Kindle 3G or WiFi

Now that the Kindle 3 has been out for a few days it’s interesting to see the Kindle 3G or WiFi question still tripping up lots of people.

Have been looking at the questions people have about the differences between Kindle 3G+WiFi and Kindle WiFi and realized that it’s mostly use case related – People only care about the impact in terms of how they use their Kindle. This post will focus on the use cases and the simplest possible language.

If you’d like a more technical discussion the Kindle vs Kindle WiFi comparison post should help you.

Kindle 3G or WiFi – The Golden Rule and an explanation for WiFi

First, there are only two differences between Kindle 3 (Kindle with 3G and WiFi) and Kindle WiFi –

  1. Kindle 3 has both 3G and WiFi. 3G is what your cellphone uses and it uses AT&T’s wireless network to connect to Kindle Whispernet. Kindle WiFi has only WiFi. It does not have 3G. We’ll discuss WiFi in the next section.
  2. Kindle WiFi is $50 cheaper than Kindle 3. So by forsaking 3G you save $50.

The Golden Rule is – If you don’t know what WiFi is and $50 isn’t a big deal  – get the Kindle 3G+WiFi (i.e. Kindle 3).

You don’t have to read the rest of the post – just go and get the Kindle 3.

This is thanks to someone at the official Kindle forum. It makes a ton of sense. If $50 isn’t a big deal to you , then you are not going to ever regret spending $50 more. However, there’s a pretty high chance you will regret not getting the 3G. If you would buy something for $50 without thinking twice about it then get the Kindle 3. This is especially true if  you have been using the Kindle 2 and love having the WhisperNet connection everywhere OR if you travel more than twice a year.

When are WiFi and 3G used?

The Kindle 3G+WiFi and the Kindle WiFi are identical in behavior most of the time. That includes reading, sorting through your books, looking up the dictionary, listening to music, and using Text to Speech.

The only time they are different is when you are browsing the Kindle Store or downloading a book you have bought or surfing the Internet or Wikipedia. To do that your Kindle needs to connect to Amazon’s WhisperNet. Think of WhisperNet as an intermediary/gateway to the Kindle Store and to the Internet.

You need SOMETHING to connect your Kindle to WhisperNet – a gateway to the gateway.

  1. The Kindle 3G + WiFi can use either 3G or WiFi to connect to WhisperNet.
  2. The Kindle WiFi can only use WiFi to connect to WhisperNet.

That’s the only difference – How you connect to WhisperNet. Since 3G is availabile wherever AT&T’s network is available and that’s usually (not always) more widespread than WiFi availability the Kindle 3G+WiFi has a bit of an advantage.

3G and WiFi are both luxuries.

Neither 3G nor WiFi are a prerequisite to using your Kindle or even buying books. You can do without 3G and WiFi by using your PC. 

You can simply use your computer to browse Amazon’s Kindle section, buy books, and to download them to your PC. After that you can transfer books from your PC via USB cable to your Kindle (to the Documents folder).

So 3G and WiFi are a convenience and not a necessity.

Let’s dig into what 3G is, what WiFi is, and what wireless networks are.

What is WiFi? What is a wireless network?

WiFi is a popular wireless network technology. Kindle has WiFi capability means it can connect to wireless networks using WiFi network technology. Both Kindle 3 (3G+WiFi capable) and Kindle WiFi (only WiFi capable) have WiFi network technology.

A wireless network is usually a network that uses radio waves to connect devices to a main hub and via that hub to the Internet or to other devices. There are also wireless networks that connect devices to devices – However, Kindle does not support that.

At home, if you want to let devices connect to your Internet connection without using unwieldy cables, you can set up a home wireless network. Your wireless modem will plug into the wall socket that has the Internet cable and then it’ll send out radio waves that encompass a certain area and that is the wireless network.

Any device in that area can connect to the wireless network (provided it has the password), through the network to your modem, and through it connect to the Internet. 

If an airport wants to let passengers use the Internet connection(s) the Airport has it can set up a wireless network. Again we have the same process of the WiFi capable device connecting to this Wireless network the airport has set up and through it to the Internet.

What is 3G?

3G stands for third generation wireless technology and is generally used for cellphones.

