back to article Amazon's $399 folly book reader

Reading has never been cheaper, and for most of us, requires no additional machinery - only the source material itself. So why do we need to pay the online retailer $399 to read books? That's the cost of the company's Kindle, a gadget with an 800 x 600 E Ink screen. Apparently the company has been working on the …


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  1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

    What are they smoking?

    For half the price you could have an Asus Eee, which is more flexible. Mind you, maybe the Kindling has a decent battery.

  2. Luke Collins

    Battery life, I like the battery life on a paperback

  3. BoldMan


    Well for that price I could have 30 REAL books to read, which will almost certainly give me much greater pleasure than an Asus Eeebygum or any half-arsed piece of tech from Amazon!

  4. Matthew Robinson


    I liked the idea of the newspaper being 'delivered' directly to the device. The pricing may put people off. I notice that you're tied to Amazon, shame they didn't support Mobipocket - now there's how to do ebooks!

    So when do we get it over here (UK)?

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Nice idea, but...

    I've been reading ebooks for a few years now, on PDAs. Ideal for when you have a few moments of boredom (which is often in IT, "slave to the blue bar" and all that), and the best device I've used was an old palm V. Black+white screen, battery life of a month or so - perfect. I reckon amazon are on the right track there.

    The catch though, is that I wouldn't even consider a dedicated reader. I wouldn't carry it with me, and I wouldn't value it at anything more than £20 (which is around 10% of the value of the amazon kit!) Most of the time, a real book is cheap, convenient, easy to keep around, and most of all more enjoyable to read. For the rest of the time, if it's not available on something you already have with you (which would be a phone or pda), forget it.

    Are any bookies taking bets on this thing? Put me down for £20 on it flopping within a year.

  6. Paul F

    You can't grep a dead tree

    That said, unless I were to research project where I needed fast access to data in various tomes, I really don't see the appeal of e-books. I read the Unibomber's Manifesto on my Newton back in the day, mostly for the irony factor, but other than that nothing has interested me. Besides, aren't most people who want multiple portable books on electronic devices doing these days? If one's not inclined to read a real book, one's probably not inclined to read, I figure.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    One advantage

    For someone like me who is partially-sighted, there would be the advantage of having a large-print book in a more portable, pocketable format. But that's it. Personally, I prefer a normal book and a hand-held magnifier. I find myself grinding my teeth every time I hear another Web 2.0-type re-inventing the wheel with something that requires a (usually paid-for) internet connection. You can hear them selling these ideas to the money-men: talk of revenue streams and possible profit first, benefit to users/society well down the list.

  8. Karl Lattimer

    e-books would be great if

    they adopted a subscription model, gave the device away free to subscribers, bundled a few thousand free e-books...

    The whole e-paper technology is great, but the cost is enormous, realistically that's the only thing standing in the way of their world domination.

  9. Sean Ellis
    Jobs Halo

    Re: "I wouldn't even consider a dedicated reader"

    Indeed. Even Steve Gibson on Security Now (interesting podcast, btw) admits that it's not great having to have a separate device. And he's a big fan of e-books.

    Now, imagine if you will, a world where I already had something in my pocket with a large memory and a superb screen, which I had to carry around anyway (say, to make phone calls). E-book software on that *would* be attractive.

    Steve Jobs: are you listening?

  10. Roast Duck
    Jobs Halo

    today's concept tomorrow's common sense

    i like the concept, in that, you can store 100s or maybe 1000s of ebooks in a small card and save up all the space at home... law, medicine, engineering etc wud definitely benefit from it.. the practical applications are nearly endless..

    i wud give it another year or 2 and then maybe purchase "iread" from apple and subscribe to their "ibooks"..

  11. Bryan

    Looking at the wrong requirements...

    There is one advantage to ebooks; when you have weight/space requirements.

    As an example, my mom is rather into backpacking... she did a bit over 100 miles (100mi ~= 160km) on a 5 day trek in the high desert earlier this summer. Now while there are a lot of books that she'd like to take along, she can't justify the weight (or the space) to do so.

