Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Amazon Listens: New Kindle Paperwhite with Free-Time Looks Like an Ideal E-Reader for Kiddos

All-New Kindle Paperwhite, Available for Pre-Order at Amazon
Obviously, Peter Larsen, VP of Kindle Product Management for Amazon, has been reading my blog.  And my emails to Amazon Customer Service over the years.  And the desperate pleas of a multitude of parents seeking an electronic reading device for their children.  Because today, Amazon has commenced accepting pre-orders of their All-New Kindle Paperwhite e-reading device, which seems to incorporate all of the features parents have been clamoring for. 

Both of my sons, who are now in 5th and 7th grade, have always been strong, avid readers.  If I take them to Barnes & Noble, I can't get out of there without spending at least a hundred dollars -- and that's after placing limits on how many books I will buy.  Then they will have finished reading all of them within a few weeks and will be begging for more.  Already their bedrooms look like hybrid library/LEGO factories, and there is physically no more space available for additional book shelves. 

They each already own the first version of the Kindle Paperwhite, which I reviewed here back in December of 2011.  I love the long battery life and convenience of the boys' ability to read the same book simultaneously (without Mom having to purchase two copies) and the fact that I can quickly and easily download new books without having to schlepp to the store and engage in public, tearful negotiations at the checkout line.  I was even able to send Lars's science textbook to his Kindle last year, since his teacher had posted a PDF version of the book in a SkyDrive for her class.  Each boy's Kindle contains two different versions of the Bible, Martin Luther's Small Catechism, several dictionaries, and other reference books that are useful in different situations in and out of school.  We are even able to download PDF files of missing LEGO instructions from the LEGO web site and send them to the Kindles rather than printing them out.  There are a LOT of LEGO instructions in my Kindle archives now, and this use of the Kindles is saving me a fortune in printer ink. 

I also really love the ease of looking up unfamiliar words in the dictionary when reading on a Kindle, and my sons use this feature regularly.  It's so easy to tap that word on the screen and have the definition instantly appear -- if they had to get up and go look for traditional dictionary, it would be too much of an interruption in the middle of a good story and they would just skip over that word.  Lars and Anders also use the note-taking feature quite a bit, although primarily they use it to leave silly messages for one another in their books.

The only problem I ever had with the Kindles was that, once I had registered the kids' devices to my Amazon account, they were able to easily access the Kindle store directly from their devices and my older son (who struggles with impulse control) made purchases without my permission on multiple occasions.  There is no reason why kids need to shop for books in their Kindle device.  It's not a user-friendly feature on the Paperwhite Kindle unless you already know what you are looking for.  There are also way too many digital "books" in the Kindle store that are really just chapter-length cliff-hangers that hook readers with a low initial purchase price, but lure them into purchasing sequel after sequel.  I much prefer finding books for them on the Amazon web site, which provides reviews, additional information about the books, and suggestions based on prior purchases.   

Lars's Kindle Paperwhite, with Kindle Store and Web Browser Disabled

However, soon after the original Paperwhite came out, Amazon released a Kindle software update incorporating parental controls that allow you to block access to both the Kindle Store and the Experimental Web Browser.  As you can see in the photo at left, the Kindle Store and web browser are both grayed out and inoperable on Lars's Kindle because I blocked them.  Problem solved!

So, what's the big deal about the All-New Kindle PaperwhiteHigher screen contrast due to E-Ink's Pearl 2 Display, faster loading page turns due to a better processer, and not much else, according to hands-on reviewers like the editors of CNet, who evaluated the device primarily from an adult user's perspective (read their review here).  What I'm excited about as a parent are the new features Amazon will be rolling out in a software update for the Kindle Paperwhite later this fall: Integration with Goodreads, enhancements to the built-in dictionary, and a new array of special parental controls and enhancements called Kindle Free-Time.

Kindle Free-Time Features for the Kiddos, Coming Soon in a Software Update
Ooh, la la!  Creating an individual profile for each child?  Genius!  Because otherwise they are able to access any book that I have purchased for my own or for their father's iPad Kindle apps.  Fortunately, we don't read a lot of smut -- no Shades of Gray in my Kindle archives -- but Anders did download the women's health classic Our Bodies, Ourselves out of my archives, which had him rolling with laughter.  And I do think twice about purchasing anything other than juvenile fiction, knowing that my kids are likely to access them on their Kindles.  So, a personal profile for each child limiting which books in your account they can access is a great idea.  The dictionary enhancements will pull up X-Ray (don't know what that is) and Wikipedia entries as well as dictionary entries for unfamiliar terms and -- get this -- it will actually keep track of which words the kids are looking up and create flash cards with those words as a Vocabulary Builder.  Mothers and teachers are getting misty-eyed!  What's more, Kindle Free-Time will allow you to set daily reading goals for your child, will track their progress in terms of time spent reading, number of books read, and number of words looked up in the dictionary.  It will track their reading accomplishments, reward them with badges when they meet and exceed those goals, and parents will be able to access a Progress Report to see how their kids are doing.  So many teachers assign 30 minutes of reading as part of daily homework -- if you have a child who resists reading, this would be a wonderful tool for encouraging them and holding them accountable.  These are features I asked for years ago, and they are valuable enough to me as a parent to warrant the cost of upgrading both Kindle devices.

I'm not rushing to preorder All-New Kindle Paperwhites just yet, though -- the parental restrictions on the current Paperwhites was a software download, and I was surprised to discover the last time around that the software update applied to older Kindles as well, not just the latest release.  So I'm going to wait for that Free-Time software update to come out.  If it is compatible with the earlier Paperwhite device, it should download automatically when they are connected to our wireless network.  If not, I'll be upgrading their Kindles this Christmas!

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