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Kindle 3 Review

I recently upgraded from the second to the third Kindle version.  It was not by choice.  (Note: A Kindle cover is useless when you drop a reader on one of its corners.  No really … it was an accident and I did not say any bad words, though I certainly was thinking them.)  So, now I have a new Kindle with all my old content onboard.  I thought I would post a few impressions, in no particular order, after two weeks of use and after reading some teardown reviews.

See the updates on the unlighted cover issues below.

PROs

  • Smaller and lighter, though it is at the smallest comfortable size for my adult hands to hold.
  • More memory for more books.
  • Page turns and menu operations are faster.
  • The screen is sharper (better contrast), which is the most appreciated change.
  • The back is a rubbery feel plastic rather than metal.
  • Lower prices.
  • Excellent battery life (so far).
  • While very slightly thinner than the Kindle 2, the more rounded back edges give a better illusion of the unit being even thinner than it is.  This was done by moving the various controls to a “thicker” bottom region.  The bottom edge is not actually thicker than the rest of the unit, it is just full thickness all the way to the edge, hence it loses the tapered thinness illusion.  You can prove it by holding a Kindle 3 sideways.
  • The power slide switch operates much better now.  On the Kindle 2, it had a stronger spring, was a slippery metal, and did not protrude from the bezel very far.  These issues are fixed on the Kindle 3.
  • The power slide switch is backlit, glowing green when you have moved it far enough. The switch backlight doubles as a power charge indicator, going from orange to green.
  • The Amazon lighted cover draws it power from the reader via the attachment points.  This saves the weight and expense of external batteries at the cost of decreased run time from the system battery. (See the CONS section below, though)
  • The cover attachment points inside the reader received special reinforcement.  After a round of bad press about broken front bezel plastic on the Kindle 2, Amazon added a special plastic fixture inside the Kindle 3.  On the Kindle 2, Amazon relied on the metal back cover for strength.  That left the weak front plastic as the failure point.  In reinforcing the internal attachment points, they then had a good spot for providing power to the lighted cover.  The reinforced attachment points firmly connect the removable cover to the front bezel and the internal support structure.
  • The forward and back buttons on the left and right sides are quieter.
  • The forward and back buttons on the left and right sides are harder to accidentally hit when picking up the reader.
  • The Home button moved from a big right side button to a extra width keypad button.  Good choice.
  • The Menu and Back buttons have moved from the right side near the five-way controller to the keypad as extra width buttons.
  • The five-way controller shifted from a stubby joystick to a square keypad, making all keypad operations a press.  Good design.
  • Native PDF reading, though zooming and panning could be easier.
  • Wi-Fi and AT&T 3G cellular connections.

Neutrals

  • The side controls have all moved to the bottom of the device: The power slide switch moved from the top to the bottom right, the headphone jack moved from the top to the bottom middle, and the volume rocker switch moved from the upper right side to the bottom left.  The microphone and USB connector stayed on the bottom middle.
  • The keypad buttons are spaced closer together horizontally but not vertically.
  • The keypad space bar is slightly wider – five vice four buttons wide – even with the closer button spacing.
  • The Amazon covers come with an elastic band to hold it closed.  I never had a need for such a device on the Amazon Kindle 1 or 2 covers, though it may be related to the stiffer cover hinge area.
  • The Amazon cover loses its identifying “Amazon Kindle” metal tag, replacing it with an embossed leather tab on the elastic band.
  • The “screen saver” images are unchanged.
  • Screen size in unchanged.
  • You get to choose from two bezel colors: white and dark grey (graphite).
  • The speakers moved from the rear bottom to the rear top to make room for the external controls which are now on the bottom.
  • Comes with wall power adapter and micro USB cable.
  • Packaging is recyclable paper except for the screen protector.
  • The 3G cellular module "operates globally on tri-band UMTS 850/1900/2100 wireless networks as well as quad-band GSM/GPRS/EDGE 850/900/1800/1900 networks" per the manufacturer.  There is a SIM card preinstalled.
  • The cellular antenna is at the top of the reader between the speakers and is huge compared to the miniscule Kindle 2 antenna.
  • The speaker grills are shaped the way they are because of internal arrangement constraints.  Looking at the back of the reader, the battery is on the upper left side, just below the speaker which is oriented horizontally.  The multi-frequency antenna between the speakers is a fixed width that required the right speaker to be rotated 90 degrees to fit, so it is oriented vertically.  You can see the silver speaker cones through the grills.
  • The Wi-Fi antennas are mounted in the front bezel at the lower right corner looking at the front of the reader.
  • The Kindle 1 has a reset switch hole under the removable rear cover.  The Kindle 2 has none.  The Kindle 3 restores the reset switch (it is near the the power switch, facing the back) but does not provide a hole in the back cover to access it.  Should it be required, you need to remove the back cover to use it.  I had to use the reset button on my Kindle 1, but have not needed it one either of the two replacements.
  • The previous two back panel certification logos now have grown to fourteen with the addition of the worldwide GSM cell module.  Other data on the back panel is the model number (D00901 for mine), FCC ID, IC ID, input voltage and assembly country.  Good luck reading the black printing on a dark grey panel.
  • The reader serial number previously printed on the back panel is now only accessible via the directory menu in the Device Info area.  You can also get the network MAC address there.  This will certainly cut manufacturing costs.

