The Kindle 3 and the price of early adoption

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Early adopters always pay a high price.

In my case, I do feel some regret jumping into the e-book reader phenomenon earlier this year in Feb. I didn’t expect this category of gadgets to evolve at such an accelerated pace after  I bought my Kindle 2.

Today, the e-book market is drastically different from just 10 months ago, with much cheaper readers, and burning hot competition between Apple, Amazon and Barnes and Noble for the eyes of the bookworms of the world.

You could blame the accelerated growth of the e-book industry on the iPad, which is causing panic in many quarters of the book industry (as well as the PC industry!), but I feel it has simply opened up publishers’ and e-book makers eyes to the reality – that digital books are really going mainstream, and if you miss the boat today, you ain’t going to catch up tomorrow.

Let me explain – in Feb, I bought my Kindle 2 (which was still considered spanking new technology) for USD$259. And in Aug/Sep, Amazon announced the Kindle 3 which could be had for as low as USD$139.

Yes, at that $139 price you don’t get 3G wireless, but just plain WiFi, which is more than sufficient for many e-book users. I wrote extensively about my experiences with the Kindle 2 (see here and here), and faithful readers would know that I did have a big gripe with the low-contrast screen that tends to cause some eyestrain.

Like I said in my initial impressions, the contrast level is not great, with a light grey screen and not-100%-black text. It’s bit like reading printed text on a grey cardboard box.

So while the Kindle is meant to be read with a light on like a normal book, I found that it’s best read in really good lighting when indoors – either next to a table lamp or next to a window. You’ll definitely get some eye-strain if you read under normal florescent or incandescent lighting. For outdoors, no issues at all.

I felt rather miserable when the K3 was announced, and it didn’t help that two friends (Pok and Amelia) recently waved it in my face. Boy, the screen was really quite improved with blacker text and a somewhat lighter background.

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The screen contrast may not seem that different between the Kindle 2 and 3 in this picture, but it does make a big difference when actually reading in poor lighting conditions.

The advertised “50% increase” in the K3’s screen contrast really improves the reading experience, even though it’s still similar to reading a wet newspaper. As Goy observed, the K2 gives an impression you’re suffering from astigmatism due to the low contrast, while the K3 is really much crispier.

Anyway, I’ve already gotten hooked on e-books – I really have no more storage space in my house, and I love paying just USD9.17 for the Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Universe omnibus – and also, I’ve impressed myself by finishing off 10 e-books in the past 8 months (6 of them are from Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series), a phenomenon considering I have hardly read the same number of printed books in the past five years.

So what to do, I ordered my K3.

Plus a really nice burgundy red leather cover, which is a little more classy than the original black leather cover for the K2.

To be honest, apart from the smaller size and the improved screen, there’s really not much difference between the K2 and the K3 in terms of hardware features. But unfortunately, the screen is what really counts in an e-book experience, and thus, the pain of a premature purchase cannot be easily discarded away.

Now you might ask, what about the iPad as an e-book reader? It’s great because you can access not just Apple iBook store items, but also the Kindle books, BnN books and all the free PDFs and EPUB books in the world. Plus COMICS!

Still, it’s way too bulky and heavy to be brought outdoors all the time, and it’s tough to read it in bright settings due to the LCD screen. Plus it’s hard to fight the long battery life of the Kindle’s E-Ink screen (which can go on for a month as long as you don’t switch on the WiFi/3G)

Amazon has clearly won the e-book battle for now with its sheer range of books, great pricing, hardware and software options for people to choose their platform of choice, and is pushing a lot of innovation in this space (eg. it’s about to launch virtual lending of Kindle books between friends).

Of course, I know a Kindle 4 is not far off, but I really couldn’t put up with the poor screen of the K2 once I saw the K3.

Alas, the price I pay for being a geek + bookworm + many other things.

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