The latest Kindle from Amazon seems to have lit the blue touchpaper as far as ebook reading is concerned and this is because it is slick and well put together in its own right, and it offers a strong range of extras.
The device itself is quite small at 190 x 123 x 8.5mm and it has a 6-inch, 600 x 800-pixel screen. Unlike some ereaders there’s no automatic screen rotation, but turning the screen manually is easy enough. There is a menu key on the keyboard that sits rather ostentatiously beneath the screen and this provides access to screen rotation and other settings and services.
You need the keyboard for a range of activities including searching for books to download from Amazon. There is huge range of modern and old out-of-copyright materials, the latter free. You download over Wi-Fi, or, if you stump up the extra cash for the 3G version, you get access to book buying from anywhere within range of a signal.
You don’t pay for the use of 3G. And to add an extra element there is a web browser. Admittedly this is trimmed to work on the 16 greyscale E-Ink screen and it has trouble rendering some web sites, but it could be useful if no alternatives are on hand.
Amazon produces a free Kindle app for a number of smartphones and for the PC. This can synchronise any books you’ve bought so you can read them on these devices as well as the Kindle with automatic synchronisation to the furthest read position. It is like magic.
There are buttons on the left and right of the screen for moving through pages. If we have a criticism it is that these are easy to hit by accident when moving the Kindle around.
There are no speakers on the Kindle, but a headset connector means you can listen to audio files, though only the MP3 format is supported. When it comes to etexts there is support for DRM-free Microsoft Word, PDF, HTML, TXT, RTF, JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP, PRF and MOBI.
There is no memory expansion but the built-in 4GB of storage is, says Amazon, enough for 3,500 ebooks. Amazon says the battery lasts a month with wireless turned off, three weeks with it turned on. We found it lasted rather less than that but applying a top-up once a week seems to work for us.
Having read a couple of books on the Kindle – and several more on other ereaders – we aren’t of the opinion that paper is on its last legs. But there are times when an ereader works well and these include those occasions when you might otherwise need to carry a lot of books. Whether the pricing structure works for you is a different issue.
Many people will say that ereaders are no substitute for the tactile feel of real books. And there's no denying that an ereader is an expensive option. But Amazon has pushed the boundaries with the Kindle, and every other manufacturer has to play catch-up.