After Hours

Cheat Sheet: The Kindle, Amazon's e-book reader

Everything you need to know about the next big thing in reading...

The Amazon Kindle then - is that one of those book readers?
That's exactly what it is. e-book readers are typically small, thin devices - about the size of a paperback novel - that can store hundreds or thousands of books in digital form. The text is displayed on the device's screen, with readers able to flip virtual pages with the touch of a button.

The Kindle's been around for a while, hasn't it…
About two years to be exact - the first Kindle was launched in November 2007.

…so why are we talking about it now?
Because it's coming to the UK. Previously, the Kindle was only available to US consumers but now consumers in more than 100 countries - including Blighty - can get their hands on the device from 19 October.

I presume I just get one from Amazon?
That's right - although shoppers outside the US won't be able to buy the Kindle directly from their home Amazon store - Amazon.co.uk in our case - and will instead have to buy directly from the US Amazon store. However, Amazon has said it plans to let customers buy a Kindle from the UK store in the future.

As it's a US machine, readers will need to get themselves a plug adaptor.

If you're still of a mind to buy, the device is $279.

amazon kindle

The Amazon Kindle
(Photo credit: Amazon Kindle)

Is there just one type of Kindle out at the moment?
If you're a UK shopper, there is - the six-inch display version. However, in the US, shoppers can buy a larger version - think newspaper rather than paperback - called the Kindle DX, which comes with a 9.7-inch display and a larger price tag to boot - $489.

Amazon expects to release a DX for the international market before too long.

So what can I actually read on this thing then?
Amazon is keeping its ambitions modest: "Our vision for Kindle is to have every book ever printed, in any language," the site says. However, the reality is a little less high flying: there are just 350,000 books available for download - although more are promised in the future - and the device itself can store around 1,500.

Is it just books that you get on the Kindle?
Nope, you can get your documents on the device too - Word and PDF documents are supported - as the device comes with a USB port.

You can also download magazines and newspapers too - in the UK, there's The Times, The Telegraph and The Daily Mail, for example. While books are bought with a one-off payment - $13.99 for new books and best sellers - newspapers are bought on subscription of $22.99 for one month.

You said download - do I use wi-fi to get books onto the Kindle?
You've got two choices: USB and mobile. The Kindle comes with HSDPA built in, so content purchased from Amazon can be delivered over a 3G mobile network.

The retailer has struck a global deal with a US mobile operator, AT&T, to be its mobile network of choice. Outside the US, content will be delivered over one of AT&T's partner networks in the UK, although it's not yet clear who that operator will be.

Doesn't all that mobile connectivity drain the Kindle's battery?
According to Amazon, with the wireless on, the Kindle can go for four days on a single charge.

Hold on, if I get a book in digital form, is there anything stopping Amazon taking it back?
An interesting question - earlier this year, Amazon got itself into a bit of hot water after deleting copies of two George Orwell novels from users' Kindles, when it discovered that the books - 1984 and Animal Farm - had been added to the Kindle library by an unauthorised publisher. Unsurprisingly, that move went down like a concrete kestrel prompting waves of criticism from customers.

Amazon CEO subsequently described the move as "stupid, thoughtless, and painfully out of line with our principles", offered a refund or redelivery and and promised not to do it again.

With all that going on, are these e-book readers popular then?
Apparently so. Research by analyst Forrester has predicted that three million devices will be sold in the US - 900,000 of which will be sold over Christmas. Amazon will end up with 60 per cent of the market, according to Forrester, followed by Sony with 35 per cent.

About Jo Best

Jo Best has been covering IT for the best part of a decade for publications including silicon.com, Guardian Government Computing and ZDNet in both London and Sydney.

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