New Kindles and Microsoft Office

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What is there for Office users in the new Kindle Touch and Kindle Fire?

Because there has been no mention of Office document compatibility on the new Kindles, we decided to take a look.  There’s a little good news but things mostly stay the same.

Document compatibility is important. Devices users need to know how to read Office document on it. Other people should know what documents can be easily read when sending files to a Kindle user (especially if they are away from computers and relying on a portable device).

The new Kindle Fire (about which more below) will read DOC and DOCX documents natively as well as PDF’s. However Fire customers don’t seem to have access to the document conversion service available to other Kindle users (presumably so Amazon can sell third party apps).

Update:  Despite the advance promises and documentation – the Kindle Fire can’t natively read Word documents.  But the online conversion service is available.


The Fire device has no support for Excel or PowerPoint documents, unlike the B&N Nook.

Kindle Touch users are stuck with the online document conversion options, which are better than nothing but not really good enough. The Kindle is mature enough that it should support the most common document formats, DOC and DOCX directly. There are conversion alternatives.

Everyone else has an opinion on the new range of Amazon Kindles and since we’ve been Kindle devotees for years, we can’t help adding our two cents worth …

Kindle Keyboard

The existing Kindle 3 devices will continue to be sold and have been quietly renamed Kindle Keyboard.

The new Kindle ebook readers that would have been called ‘Kindle 4’ are called either Kindle Touch or just ‘Kindle’ for the very cheapest model.

The Kindle Touch models (WiFi or WiFi & 3G) have the touchscreen, better battery and 4GB of storage (which is more than sufficient for most people).

The new cheap Kindle has a 5-way controller instead of the touchscreen, a smaller battery and ‘only’ 2GB of storage. It’s also very light at 5.98 oz. (169 grams).

Pricing Trap

There’s an important condition on the prices you’re seeing quoted for the new Kindle devices. Most media outlets are quoting prices of $99 for Kindle Touch and $149 for the 3G model.

But that’s not the whole story. Those are the lower prices if you are prepared to accept some advertising on your Kindle.

The advertising appears on the screen saver (that shows when the device is off) and on a line at the bottom of the home screen. If you choose the ‘Special Offers’ models, you’ll pay $30 or $40 less.

The cheapest Kindle is the ‘Kindle‘ mentioned above for $79 with advertising or $109 ad-free.

The Kindle Touch with 3G is $149 or $189 sans promotions.

Amazon says the advertising won’t interrupt reading. If they stick to that promise then the generous discount is probably worth taking.

An AC power adapter used to be included with a Kindle purchase (it was actually a small AC plug to USB socket which supplemented the USB cable). Now the adapter is an accessory for US$9.99. In many cases the AC adapter isn’t necessary because you can charge a Kindle from a USB socket on a computer, powered hub or existing AC to USB adapter.

Tip: It’s possible your phone charging cable can double as a Kindle connector as well. The Kindle and Kindle Fire has a USB micro-B socket for charging and connection to a computer. This is the same type as many new mobile phones as part of the common External Power Supply initiative.

Kindle Fire

The Kindle Fire is primarily intended as an audio/video player. With ‘only’ 8GB of storage the hope is that people will link with cloud storage to access more media items in a seamless way. Cloud access presumes a good, stable and available Wifi connection – something you don’t always have.

The (partly) good news for Office users is that the Amazon Fire supports DOC and DOCX formats natively – no pesky conversion necessary. However Excel, PowerPoint and RTF documents can’t be read, unlike the B&N Nook. The Kindle conversion feature doesn’t seem to be available to Fire customers.

The Fire device is WiFi only which is probably enough but fairly limiting for anyone used to wider access. An option to put in a SIM card for 3G connectivity would have been nice, especially if it was unlocked to let people use whatever carrier they wished. That would also encourage competition among carriers that isn’t available to Apple users.

Even better (and this is really blue sky stuff) how about Amazon leveraging its global 3G agreements for the Kindle to negotiate a way for travelers to use their Fire in many countries for a single known price? That would make the Fire incredibly popular with travelers frustrated with the current data roaming charges.

As it stands, Fire customers will have to rely on the Wifi hotspot features in their computer, iPhone or Android device to link the Fire to the Internet via 3G.

Amazon wants you to buy music, films and TV from them to play on your Fire as well as other devices. How you can copy your own music or video files to the Fire device remains to be seen. Global media rights is a complex issue which is one reason why Fire is only sold to US customers. There’s no word on the position of Fire customers who want to buy and use media when they are outside the USA. Since many Fire customers will travel this is something Amazon should clarify.

Kindle Fire has no external video connector (something available to iPad, itouch 4 and iPhone 4 users). Instead you get an extension of Whispersync where Amazon Instant Videos can be played on various devices and it will remember the furthest watched in a video.

Hopefully apps will be adapted to work on the Fire. This should not be too hard since Fire works on a version of Google’s Android operating system (though it doesn’t look like any standard Android interface).

The excellent Exchange Server client for Android , Touchdown should have a Fire version in the works. The Kindle Fire doesn’t have Exchange Server support built-in but it does support other email connections.

There are a few Office document editing apps for Android. The size of the Fire device means you won’t be doing a lot of document editing but many people need the ability to read and sometimes make small changes to a document from a portable device.

The omission of a microphone is a surprise and not in a good way. Without a microphone the Fire can’t be used with Skype or Google Talk to make cheap voice calls. Nor can it be used for recording meetings, lectures etc. Even the existing Kindle 3 ( Kindle Keyboard) has a microphone even though it has no use at present.

I thought having a camera on a portable device was pretty much a given these days but not for Amazon. There’s no camera on the Fire which will disappoint a lot of people since even a small camera would have been good for video chats and the occasional photo.

The Fire is 14.6oz (413 grams) which is 70% heavier than the Kindle 3. Weight is important for the many readers who hold their book/ebook in one hand. The Fire may be a bit too heavy for regular readers to comfortably use for any length of time.



Give the Amazon Fire a miss. It looks interesting but lacks some useful features like, 3G/4G data, better document support and at least a microphone. Skipping the first Kindle was a good move since Kindle 2 was much better. Since then a Kindle has fed voracious reading habits of many people. Maybe a future Fire device will replace a Kindle and truly rival other tablets, but not this one.

As for the Kindle Touch, there are a few bells and whistles but most Kindle 3 users will probably be content with the current device.

If you haven’t tried reading on an ebook, Amazon is making it harder to resist with prices from $79.

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