Kindle 3 with 3G+WiFi uses AT&T’s cellphone wireless network as its 3G network. This is the same 3G network that is used by AT&T cellphones like the iPhone and the same one used by Kindle 2 International. 

If you want everything to work just as it does with the current Kindle 2 then the safe bet is getting Kindle 3G+WiFi.

Kindle 1 and Kindle 2 US use Sprint’s wireless network as their 3G connection. If you’ve been using one of these please check how AT&T’s network reception is in your home, work, etc. before buying a Kindle 3.

Quick Summary

At the very core 3G and WiFi are just ways to connect to WhisperNet. 3G will work wherever AT&T network reception is available. WiFi will work wherever there is a wireless network and you have the password to access it.

Kindle 3 can use either AT&T’s cellphone network or a WiFi network. Kindle WiFi can only use WiFi networks.

Where can you find WiFi?

To use WiFi to connect to WhisperNet you need a WiFi hotspot (a wireless network). Here are a few options –

  1. If you have wireless Internet at home that’s a WiFi network your Kindle WiFi can log onto.  
  2. Here is a list of AT&T WiFi Locations. AT&T offers Kindle owners free WiFi access for browsing Kindle Store and buying books. Note that WiFi locations are not like cellphone towers – they are small in area. If a coffee shop has a WiFi network it’ll only be available to you inside the coffee shop and in the immediate vicinity. You probably won’t have the network 10 metres away.
  3. All McDonald’s have WiFi networks. There is free access though you might have to get a password.
  4. All Starbucks have WiFi. These too have free access and again you might have to get a password.
  5. Lots of coffee shops and cafes have WiFi. These are usually free.
  6. Your work will probably have a WiFi network.
  7. Lots of airports and hotels have WiFi networks – some of these are paid.

By asking around you can find out whether or not there is WiFi in all the places you usually read. Remember that you don’t need WiFi except when you are downloading books and browsing the Kindle Store and surfing the Internet.

What are you paying the extra $50 for?

You are paying $50 extra to get Kindle 3’s 3G capability and have the option of using EITHER WiFi or 3G to connect to WhisperNet. You also get free Internet access via 3G and if your home country is US you get this free Internet access in over 100 countries. In all those countries you can also browse the Kindle Store and buy books (you can do this even if your home country isn’t the US).

Note that you don’t have to have either 3G or WiFi – you could just use your computer.

It basically comes down to how much convenience you want and how much access to WiFi you have. There are 4 main cases –

  1. You have no access to WiFi and need the convenience of 3G and the free Internet access – Get a Kindle 3. This has both 3G and WiFi.  
  2. You have access to WiFi sometimes (or always) but want the convenience of 3G and the free Internet access – Get a Kindle 3.  
  3. You have access to WiFi sometimes (or always) and don’t mind restricting book browsing and buying and Internet surfing to those times – Get a Kindle WiFi.  
  4. You have no access to WiFi but can get by using your Computer – Get a Kindle WiFi.

Another way to look at it is –

  1. Kindle 3G+WiFi – Book browsing, buying, and Internet surfing wherever there is AT&T’s network or there is a WiFi network.
  2. Kindle WiFi – All the above things only where there is a WiFi network.
  3. Your Computer – All the above things.

For $50 you are getting the convenience of AT&T’s 3G network and free Internet browsing on it – including outside the US.

What if you make the wrong choice?

The worse case scenarios are pretty harmless – You might get the Kindle WiFi and feel it restricts you to buying books only when WiFi networks are available or from your Computer. That’s not such a big deal.

You might get the Kindle 3G+WiFi and feel you spent $50 and aren’t using 3G access enough to justify it. Well, it’s convenient and it’s just $50 and it helps resale value.

Quick Summary of Kindle 3G or WiFi

Kindle 3G or WiFi is an easy question to answer –

For the most convenience get the Kindle 3 with both 3G and WiFi.

If you don’t mind the inconvenience of looking for WiFi OR you always have a WiFi network available OR you don’t mind using your computer to buy books then get a Kindle WiFi.

The only critical thing the Kindle 3G or WiFi decision determines is the physical locations at which you will be able to browse and buy books from your Kindle. If you don’t get Kindle 3G you can simply use a computer or find a WiFi network.