    Now, on the other hand, if there was a decently lightweight, decently rugged ebook reader (with a solid battery life), she'd be able to take dozens of reference e-books with only a small impact to her weight/space budget.

    Does this specific device meet her requirements? Not really. However, the point is that there *is* a need that ebooks can meet that the physical book can't.

  12. Nev

    EBooks will never take off...

    ... how would totalitarian governments or religious zealots conduct a book burning!?

  13. yeah, right.

    I can't carry my library

    I would love a decent electronic book reader. Why? I travel a lot. I like to read when I'm getting from point A to point B. But I read very quickly, so a good sized book only lasts me about 2 hours. My last trip, I went through 15 books. Do you have any idea how much bloody room 15 books takes in ones luggage? Especially since I'm not going to just throw the damn things away, and shipping them back home costs more than the book itself!

    Of course, I'd also use it for my research material (as the man said, you can't grep a dead tree). Then, since I have it around, I could use it to take notes (given a decent touch screen). Or use it to practice my Japanese kanji with a good flashcard reader.

    Yes, I'd pay at least $400 for such a device. Probably more. 30 hour battery life on a black-and-white screen book reader / PDA combo? Hell yeah! Where do I get one?

    This latest abortion by Amazon, however, doesn't qualify.

  14. Silas Humphreys

    Not interested.

    Won't be interested until they make one that can survive having my dinner spilled on it or being dropped in the bath.

  15. Eugene Goodrich

    Re: bookies, today's concept

    >>> Put me down for £20 on it flopping within a year.

    Payout is only £.002 on this, unfortunately... ;)

    >>>law, medicine, engineering etc [would] definitely benefit from it

    Only if they allow searching. Some ebooks don't do that. (I suppose it's bad for the battery life?)

    Around here, law frequently depends on page numbers, which are copyrighted. If the page numbers on the e-reader aren't identical, the material could be perused by the reader but not cited in court.


    I looked at the existing Sony ebook and went to their online bookstore and searched for some books I might like to read. First some classics - The Hobbitt / Lord of the Rings; Dune; Anne Frank's Diary. Not available. (Moby Dick was, however.) Then things I've already read from the not-local used bookstore - various sci-fi and semi-fantasy writers. Spotty coverage.

    That's what tore it. The books were $6 each instead of the $2.50 I pay used normally; fine - I'll pay for the get-it-now convenience. The device is $300, so it would be a long time before I'd make that up in volume. (300 divided by negative 3.5 is...) But to not be able to get the books I'd actually want to read?

    I'm just as skeptical about the Amazon reader. Do I have to wonder what books will be "compatible" with Amazon's service?

    Telling me I can read the newspaper for $400 plus a subscription fee, instead of on my laptop for free, is not the least bit enticing.

    Props to them for giving it a theft-deterring appearance, though.

  16. Spleen


    They wouldn't have to, they'd just delete them off your reader.

    You were probably joking. I'm not.

    First they came for my CD rack, now they're coming for my bookshelf. Tomorrow all windows will be replaced with artifically illuminated scenes of nature.

  17. Anonymous Coward

    Like digital music libraries & digital music players

    Before an eBook reader can be popular like mp3 players, there needs to be a convenient way to convert your existing text library to a digital format, or a cheap way to acquire a digital copy of said library.

  18. Anonymous Coward

    Cost cost cost

    IMHO the biggest issue with the Kindle is not the cost of the device, it is the cost of access and the cost of the books themselves.

    OK, so you can buy books across a cellular connection (from what I read it is not WiFi) but how much does the connection subscription cost? The potential data volumes to stock a Kindle are huge.

    In addition as it uses a proprietary ebook format with DRM you will have to get everything from Amazon - lock-ins do not lead to competitive pricing. Do we even know that people will be able to provide free ebooks for the Kindle if they want to or is the Kindle a total pay-to-read device? You can't even use it as a portable technical manual unless you can somehow get Amazon to publish your in-house manuals.

    How is this in any way superior to paper?

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    What's the keyboard for?

    Seriously. Having a physical keyboard increases the manufacturing costs and just provides more things to break.

    Didn't Amazon see the iPhone?

