Image: Book excerpt using Kindle on iPhone
Suzanne Choney
An excerpt from "Dumb Money: How Our Greatest Financial Minds Bankrupted the Nation," by Daniel Gross, using Kindle on the iPhone.
By
msnbc.com
updated 3/9/2009 9:11:08 AM ET 2009-03-09T13:11:08
REVIEW

The new Kindle program for the iPhone and iPod touch is almost as good as the Kindle itself, a device from Amazon dedicated to reading electronic books. But Kindle for iPhone is by no means the only e-book reader, and not necessarily the best.

Another free program, Stanza, by Lexcycle, seems easier to use. With Kindle for the iPhone, even after you’ve downloaded Amazon’s e-reader to the phone, you still need to go to Amazon’s Web site to buy books from Kindle’s creator.

In contrast, Stanza offers easy-to-download titles from within the program’s list of “merchants,” including the Fictionwise Book Store (just purchased by Barnes & Noble), BooksOnBoard eBook Shop, Random House and Harlequin’s free libraries, as well as free books from Feedbooks.

Fictionwise has owned eReader.com, another popular electronic book reader program for the iPhone. It, too, can be used without a special trip to a Web site, and it runs on other smartphone devices that use the Palm, Symbian and Microsoft Windows operating systems. (Msnbc.com is a joint venture of Microsoft and NBC Universal.)

Kindle will also be available for other types of phones in the future. The iPhone is merely the first to get it.

All the rage now
It seems that e-readers are all the rage right now, a possible antidote to the continuing slide faced by the publishing industry. E-readers are not only used for books, but also for newspapers and magazines. The Hearst Corp., for example, which publishes both, plans to create its own e-reader device.

Image: Stanza electronic book reader screenshot
Lexcycle
Stanza, available for the iPhone and iPod touch, has won positive reviews for its ease of use and legibility as an electronic book reader.
Kindle has kindled huge interest and devoted fans that swear by its utility and value, even at its cost of $359.

A good friend of mine, a voracious reader, couldn’t wait to get her Kindle 2 recently, and happily carries the 10-ounce device in her purse at all times. Birthday cash donations from other friends made her purchase possible, and she is thrilled. She already has six books loaded up and started.

She doesn’t have an iPhone, so I was a little worried when Amazon announced Kindle for the iPhone within 10 days of releasing the updated device. I thought her money might have been better spent on Apple’s popular phone or iPod touch, and she could still use Kindle.

I can tell her — and you — that Kindle for the iPhone, while good, likely won't be a threat to the success of Amazon’s device itself.

And why would it be? Amazon would be shooting itself in the foot otherwise. What Kindle for the iPhone will do is encourage buying from Amazon, quite a smart move from a smart company.

That's where readers will find at least one difference among e-reader programs. Kindle, Stanza and eReader all provide easy-on-the-eyes formats, with font sizes that can be quickly adjusted to please. But when it comes to pricing on books, it does pay to shop around.

For example, Malcolm Gladwell’s e-book version of “The Tipping Point” goes for $8.99 at Amazon, $8.79 from BooksOnBoard and $10.99 from Fictionwise, with the latter two both being offered through the Stanza application, or “app” for the iPhone.

Availability is another issue. Gladwell’s newest book, “Outliers,” costs $9.99 from Amazon, $19.21 from BooksOnBoard but is not offered by Fictionwise at all.

Battery life winner: Kindle 2
Another big difference between a dedicated e-reader and using one on a phone is battery life. Both Kindle and Sony’s Reader Digital Book are built to judiciously sip battery power.

The Kindle 2 has an estimated battery life of up to two weeks, and up to four days with the wireless radio turned on for downloads and book browsing at Amazon’s site. The iPhone 3G is good for five hours of talk time, and less or more depending on what other tasks you’re using it for.

Cell phones, as we know, can be notorious guzzlers of power, and there’s no way a smartphone — with the interruptions of e-mail, text-messaging alerts and yes, even phone calls — can match that of a dedicated reading device.

So if having a stretch of hours and hours of uninterrupted reading time is important to you, you’re better off with a dedicated device. If you’re a cafeteria-style reader — a little of this, a little of that and while waiting to board a plane — Kindle or any reading program on the iPhone will do you just fine.

With Kindle for iPhone, you won’t get the dictionary or the text-to-speech feature that you do with the Kindle itself, although Amazon is no longer making text-to-speech available for all books, based on protests from some authors.

Some shared features
Shared features for both Kindle and Kindle for the iPhone include being able to add bookmarks, view notes and highlights, as well as view your library of previously purchased Kindle books, stored on Amazon’s servers. With Kindle, the user has six different type sizes to choose from; the version for the iPhone has five.

Kindle for iPhone doesn’t take advantage of the phone’s accelerometer, or motion sensor, which lets users switch from vertical to horizontal mode. That would have been a nice feature, especially for reading lines of “type,” but it’s not crucial.

Still, there’s definitely a difference between reading on the iPhone’s 3.5-screen, as good as it is, and Kindle’s 6-inch screen, more eye-friendly and easier to follow. That may give Kindle the device a big edge, especially for hard-core readers.

Kindle 2 displays in 16 shades of gray, a big improvement from the original Kindle’s four. Kindle for the iPhone can show books in color if they’re developed that way, which is a very nice plus.

Kindle for iPhone is not necessarily THE program to have, but it’s a welcome addition to an already strong group of e-readers. Now, users just have to …read. That may be the biggest challenge of all.

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