Saturday, November 26, 2011

Kindle connectivity: 3G or not 3G, that is the question!

Wireless delivery is one of the two features that made the Kindle take off. The Sony Reader was first to the marketplace with some very nice e-ink hardware, but you had to a) download the books to the PC, b) connect the Reader to the computer with a cable, and then c) copy the books to the Reader. With a Kindle, you didn't even have to own a computer, let alone do a, b, and c. Add in Amazon's ebook selection and you have the secret of the Kindle's early success.

As a long time Kindle owner, I often get asked by folks looking to buy a Kindle or a Nook, "Do I really need the 3G option or can I get by with just wifi?" I got my brand new Kindle Touch with 3G because once you have had it, there's no going back. I compare it to an ice maker; once you have one, you're not filling those little trays yourself. But wifi actually offers superior speed. "Book in 60 seconds?" With wifi, it's more like 6 seconds. Wifi use also drains the battery less than 3G.

The problem with wifi is, it's not everywhere. Or in some cases, it's there but it won't work. My Kindle can connect to the wide open network maintained by the retail establishments near where I work, but it won't connect to the secure network provided by the company I work for. I've also had problems with not being able to connect to some hotel networks, even after trying every setting on the security-type options. Fortunately, I had 3G to fall back on.

Questions for potential ereader buyers:

  1. Do you have wifi at home? If not, I would go with the 3G right there. What's the use of having an ereader if you can't download the next book in the series while sitting in bed at midnight?
  2. How geeky are you?  If you know enough to recognize that WEP and WPA are types of wifi security, you will probably be okay with tinkering with the Kindle's wifi settings and can get by without 3G.
  3. How much do you travel?  If you're buying a Kindle to save packing books, the 3G is a safer bet.  If you don't travel often, and plan to read mostly at home with your own wifi available, you will probably be okay without 3G.

An important note: With the Kindle Keyboard, you can use 3G to browse the web. It is clunky as all get out, but you can do it.  With the Kindle Touch, using 3G to connect to the web allows only limited access; you can shop at Amazon, including downloading books you buy from them, and read Wikipedia, but you can't browse the wide-open web. That's because Amazon doesn't charge for 3G access, except when you use it to email documents (including non-Amazon ebooks) to your Kindle.  In those instances, you pay a per megabyte fee (I believe its 15¢/MB). Otherwise, the only charge for 3G is the initial increased cost for the device itself. I'm sure that since the touch screen makes browsing the web so much easier, Amazon doesn't want to rack up a huge bill for 3G use that doesn't get them anything.  If you want an ereader that's also a 3G web browser, you will have to settle for a Kindle Keyboard.

Also note that the new Kindle Fire does not come with 3G at all, so if you opt for the Fire, you forgo the 3G as well as the e-ink.

It may seem confusing, but really it's great to have options. eReaders are like pantyhose; one size does not fit all!

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