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Is that it?

    Jeez that's the ugliest thing since Alan Sugar's videophone thing whose total sales amounted to the poor secretary in 'The Apprentice'.

    Why so much plastic?

    Why a keyboard?

    As for the Sony eBook reader, I played with one in Borders, great idea - lousy execution. The paper was far from white and not as good as LCD, the buttons were hard to press and worst of all, there was a second or so lag when turning pages which felt plain wrong.

    Now Apple, can I have an eBook reader for the iPhone, or even the facility to save PDFs? That'd do me.

  21. Bad Beaver

    @ Roast Duck

    Exactly. These things are perfect for people who have to lug a lot of paper and are also expected to actually read it. Add students to your list. I used to read stuff on my Newton (at least it has a backlight and decent size screen) but honestly, using any non E-Ink display for prolonged reading is just asking for serious eye strain. The Kindle's price is moving in the right direction, but I would rather have the versatility of the iRex (for example its touchscreen) for the money, not some ugly lo-fi gear tied to Amazon.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    EBooks are the best - as long as the publisher doesn't DRM them...

    I've got over 200 DRM FREE e-books sitting on my PDA right now. Take it everywhere and read all the time. Got hooked on the Baen Free Library ( while I was between jobs and started buying them after I started working again. Have to admit, that e-books were 90% of the reason I bought my PDA, and 100% of the reason I replaced the first one when it broke (the other 10% was to play MP3's). I love being able to get the e-book of a new release a week before the hardback hits the shelves for less than a paperback.

  23. Robert Ramsay

    One question...

    If it's a book, why does it have a keyboard?

  24. wonton
    Thumb Down

    80s stylings?

    Is it just me or does the device scream 80's technology to you?

    Blocky case, beige, rubbery keys.


  25. Steve Foster


    "...governments conduct a book burning?"

    With an EMP of course...

  26. Allan Rutland

    Wheres my ZX48 plug in...

    really, it looks right out of the early 80's. Must plug in the tape somewhere to load new books :P

  27. Bad Beaver
    Paris Hilton

    @ Robert Ramsay

    Dude, it has keys so you can... type stuff.

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    The problem with today's ebooks is not the screens Jeff! It's the (multiple) DRM crap, incompatible file formats, limited choice of titles and absurdly high prices.

    Dedicated ebook readers address none of these issues and cost more than many PDAs, smart phones and MP3 players (which is where the publishers and sellers should be aiming). Laptops, PDAs and smart phones already connect to the internet worldwide via multiple wireless and wired interfaces, Kindle uses only Sprint's EVDO i/f and even then can access only a limited walled garden of content. WTF?

    Pay more to get less functionality, yeah that'll work.

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Jobs Halo


    I'd agree. if there was a phone or pda that already had a nice screen for easy reading and a slick interface for good browsing, I'd probably go for it. Couple that with a system that allowed me to impulse-buy a book for maybe a couple of pounds over-the-air and it becomes all the more compelling.

    I'd probably call it iTomes or something

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Dead Vulture

    How much will it hurt...

    ... when it drops out of my hand onto my face as I fall asleep reading in bed at night?

  31. Peter

    One day all books will be this way :-)

    Not with this sucker. Did he say he didn't want to release it until it's right ?!? And this is what's released ? I've read a number of ebooks on my Palm PDA, for me, that pretty much nails it, the best thing is the compact size.

  32. Jim Cosser


    This machine is HUGE and ugly, I have to say though my PRS500 (sonys baby) is the best gadget I have ever bought (and thats a lot!)

    Eink displays are pretty damn cool I much prefer reading books on my Sony reader than in paperback as its easier to handle I can carry hundreds with me and if you have a small attention span you can flick between any of them instantly.

  33. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    The London Underground

    If the old Microwriter chorded keyboard thing had been a success, this is how I imagine it would look nowadays, i.e. horrible.

