The remarkable KindleI have become a convert to ebooks because they arrive quickly (no waiting for the mailman!), they're cheaper than print editions, they're easier to take on trips (a thousand books weigh no more than one paperback!), and they relieve the strain on my overcrowded bookshelves. Plus I can read a book on my iPhone if that's what I have with me. I've settled on Amazon's Kindle for a variety of reasons: I've been an Amazon customer for more years than I can remember, and Amazon was the first company to open up digital publisher to independent authors like me. My ebook sales now far outrun print editions. More than 80 percent of those sales are on Amazon.com and its European stores.
The Fire is a gorgeous little tablet computer about halfway in size between a smartphone and traditional tablets like the iPad, and at $199 it's less than half the price of the Apple iPad. As such, it's much more than an ebook reader. You can watch movies on it, browse the internet, send and receive email--whatever. All you need is a wi-fi router nearby. Unlike with a smartphone or the first generation of Kindles, you don't have 3G wireless connectivity over a cellular network. That means that you have you load your gadget before you leave on a trip in most cases: you won't be able to download a Dick Francis thriller when your Amtrak carriage gets stuck between Newark and Manhattan. The Fire is a great gadget. It's significantly heavier than an e-ink Kindle (14.4 ounces) but quite a bit lighter than the iPad. The interface is slick, and Click here for more.
Amazon has been selling e-ink readers for about five years now, with each generation getting lighter, less cumbersome, and less expensive. Here is the bottom of the line: The plain-vanilla wi-fi Kindle for $79 with what Amazon calls "special offers" but which the rest of us know as advertisements. For a savings of forty dollars, we let Amazon replace the standard screen saver (typically a splash about Jane Austin or some other literary great) with one of its own advertisements. Right now, for example, my Kindle is shilling for the Black Friday sale on amazon.com. Trust me, these ads are no bother. I scarcely realize they even exist, since when I pick the gadget up I reflexively turn it on, whereupon I see the last page I was reading when I set it down.
The $79 Kindle is further limited by coming in wi-fi only, and it has no audio capability, so it can't read to you when your eyes are tired. For $99 you can upgrade to the Kindle Touch "with special offers," a touch screen like your smartphone, and audio capability, and for $139 the same thing with 3G wireless connectivity. And for the same $139, Amazon sells its traditional keyboard version (helpful for taking notes or ordering online) either in and 3G versions. Click here for more.
The e-ink Kindles have some advantages over the Fire. Their battery life is tremendous, to the point where you can leave on a two-week vacation and leave the charging cord at home. And you can read in bright light, where the backlit screen of a tablet or smartphone will simply wash out. (By the same token, however, you can't read in the dark without an outside source of light.) And to many people the black-on-gray appearance more closely resembles sensation of reading a print edition.
And here's something else: You actually don't need a dedicated gadget. You can also read Kindle books on your smartphone, iPad, or computer by downloading the appropriate free app. Come to think of it, that's all the Fire actually is: a small tablet computer with a Kindle app!