Amazon Kindle Comes to Japan
The long wait is over, the Kindle has finally arrived in Japan.
Or has it?
As soon as I heard that a new Kindle model with an international roaming would be avail, my pre-order went in. I've been an avid eBook user since my Rocket eBook many moons ago. As a heavy traveler, the ability to carry a library around with me is a must have.
Since that first book I have used Sony and iRex readers of varying sizes and capabilities, but the Kindle has always taunted me with the holy grail of mobile readers: wireless updates.
Well, I have had my new Kindle2 International Edition now for over 24 hours, so I guess it's time to see how it matches up.
Size: Yup, it does matter.
While the screen dimensions on the Kindle are identical to my trusty Sony Reader PRS-505, The case of the Kindle is noticeably taller and wider.
A wider screen bezel and full keyboard give the Kindle a much larger footprint more like a large format book than a paperback novel. This is justified by the additional functionality, but I still give Sony credit for making a really slick looking device. The metal case on the Sony certainly feels more premium than the white plastic of the Kindle, and the smaller profile makes the Sony almost pocketable. Still. the Kindle's lighter materials mean that they weigh about the same, and they come out about the same depth, thinner than a candybar.
Also, my biggest complaint about most of the eBook readers I have used is lousy page buttons. While the Kindle plastic does feel a bit cheap and I worry about discoloration of the plastic on the buttons, the Kindle brings nice page buttons that are decently placed and neither too small nor to easy to accidentally push.
Overall, not the best design, but pretty good and coupled with much better functionality.
Functions: The Future is now? Well, maybe next week.
So how does it work? overall, pretty well.
The screen is as good, if not a bit better than the Sony Reader. If you are familiar with eInk, this is a great example. Page turns are fast and contrast is great. I'd rate it over a newspaper, but below a high contrast screen like and iPhone. Of course there is no internal light, but easily readable in any properly lit environment. Great if you are outdoors.
The Text to Speech function is very cool and works quite well. While some publishers are actively blocking this feature I see this an inevitable evolution. I also appreciate that both male and female reader voices are included. Would have been even better if there were accents. Would love to have a British librarian read me the daily news :)
Now for the juicy part. The wireless.
Currently I am using the Kindle with a US regional setting, although it does work fine with the Japanese setting. Signal strength in Tokyo seems fine, but network speed (or more likely processing power) make the Kindle rather sluggish while using any network functions.
Still, I am able to browse and buy books, and newspaper and magazine subscriptions download quite nicely. The experimental (read non-supported) web browser works fine, but of course is quite slow and lacks support for flash or any other plugins. The keyboard makes using wikipedia and google easy to use, but to be honest I don't see myself using them that often. Basically I find the iPhone superior for such tasks as it is faster and easier to control. The only advantage the Kindle has here is the larger screen (over 2X the iPhone) and the background downloading. The Kindle will make the perfect subway newspaper reading companion.
But is there a cloud on the horizon? Yup. Power.
It's always power.
After just one day of using the Kindle, a somewhat familiar and very distubing message appeared on my screen.
I'm used to the Sony Reader battery lasting weeks. That's the big advantage to Eink screens. Of course I have to take the wireless thing into consideration. One day of tinkering around with the browser and and downloading stuff, coupled with hours of checking out menus changing settings, and actually using the device is a bit more than typical use I am sure. Still, it does make me a bit suspicious that the 3G network requirements in Japan will mean noticeable power underperformance compared to showing in the US.
Price: Show me da money!
Well, the power thing was enough to darken the clouds, but the pricing issues are a full on rainstorm.
As I mentioned, I have set the location of my Kindle to USA. This means that there is a $2 surcharge to download any books over the wireless connection. Also there is a $5 a week charge per WEEK to get unlimited access to subscriptions like newspapers, magazines and blogs. That's $260 a year just to get my newspapers, the main reason picked up the Kindle. Ouch! Of course this money has to be tacked on to pay for the international roaming since I have set my Kindle to roam from the US. How does this scenario stack against a Japan local setting.
Well, to start off with, you lose the $2 surchage on books, but instead all books have at least $2 added to the price. In a few cases I found that it was more than $2. So… no difference I guess. At least nothing good. How about subscriptions? Well good news, no weekly subscription charge. But wait… Uh oh. Houston we have a problem. Subscriptions are between two and three times more expensive for international users!!! So instead of $9.99 subscription to the International Herald Tribune, it becomes a $19.99. $9.99 is enough for the Financial Times for US users, but that goes up over $25 for international users. So if you subscribe to more than two items, you get nailed. More and well, it's crazy expensive.
On top of getting hosed on prices, the stores for non US users are noticeably diminished. While Japan boast a store about 90% the size of the US store, that 10% seems to mostly be taken from new releases and bestsellers. And of course, since the Kindle can not display Japanese text, there are no local additions to speak of. So while the Kindle does in fact work just fine in Japan, the additional costs and limitations are enough to warrant reconsideration. What I find most disturbing is that it is quite difficult to figure this all out before you buy. I had to experiment a bit before I really got a feel for the pricing. While not dishonest, I do think this falls into poor customer service on the part of Amazon.
The Vedict: Buyers remorse or New Best Friend?
Well, is the Kindle everything I hoped for? Well, no. But it's not my worst fears either.
The design is nice, and I will proudly use the Kindle outdoors and around town without feeling the need to sit in a dark shady area. The leather case(purchased separately) is nice and the device looks quite sharp and is very portable. Still, for just book reading, I think I prefer my Sony Reader.
The wireless works, but does come at a cost. And I mean money cost. I'll likely stick to a US account roaming in Japan model until/unless the fix the pricing structure. Unfortunately I am not too hopeful about that.
I get the feeling that the best thing that might happen from this is that a Japanese telecom company might take the hint. The Kindle is a great success in the US and a similar device/service could likely do well in japan if handled well. Still, there is still the stink of failure from the Sony Librie debacle of a few years ago, so maybe we might have to wait a while.
This is just a first glance as I've only been playing with the product for a day, but will write more about the Kindle in the future. Especially with new devices galore on the horizon. Post up some questions if you would like to know something more about specifics.