading (apart from the anti-glare treatment) nor is it easy on the eyes. It will still be fine for reading – just not as good as dedicated reading devices like the eInk Kindles.

Which Kindle – Closing Thoughts

The answer to Which Kindle? is –

  • Kindle Fire (if you want a Tablet that can do more than just read). Do compare with Nook Color 2.
  • Kindle Touch (best Kindle eReader with touch). Can’t go wrong with the $99 WiFi-only model with Ads.
  • Kindle 3 (best Kindle eReader with keyboard). Again, the $99 WiFi-only model with Ads is something you can’t go wrong with.

If you want a device dedicated to reading, you are pretty safe if you go with the Kindle 3 or Kindle Touch. Based on what Kindle 4 is like, and assuming that Kindle Touch will basically be Kindle 4 with a touchscreen, I’m pretty comfortable giving it a strong recommendation in advance of actual release. A touchscreen really would address most of the shortcomings of the Kindle 4 (apart from the lack of a physical keyboard).

Kindle 4 vs Kindle 3

This Kindle 4 vs Kindle 3 review will compare the new Kindle 4 (the $79 new Kindle) against the Kindle 3.

This post does not cover the Kindle Touch – please read my Kindle Touch Review for that.

Kindle 4 vs Kindle 3 – Top 7 Initial Thoughts

Have the new Kindle 4 and Kindle 3 side by side and the first things that are apparent are:

  1. The $79 price of the Kindle 4 is amazing ($79 for the version with Ads included). Kindle 4, apart from the keyboard and speakers, is very similar to Kindle 3 and delivers a similarly great reading experience. Getting that for $79 is a steal.
  2. You can now get the Kindle 3 for $99 (with Ads included). Kindle Touch is also $99. These are both great prices and, in my opinion, much better value for money than the Kindle 4.
  3. Lack of a keyboard, when coupled with lack of a touchscreen, makes some things painful on Kindle 4. Typing notes longer than a few words is out of the question and even things like searching for a book become difficult.
  4. Lack of speakers means Kindle 4 gets neither text to speech nor background music. Neither is a necessary feature – but they are both nice things to have.
  5. There is no 3G model for the Kindle 4. That might be an issue for you.
  6. Kindle 4 takes a lot of inspiration from Nook Touch. We see it in things like the black border around the screen and the new Page Turn mechanism where the screen is flashed only on every 6th page turn. It’s good to see Kindle and Nook incorporate each other’s best features and push eReaders forward.
  7. Kindle 4 is actually more like Kindle 3.25 (+.5 due to some improvements but a -.25 due to no keyboard or touch screen). Kindle Touch does seem like a Kindle 3.5 (perhaps even a Kindle 3.75 if Amazon can squeeze in more features by November 21st).

At this stage in this Kindle 4 vs Kindle 3 review, my gut feeling is – Kindle Touch is the best choice overall, Kindle 3 is the best choice if you must have a keyboard, and there really is no reason to ever get the $79 Kindle 4.

There’s also the wild card i.e. Nook Touch is already available and is better than Kindle 3 and Kindle 4. Of course, it’s better only if you don’t mind stepping away from the comfortable Amazon ecosystem.

Let’s dig deeper into Kindle 4 vs Kindle 3 and see what we come up with. References to Kindle Touch are included throughout since it is probably the best Kindle for you – even if you start off thinking Kindle 4 vs Kindle 3 you are likely to decide on Kindle Touch.

Kindle 4 vs Kindle 3 – Areas the new Kindle wins

The new Kindle does do some things well –

  1. The screen seems to be a bit better. However, it is not a big jump like the jump from Kindle 2 (normal eInk) to Kindle 3 (eInk Pearl). Note: I’m taking lots of Kindle 4 vs Kindle 3 photos and will put them up in another post.
  2. The lightness and compactness are cool. It’s noticeably light at just 6 ounces whereas Kindle 3 is 8.5 ounces. It’s also 18% smaller in size. Kindle 4 is 6.5″ by 4.5″ by 0.34″ while Kindle 3 is 7.5″ by 4.8″ by 0.34″.
  3. The Nook inspired features are valuable – The black border around the screen makes the background seem whiter plus it probably is a bit whiter to begin with. The screen flashing every 6 turns (instead of every single time) is a big improvement.

That list ends quickly because the underlying software is almost identical. If you look at things like Settings Pages, Book Menus, Options – they are the same across Kindle 4 and Kindle 3. If the hardware changes are 3.0 to 3.25 then the software changes are 3.0 to 3.0.5. Amazon is calling it 4.0 but the software is the same for all practical purposes.

