[nextpage title=”Introduction”]

When the first Amazon Kindle was released in 2007, it was priced at USD 400. Each subsequent model added design improvements, capacity increases, and/or hardware enhancements, as well as lower prices. In 2010, Amazon introduced two new models, a Wi-Fi only model for USD 139 and a Wi-Fi plus 3G cellular network model for USD 189. This year, Amazon came up with a truly unique price reduction, one that we have never seen in the marketplace. Amazon started offering its two newest models for USD 114 and USD 164, respectively. To get this USD 25 reduction, they didn’t take anything away; instead, they added a feature called “Special Offers.” This brings the basic Kindle down to a very affordable price point, but it also brings something new – advertisements on the Kindle. We decided to take a look at the Wi-Fi Kindle with Special Offers to assess the cheapest Kindle ever, as well as to examine this distinctive marketing maneuver.

The Wi-Fi Kindle with Special Offers comes in a simple tan cardboard box, as shown in Figure 1. A picture of the Kindle is shown on the box. While other models come in either graphite or white, this version is only available in the dark gray graphite color.

Kindle Wi-Fi with Special OffersFigure 1: The Kindle box

The contents of the box, shown in Figure 2, include the Kindle itself, a small Quick Start Guide, a USB cable, and a multi-voltage power adapter (100 V to 240 V). The power adapter connects to the USB cable for in-wall charging.

Kindle Wi-Fi with Special OffersFigure 2: The contents of the box

As shown in Figure 3, at 7.5" x 4.8" x 0.335" (190 mm x 123 mm x 8.5 mm) and weighing 8.5 ounces (241 grams), the Kindle Special Offers is an excellent size and weight for reading. You can easily hold it for hours without any hand or wrist fatigue. The rounded corners and thin profile add to the overall good looks and useable design.

Kindle Wi-Fi with Special OffersFigure 3: The Kindle Special Offers

Setup of the Kindle is easy. Instructions for the initial charging, as shown in Figure 3, are found right on the screen. If you purchased your Kindle on the Web using your Amazon account, it will be pre-registered. If you purchased it elsewhere, you can follow the simple instructions to register your Kindle.

[nextpage title=”The Hardware”]

The first thing you notice on the Kindle is the excellent screen. Although only black and white, the E Ink pearl screen used in the Kindle Special Offers is extremely crisp and clear with no jagged text or rough edges. It’s about as close as you can get to actually reading a paper book. The new pearl screen has 50% better contrast than the original Kindle.

Because there is no backlighting, the screen is easy to read in bright sunlight. Just like a paper book, it requires a lamp or light in the room for reading at night.

The bottom of the Kindle holds all of the controls. From left to right, they are the volume control, the standard 3.5 mm headset jack, the microphone, USB port, and power switch. The power switch is a slider that also has a light that indicates battery power. The microphone has no current use, but has future potential.

Kindle Wi-Fi with Special OffersFigure 4: The bottom of the Kindle

The left side of the Kindle is shown in Figure 5. This side has two holes for attaching the cover. You can also see the edges of the two buttons that are used to turn the pages. In addition, the right side has two identical page-turning buttons. The top of the Kindle has no buttons or openings.

Kindle Wi-Fi with Special OffersFigure 5: The left side of the Kindle

[nextpage title=”Keyboard and Navigation”]

As shown in Figure 6, the Kindle keyboard has small round keys in a QWERTY layout. The keys are tiny, but in everyday reading, they are seldom used.

Kindle Wi-Fi with Special OffersFigure 6: The Kindle keyboard

On the right side of the keyboard is a five-way touchpad, which is the main navigational controller. The four sides of the controller are used to navigate through highlighted choices on the screen. Pressing the center button on the controller selects the item that is highlighted.

The keyboard also has three navigation buttons: a Back button that takes you to the previous screen, a Home button that takes you to your library of books, and a Menu button, which brings up the Menu shown in Figure 7.

The menu options include:

