Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Kindle : the cheapest and best ebook reader?

Bloomberg has reported  that Amazon is likely to sell 8 million Kindles in 2010, which is 60% higher than predicted by analysts. To put this in perspective, Apple has sold 7.4 million iPads since their debut in April. And Amazon sold only 2.4 million Kindles last year. The Kindle sales figures are unofficial and based on industry sources, as Amazon does not share its sales data. But the figures reveal how the ebook reader market is booming despite predictions that tablets will wipe out the category,  and Amazon's extent of leadership over rivals like Sony and Barnes and Noble's Nook.

The latest, 3rd generation Kindle was launched earlier this year and has gotten good reviews from CNet, Engadget and a lot of other sites. Smaller and lighter than the earlier Kindle and priced at USD 139 (around Rs.6000) for the wi-fi only model, this is probably the cheapest and best ebook reader you can get at that price. Throw in a battery that goes on for a month, a rudimentary webkit browser, 4GB of memory that's good for 3500 ebooks and 6 inch screen with higher contrast ratio for clear reading. Isn't that enough reasons to buy one?



(image from ThinkDigit)
You can pay $189 (around Rs.8500) and get one with global 3G but it does not make sense in India unless you're a globe trotter. After all, 3G here is not amounting to much right now. And even if it did, Amazon would charge a whopping 99 cents per MB to transfer your personal documents through their WhisperNet service (it's only 15 cents per MB if you live in the US). Ebooks tend to be very small files, but the MBs add up quickly.

The only catch is that the Kindle does not support epub, the open standard ebook format. However, it does offer enhanced PDF support including zoom, pan, dictionary lookup, notes  and highlights.
My friend Pratap recently told me that he is getting a Kindle from abroad, which led me to research how much of application it will have in India even if you don't choose to download paid stuff in $$s from the Amazon Store (a 3-5% foreign transaction fee is levied by most Indian credit card companies making this a commercially unattractive transaction)

Seems there is a lot I can do on the Kindle even if I don't buy from Amazon. Take a look at the sources of free ebooks  that Amazon claims you can access on the Kindle. From most of these sites, you can download a Kindle format to your PC and transfer it to your device through USB. Or you could use WhisperNet as described above.

I use both Open Library and Project Gutenberg when I have a passion to read classics from my literature student days - books that have stayed in my heart even if I have no room for them anymore in my crowded Mumbai apartment.  Thinking of having thousands of them at my fingertips anywhere is almost enough to make me spring for an ebook reader, here and now. But I know from experience that this desire to carry around  your entire digital life all the time is addictive and I try to resist it. There is no end to it really and in no time at all, I would be into terrabytes and spending a fortune on storage.

There seems no simple way to buy the Kindle in India. You have to order it from Amazon online and pay the hefty shipping fee to India, unless you can get a relative abroad to bring it down with them. Or alternatively you could figure it out with sites like 20North who will charge you in rupees and ship to you from the US. In fact, 20North is currently listing  the Kindle at approximately Rs. 10,000 (or Rs. 9000 sans customs, if you gift it to someone else).

Or you could get the Wink ebook reader from Bangalore based EC Media, which was also launched this year. Wink initially launched with two flavors - a wi-fi only model and a wi-fi + 3G. Now the website also shows a smaller version of the device (5 inch screen)



I see from the website that the prices have been slashed compared to launch : the XTS is now selling at Rs. 8999 compared to the launch price of Rs. 12,000. This seems reasonable given that the device is more like a 2nd generation Kindle in its spec sheet.

I think the Wink merits a post on its own in the future and I will do one. Right now I am off to drool a little more over the Kindle...