Everything you need to know about Amazon's international Kindle

Amazon KindleThe international version of Amazon’s Kindle ebook reader started shipping today, bringing the product to over 100 countries outside of the USA. I’ve tried to cover all of the questions people may have about the device:

Cost and ordering
The international Kindle sells for $279 (around R2100) and shipping to South Africa is billed at an additional $20 (about R130). Delivery to SA, says Amazon, should take 2 to 7 days. However, be aware that you are likely to be billed for VAT and customs duties when the device lands in your country. The total price of the Kindle is therefore likely to be around the R2600 mark once everything has been factored in – Amazon says it should not cost more than that.

The only way to get a new international Kindle is to buy it from Amazon and have it shipped to you.

Wireless delivery of books, newspapers and other content is included in the price of publications (about $9.99 or R75 for newly released books) and will work in any country that supports it, so you can buy books while traveling and not have to worry about data costs. This is exclusive to international Kindle users – the American, CDMA-version Kindle’s wireless connection only allows for free delivery in the US. An additional $1.99 is charged elsewhere.

Here is an interactive map of countries that have support for Kindle Wireless.

The international Kindle ships with a US plug adapter, so you will need a converter to use this in South Africa. However, the Kindle also ships with a USB cable that is used to both transfer data to and from the device and charge it. The Kindle uses a standard USB ‘micro-b’ adapter, so you can also use any standard-compliant third-party plug or adapter.

At time of writing the Kindle is only available with an English user interface, but you can transfer files in any language that supports the Roman alphabet (more on transferring files**below).

The US Kindle uses CDMA technology for its wireless connectivity, while the international version uses GSM with 3G. If you have an American Kindle account and you purchase the international version of the device you will get all of the features of the American Kindle on the GSM version (including web browsing). Americans therefore have the choice to buy either, but nobody outside of the US should want the US version. The Kindle does not have Wifi – it’s connectivity relies on AT&T and partnering cellular networks.

Books, subscriptions and files
The Kindle stores around 1500 ebooks. There are currently over 350000 books available for the Kindle, of which about 230000, including most bestsellers, are available outside of the US. Books are priced between $5.99 and $11.99 (R35 to R90) and most new releases are $9.99 (R75).

You can also subscribe to magazines, newspapers and other publications that are automatically updated on the device**using its wireless connection. New publications are added all the time and Amazon says that it is in talks with some South African magazines and newspapers that should soon be added to the store.

You can also send and read any PDF or Word document to the international Kindle by either emailing it to the device or transferring it with the USB cable. Each Kindle has a unique email address and you can only send it files from approved addresses that you add yourself, which prevents spam. Emailing files to your Kindle is billed at $1 per megabyte.

Everything else
The American Kindle has experimental web browsing support which is provided free of charge, but the international Kindle will not support this feature. It does allow for notes to be taken and includes experimental text-to-speech that will read books to you, as with the American version. Amazon says it might add web browsing to the international Kindle at a later stage, but there are no plans at present.

The international Kindle is also an mp3 player and you can email or transfer audio files to it for playback, including audio books and music.

If you have an American iTunes Store account and you download the Kindle app for your iPhone or iPod Touch it will sync with your international Kindle account. However, the app is not available in Apple app stores outside of the US.

The Kindle will also allow you to download the first chapter of books for free so you can read them before deciding to buy the rest of the book.

The Kindle DX, that has a larger screen than the normal Kindle, is not available internationally, but Amazon says it plans to release the DX to international customers soon.

Can I drop it in the bath?
Surprisingly, this is the first question I get from many of my friends and colleagues when discussing the Kindle. The answer is “you shouldn’t drop it in the bath”. However, the Kindle is water resistant (not proof) and is powered off most of the time while you’re reading, only turning on when you turn a page or do something else requiring the battery. So if you do drop it in the bath take it out immediately, make sure it is off and leave it to dry for two weeks and it should survive. That said, I accept no responsibility for anyone who actually tries this. Keep your Kindle dry!

Can I read it on take-off and landing?
When you are reading a static page on the Kindle it is actually powered off, leaving the imprint on the special e-ink screen for you to read. So you can absolutely read it on take-off and landing. If the air hostess tells you to turn off your Kindle, simply tell them that it is already off and you’re just looking at it. Which is perfectly true. Of course, it is virtually impossible for devices like mobile phones and Kindles to interfere with any part of an airplane’s electronics – but that is a discussion for another time. Paper’s killer application is still reading during take off without being bothered.

And that covers most of the facts about the international Kindle. If there’s something I haven’t added please ask about it in the comments below and I’ll do my best to answer your question.

I'm a writer and broadcaster who also designs apps and strategies for disruptive startups in the financial world. Find out more on my about page.