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Amazon tosses gelded Kindle at UK readers

Got GSM, but no browsing or blogs for Brits

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Amazon has finally provided details for the International version of its Kindle ebook reader, but even the most diehard fan may be nonplussed to find one in their stocking this Christmas.

In the USA the Kindle uses Sprint's CDMA network to host its Whispernet, but in the UK it's not clear which operator will be doing the heavy lifting for the GSM version. Whoever it is they haven't agreed to provide free carriage for web browsing or reading blogs, as Sprint does in the US, so those activities won't be available to those spending $279 on the UK-compatible version of the Kindle.

The Kindle International edition seems, based on the coverage maps provided by Amazon, to be using GSM technology only - so there are places in the USA where the Kindle will work, but the Kindle International won't. The UK coverage on offer closely maps to 3's network, though the operator tells us it hasn't signed a deal with Amazon.

Making a separate GSM model of the Kindle contrasts with iRex, which uses Qualcomm's Gobi chipset to provide support for both CDMA and GSM networks; and Sony, which has stuck with GSM only and damn the rural Americans. But the International Kindle will be cheaper than models from Sony or iRex, both of which are listed at $399.

That money pays for bigger screens (the Sony is 7" tall, while iRex offers 8.1" diagonal, both of which compare well to the Kindle's 6" of diagonally-measured screen), and screens that allow scribbling with a finger (the Sony) or stylus (Sony and iRex), which could be worth the additional $120.

The Kindle's keyboard is a strange thing to find on a book, and it was the keyboard that annoyed most of the Princeton students trialling the technology: adding notes in the margins and highlighting passages is a lot easier when one can scribble properly, but it's not clear if people will pay for the privilege.

Sony and iRex also both use Adobe's DRM platform, along with the half-dozen companies making non-connected ebook readers such as Cool-Er, which should make them more attractive. Amazon's market recognition is probably good enough to prevent people worrying about that this year, but it could be an issue if more brands join the competition as Barnes & Noble has done.

At $279 the Kindle International isn't much more expensive than those non-connected readers - the Cool-Er comes in at $249 with no wireless or notation capability, its only boast being that it's lighter than the competition. So Amazon can probably separate itself from the Sony and iRex devices by having the cheapest connected reader.

But Amazon can only do that thanks to its ability to make up for lost profits through exclusive access to the sales channel. Sony and iRex will have to decide if they want to fight on features (touchscreens to appeal to the geeks), or platforms (multiple book stores to appeal to the public), and it's a decision that could decide which ebook ends up under the tree this year. ®

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