HUGE PHOTO GALLERY | We've got it in our hot little hands -- the first 'international' Kindle.
It would be an understatement to say that we were excited to be given a first look at the new Amazon Kindle for international markets. In the face of impending competition from major competitors like Barnes and Noble and Apple, Amazon has busted the Kindle out of its United States-only shackles and released it to Australia (and other countries around the world).
When it goes on sale October 19th, it will set you back $US279, which converts to a very favourable $AUD304, presuming the current exchange rate holds up. Add an estimated $30 - $45 shipping and you'll be looking at a $350 Christmas present, which isn't cheap, but given it is a genuinely innovative device, packing a 3G mobile phone (for data), an MP3 player, an e-ink screen and 1.5GB storage, it's really pretty good value.
The large screen Kindle, the "DX" model, will continue to be available only in the USA.
What's particularly interesting about it, though, is that Amazon appears to be providing its "Whispernet" -- the wireless network used to deliver content to your Kindle -- using global roaming. That is to say: it is rumoured that international Kindles have an AT&T SIM card in them and use global roaming wherever you are in the world. We were unable to confirm this because we weren't shameless enough to pry open the very-short-term-loan first-in-the-country Kindle (and given its iPod-style case construction, we would almost certainly have damaged it had we done so.) However, if it is the case, the obvious advantage is that you can travel with your Kindle and download books at no extra cost regardless of where you are. That's certainly a more 'bookshop' like experience than a mobile phone or a laptop can provide.
The Kindle menus also don't give anything away about the network the device is connecting to -- it just gives you signal strength and a "3G" indicator. If it is indeed using global roaming, that would have some advantages even in Australia, because it may mean you would be able to connect at any time to Optus, Telstra, Vodafone or 3, depending on which had the best signal strength. (However, AT&T and Amazon may have set the device to only connect to one network in each country as part of a specially negotiated global roaing rate.)
The reason Amazon can afford to pay global roaming fees is that it knows most of the content you will be accessing on the unit will be paid for though Amazon -- and Amazon keeps a hefty portion of all Kindle book purchase fees. "International" users will also pay about 20% more per book than US-only users, to cover the global roaming data fee.
Another downside of this global roaming model is that the web browser functionality of the Kindle is blocked on the international model, even though the menu items and links throughout the operating system -- and indeed the browser itself -- still exist. Hopefully that will change; it would be nice to think that Amazon is working on negotiating local deals with carriers in each country, but there doesn't seem to be an way to access the SIM card in the device.
But that's enough about how the Kindle connects to the net to download content -- here are the pictures of the international Kindle and our first take on it.