Amazon’s Kindle 2 comes to Canada

23 Nov

November 23, 2009

By Geoff Meeker

The Kindle 2 ebook reader has finally been launched in Canada, just in time for Christmas.

Should you rush out and buy it for that special book lover on your list? Not until you’ve read this column, and thought carefully about some of the questions I raise.

Available exclusively through Amazon.com, the Kindle 2 reader (just less than $300) has been quite the sensation since its February 2009 release in the U.S., due to its wireless connectivity. The device allows users to browse, purchase and download books, anywhere they can access a 3G cellular signal. This is an innovation, as other readers use wireless Internet or a USB connection to download content.

There’s no doubt that the Kindle 2 is a well-designed, user-friendly device. It is slim (about 1 cm thick), lightweight (10 ounces) and easy on the eyes (clean, crisp type with no glare). The wireless download is convenient and the cost for the cellular connection is, presumably, buried in the price of your book purchase. There are no recurring fees.

But there may be downsides, too. While capable of downloading content across a USB cable, the Kindle 2 is intended to work on the 3G cellular platform, which is available in Canada only through Rogers. In its Kindle 2 announcement, Amazon made no reference to who carries its wireless signal in Canada. However, the coverage map at the Amazon site bears a striking similarity to Rogers’s Canadian coverage areas. Why the relationship with Rogers has not been formally announced might be a good question – is there a chance this could still fall through, and leave Kindle 2 owners without wireless service?

Perhaps not. But even then, there are issues with Rogers coverage across the country – where service is only available in highly populated areas – and particularly in this province, where coverage is limited to St. John’s. And I mean severely limited – Rogers has little or no wireless reception in areas as nearby as Conception Bay South.

So if you live in Gander, Corner Brook or even Clarenville, don’t bother with Kindle 2.

There are other potential issues, buried like submarine mines, in the fine print. For example, the Kindle 2 terms of service state that Amazon reserves the right to “change the terms for wireless connectivity at any time,” including “changing the amount and terms applicable for wireless connectivity charges.”

That’s right. There are no fees now for your wireless downloads, but Amazon can change that whenever it suits them.

And then there’s this little dilly: “Amazon reserves the right to modify, suspend, or discontinue the service at any time, and Amazon will not be liable to you should it exercise such right.”

And in case that isn’t clear enough, they spell it out: “In case of such termination, you must cease all use of the Software and Amazon may immediately revoke your access to the Service or to Digital Content without notice to you and without refund of any fees.”

Don’t forget, the Kindle 2 is exclusive to Amazon. If they close your account, they are preventing you from ordering new books or downloading books you’ve already purchased.

This is not a theoretical problem. There have been cases where Amazon closed out accounts, leaving Kindle 2 owners with what one complainant called “a very expensive brick.” To open a window to this discussion, do an Internet search for the phrase, “your Amazon.com account is closed.”

In another case, Amazon found out after the fact that it hadn’t secured the proper rights to sell “1984” and “Animal Farm” by George Orwell, and, in a move that was Orwellian in itself, used its wireless connection to enter and delete the books right off Kindle 2 devices. I suppose they were within their rights to do so, but it still creeps me out.

You will note that most of the issues I raise have to do with wireless connectivity, and the shotgun marriage Kindle 2 users have with Amazon. This gives rise to a key question: is it worth it?

Yes, the Kindle is a lovely device, and the wireless is remarkably convenient.

But right now, I use a Sony Reader, which has no wireless – just a USB cable. I am quite content with the ceremony of browsing and buying books online, from my desktop, then loading them myself onto the Reader (where no giant corporation can get at them). I can buy and load books from other catalogues too, as long as they are in pdf format.

And I still have the convenience of taking the Reader wherever I want to go – to the beach, on a plane, to bed – and read to my heart’s content.

I will watch the Kindle 2 evolve, but won’t be buying it anytime soon.

Geoff Meeker is a communications consultant with a soft spot for technology. He also writes a blog about the local media scene, which is hosted at http://www.thetelegram.com.

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