CONs

  • The smaller size caused the deletion of the row of number keys from the top of the keyboard.  This is a real PITA if you want to jump to a numbered location in a book.  It also greatly irritated my three-year-old son who enjoyed pressing the number buttons while I was reading.
  • To get to the numbers, you now must push the “Sym” (Symbol) button and then use the five-way controller to cursor around the virtual list and select them one by one. Bad Design.
  • The slash (“/”) keypad button is gone.  It is now accessed via the symbol list.
  • The removable cover attachment slots are spaced about 1 cm wider apart, making all Kindle 2 covers unusable.  Unappreciated.  This is likely due to the new reinforced attachment points and the lighted cover power supply feature.  The Kindle 3 cover metal attachments are a longer design.  The unlighted cover metal attachments have a nonconductive paint on them to prevent short circuits, while the lighted cover attachments look to be gold plated.  The Kindle 2 cover attachments are conductive black metal and would be prone to short circuits which could drain the battery or even cause a fire if used with a Kindle 3.  This element of the design certainly called for deleting the metal rear cover.
  • Update: The Amazon unlighted cover can cause the Kindle 3 reader to freeze or reboot.  I only use the cover when I travel, and I had to manually reset it twice.  One time it froze when I tried to wake the unit to read.  It was an obvious freeze since the green LED behind the power slide switch stayed on when it is usually illuminated for a second or two.  The units also forget to save the last read position.  Both of our Kindle 3 units exhibit this behavior in their covers.  They work fine without the covers.  From the teardown photo galleries (my favorite is here), it appears that the power connection is via the lower cover connector.  There are four system board contacts which are connected to sliding contacts in the lower connector attachment point, which is the one you pivot around to install the cover.  My guess is that the power contacts are shorting leading to a “power bad” signal to the unit which prevents it from operating. Update to the Update: I called the Amazon Kindle Customer Service number (877-453-4512) and described our problems.  They credited my account $70 for the two unlighted covers and applied a $50 special offer to my account that made purchasing two new lighted covers a no-cost fix.  They did not want the old covers back.
  • The Amazon Kindle 3 cover is stiffer and not as easy to fold back for one-handed reading as the Kindle 2 cover is.
  • The Amazon covers are still an extra cost item.
  • The Amazon lighted cover is too expensive compared to the device.  At $60, it is 43% of the cost of the $139 device, and 32% of the cost of the $189 device.  Ouch.
  • Even the Amazon unlighted cover is pricey compared to the device.  At $35, it is 25% of the cost of the $139 device, and 19% of the cost of the $189 device.
  • The Amazon cover does nothing to protect the reader if dropped – as I have proven.  This is because the E-Ink display panel is glued to the front bezel plastic, so any impact shock to the plastic is transferred directly to the display panel.  What you see on the front of the reader is the actual E-Ink display panel.
  • Moving the power slide switch to the bottom makes it more awkward to operate with your thumb.
  • Update: With use, the power slide switch is getting stiffer to operate and returns to its neutral position slower.
  • Moving the headphone jack to the bottom makes it uncomfortable to use headphones while reading on your back.
  • The forward and back buttons on the left and right sides are harder to intentionally hit when using the device.
  • The five-way controller Up button is uncomfortably close (for an adult finger) to the Menu button, which I have inadvertently hit.
  • The five-way controller Down button is uncomfortably close (for an adult finger) to the Back button, which I have inadvertently hit.
  • The size of the five-way controller is based on the visual alignment to the top and bottom of the adjacent rows of buttons rather than for ergonomic considerations.
  • The battery is replaceable only if you want to remove the back cover of the device (which can be done) but is not designed to be done easily.
  • The reader has an RFID tag inside the back cover of the device if you are concerned about such things.

Overall I like the device compared to its two predecessors.  Would I upgrade just for the new features?  No - unless I had a good resale of the old reader lined up.


Feedback

# re: Kindle 3

Gravatar Nice - indepth review. Unlike the majority of reviews you actually go into what is wrong with the kindle 3. I know how delicate the kindle 3 is - even with the lighted cover - i busted mine last week by sitting on it..doh

11/10/2010 10:13 AM | Danny - Kindlecases.net

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