Tuesday, April 27, 2010

E-Readers with Web Browsers, and WiFi vs 3G cellular access

At the right is a photo of my Kindle being used to look up reviews at Costco before any purchasing decisions.

  (You can click on the picture to see the larger image.)

 Now that Spring Design's $360 Alex is out and the Barnes and Noble Nook has been updated to enable web-browsing (I tried it out the other day), it's a good time to review what the differences are between those units' web-access and the Kindle's.

  A good example is from an email sent me two days ago by a woman whose son is in Spain with his Kindle (Int'l version sold since Oct '09) and who had just sent her an email from his Kindle --
" He is riding on a bus in a very rural area between Madrid and their destination city in northern Spain. "
 As a U.S. resident with the International Kindle, his cellular wireless web browsing is enabled also, when travelling abroad, at no added cost (as Amazon's wireless costs in the U.S. are said to be considerably less expensive for the company than is possible in other countries right now, though Jeff Bezos has said he hopes to make web-browsing available globally eventually).
  The speed of access of the Kindle's experimental browser has improved in the last few months.

  I have tips on speeding up the access and a downloadable file with links to mobile-device optimized sites and a guide for that.

Almost two years ago, I was riding in an Airporter going across the San Francisco Bay Bridge and used the older, original Kindle to send an email to someone.  With the shallow keyboard, you will not want to send a long email, but you can send short notes.

  Many gadget sites don't know that this almost-anywhere web-browsing is possible with the Kindle but not for the Nook, Alex, Sonys, Kobo or iPad (although the latter's web access when you're near a WiFi hot spot is a lot more pleasureable and colorful).

  1.  Cellular Wireless access from anywhere - That's 3G cellphone-type access from anywhere you happen to be if there is a cellphone tower nearby (AT&T or Sprint for the Kindle, depending on the model).
  The bookstore can be accessed wherever you are while reading a book.
  For the Kindle, that's true globally as well, and residents of the U.S., Japan, Hong Kong, Mexico have general, unlimited web-browsing enabled, at no additional cost.
  Non-USA residents not in those 4 areas have 24/7 free 3G wireless access to Wikipedia on the Kindle.  The other devices are limited to accessing only their stores with that 3G access for downloading.

  The Kindle, Nook, and Sony Daily Edition all use cellular wireless for book-downloads from their bookstores and at no added cost to the user.  Book downloads are doable essentially anywhere.

  That is not doable with the Alex, the Kobo, most Sonys or the current WiFi-only iPad.  I've read that many current iPad owners are trading up to the later 3G model due in May.

  The $629 iPad coming out officially on May 7 will use 3G and that will also require an additional $15-$30 for any month that this type of access is used on the iPad.

 The Alex will not have this type of access either, on its first, current model, but it's planned for a later model.

Web-browsing (in addition) using the 3G cellular network access
Only the Kindle has this (in the 4 geographic areas listed above), and it's at no added cost.
I'll indent the next part so that it's clearer as it's about a unique feature.
This particular cellphone-style access to the full web instead of just to the bookstore means you can access Google or ESPN or NY Times, etc. (preferably in their mobile-device versions for speed) almost anywhere you happen to be, whether in a bus, in your dentist's waiting room, in the car (as a passenger or stopped), in any restaurant, etc.

  The portability factor is large with many.
You can also download books directly to the Kindle from a few other online book sites this way, detailed at the free-books page.

  What's unique about the Kindle's access is that if you're sitting, waiting somewhere (almost anywhere in the world) reading a book on the Kindle International, you can begin a highlighting of a word or phrase on the page, finish it with a spacebar and the Kindle copies that word or phrase into the search bar -- and then you can press the 5-way navigation button to the right until you see and click on "Wiki," which will take you to the Wikipedia pages that match the search phrase (your Wireless feature would have to be turned On of course).

 When finished, press the Back button, and you're back where you started on the page in the book.  The Wikipedia feature works for any Kindle International model, globally, with wireless access available in their area (most).

  2.  WiFi wireless access - This works when you are set up to use a WiFi network that is in your home, your office, or in certain hotspots you might find such as Starbucks or McDonald's.  You'll normally need to do a special connection to the network the first time, and if it has the minimal security recommended, you'd need the private code for it.  Sometimes it requires a log-on screen.
  Barnes and Noble Nook users would be able to use it at that store.

