There's a bit of news coming out of Amazon today. The company is dropping the price of its existing basic Kindle (the smaller form factor one, not the larger $489 Kindle DX) from $299 to $259 and introducing a third Kindle that's the same as the basic one, but that's $279 and can roam internationally. This is a huge boon to both international travelers and people living in countries where the 3G CDMA 1x-EVDO radio technologies found in the original Kindles (basic and DX) don't work. Given the ambiguity in the......press release, I checked in with Amazon public relations manager Cinthia Portugal who confirmed that the two separate versions (the $259 basic and the $279 basic) are both available in the US and that neither supports both radio technologies simultaneously. In other words, if you buy the $259 version, you'll get the basic Kindle with the CDMA 1x-EVDO technology that's used to connect to Sprint's network and this Kindle will not be able to connect internationally to the GSM Edge networks found abroad. GSM Edge (sometimes referred to as GSM Evolution) is how people often refer to the 3G data flavor of GSM; the technology used by AT&T and T-Mobile in the US (Sprint and Verizon Wireless use CMDA 1x-EVDO).
Likewise, if you buy the $279 version of the basic Kindle, you'll get a Kindle that can connect to the GSM networks internationally and while here in the US, according to Portugal, it uses AT&T's network and includes an advanced GSM radio (more than likely, GSM Edge since that's what AT&T runs). According to Portugal, the larger form factor Kindle DX isn't due for the same international GSM option until some time in 2010 (no specifics were offered beyond that).
Prior to the launch of the new Kindle, Amazon was referring to the Sprint-based service as "Whispernet." Based on my email exchanges with Amazon, it's clear that the Whispernet brand will be all-encompassing. So, regardless of which network your Kindle connects to (Sprint or AT&T in the US, and then whoever AT&T has its roaming agreements with in the more than 100 other supported countries), it's called "Whispernet."
If you're an international traveler considering the purchase of the $279 Kindle, I wouldn't run out and buy one until you're certain that AT&T offers a solid signal in your home (find someone with an iPhone or other AT&T provisioned phone to check it). It wasn't until recently that I could even get a decent GSM Edge signal at my house from AT&T or T-Mobile. I'm not sure what changed but the signal was clearly improved in the last year.
Even so, I won't be buying the $279 Kindle any time soon. Despite the fact that I really like them, my wife and I have destroyed three of them. Their screens are super sensitive to the sort of pressure that might be applied to them by the other contents of a shoulder bag or backpack (I think contact with my Nikon D70 DSLR is what did one of my Kindles in). As it turns out, both my wife (who has a voracious appetite for books) and I have both acclimated to the Kindle software that runs on iPhones and iPod Touches and I highly recommend trying it to anyone. Both devices can be had for less money than a Kindle can be had for and the Kindle software is free. They (the devices) are multi-purpose (music, videos, other applications, and telephony in the case of the iPhone). They are back-lit so it's much easier to read your books at night. And, they are significantly more portable than the Kindles themselves.
The downside is that the Kindle software can't consume the other forms of content that the Kindles can such as blogs, magazines, and newspapers (if you have a Kindle, be sure to search the Kindle blogs for InformationWeek's Blog!). Also, with the iPod Touch and iPhone, the screen is much smaller so you have to turn the page more frequently than you would with the Kindle. But this only took a bit of getting used to for me and my wife and now, before we go to bed, we both read books off our iPod Touches with the lights out.
David Berlind is the chief content officer of TechWeb and editor-in-chief of TechWeb.com. David likes to write about emerging tech, new and social media, mobile tech, and things that go wrong and welcomes comments, both for and against anything he writes. He can be reached at [email protected] and you also can find him on Twitter and other social networks (see the list below). David doesn't own any tech stocks. But, if he did, he'd probably buy some Salesforce.com and Amazon, given his belief in the principles of cloud computing and his hope that the stock market can't get much worse. Also, if you're an out-of-work IT professional or someone involved in the business of compliance, he wants to hear from you.
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