Review: Kindle for iPhone -- the killer e-book app

Amazon's new Kindle app for the iPhone/iPod Touch opens up its collection of digital books to a wider audience.

It seems like everyone is excited by Amazon.com Inc.'s new Kindle 2 e-book reader. Unfortunately -- especially in these less-than-prosperous times -- there's one little problem: the $359 price tag.

Well, if you're the owner of an Apple iPod Touch or iPhone, you now have an alternative: Amazon.com's free application, called Kindle for iPhone, which lets you buy and read Kindle e-books on your iPhone or Touch. And you know what? It works great!

What is it? Once you download this petite application from Apple's App Store, you can use it to buy and read Kindle e-books on your iDevice even if you don't own a Kindle. (If you have a Kindle, the new app also lets you use your iPhone or Touch to read e-books you've already purchased for your Kindle -- perhaps for times when you want to travel light.) I'll doubtlessly buy a Kindle someday, but in today's market, being able to read new e-books on my 16GB iPod Touch works just fine for me.

What does it do? It lets you read Kindle-based e-books. You can buy your books either using the iPhone or Touch's built-in Safari Web browser (which is a pain, thanks to the device's limited screen space) or using your computer's Web browser. No matter how you buy it, the next time you open the application on your iPhone or Touch, it will automatically download the book and you'll be ready to read.

Why is it the coolest thing since sliced bread? It just works. I downloaded the application to my Touch and set it up with my Amazon log-in. Then I went to Amazon.com on my Linux desktop and bought a copy of Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book. I went back to my Touch, reopened the Kindle app, and without my having to do one thing more, the book was there. This is my kind of functionality.

The display is also easy to read, given the limited screen real estate.

What needs to be fixed? It doesn't have any search capability, but I can live without that. It would also be nice if Amazon let you access the many free e-books that are already available. However, there is another great free e-book reader for the iPhone and iPod Touch, Lexcycle Inc.'s Stanza, which lets you easily get to those.

Kindle for the iPhone
Download the Kindle app to your iPhone or iPod Touch, and you have access to Amazon's bookstore.

Final verdict: Between Kindle for iPhone and Stanza, I've got all the e-book reader power I need for my iPod Touch. The screen is too small for an ideal reading experience, but until I can afford a Kindle, it's more than good enough for me.

By making it affordable for anyone who already owns an iPhone or Touch to buy their books, I think Amazon.com has just turned e-books from a niche to a mainstream market. It's not often that a real killer application comes along that changes everything, but that's exactly what's happening.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to see what happens in the book when Jack makes another attempt on the child's life.

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