    I did a lot of reading on the London Underground, because reading is a great way to block out the freaks, lunatics, crazies, gin-sozzled, moon-mad mares that breed in that Godforsaken hell-hole - not so much Godforsaken, as Unknown to God - and a good thick paperback has the advantage of being disposable, and knife-proof. Knives go in, they become stuck, and with a deft flick of the wrist I have disarmed the attacker. With this Kimble device I would be worried about breaking it, or having bits chip off, or the screen being broken, or fluids penetrating its pure white skin.

    That's why it would be rubbish on a hiking trek. I can picture it going into my bag, bag on the back, bag on the floor, bandit fires a rifle bullet which I deflect with the bag, CRACK, $399 snapped in two or broken. Which is only £12.95 at the current exchange rate, but show me a man who claims not to need £12.95, and I'll show you a man who will still be angry if you grab £12.95 out of his wallet.

    I choose Paris Hilton for my avatar, because she breaks - just like a little Kimber. Kindle. Is the name a reference to kindling?

  34. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down


    I got a PDA phone, i can read that in a pinch with ebooks, it was free as were the ebooks.

    I prefer paper though, no batteries, can take it on a plane without hassle, feels better, recyclable, no drm and in a pinch if its rubbish i can use the pages for bg paper.

    How exactly is this device going to compete on any level with paper or my fall back t he free pda phone which incidentally has 3g too.

  35. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down


    I got a PDA phone, i can read that in a pinch with ebooks, it was free as were the ebooks.

    I prefer paper though, no batteries, can take it on a plane without hassle, feels better, recyclable, no drm and in a pinch if its rubbish i can use the pages for bg paper.

    How exactly is this device going to compete on any level with paper or my fall back t he free pda phone which incidentally has 3g too.

  36. Emilio Cruz

    Maybe if...

    I can walk into my favorite library, select 3-6 titles, electronically, and have them delivered to a SD at checkout, a SD that I could easily slide into my ebook reader.

    I am engineer with more than 300 books and essays collections about engineering, between 120 and 140 novels and short stories and another 200 books about physics, education, mechanics of fluids, probability, numerical methods, and so on. So, they occupy 6 large bokshelfs around the apartment (including 2 on my child bedrrom)., so yeah, I really see the need for an efficient ebook readfer, with costing no more than 200 bucks.

  37. DrXym
    Thumb Down

    ebooks are great but this device isn't

    The idea of carrying around dozens or hundreds of books around is appealing. If only there was a common format but there isn't.

    If you ever want to see what in-fighting and proprietary formats can do to a fledgling market then look no further than e-books. Ever company and its uncle have produced incompatible DRM infested proprietary formats. Consequently the market is a wasteland with isolated enclaves. The market needs a common format, and it needs it now. If video and music can get standards then I see no reason that books cannot.

    Kindle seems to be all the worst aspects of this malaise combined into one single expensive ugly device. Not only does the device use a proprietary format but it connects to a single proprietary service. Why should anyone fork out $400 for this level of lock-in? They should have subsidized Kindle or made it more open. What they've done almost assures the thing will fail.

  38. Anonymous John

    I like this bit.

    "Long battery life. Leave wireless on and recharge approximately every other day."

    Not only can you connect to your neighbour's WiFi network, but you can keep your gadget charged from it too.

    Cheaper than the £433 Iliad though.

    I do prefer paper books, but my Pocket PC, Mobipocket, and 100 + books, comes into its own when travelling or not at home.

  39. J
    IT Angle


    Great idea, but... not there yet. Availability and price of titles are the worst problems. It's hard to get myself to pay nearly $10 for something virtual that, if physical, would many times cost $20 or less. Hell, I've paid $4 for classics at Barnes & Noble.

    I happen to have the "book fetish". I love owning the books I read, and all that. And it's kind of hard to imagined reading on that Amazon thing -- although I have read Project Gutenberg's books on my old Palm VII, and while it wasn't great, it was passable for bus waiting and stuff like that. The problems for me are that:

    1) while they look impressive and pretty filling bookshelves, they are a pain to move, keep clean, store, whatever.

    2) they are much more environmentally hazardous then electronic versions -- all the trees, energy to convert said trees into the book, ink, transportation... I have never seem any real calculations, but it seems to me like the traditional book would be much less environmentally friendly.

