The Kindle iPhone App: a quick review

[5 March 2009]

By Eric Benderoff

Chicago Tribune (MCT)

Let’s be clear: Amazon’s new app for the iPhone, released Wednesday, does not compare to the Kindle.

Not only is it not as good nor as easy to read with, the new app also competes with a dozen other book-reading apps already available for the iPhone. (I wrote about several recently.)

But if you enjoy reading on the iPhone, you will like the Kindle App for the iPhone. Also, the app is free, while the Kindle 2 costs $359.

Here’s the key difference: the Kindle 2, with its nearly 6-inch screen, was designed for reading. It’s an enjoyable experience. The Kindle iPhone app, on the other hand, is a reading tool for a device that doubles as a handheld computer. It’s OK, but I have hard time reading long-form text on a 3.5-inch screen.

I’m not advocating you spend $359 for a Kindle 2. But if you’re an avid reader and can afford the luxury, it’s a superior reading experience. You still can buy old-fashioned print books, of course.

The market is significantly larger for the free Kindle app since many more people own iPhones and iPod Touches than Kindles. Plus, it’s likely Amazon will release a book-reading app for other mobile phones, such as the BlackBerry and the T-Mobile G1.

Amazon views the iPhone app as an extension of the Kindle, but I doubt there will be many customers with both devices.


The app downloaded onto the iPhone within minutes, as expected.

Then I registered with Amazon, which is required. That’s where things got interesting:

All the books I had downloaded for my review unit of the Kindle 2 were available to me. I had a choice to read a half-dozen books. They were “archived,” but all I had to do was open a book and it downloaded onto the iPhone in less than a minute.

More impressively, when I opened the book I was reading the night before on the Kindle 2, the page opened to exactly the spot I left off. Cool.

To see how quickly it downloaded new content, I grabbed a sample chapter from Neil Gaiman’s “The Graveyard Book.” I was directed to the Kindle store on Amazon, which was an awkward experience. It is not optimized for the iPhone, but I managed to find what I was looking for.

When I clicked on the book to download the sample chapter, I was given an option of where to send it - the Kindle 2 or the iPhone. That was great. Kindle owners who have iPhones will love this feature, since you can order a book you want during lunch, then read it on the Kindle when you get home.

Navigating and reading content was fine, not much different than using the new Shortcovers app or the one from eReader. You could change the type size with ease, but you cannot change the font with the Kindle app, something I found a bit surprising.

To change pages, you just flick forward with a finger.

The obvious advantage with the app is that there is instant access to more than 240,000 books. Prices are the same as they are on the Kindle - about $10 for hardcover best-sellers and a few dollars less for the paper versions of most other books.

Many of the iPhone’s other book apps, by the way, offer thousands of books for free. These are typically classic titles already in the public domain, such as “Last of the Mohicans.”

Take a look if you’ve wondered what it’s like to read on an iPhone or iPod Touch. The convenience is great. But the experience, to me, is lacking the impact of the Kindle 2 - or an actual book.


(Eric Benderoff writes about technology for the Chicago Tribune. Contact him at [email protected] or at the Chicago Tribune, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago IL 60611.)

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