  • Turn Wireless On/Off: You can turn the wireless off to save power, and turn it on only when you need it.
  • Shop in Kindle Store: As long as the wireless is turned on and you are connected to a wireless network, you can shop in the Kindle Store and download books directly to your Kindle in a flash. You can also purchase books on your computer and they will be automatically sent to your Kindle.
  • View Archived Items: If you want to keep your Home page neat and orderly, you can archive items. From the archive, they can be moved to the home page at any time.
  • Search – This option allows you to search through your items, search the Kindle Store, search Google, or search the dictionary and Wikipedia.
  • Create New Collection: This lets you combine your books into Collections that you can name.
  • Sync & Check for Items: If an item doesn’t show up immediately on your Kindle, this option will check for it.
  • View Downloading Items: If an item is downloading, you will see it here.
  • Settings: This allows you to register or deregister your Kindle, give your device a name like “Sandy’s Kindle,” and find and join available Wi-Fi networks.
  • View Special Offers: This allows you to view all the latest Special Offers. (More on this later.)
  • Experimental: Currently, there are three experimental entries, Web browser, Play MP3, and Text-to-Speech. The Web browser is rudimentary and difficult to control via the four-way pad. MP3s can be copied from your computer to the Kindle to play in the background when you are reading or so that you can use the Kindle as a music player. This works well, except that the only control that you have is to start/stop the music and/or move to the next track.

Kindle Wi-Fi with Special OffersFigure 7: Menu choices

The Kindle keyboard has a key in the bottom row that is marked with a double “A.” You can use this key to change the size and spacing of the text. As shown in Figure 8, there are eight sizes of text and three typefaces. In this area, you can also adjust the line spacing, the number of words per line, and the screen orientation (vertical or horizontal). Unfortunately, the text in the Kindle Store cannot be resized.

As you can also see in Figure 8, this is where you can turn on the text-to-speech. This option will read the text to you. It is available for many, but not all, Kindle books.

Kindle Wi-Fi with Special OffersFigure 8: The type adjustments

The keyboard also has a “sym” key for symbols and an Alt button, which is used for a variety of shortcuts.

[nextpage title=”Special Offers”]

The “Special Offers” in Kindle with Special Offers, is simply a nice name for advertisements. You see these ads in two different places: the screen saver and at the bottom of the home page. While other Kindles have screen savers showing artistic pictures of authors like Charlotte Bronte, Mark Twain, and Agatha Christie, when you are not actively reading the Kindle with Special Offers, the screen features an ad. One of these ads is shown in Figure 9. Since the ads are in grayscale, there are no blaringly bright or obnoxious ads. There are also no animated ads.

Kindle Wi-Fi with Special OffersFigure 9: A Kindle Special Offer screen saver

In several weeks of viewing these ads, we found them all tastefully done and unobtrusive. Some were actual special offers that we found appealing. Here are a few examples of the ads that have appeared:

  • Get $20 off Amazon Power & Hand Tools when you spend $30
  • Save $15 on $20 of Amazon Kindle Skins from Amazon.com
  • Pay $10 for $30 of products in the Amazon Swim Shop
  • Use your Visa to buy select Kindle books and get a $10 Amazon credit
  • Get a $5 credit toward movies and TV shows at Amazon Instant Video

As shown in Figure 10, a special offer also appears on a rotating basis on the main screen. As you can see, this ad is a small banner across the bottom of the page.

Kindle Wi-Fi with Special OffersFigure 10: A special offer on the home page

No ads appear when reading a book, so they don’t in any way interfere with your ebook reading. Amazon has promised that ads will only appear as the screen savers and on the home page.

[nextpage title=”Using the Kindle with Special Offers”]

Once the Kindle is charged, you simply slide the power switch on the bottom to turn it on or to wake it from its sleep mode. A green light indicates that the battery has enough charge for book reading. (If the battery gets low, the light turns to amber.)

You can put the Kindle to sleep by sliding and releasing the power switch. The Kindle will go into sleep mode automatically after ten minutes of inactivity.

Reading on the Kindle is a pleasurable experience. Since the Kindle with Special Offers is lighter than the average paperback and thinner than a magazine, it is easy to hold and to handle. The E Ink Pearl technology has a 50% better contrast than previous screens, so it is easy on the eyes. The text size adjustments make it a great reading device for those with vision problems.

Although there is a noticeable “flash” when turning pages, this has been greatly improved since the first Kindle. Since the new Pearl E ink display has a faster refresh rate, pages now turn quickly and easily.

Figure 11 shows two fairly large buttons on each side of the Kindle screen that are marked with small arrows (< and >). These are used for turning pages. The > takes you to the next page. The < takes you to the previous page. These keys are flush with the bezel on the side of the screen, so are unobtrusive yet easy to find, either by sight or by feel. Page turning produces only a faint clicking sound, so reading on your Kindle may actually be quieter than reading a real book.

Kindle Wi-Fi with Special OffersFigure 11: The keys for page turning

Battery life is excellent. If you turn the Wi-Fi off, you can get up to a month without recharging. Even if you leave the Wi-Fi on, you can read on the Kindle every day and still have the battery last from seven to ten days. This is only marred by the fact that the battery is not user-replaceable.

