What's hot: Smaller, less expensive and higher contrast display.
What's not: Still locked into the Amazon store, no ePUB support.
Reviewed August 28, 2010 by Lisa Gade, Editor
Just a few months ago, we reviewed Amazon's latest generation Kindle DX Graphite. The 9.7" E-Ink reader's salient new features were the graphite-colored casing and the new high contrast Pearl E-ink display. The price took a pleasing drop too. Clearly it was just a matter of time before the standard 6" Kindle followed suit, and now the Kindle 3 (which Amazon maddeningly still calls "Kindle") is out. They've also added WiFi to be competitive with the rival Barnes & Noble Nook ereader. In fact, the latest generation Kindle is available with WiFi for $139 and with both WiFi and 3G for $189 (the Nook is available in both flavors too). For those who have access to WiFi networks (we suspect there are plenty of you) and don't need to download books and magazines when traveling away from WiFi, the $139 Kindle is a no-brainer. It's otherwise the same as the more expensive 3G version, so you're not missing out on other features.
The Kindle 3 is available in white and graphite.
The new Kindle is 21% smaller and 15% lighter at 8.7 ounces. In fact, this thing is crazy small and light. The outgoing Kindle was a bit of a chunky monkey compared to the Nook, Kobo Reader and Sony Reader Touch Edition, so that's a good thing. It also further underscores Kindle's advantage vs. the iPad: the Kindle is small and light enough to hold for a few hours reading and to throw in a carry on bag. The iPad is 1.5 lbs. of albatrossian weight in comparison. The Kindle 3's other advantages vs. the iPad are its much lower price, long battery life and the eye-friendly E-Ink display. While E-Ink isn't exactly a polarizing technology, there are folks who adore LCDs and those refuse to read on anything but E-Ink. LCDs are perfect for multi-purpose multimedia devices like laptops and the iPad, but reading for hours each day is tiring. Long form readers generally prefer E-Ink displays-- say those who like to hunker down with a novel. Apple's selection of iBooks is quite small, though ironically and conveniently you can read Kindle books on the iPad too.
The Kindle 3 doesn't trounce the Nook, but it certainly puts pressure on the thicker and heavier Barnes & Noble Nook. Their readers are priced similarly, but the Pearl E-Ink display's improved contrast makes for a more pleasant reading experience. In fact, you can adjust contrast (a first in a US E-Ink reader) in PDFs and select from 5 levels. The background is a somewhat lighter shade of gray and text is significantly darker.
As with the DX Graphite, it really shines in less than well-lit environments where the older E-Ink technology turned muddy and gray. We find that we can read in mediocre lighting easily with the Kindle 3 and DX Graphite-- something we couldn't say about the Kindle 2 or Nook. Since E-ink lacks backlighting, that's actually quite important: it means not having to turn on additional room lights or clip on a reading light.
Another advantage is that the Kindle readers allow you to use the web browser over 3G (the Nook restricts it to WiFi and the Kobo Reader and Sony Readers have no web browser). That forever "experimental' Amazon web browser isn't a substitute for your computer or smartphone browser; it's not lightning fast over 3G and E-Ink's grayscale world isn't a good match for the web. But it is handy when you want to look up something in the Wikipedia or Google. And the K3's web browser is much improved over the older Kindle models-- it handles desktop mode fine and does a good job of rendering layouts.
To make the 3rd gen Kindle smaller, Amazon did away with the number row on the QWERTY thumb keyboard. You'll have to hit the symbol key to enter numbers. The joystick has been retired and Amazon replaced it with a 4-way d-pad design that's less pleasing to use. The Home, Menu and Back buttons now live in the bottom row of the keyboard rather than on the right side spine, and we do miss the the former easy access.
The redesigned page turn buttons (forward and back on both sides) are narrower and require a softer press than the Kindle 2. Since they're located near the edges, it's easy to accidentally hit them when holding the Kindle. I prefer the old style buttons and I suspect most people will agree.
Page turns are speedy by E-Ink standards and I don't find it objectionable as I did with early eBook readers. In fact, I like the slight delay and visual flash because it tells me the page turned and turned only once. When I read on my laptop, the page turn is instantaneous but I'm never sure if it advanced the page and if so, that it advanced only by one page. The quick flash to black is inherent to E-Ink displays, so if you hate it, consider reading on an LCD instead. The Kindle, like several newer eBook readers, is capable of partial screen refreshes. For example, a dialog appears on the screen but the entire screen isn't redrawn so there's no flash to black. There's still a slight delay as a part of the screen redraws though, and that can be distracting.
The Kindle 3 offers flexible reading settings including 8 font sizes, 3 typefaces (regular, condensed and sans serif), line spacing adjustment, words per line and screen rotation (all 4 directions supported). Like the last gen Kindle it has text-to-speech with your choice of a male or female voice. To my ear, the two genders vary only by pitch and both sound like the voice used in the popular do-it-yourself animated video site xtranormal.com. This is not the mellifluous voice of Garrison Keillor reading tales of Lake Wobegon to you via Audible.