 This is the type used by the current iPad, and Alex. (Turns out the Kobo uses only either bluetooth or the simple USB cable method to get e-books onto it._

 The cellular-wireless iPad ($130 extra, or $629 total) will be ready late April for those who pre-ordered it, and the official release is May 7.  As mentioned, there are web-access fees ($15-$30) charged for any month you use that type of wireless for an iPad.  AT&T will provide the web-access.

  SPECIAL NOTE:  Apple has identified a WiFi problem in some iPads and they readily replace the iPad when you contact them.

  WiFi networks, although limiting you to local areas, are faster, generally, than cellular networks, for web-browsing.

NOOK web-browser upgrade
When I was at Barnes and Noble, a very helpful customer support person named Amanda (El Cerrito, Ca) took me through quite a bit of it.

  The Nook's newly enabled web-browser, although limited in where you can use it, uses the bottom LCD panel to 'Goto' the web.  When you get a webpage, the slice of it that you can see in that small window is in color, and when I tried a photo site, it was really pleasing to see that, even if you can see only maybe a 5th of the photo since part of the lower screen is still used for other things.

  The one thing that was somewhat problematical was that when I was on a webpage and wanted to go to another one and called up the GoTo or Location box and started typing the URL, the Nook's e-Ink screen above would flash and refresh after each and every keypress.  That was disorienting.  I spent only 20 minutes on it, but maybe there's a way to avoid it, or they'll fix that with the next update.

  If I'd never used a Kindle and known about its ability to use the web browser anywhere, I still probably would have bought it on the spot.  I saw it on the first day, so everyone was very 'up' about it and I enjoyed getting webpages on it.  The Nook is a great looking reader but, as a Kindle user, I still find it has too many menu steps and I don't enjoy controlling the top with the bottom controls on a separate screen, as it makes me feel as if I'm operating a remote control with accompanying mini-delays.  Nook owners have no problem with that though.

  My 2nd choice now would be the Nook, unless they improve the Alex, which has a full screen at the bottom, but it's $100 more expensive than either the Nook or the Kindle.

  I'll probably update this and will eventually do a a blog entry comparing the various features of the dedicated e-readers mentioned.  By then, there'll probably be another dozen e-readers out.

  And now, other tablets competing with the Apple iPad are also gearing up for release, while the iPad is often out of stock at stores.  Amazon marketplace stores have new iPads at elevated prices for those who don't want to wait, but I'd check the quality ratings and number of ratings for the stores.

See the ongoing Guide to finding Free or Low-Cost Kindle books and Sources
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  1. Once again, awesome article. Still amazed at how many people don't understand the difference in what device has what kind of access. Also amazed at how many understand the concept of WiFi but not 3G......and they all have phones. Weird.

  2. Igotnothing,
    I wrote it because it's something most people have no reason to know.

    And I thought it needed some clarification as device-makers sometimes do their best to muddy the waters when marketing their comparison charts. and columnists say things like The Nook has WiFi and The Kindle has ONLY 3G, as if that were a minus (!)

    But Apple will charge $130 for the added capability plus $15 to $30 per month while Amazon's free, and too many writing columns don't make that clear (or don't know it).

    More and more, recent columns are starting to make the distinction now that the iPad 3G model is coming out next and then the extra money it costs (rather than the nice $500 figure) is making that clearer.

    It took people buying the wi-fi only model to realize it's probably worth it to spend a bit more and have the other capability too so they're not confined to hot spots.

    And I do wish the Kindle would have a WiFi capability put into that empty slot, since then a better web-browser which is coming will not mean people that use only 3G at home if they have a WiFi network, etc. That would make it easier on the AT&T network.

    With a speedier 3G cellular network access coming eventually on newer Kindles in maybe the Fall, a worry is a need for tiered add'l pricing if then people use that faster 3G a lot because it's no longer slow...

  3. Igotnothing,
    I should have been clearer on that last sentence!

    I meant speedier Kindle web-browsing currently being worked on by Amazon resulting in heavier use of the 3G cellular network for the Kindle when it's ready.

    Hope you hadn't read that paragraph yet :-)


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