Video review - Amazon Kindle

Amazon's handy ebook reader has made it to Australia, but can it compete against smaller, full-colour touchscreen devices?
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01.Amazon Kindle

Please note: this information was current as of November 2009 but is still a useful guide to today's market.

If you're a keen reader you'll no doubt be keen on the Kindle. This eBook reader from promises to deliver any book you choose from a vast online library, within 60 seconds - and the slim profile and light weight makes it easy to carry with you and dip into a book any time you like.

Video: Video review - Amazon Kindle

CHOICE Computer's Steve Duncombe gives Amazon's new Kindle ebook reader the once-over.

The Kindle, now at version two, uses a 3G wireless connection to the Amazon online store to buy books and download them directly to the device for a flat fee with no additional cost for the wireless transfer.

While that's pretty impressive, the drawback is that you can only purchase books from and Australia doesn't have access to Amazon's full eBook range, due to regional restrictions by publishers - who assign rights to eBooks on a country by country basis.

However, Amazon says that more than 280,000 eBook titles are available, along with international newspapers and magazines. Outside of America, users pay $2 more per book, with best sellers costing about $12 and older titles less than half that.

The device uses electronic ink to display crisp, clear text on a six-inch monochrome screen that's impressively easy to read even in full sunlight, with little reflection. But the screen isn't backlit, so while it's as easy to read as a printed page, it suffers similarly in low-light conditions.

Unfortunately, the screen isn't touch-sensitive either. Navigation buttons on both sides and a small five-way joystick let you page through a book or go to any part, though this can feel a bit sluggish at times. It takes a bit of getting used to, especially for anyone used to the sort of multi-touch control that's becoming more common on smartphones and laptops. Likewise for the tiny little buttons on the built-in keypad, used for searching and typing notes.

Electronic bookmarks, text clippings and note taking on the device increases its versatility and you can also transfer your own personal documents onto the Kindle for later reading.

The Kindle itself can only be purchased online directly from via a special page for Australian buyers and it's priced at $US259. Unlike the American version, which ships with a mains power adapter, the Australian version only comes with a USB cable for charging from a PC, and surprisingly, you can't use it with USB-AC adapters like the one that comes with the iPhone - we already tried that.

To sum up, the Kindle is notable for its relatively low price and easy-to-use direct wireless access to the online bookstore, but being limited to Amazon is a restriction that its competitors don't suffer from.

It has focused attention on ebooks, which are finally starting to take off after several slow years, and that's a good thing, but whether it can succeed against stiff competition from multipurpose devices like full-colour touchscreen smartphones remains to be seen.

We're giving it three stars.

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