    3) as people already mentioned, I can never carry 100 books with me and just "whimsically decide" what I want to read later.

    Of course the eBook will also have its own share of troubles... Battery dead, BSOD when you're getting to the end of that thriller, your eBook files disappearing, frailties of the electronic thing, et al....

  40. Mark Pipes


    I also use the prs-500. I will probably *NEVER* buy an e-book, unless the cost drops well below the copy of the real paper book, and no silly drm. I have over 600 books I downloaded from Project Guttenburg, as well as a fair collection of pdf files I have loaded into the sd card. Having a large library in the small box is sa good thing. It has great battery life. Many of the books I have on mine are things I want to read that are either out of print, or difficult to find, or both.

  41. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @ the reference/schoolbook people

    The problem with the idea of using the Kindle for reference works is twofold:

    1) It uses a propretary ebbok format so you have to convince Amazon to convert all the books you need. Poorly-selling reference works are not going to be a high priority.

    2) You will need to buy your reference collection all over again and with a lock-in thats not going to be cheap even assuming they are available.

  42. Peter Gray
    Thumb Down

    Ebook storage

    I've been collecting ebooks for some time, and have several gig of them - about 50,000 books in several formats from HTML to plain text. I like the ability to grab a random selection of a hundred or so, stick them on my PDA and have them there to browse through while on the train, in down-time, waiting for installs etc. I've found several new authors and series this way, and bought the paper books for them.

    PDA's aren't as nice to read as a paper book, which is why I have nine (overflowing) bookshelves, but a book cannot compare to the convenience when it comes to storage. All that said, a dedicated reader would need to be waaaaay cheaper and non-drm before i would bite.

  43. Fred Bauer
    Thumb Down

    No Good on Airplanes

    I read a lot on airplanes (the only time I have the time.) I'd get really annoyed at having to turn off my book for every take off and landing (since they want ALL electronic devices off at that time.) I'll stick with dead trees.

  44. Mike Flugennock

    "Newspad", anyone?

    Granted, this clunker's a solution in search of a problem.

    Still, ever since seeing Kubrick's "2001" as a young pre-teen, I've always thought that the Newspad was just the niftiest goddamn' thing ever. You can read books, you can read the daily paper, you can watch yourself being interviewed on the BBC due to the nearly half-hour one-way light-time between Earth and Jupiter...

  45. mh.
    Thumb Down

    Shelf life

    I've got books that go back almost as far as the 1920s, mostly old recipe books. I can read them, pass them on, copy them or whatever even though the publishers long went out of business. They'll probably also be out of copyright because they are so old. The BBC Domesday project is the classic example of how technology can become obsolete, and that was only just over 20 years ago. The problem with ebooks is that you can't read them if the hardware isn't available or it uses DRM with an expired certificate. There's also the problem of the hardware breaking down. A hard disk can last about 5 years or so. CDs have only been around for just over 25 so it's difficult to say how long they'll last. Paper or parchment can easily last for hundreds of years and still be read provided someone knows how to decode the squiggles that make up writing.

  46. J
    Dead Vulture

    Pay attention...

    Andrew Orlowski. The "killer user interface" the guy refers to in the first paragraph of that article are about the *traditional book* -- in your article, you make it seem he is saying the horrible Amazon thing has "killer user interface" instead.

    It appears like, in a hurry to bash yet another thing you don't like (but providing very little of the reasoning behind), you got a bit confused there for a second.

  47. Gareth

    Secondary market in a few months...

    As mentioned by another poster, the Palm V series were wonderful eBook reading devices thanks to a large, glare-free monochrome LCD screen and easy interface. I've tried Mobipocket on my Smartphone but that screen is just too small.

    I certainly wouldn't buy any DRMed books either, especially not in an unproven format.

    However, if this thing gets bought by a ton of people due to publicity who then all discover it's crap and they end up floating around eBay for $99 or so I'll probably grab one to read PDF/text/HTML books on.

  48. Andrew Orlowski (Written by Reg staff)

    The "killer user interface"

    Good catch J - thanks, now fixed.

  49. Bob von Liski
    Dead Vulture

    Would you use a Kindle to...