Although this Kindle does not have cellular capabilities, it is still easy to purchase and download a book. If you are connected to a wireless network, you can buy a book by accessing the Amazon Kindle Store right on your Kindle. The book will download to your Kindle in just a few minutes. You can also purchase a book from the Kindle Store on your computer and transfer it to your Kindle via the included USB cable.

When you connect your Kindle to the computer, it appears as a drive so that you can drag and drop files to the Kindle, as well. This allows you to add music as well as your own files.

Even though you cannot control the sequence of the music, listening to music that you like can add to a pleasurable reading experience. You can also attach headphones if you want to read and listen to music without disturbing others. The stereo speakers are on the back of the Kindle, so the sound gets slightly muffled if you add a cover to the Kindle, however, sound volume is still adequate for the reader to hear the music.

The back of the Kindle, shown in Figure 12, has two sets of openings near the top for the stereo speakers.

Kindle Wi-Fi with Special OffersFigure 12: The back

This Kindle has improved support for PDFs. There are six contrast settings for the PDFs, and this Kindle also supports password protected PDFs.

You can have ebooks, PDFs, and other documents easily converted to the Kindle format and sent to your Kindle email address. Each Kindle has a unique email address that you can customize on your Manage Your Kindle page, which you can find by accessing your Kindle account at Amazon.com. You can send unprotected Microsoft Word, PDF, HTML, TXT, RTF, JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP, PRC and MOBI files to your Kindle email address. You simply attach the file or files that you want converted to your Kindle’s email address using the format: "name"@free.kindle.com. The converted
files are sent to the Kindle via Wi-Fi and are also emailed to the address that is associated with your Amazon account at no charge.

The bad news about PDFs is that depending on their original formatting, even after the Kindle conversion, you may have to use the five-way controller to scroll both side-to-side and up-and-down to read them. This can be very aggravating.

Amazon support and infrastructure for the Kindle has come a long way since they introduced their first Kindle device. Their support pages are excellent, and their “Manage Your Kindle” area has many different options. You can even set up certain email addresses to be allowed to send attachments to your Kindle address for a small fee. Only the email addresses that you register are allowed to use your Kindle address – a well-thought-out feature.

Besides reading on your Kindle, you can read your Kindle books on a PC or a Mac. There are also free apps that allow you to read your Kindle books on mobile devices like an iPhone, Android phone, iPad, Android tablet, and Blackberry device. Your Kindle keeps track of how far you have read. So if you read on your Kindle and then switch to reading on your phone, you will be taken to the place in the book where you left off on your Kindle. A really great feature.

You can also lend many, but not all, Kindle books to others for 14 days and they can read them on whatever device they own. Kindle books can also be loaned from many libraries and most libraries are scheduled to be able to handle Kindle lending by the end of 2011.

Books you purchase from Amazon’s Kindle Store are automatically backed up in your Kindle library so you can re-download books wirelessly for free, anytime.

[nextpage title=”Reading Books”]

This Kindle is an excellent piece of equipment that is made for one task: reading books. It offers excellent capabilities in not only reading, but documenting what you are reading. You can easily bookmark sections, add notes, look up word definitions with the built-in dictionary, or highlight sections that you want to emphasize. If you choose, you can share your highlighted passages and notes with others, and you can follow notes and highlights of others, as well.

There are lots of little extras. For instance, as shown in Figure 13, you can see the time, storage status, wireless indicator, and battery indicator at the top of the screen when you press the Menu button. You can choose View Special Offers in the Menu list to see all the current offerings at once.

Kindle Wi-Fi with Special OffersFigure 13: The time

In an effort to compete with other mobile devices, Amazon has added other extras that may or may not be useful. For instance, when you highlight a section of text, you are given the option to share that text with friends through Twitter and/or Facebook.

The Kindle with Special Offers also comes with a Web browser that Amazon lists as experimental. The browser is based on WebKit, which is used in several smartphones. This browser has zoom capabilities and an Article Mode that strips away graphics and lets you read just the text article. Yet, it is slow, and because of the navigation and gray scale screen, provides only rudimentary Web browsing. Several times, the Kindle froze when browsing the Web, making it even more unusable.

Unlike the first version of the Kindle, this one has no SD card slot. Storage space, however, is not lacking. This Kindle has 4 GB of internal memory and can hold approximately 3,500 books.

Over the last few years, the Kindle Store has grown dramatically. They now offer over 900,000 books. Most books can be previewed before you buy and many are USD 10 or less.

The Kindle supports the Kindle AZW format as well as TXT, PDF, Audible (AA and AAX), and unprotected MOBI formats. Unfortunately, it doesn’t support the popular EPUB book format.