The shortness of the above list is a big indictment of the $79 Kindle 4. For comparison, Kindle 3 improved on Kindle 2 in 12 to 15 different areas and had lots and lots of software improvements and changes.

Kindle 4 vs Kindle 3 – Areas the Kindle 3 wins

Kindle 3 holds its own due to the following reasons –

  1. The eInk Pearl screen is stellar and Kindle 4 and Kindle 3 both have it. If you consider reading the main use of the Kindle (apart from time travel) then the screen readability becomes critical and Kindle 4 vs Kindle 3 is almost a tie in readability (to the best of my perception).
  2. The Keyboard. Try to search a book for appearances of ‘Mr. Darcy’ and the Kindle 4’s one button keyboard will remind you of some of Mr. Darcy’s traits. It’s very proper and there are things like accented characters – and at the same time using it with a 5-way is a sweet type of torture. Note: The $79 Kindle 4 has no Touch. It’s quite possible that Kindle Touch makes up for the lack of the keyboard in a far more elegant manner.
  3. The cost-cutting in the $79 Kindle 4. This is apparent from the 50% lower battery life, the 50% lower memory, and the lack of speakers. The 50% lower memory translates into only 1.2 GB of available memory (as opposed to 3.3 GB on the Kindle 3). Losing all of that just to save $20 is the type of short-sighted thinking that would qualify you to work at Goldman Sachs.
  4. If you like the feel of something somewhat solid in your hand, you’ll prefer the Kindle 3. The Kindle 4 suffers from the same ailment the Sony Reader Pocket Edition does – it’s so light it’s discomfiting. Kindle 4 looks better but it just doesn’t feel very good. Note: Kudos to Amazon for making a 6″ screen device so small – Not sure it thought about how customers would feel when holding it in their hands.
  5. Kindle 3 wins on button placement and feel. You might find it annoying/awkward that the Kindle 4’s 5-way placed at the bottom-center of the device. If you’re right-handed, then you will probably prefer the Kindle 3’s 5-way placement (it was at the bottom-right of the screen and felt very natural). Kindle 4 also has strange page turn buttons – even less area to hit than the kindle 3. The page turn buttons are literally as thin as the border of the bezel. The power on switch is better on the Kindle 4 but it doesn’t make up for the other two things.

To be quite frank, the Kindle 4 is dropping down in desirability far faster than I would have guessed. The sacrifices made to get it to $79 are not good ones and the usability was sacrificed to accommodate for compactness and a slightly prettier design.

Kindle 4 vs Kindle 3 – The Elephants in the room

Look closely at Kindle 4 vs Kindle 3 and three things jump out –

  1. Kindle Touch is the natural choice. Kindle 4 is just Kindle 3.25 and makes too many sacrifices to save $20. It’s incredible value for money and good – it’s also not competitive (at all) when compared with either Kindle 3 or Kindle Touch.
  2. Nook Touch is a better choice than both Kindle 4 and Kindle 3 – provided you don’t mind leaving Amazon’s ecosystem, and that you won’t miss the physical keyboard. If you look at the direction Amazon is moving in – touch screen, only 1 flash per 6 page turns, black border around the screen, more compact design – it seems that it’s endorsing Nook Touch and Kobo Touch.
  3. It almost seems as if Amazon released Kindle 4 to make Kindle 3 and Kindle Touch look better. It’s perhaps retail strategy – have a lower priced model that loses badly to the higher priced model; then sell tons of the higher end model. Amazon has played it to perfection.

It’s strange to see Amazon follow Nook Color with Kindle Fire and Nook Touch with Kindle Touch. All the innovation seems to be limited to the Cloud and the Store. When it comes to hardware, Amazon seems to be willing to let others experiment and take the big risks. Not a bad strategy – especially when we consider that Amazon’s expertise doesn’t lie in hardware. Come to think of it, Amazon did the same thing with the Kindle – It let Sony take the first steps and stumble around.

Kindle 4 vs Kindle 3 – Final Recommendation

The Kindle Touch would be my recommendation. Amusing, considering we are comparing the Kindle 4 and Kindle 3.

Kindle 3 would be my recommendation if you’d like a physical keyboard and a more friendly feel with better page turn buttons and an easier-to-access 5-way.

There’s also one important qualifier – The Kindle Touch will compete with the Nook Touch, and possibly with Nook Touch 2. If you love the Amazon ecosystem, then Kindle Touch is the clear choice. However, if you are willing to switch and/or want to be extra safe, then you really should wait until Nook Touch 2 is announced. Kindle Touch vs Nook Touch 2 might be a far more competitive contest than Kindle 4 vs Kindle 3.