The mystery of Amazon's Kindle - is it a mobile phone? And why 160 books?

by Guy J Kewney | posted on 22 February 2008

A new e-book on the market - the Amazon Kindle - and only the American market it seems, for now. It holds 160 books. Why?

Kindle is a mobile device, and in America it's a mobile - in the sense that it uses the EVDO mobile data network. That alone makes it Euro-unfriendly.

Alan Rusbridger has been playing with the Kindle, and expressed some annoyance with Amazon's decision to pretty much make it impossible to use it outside North America

You have to buy the machine in the US, and can register for an Amazon Kindle account only if you can supply a US billing and credit card address. It won't work on any European network, but you can get round that by hooking it up to a laptop via a USB cable.
(see his piece for further details). And, he goes on:
Until Amazon decides to take an interest in Europe, only a few gadget junkies are going to bother to go to these lengths. Which is a shame, because the Kindle is really rather lovely. The black-and-white screen is as close to reading print on paper as anything I've yet come across.

And even in Europe, a book takes all of 20 seconds to download and sync. Changing font size, making notes and clipping bits of text are all pretty simple. Page-turning is fast. The controls are rather more intuitive than the Sony. And battery life is impressive.

 The machine costs $399, which is not cheap. On the other hand, there is a staggering amount of literature now available from sites such as Project Gutenberg. At there are hundreds of out-of-copyright books ready formatted for the Kindle. All free. Amazon promises that the Kindle will hold 160 full-length books, so your suitcase is going to be a good deal lighter in future.

But why the "160 books" setting?

After a brief discussion over cold coffee, the NewsWireless team has concluded that it has something to do with the size of Flash RAM chips. As any camera or mobile phone user must have noticed, it's almost impossible to buy a standard SD card for more than $20 these days, and they tend to hold two gigabytes of data, at least, if you do.

For example, the PQI 8G SD card costs a mere $44 bux from Supermediastore.

PQI 8GB Turbo Secure Digital High Capacity (SDHC) Class 6 Memory Card - Retail Package (Free Ground Shipping)
Product Code: ME-001-9978 Manufacturer: PQI Mfr part #: SDHC-8GB

Product Ratings:  

And if you want to buy a 256 megabyte Flash chip, you're going to struggle; they're on the "remainder" table, along with serial port modems and floppy disk drives.

But the "typical book" is under a megabyte in size; and so Kindle's claim to have "space for 160 or 170 books" implies that Amazon has a 256 megabyte Flash chip in there.

Pretty much, that would suggest that Release 1.0 of the Kindle is thrown together using left-over chips which the Flash makers are dumping on the market as they move towards denser silicon.

Would you actually want more storage? - a good question, for another time. As sceptics pointed out, most people read fewer than a book a week, and so storage for 50 books should last you a year - even if you got a project to study aphid mist in the Linden tree and had to collect 40 different botanical text-books for the purpose. So Rev 1.0 can manage OK with free Flash chips.

But for the future, it's usually the case that usage expands to fill available space.

Provide a Kindle Mk II (a WoodStove Mk I?) with 8G storage, and we'd bet that within six months, people will be complaining that it's too little.

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