There are also over 1.8 million free, out-of-copyright books available. Top US newspapers and some magazines can be automatically delivered to your Kindle. Be aware, however, that each publisher makes their own rules and chooses which stories appear. We were disappointed to learn that even though we currently subscribe to the Wall Street Journal, and this subscription entitles us to a free online digital edition of the paper, they charge full price for the Kindle edition. You can also subscribe to many different blogs, but there is a charge for all of them.

Amazon offers an excellent leather cover for this Kindle. As seen in Figure 10, it even has a strap to keep it closed. As shown in Figure 11, the cover slides onto the Kindle by attaching to two strong metal tabs. The inside of the cover is lined in a soft felt-like material. All in all, the cover is very sturdy and adds to the richness of the device, making it a little more like actually reading a book. There is also a similar cover with a flip-up light for reading at night. Unfortunately, at USD 35 for the unlighted and USD 60 for the lighted cover, they are both a bit pricey.

Kindle Wi-Fi with Special OffersFigure 14: The Kindle cover

Kindle Wi-Fi with Special OffersFigure 15: Attaching the Kindle cover

[nextpage title=”Main Specifications”]

The main specifications of the Amazon Kindle with Special Offers include:

  • Dimensions: 7.5 x 4.8 x 0.335 inches (190 x 122 x 8.5 mm)
  • Weight: 8.7 oz (241 gm)
  • Display: 6” E-Ink Pearl display, 600 x 800 pixel resolution at 167 ppi, 16-level gray scale
  • Storage: 4 GB internal (approximately 3 GB available for user content)
  • Battery Life: Up to one month with wireless off; up to 10 days with wireless on
  • Charge Time: Approximately 4.5 hours
  • Wi-Fi Connectivity: 802.11 b/g with support for WEP, WPA, and WPA2; no support for 802.1X authentication methods; no support for ad-hoc networks
  • Port: USB 2.0 micro-B connector
  • Audio: 3.5 mm stereo audio jack, rear-mounted stereo speakers
  • Formats Supported: Kindle (AZW), TXT, PDF, AA, AAX, MP3, unprotected MOBI, PRC natively; HTML, DOC, JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP through conversion
  • Warranty: One-year limited warranty; optional two-year extended warranty available for U.S. customers sold separately
  • More information: https://www.amazon.com
  • MSRP in the US*: USD 114.00

* Researched at Amazon.com on the day we published this review.

[nextpage title=”Conclusions”]

The Kindle with Special Offers is an excellent e-reader. The size, weight, and form factor are all excellent for reading. The E Ink Pearl screen is crisp and clear and easy on the eyes. Those with vision difficulties will like the wide selection of typefaces and sizes. Those who like to read at the beach or in the park will also like it for its great readability in bright sunlight.

The USD 114 price of this Kindle with Special Offers makes it very attractive. The ads appearing as the screen saver and on the home page do not interfere with the reading of a book or with the management of the device. In fact, they are not intrusive, and some of them are really special offers that are quite appealing.

This device is easy to setup and very easy to use. Even purchasing books is effortless. While the navigation system has been much improved, it cannot hold up to the touch screens found on other readers. We expect that Amazon will debut a touch screen Kindle in the near future. However, it may be priced higher. So as of now, we find the Kindle with Special Offers the best e-book reader at an affordable price.

We liked the ability to bookmark and annotate the reading material and even found the ability to share bookmarks and passages quite impressive. We also like the fact that this Kindle supports audio books and speech-to-text and has decent speakers and a headphone port.

While we hail the ability to support PDFs, Amazon needs to add better sizing of PDFs for the screen. Another drawback is that the non-user-replaceable battery will shorten the longevity of the device. Yet perhaps, the low price will offset that.

Strong Points

  • Excellent form factor
  • Excellent screen details
  • Easy to buy books
  • Over 900,000 books available
  • Free previews of many books
  • Fast page turning
  • Supports bookmarks, notes, and annotations
  • Can share passages on Facebook and Twitter
  • Very easy setup
  • Stores about 3,500 books
  • Eight font sizes
  • Excellent battery life
  • Plays music
  • Text-to-speech
  • Plays audio books
  • Excellent price
  • Great in sunlight
  • Easy on the eyes
  • Support for PDFs
  • Headphone jack
  • Excellent cover available
  • Sponsored ads are tasteful and unobtrusive

Weak Points

  • No touch screen
  • No color
  • No support for EPUB book files
  • Battery not user-replaceable
  • Web browser very rudimentary
  • PDFs need better sizing
  • You cannot change the size of the type in the Kindle Store
  • Covers are over-priced