Note: Amazon no longer sells the Kindle Keyboard 3G, and has crippled the free international web browsing for existing owners. As a result, we now recommend the Kindle Paperwhite for travelers, and wrote a full review of it here.
First released only four years ago, the Kindle e-reader has quickly become Amazon’s best-selling product, with the retailing giant shipping over one million units every single week of 2011.
The range has also grown significantly, from a single basic device to touch-screen and keyboard versions, a tablet-based product, and software that runs on desktops, mobile, and even within a web browser.
With such a range of options and features, choosing the right version is far from straightforward. After six months of real world testing, read on to find out why we think the Keyboard 3G is the best Kindle for travelers.
Unboxing the Kindle Keyboard 3G was a delightful surprise: it’s so small and light that it almost feels like part of it is missing. Smaller than an A5 sheet of paper and less than 250g/9oz, it takes up virtually no room in even the most compact of bags.
For something so light, it’s surprisingly robust. Although breakages aren’t unheard of, this one has easily survived being dropped, squashed, and generally subjected to the rigors of life in a backpack. We’d recommend a protective case though, to avoid scratches and damage to the screen.
The Battery Life
When our laptops and tablets only last a few hours and our smartphones are out of juice by the end of the day, finding a device that has a battery life measured in months is quite a revelation. The Keyboard 3G uses e-ink technology, so it only consumes power when the page changes or if wireless is turned on.
One less thing to find a power socket for each night is great, but more important is the ability to read a book throughout a lengthy plane or bus journey and still be able to find directions to a guesthouse once you arrive.
Any device that aims to replace traditional books needs to be usable anywhere that those books would be. On the beach or a park bench, held in one hand on a crowded train, lying in bed at night, wherever.
The e-ink display on non-tablet Kindles is at its best in bright sunlight, and is much easier on the eyes after reading for a few hours than any computer screen.
For reasons of bulk, battery life, and screen visibility, therefore, the tablet-based Fire and software-only Kindle versions aren’t ideal for regular travelers.
That still leaves the option of the basic Kindle, the Kindle Touch (in both 3G and Wifi-only versions), and the Keyboard 3G. Why not save some money with the regular version, or choose the convenience of a touch screen?
For us the reason is simple: free mobile web browsing around the world.
Buried away in the “Experimental” section of the menu is a basic web browser. All of the above Kindles have this, but only the Keyboard 3G combines unrestricted web browsing with a free 3G internet connection in over 100 countries around the world.
While other versions are restricted from browsing anything except the Amazon store or Wikipedia via 3G, any site with a mobile version is usable from the Keyboard 3G. Yes, this means web-based email, Twitter, Facebook, even Google Maps can all be accessed for free from almost anywhere with a cell signal across large portions of the globe.
The browser is slow and very clunky–you wouldn’t want it to be your only way to get online–but the benefits are large.
No more over-priced airport Wi-Fi. No more wandering in the rain trying to find an internet cafe just to let your family know you’ve arrived somewhere new. No more carrying your backpack for hours in the wrong direction because you can’t find a map. Oh, and a new book as soon as you finish your old one.
For the traveler in need, it really is fantastic.
The Bottom Line
While the Fire is more versatile and the basic Kindle is cheaper, for us the Keyboard 3G is definitely the right choice for anybody spending time on the road.
If you’re a regular reader, it may well be one of the best travel technology investments you can make.
Image via David Goehring
Have you looked at the touch 3G? (I’m trying to decide between the two, and it doesn’t look like there’s a difference in the 3G coverage…)
Hey Alex. With the newer Kindles, they have changed the Terms of Service for the 3G usage, so you don’t get the same ability to access the web via 3G for free from the jungles of Thailand and where ever else your heart may take you around the world.
“We apologize for the confusion. Our new Kindle Touch 3G enables you to connect to the Kindle Store, download books and periodicals, and access Wikipedia – all over 3G or Wi-Fi. Experimental web browsing (outside of Wikipedia) on Kindle Touch 3G is only available over Wi-Fi.
Our Kindle Keyboard 3G will continue to offer experimental web browsing over 3G or Wi-Fi.”
If the free 3G internet abroad is a big deal for you, the Keyboard 3G is what you want. Hope that helps clarify!
Thanks, Dustin! That’s EXACTLY what I was trying to figure out! (P.S. Loving the blog so far.)
This might be a silly question, but where can I buy the international version? I have looked on Amazon and I cant tell the difference. Thanks 🙂
Amazon hide it well, and the link for the international version is currently out of stock. That’s a bit of a concern for international buyers – I’ll be keeping an eye on this over the next few weeks. The other option, I guess, is buying the US version and getting it shipped to someone you know there or, worst case, one of the forwarding services that will then send it on to you.
Thanks, yeah it is concern, I am very keen to get my hands on one! I am in Australia so if I pick one up from my local store is that an international version? Not very tech savvy and want to make sure I will be able to use it around the world!
Doesn’t matter, just called the store and they dont sell them anymore 🙁
Hi Dave, great post. Do you know how Lonely Planet pdf’s read on the Kindle? Specially the maps? I have tried them on a Sony reader but found them too difficult to read. The font was too small so you had to zoom in and then scrolling up/down or moving to the another page was very slow. How does the Kindle perform on this?
To be honest, the LP pdf maps are the biggest downside of the Kindle (and probably any e-ink reader). You need to scroll around too much, zoom in and it’s too close, zoom out and it’s too far away, and like on the Sony, it’s super slow.
If you’re after maps, I’d suggest a smartphone or a tablet would be a better option unfortunately.
That’s what I experience on the Sony indeed. So maybe I choose an iPad mini after all… 🙂 Thanks!
There is no modern equivalent to the 3g. The newest Kindles are poor imitations. Gone is free book downloads, over any cell connection. Gone is the real Text To Speech. Such a disappointment. It reminds me of grandparents who waxed nostalgic for a Model T only in this ass the 3G is truly superior.