Amazon Kindle International review

Price when reviewed

After its high-profile launch in the US, we’ve been forced to wait two years for the Amazon Kindle to land on these shores. With Christmas looming, its rivals growing bolder and a UK Kindle no nearer to making an appearance, Amazon has decided to simply ship us the US model instead, complete with its two-prong charger and free 3G connection to the US Kindle Store, ensuring any books you buy will have plenty of Zs in them.

Given these shortcuts, it’s not surprising the Kindle doesn’t meet our lofty expectations, but it is disappointing just how unaccommodating Amazon has been to its international customers. This is most evident in the Kindle Book store, which should be the beating heart of Amazon’s assault on the UK eBook market, instead of its slightly dicky hip.

Accessed through the device, the online store offers the ability to subscribe to international magazines and newspapers, including The Times, Telegraph, Daily Mail and Independent, and to search for books in a dozen genres. Being able to buy a book in bed, or on the train, and be reading it 60 seconds later is a brilliant concept, but the store is beset by so many problems it tarnishes the Kindle more than it embellishes it.

Amazon Kindle International

The most significant shortcoming is the selection of titles on offer. Booker Prize winner Hilary Mantel is in there, but no Peter Carey, Philip Roth, Iain Banks or Cormac McCarthy. That’s not to mention sales heavyweights such as Stephen King, Dan Brown (for better or worse) and even JK Rowling – in fact, just five of September’s top ten UK bestsellers were in the Kindle store.

To offer a glimpse of what you can expect from the store, the best match returned by a search for Stephen King’s IT was a novel entitled “Diary of a U-boat Commander” by Stephen, Sir King-Hall – a riveting read, we’re sure, though one with nary a deranged clown in sight. The fact that any books you do manage to find could be 40% more expensive than they would be in the US is an added insult after the £202 cost of the device itself.

This wouldn’t be so bad if Kindle owners were besieged with alternatives, but that’s not the case. Echoing Apple’s iTunes lock-in, the Kindle uses Amazon’s proprietary AZW format, which is supported by only one retailer: the Kindle Book Store. In contrast, the majority of the UK’s major book chains, including Borders and Waterstones, offer their eBooks in the ePub format not supported by the Kindle. On the bright side, Amazon’s finest does support Mobipocket and TXT files, at least allowing you to download classics and free eBooks from Project Gutenberg and its ilk.

You can also crowbar PDFs, DOCs and RTFs onto the device by emailing them to the Kindle email address supplied when you register. Amazon then converts these documents into AZW files which can either be emailed back to you and loaded manually using a USB cable, or sent wirelessly to the Kindle at a cost of 99 cents per megabyte. The process takes around ten minutes, and Amazon warns that PDFs may not render properly, although we’ve not experienced any problems in our tests.

Update 25/11/09 – Amazon has now added native PDF support to the Kindle, meaning you no longer need to converts PDF documents to AZW to use them. However, the Kindle’s PDF reader doesn’t support annotations, text-to-speech, panning or zooming. The latter is of particular concern given that many PDFs tend to feature tiny text, making them unreadable without the ability to zoom in

None of this exactly endears us to the service. Loading your own documents onto an eBook reader should never be this convoluted, and we refuse to applaud Amazon for introducing an aggravating extra step to a process other devices consider to be simple and essential.


Screen size 6.0in
Resolution 600 x 800
Colour screen no
Touchscreen no


Integrated memory 2.0GB
Memory-card type N/A


Dimensions 135 x 9 x 203mm (WDH)
Weight 289g

File format support

Plain text yes
RTF no
PDF no
BBeB no
AZW yes
Microsoft Word no

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