Just as I started to save in anticipation for the iPad 3, here comes the Kindle Fire.  At $199, I could pretty much afford to pre-order it now.

Amazon recently announced its new Kindle lineup, most notably including a full-color tablet device, the Kindle Fire.  Amazon also slashed the prices on its other Kindles—the Kindle Keyboard dropped in price to $99.  A simpler, keyboard-less Kindle is now available at only $79.

With so many different Kindles available, sizing up Amazon’s arsenal of e-Readers can be a bit overwhelming.  Let’s take a look at each of the different Kindle models and what this means for healthcare.



  • Price: $79 with Special Offers/$109 without Special Offers
  • Display: 6” diagonal, E-ink Pearl
  • Size: 6.5″ x 4.5″ x 0.34″
  • Weight: 5.98 ounces
  • Storage: Up to 1,400 books or 2 GB internal memory
  • Connectivity: Wi-Fi
  • Battery Life: Up to 1 month
  • Available: Now

If all you want to do is read, this Kindle is the best value.  The device is small, inexpensive, and does the job as a solid quality e-Reader.  It has the smallest internal storage at only 2 GB, but unlimited Amazon Cloud storage allows customers to buy as many books as they want.  Of note, this Kindle is the only model that has no audio, so if you love audiobooks, listening to music on your Kindle, or text-to-speech conversion, this may not be for you.  Additionally, the absence of a keyboard may make web browsing and text annotation a little more challenging.

Kindle Touch/Kindle Touch 3G

kindle touch_alt

  • Price: Kindle Touch – $99 with special offers/$139 without special
  • Kindle Touch 3G – $149 with special offers/$189 without special offers
  • Display: 6” diagonal, E-ink Pearl
  • Size: 6.8″ x 4.7″ x 0.40″
  • Weight: Kindle Touch – 7.5 ounces, Kindle Touch 3G – 7.8 ounces
  • Storage: Up to 3,000 books or 4 GB internal memory
  • Connectivity: WiFi, plus free 3G on the 3G version
  • Battery Life: Up to 2 months
  • Available: November 21, 2011

For those in love with touch-screen technology, Amazon has announced the Kindle Touch.  It is just slightly larger and heavier than the Kindle, with the same size display.  EasyReach, a new type of touch technology invented by Amazon, allows the reader to turn the page by tapping instead of swiping the screen.  The Kindle Touch is available for pre-order on Amazon.com and will be released on November 21, 2011.

Kindle Keyboard/Kindle Keyboard 3G

kindle keyboard_alt

  • Price: Kindle Keyboard – $99 with special offers/$139 without special offers
  • Kindle Keyboard 3G – $139 with special offers/$189 without special offers
  • Display: 6” diagonal, E-ink Pearl
  • Size: 7.5” x 4.8” x 0.34”
  • Weight: Kindle Keyboard – 8.5 ounces, Kindle Keyboard 3G – 8.7 ounces
  • Storage: Up to 3,500 books or 4 GB internal memory
  • Connectivity: WiFi, plus free 3G on the 3G version
  • Battery Life: Up to 2 months
  • Available: Now

This is the familiar Kindle version that was announced back in July 2010, commonly referred to as the third-generation Kindle, or “Kindle 3.”  The keyboard, of course, makes this Kindle larger than the Kindle Touch or the simplest Kindle model, but web-browsing and annotation are much easier.  Interestingly, the price points for the Wi-Fi-only versions of the Kindle Touch and the Kindle Keyboard are exactly the same, while the 3G version of the Kindle Touch is $10 more expensive than its Kindle Keyboard counterpart.  The Kindle Keyboard is also available in both graphite and white colors.

Kindle DX

kindle dx_alt

  • Price: $379
  • Display: 9.7” diagonal, E-ink Pearl
  • Size: 10.4” x 7.2” x 0.38”
  • Weight: 18.9 ounces
  • Storage: Up to 3,500 books or 4 GB internal memory
  • Connectivity: WiFi + free 3G
  • Battery Life: Up to 2-3 weeks
  • Available: Now

A larger screen is available on the Kindle DX, at 9.7 inches versus the 6-inch screen on other Kindle devices.  Newspapers and magazines are beautifully presented with this screen size, and it may be a better choice for the visually impaired.  The Kindle DX is equipped with a keyboard for easy surfing, shopping, and annotation.  However, the price is significantly higher, and the device is more cumbersome than the others.

Kindle Fire

kindle fire_alt

  • Price: $199
  • Display: 7” diagonal
  • Size: 7.5″ x 4.7″ x 0.45″
  • Weight: 14.6 ounces
  • Storage: 8GB internal (Enough for 80 apps, plus either 10 movies or 800 songs or 6,000 books)
  • Connectivity: Wi-Fi
  • Battery Life: Up to 8 hours of continuous reading or 7.5 hours of video playback, with wireless off
  • Available: November 15, 2011

The star of the new Kindle lineup is no doubt the Kindle Fire.  Amazon’s hot new tablet (no pun intended) is geared toward customers who love media consumption but aren’t willing to shell out $500 to $800 for an iPad or other high-end tablet.  At 7 inches, the vibrant, full-color display is larger than those of its non-DX kin, but smaller than that of the iPad. The Kindle Fire uses touch-screen technology and is ready for games, apps, music, movies, and more.