Amazon still says "no" to ePUB format books. That means no library books for you and you're largely locked into Amazon's store. Now Amazon does have excellent customer service, good pricing and the largest selection of books, so it's not a bad walled garden. But we do like to shop at the bookstore of our choice, be it bricks and mortar or virtual, and the Kindle isn't a good choice for that. In contrast, the Nook supports ePUB and both forms of Adobe Adept DRM, so you can purchase B&N books, Sony Reader ebookstore books and Kobo books. You can also take out public library books and load Google public domain classics without conversion. The Sony Readers work with Sony's bookstore and Kobobooks.com, but not B&N. The Kobo likewise works with Kobobooks.com and Sony ebooks.
The reader has 4 gigs of internal storage and no expansion slot. 4 gigs holds a huge number of books and magazines-- approximately 3,500. That should keep you busy for the next 10 years or so. If you load PDFs, then the estimate goes down because an ebook is typically under a meg and PDFs can be 10 megs or more. Speaking of PDFs, Amazon has made significant improvements. The 6" display is a bit small for PDFs, but the screen is so sharp, I could read even tiny type. There's now zoom with reflow and that means if you enlarge the PDF, the layout and images stay intact. You can use the dictionary in PDFs, highlight and change contrast too. Watch our video review to see PDFs in action.
Here's our 12 minute video review of the Amazon Kindle 3. We demonstrate page turn speeds in Amazon books and PDFs, use text-to-speech, test out the new Webkit web browser over 3G and compare the Kindle 3 to the Nook, DX Graphite and Kobo Reader.
It's not easy to accurately capture E-Ink displays on-camera, and it's even harder to create a web-friendly image that doesn't take a year to load. But we've put together some comparisons of the Kindle 3 with the B&N Nook and iPad. First we have a macro shot comparing the iPad and Kindle 3 where you can really see the RGB grid on the iPad's LCD (score a big point for E-Ink).
The iPad under macro at the left and the Kindle 3 under macro at the right:
Next we'll compare the Nook to the Kindle 3. The Nook has higher apparent contrast than the Kobo Reader, and when using the Amasis font, a heavier typeface than the Kobo, so we didn't include the Kobo here. The Nook on the left has less contrast and less apparent sharpness than the Kindle 3 thanks to the Kindle's Pearl E-Ink display.
The Nook under macro at the left and the Kindle 3 under macro at the right:
Amazon has become the one to beat in terms of hardware, book selection, customer service and price. The $139 Kindle 3 with WiFi is a wonderful reader for an impressively low price. The 3G + WiFi version manages to come in $10 cheaper than the Nook (we don't recommend we make your choice based on such a small price difference), and Sony's readers have come down in price but still can't match the Kindle experience. Our only complaint is longstanding: there's no ePUB support and thus you can't shop at other ebookstores and you can't use library books. But if you're content to stay in Amazon's cozy ecosystem and have no interest or access to library books, it's hard to beat the Kindle 3 for now. Sony has said they'll come out with a refreshed line of touch screen E-Ink readers that don't suffer contrast and clarity reduction as did previous models, so things could get interesting.
Pro: Great price on both readers, lovely hardware, improved keyboard, lighter, smaller and better looking. Access to Amazon's huge selection of ebooks and a good selection of periodicals. Very easy to use and easy to get books on the Kindle. Pearl E-Ink display is by far the best among E-Ink displays and first gen Kindle owners will particularly notice the improvement. New Webkit browser is much more capable, though it still won't replace a smartphone, iPad or notebook.
Con: No ePUB support means no shopping around for your ebooks and no library books.
Price: $99 for WiFi model with ads, $139 for WiFi model, $189 for WiFi + 3G model
Display: 6" Pearl E-Ink display, 800 x 600 resolution, 167ppi. 16 grayscale levels. Supports screen rotation in all 4 directions.
Size: 7.5" x 4.8" x 0.335", 8.5 ounces for WiFi model and 8.7 ounces for WiFi + 3G model (our WiFi + 3G model weighed in at 8.4 ounces on our digital scale).
CPU: Freescale CPU with 533MHz max clock speed.
Wireless: WiFi and WiFi + 3G HSDPA (AT&T) worldwide wireless models available. There is no charge for using 3G.
Storage: 4 gigs with approximately 3.2 gigs available. Mounts as a mass storage device in Windows and Mac OS X for USB transfer of content.
Battery: Sealed in unit. Claimed 1 month battery life with wireless off. With wireless on, WiFi model claims 3 week and 3G model 10 days. Supports USB charging and comes with compact world charger. Charges in ~4.5 hours.
Formats supported: Amazon AZW, MOBI, PRC and PDF natively. Doesn't support DRM-d MOBI and PRC files. Other formats are supported via Amazon's conversion service (they charge a small fee for the service). HTML, DOC, JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP are supported through conversion.
Audio formats: Audible and MP3. Has a basic music player.