    ...write that cute babe's email address on it with a Sharpie?

    ...tear off a corner of it to use as a toothpick?

    ...sacrifice a few pages of it in an outhouse emergency?

    ...use it to kindle a bonfire?

    ...prop open a window?

    ...level a bookcase?

    ...throw at the cat?


  50. Gilbert Wham


    ...I like to read in the bath.

  51. A J Stiles

    A Solution looking for a Problem

    I'm not at all convinced.

    Digital Photo Frames are much cheaper now than when they were originally introduced -- I've already seen them this side of £50. It surely can't be long now before some far-eastern manufacturer adds in the ability to display plain text files (if they haven't already -- I haven't got one to experiment with). And from there, the next obvious extension would be HTML (an open standard) or PDF (a near-enough open standard).

    But who'd want anything like that -- an open standard being adopted from the ground up?

  52. jubtastic1

    Never going to be a real market for this tech.

    By the time they get these gadgets down to a price where joe public doesn't just point and laugh, the market for them will have already been borged by Smartphones.

    Only positive aspect is that they encourage epaper development, because I want eWallpaper™ stuck on my walls one day.

  53. Edwin

    I think they're early...

    eBook readers have been around for years, but until e-Ink displays arrived, battery life was a real problem.

    Now, however, the problem is in price - e-Ink is verrrry expensive - I understand the display is a substantial part of the cost ($100?) of manufacturing these things.

    On the other hand - I've just bought my Sony PRS-500 for $200 on eBay - new. I have a decent-sized library of eBooks that will keep me company when I travel (which is often), and perhaps I'll buy some at some point - imagine - read a review, and own the book 5 minutes later.

    In any case, eBook readers may do for the dead tree industry what digital music players did for the CD business - but not yet. There's a Dutch startup (iRex) that makes a great eBook reader that lets you annotate (on a touch screen) as you go. The idea is to replace 20kg backpacks for schoolgoing children. The problem at the moment is that not all school books are available digitally, and it's a rather hefty investment at €600 (although potentially cheaper than all the dead tree editions - depending on the eBook cost).

    Amazon's mistake is to overhype an overpriced product. Sony has already tried, but I think it's flopping with everyone except niche markets and early adopters.

    Once the price of the readers comes down, it could really take off... Until then, the market is getting crowded

  54. Tony Humphreys

    How much!

    200 quid PLUS 5p everytime you want to transfer something you already own.

    Vendor lock in does not even come close.

    E-paper is damn fine though, I think i'll stick to my iliadreader for now, plus I can get mobipocket books for it - and transfer all my PDF's free.

    The Kindle is Betamax all over again! Now, can I get Howard the Duck for it.

  55. Damian
    Thumb Up

    Have to agree with Anonymous Coward have been producing DRM free ebooks cheaply for years and I have a library of approx 200 that I have on my N95 which I can read in almost every situation from waiting in a long queue to sitting on the train.

    Awesome service.

  56. Leo Maxwell
    Thumb Up

    My boot is empty!

    We are trialling an iLiad as a laptop replacement for our field service engineers.

    All they need is access to Technical manuals and part lists in PDF format.

    So far the results are encouraging, smaller and lighter than a laptop, nice clear screen, replaces a car boot full of technical manuals.

  57. Josh Korn

    There *is* a market, but not the one you'd expect

    It's for geeks like me. Sorry.

    I've got an entire bookshelf of tech books -- the ones that become obsolete in a year or two. All of them are hugely overpriced, not to mention very bulky to lug around. And of course, they're a colossal waste of paper.

    Earlier this year, I discovered the joy of ebooks. Instead of having to shell out almost $100 for an obscure COM/.NET Interop book (I did say it was geeky!) and have to wait for as long as two weeks (time that I couldn't afford to lose), I was able to get hold of the ebook for $40 and download it on the spot.

    And since those ebooks are Rights-managed, putting one on a reader and then lending the reader to a colleague mimics pretty closely what I'd do with a paper book.

    But the best measure of an ebook reader (and so far, I've only held the Sony one in hand) is this one. You can take it with you to the can.

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