As an iPad owner and avid Amazon customer, one of my gripes was that movies and shows purchased via Amazon Instant Video could not be viewed on the iPad, as they are Flash-based and no Amazon-supported app was available to make viewing possible.  From my experience, media available on Amazon Instant Video is often cheaper and more promptly released than on iTunes.  Amazon Instant Video is, of course, fully compatible with the Kindle Fire, and Amazon Prime customers enjoy free streaming of more than 10,000 movies and shows.

Amazon also promises smooth web browsing with its new browser Silk, available only on the Kindle Fire.  Silk utilizes “split-browser” technology through the Amazon Web Services Cloud.  The Kindle Fire and Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud servers cache websites and predict user browsing patterns to send content to the device quickly, allowing pages to load faster.  There are some concerns about privacy and security with this system since all your web data will be transmitted through the Amazon cloud.   Amazon touts this as “machine learning.”  “As Silk serves up millions of page views every day,” Amazon says, “it learns more about the individual sites it renders and where users go next.”  In other words, Amazon is watching what you browse.  Welcome personalization feature, or gross invasion of privacy?  You decide.  Fortunately, customers will have the option to use Silk without having to go through the cloud, though speeds will be slower.

No tablet would be complete without apps, which are available on the Amazon AppStore.  However, the AppStore contains only a fraction of the apps available for iOS or Android devices.  Though the Kindle Fire runs a modified Android OS, you will only be able to purchase apps through Amazon’s own AppStore, not the Android Market.  This is a severe limitation of the Kindle Fire, as the availability of Angry Birds simply won’t cut it for more hardcore tablet users.

Then again, the Kindle Fire is not intended to be a hardcore tablet.  It has only 8 GB of internal memory and does not even have 3G capabilities or a camera.  This is reflected in the extremely affordable price of $199, a major source of appeal for customers simply looking to enjoy their media.

The Kindle Fire is a smart marketing device that will undoubtedly boost Amazon sales all around.  It combines the convenience of Apple’s one-stop media shopping with a reasonable price for consumers and unlimited cloud support.  It remains to be seen whether this gadget will meet customer expectations upon its release in November.

Applications for the Kindle in Healthcare and Medical Education

A few months ago, we discussed where the Kindle had failed as an education tool. With the release of the Kindle Fire, students who can’t afford more expensive tablets now have a more financially feasible option for electronic textbooks.  The LCD screen will allow medical students to view Netter’s Anatomy in all its full-color glory, along with other pictures and graphs that aren’t as friendly on the e-Ink page.  As an MS3 myself, I love using Kindle textbooks for school—one click and I can start studying, not to mention significant discounts given for Kindle books versus print.

The Kindle also has great potential to help busy healthcare professionals keep up with current literature.  A few medical journals, such as the New England Journal of Medicine, Annals of Internal Medicine, Pediatrics, and the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, are currently available for subscription on the Kindle.  As the Kindle becomes even more popular, this limited selection will hopefully grow to include publications such as JAMA and journals from all medical specialties.

Portability of the Kindle Fire on medical rounds also makes it a favorable device for physicians.  I was disheartened when my iPad proved too large and heavy for my white coat pocket.  The 7-inch size of the Kindle Fire, following the likes of the Blackberry Playbook and the HTC Flyer, slips comfortably into a white coat for easy accessibility on the job.  And since it weighs less than one pound, doctors will hardly notice its presence.

While the Kindle Fire is an attractive device for medical students and physicians, its promise seems to lie more with its e-Reader features and not so much as a medical tablet.  As discussed earlier, its app selection is relatively dismal when compared to those of Apple and Android; commonly used medical apps as Epocrates and Medscape are not yet available on the Amazon AppStore.   The healthcare community has been buzzing about the potential use of tablets in telemedicine, especially with the revelation that Apple’s FaceTime can be HIPAA-compliant. With its relatively weak hardware and absence of a camera, the Kindle Fire will have no role here.  Furthermore, the questionable security of Amazon Silk makes it unlikely that the Kindle Fire will be used for sending or recording patient data.

The Bottom Line

The new Kindle lineup seems to have something for everyone, from bookworms in search of a simple e-Reader to avid media consumers with expansive music and video libraries.  With its convenient availability of media and affordable price, the Kindle Fire will appeal to a large audience.  Medical students who wish to ditch their huge backpacks and save significantly on textbook costs may find that the Kindle Fire suits their needs.  As it stands, however, the Kindle Fire may be little more than a personal, quick reference device for healthcare professionals.  Despite its marketability as a tablet, the Kindle Fire simply does not have the horsepower to directly compete with more powerful devices such as the iPad in the medical setting.  More robust tablets will be needed for use in actual medical practice.