Amazon’s integration with Overdrive, the clearinghouse libraries use to lend digital books, is much more straightforward than the competition’s lending services. And, Amazon has its own lending program you gain access to with your $79-per-year Amazon Prime membership.
A regular digital copy of Michael Lewis’ The Big Short sells for $7.17, but Amazon Prime members can read it for free, and it says so right on the book’s product page. Notes and highlights you make in borrowed books stay there — you’ll see them again if you re-borrow later.
The offerings are limited, but this represents a significant breakthrough with publishers, who Amazon famously battled over $10 best-sellers and lost. Though if I ran a lending library, I’d be asking some questions about this.
And there is still Whispernet, the free, always-on connection to Amazonthat syncs all your Kindles and Kindle apps. If you’re willing to spend $150 on the 3G version of the Kindle Touch, it really is always-on. You can sync and purchase where Wi-Fi isn’t available.
I was wary about the imposition of advertisements (even the least intrusive ads on a smartphone app seem overbearing to me) but Amazon seems to have corralled the sponsored content just right. I tested the version of the Kindle Touch that displays ads. The offers are tame and relevant, with $1 books and Amazon’s branded credit card offers among them. Your screensaver is an ad, but touching the screen doesn’t wake the Kindle up or take you to the offer, which would be unfriendly if you touched it by accident. Within the Kindle, ads appear only at the bottom of index pages — never in a book — and rather than try to create some bad version of a black and white page to detail the offer, additional details are sent to you in an e-mail if you request more info.
All in all, I never felt compromised, and given that you save $40 on the purchase price, and that you will likely take advantage of some of these offers, Amazon has begun to gently condition us to appreciate the inevitability of ads in walled-in digital media as we have always accepted them on similarly-immersive television (Kobo took the hint this week, announcing a new Kobo Touch with Offers priced at $100, the same as Kindle’s lowest-priced touch device).
Oh, and did I mention the single “home” button, and one power button? Very Apple-esque. But rather than insist that the cloud be the only onramp, Amazon has allowed for the sideloading of content (audio and documents) over USB.1
Far from hanging on for dear life, text e-readers are undergoing a renaissance. There’s still plenty to improve, like the price (The $80 non-touch Kindle is almost, though not quite, cheap enough to make e-readers a basic, birth-right necessity). But there’s enough here for e-readers to demand a seat at the table in a world dominated by smartphones and tablets.
Note 1. The original version of this article misstated the device’s capabilities for sideloading media. Users can load text documents and audio files onto the Kindle Touch using the USB port.
Note 2. The original version of this article misstated the Kindle Touch’s social integration features. Users can highlight a passage, tap “share,” add a message, and post to social networks.
First page photo by John Abell/get-gadget. Second photo courtesy of Amazon
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