Kindle 3G – it’s a trap
Update 22 Nov 2011 - A whole new range of Kindles have been launched since I wrote this over a year ago. The new Kindle Touch 3G only has free 3G browsing for the Kindle Store and Wikipedia. No changes have been made to the terms and conditions attached to the Kindle I wrote about, now known as the Kindle 3G Keyboard, and ‘experimental’ web browsing over 3G worldwide has remained free. At this stage in the game I’m inclined towards thinking that the trap I wrote about will never spring, and instead my prophecy turns out to only apply to later models of the Kindle reader. Get one of the older ones whilst you still can – not only does the new version not have free 3G browsing for almost all of the web, but right now there’s not even a means to pay for it.
Update 26 Nov 2011 – The Kindle DX, also has worldwide 3G is presently on sale for $259, which seems like quite a bargain to me. It’s got a larger 9.7″ screen – perfect for textbooks, and I don’t yet see a similar model in the new Kindle line up.
Update 24 Jul 2012 – It seems that 3G browsing was notionally limited to 50MB/month, and that Amazon are now clamping down on those who exceed that limit.
I tend to be quite a gadget freak, but as you can tell from my technology time line I often wait until the wrinkles in v1.0 have been sorted out.
I find the concept of an eBook reader hugely appealing – all that knowledge in such a small form factor. I also think that there is a place for a dedicated device for this purpose, with the right form factor and screen technology (and battery life). Reading books on smartphones doesn’t seem right to me, my tablet PC doesn’t really have the battery life (or the fine pitch screen), and my sense is that dedicated tablet devices like the iPad are optimised for web and video more than reading.
The thing that’s been putting me off is DRM. I just hate the idea that I’m buying into a platform where somebody else ultimately controls my device and the content placed upon it. The countervailing force here seems to be O’Reilly – so many of the books that I’d want to read (or at least have at my fingertips) on an eBook reader are published by them, and they’ve had the foresight to publish their stuff DRM free. I also like their daily promotions, where you can snag a bargain for $9.99.
There are lots of things that seem to be right about the Kindle 3, as you’d expect after almost 3 years of real world (ab)use by users. Size, ergonomics, screen, battery – right – all of these things seem sufficiently better than their forerunners that it’s hard to see how they’ll be substantially improved upon in later releases. My take is that there’s very little buyers remorse built into this thing.
The feature that I really want is the ‘Free 3G Wireless‘ with ‘Global Wireless Coverage‘. This is like a dream come true for the travelling geek – something where I can check my email, catch up on my RSS feeds and pull down a Google Map without incurring insane data roaming charges. I WANT ONE NOW was my first though. But wait a sec, this looks too good to be true, so it probably isn’t true. Let’s check the fine print. Hmmm not a lot in there about browsing, but ‘Your Kindle may use wireless connectivity to make other services available to you for which we may charge you a fee, such as personal file download and subscriptions when you are located in another country‘. This looks like saving up trouble for later on, especially when combined with the ‘New WebKit-Based Browser‘ being described as one of the ‘Experimental Features‘.
So… my take is that this is the classic drug dealer model. The first hit (or first few months or whatever) is free, and then once there’s a nice chunky population of people hooked on an experience where they can browse anywhere the browser will suddenly stop being an ‘experimental feature‘ and become an ‘other service…for which we may charge you a fee‘. I’ll stick my neck out here and predict that fee will have at least two tiers – one for access within your own country, and another for roaming. I won’t speculate on how easy it will be for travellers to hop between local and roaming tarrifs other than that it will incorporate some of the usual telco confusopoly structures.
The bottom line here is that $50 (or £40) for 3G won’t get the buyer unlimited global web surfing. It looks too good to be true, and therefore it is. In the words of Admiral Ackbar – ‘it’s a trap!‘. That 3G is there so that Amazon can sell you books. Whilst it may be possible to use it (for the time being) to do some surfing too at no extra cost that’s a feature that can’t be (and therefore won’t be) economically sustainable.
I was still tempted to order one, but the shipping date was perilously close to my next trip to the US, which would be me best chance to make use of roaming 3G for web browsing. Now that they’re on back order I reckon I’ll wait to find out what the fee structure for browsing looks like once it stops being experimental (in time for Christmas)?
Update 30 Sep – I bought a Kindle 3G anyway, and here are my first impressions.
 O’Reilly publish the best programming and system admin guides on the planet. When I had a big desk at work it used to have a lot of their books on it. Such books aren’t the sort of thing that you read from cover to cover though. They’re the kind of book that you dip in and out of. I suspect that eBook readers are even better for reference books than they are for fiction etc.
 The lack of colour is perhaps the one big issue here that may get resolved in an economic and power efficient way before any reader bought today falls apart. Whilst colour isn’t that important for fiction it’s a bigger deal for reference books. The section of Make: Electronics that explains resistor colour codes must surely lose impact on a greyscale screen.
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Tags: 3G, amazon, browser, ebook, kindle, web, WWAN