I recently did a bit of impulse gadget buying recently by getting hold one of the new third generation Kindles. Although the apple slate is very tempting, with an ipad 3g costing £589 I couldn’t quite justify the outlay, and as an avid book reader who has a habit of setting up numerous book groups the Kindle’s £149 price tag hits the sweet spot of a gadget I can buy and still pay the rent.

After playing around with the Kindle for a week I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s a brilliant ebook reader. The screen is uncannily like paper (even if it is grey paper rather than white). The black flash when refreshing isn’t as annoying as I thought it would be, and I don’t miss having a touchscreen, although sometimes the buttons feel a bit clunky. It’s a simple, if not super-fast machine to use. In some ways it reminds me of the minimalist word-processing applications that are available; by removing distractions like fonts, formatting, and that bloody paperclip, you can get on with the task of concentrating on your writing, or in this case reading.

What’s of particular interest is the bundled web browser software. With the 3g Kindle bundling in free web access you can surf wherever, whenever – even globally.  Amazon do downplay this feature, labelling it as experimental and sticking it in a menu away from the homepage, and it is a bit slow to put it mildly. The following is my previous post viewed on a Kindle in web mode:

Kimondo.co.uk viewed on a Kindle
Surfing the web, early 1990s style

But for a free ‘extra’ it’s not bad. Sites render properly and you can either choose the slow click and zoom option as above, or read a site in article mode:

Screenshot of kimondo.co.uk viewed in article mode on a Kindle
Surfing the web, early 1900s style

Article mode plays to the strengths of the Kindle as a ereader by removing a lot of the formatting and displaying text at a comfortable size. Amazon also offers a web blog subscription service where (for a fee) you can subscribe to a blog which has already been formatted neatly for the device – offering a way for Amazon to cover the costs of 3g and authors to make money. This service is only available with a US bank account so for the time being here’s a generated preview of publishing for blogs mode:

Screenshot of Kindle publishing for blogs preview
Surfing the web, 1890s style

There’s not much between article mode and publishing for blogs mode, although the latter may be the price we have to pay for free universal 3g access.

What’s also interesting about this is that it opens up the mobile web for a new generation of people who perhaps would have never considered it before.  Of the 68% of the people in the world with a phone, 17% have a smartphone of which 2% are iPhones –  yet mobile web design and optimisation is usually aimed at the these devices. I know personally several people who own a smartphone, but I also know many more who don’t own one and have no interest in getting one. Moreover, a Kindle doesn’t require that you own a computer at all; it’s a completely self reliant machine – thus opening up the web to previously unconnected people. Only time will tell if ereaders challenge mobile phones as kings of the mobile web.

NB you can take a screenshot on a Kindle with shift-alt-G, although Minesweeper is more fun with shift-alt-M.

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