My Kindle Touch arrived last week. Just in time. I was on the verge of canceling my order due to all the press negatively comparing the Touch to the Kindle 4. I’m glad I stuck with my initial decision. The Kindle Touch is a winner. A bit rough around the edges, but still a better choice (at least for me) than the other Kindle models.
Poor performance? Not in my book
While waiting for my Kindle Touch, I began reading reviews of the new Kindle models. Most of them complained of the Kindle Touch’s poor performance relative to its cheaper Kindle 4 sibling. In the end, they recommended going with the Kindle 4.
Jim Tanous, writing here at TMO, lamented: “Due to the limitations of e-ink, there is a noticeable lag between touches and response. On the Touch, the lag between touch and turn is long enough to remind me of the days of the first generation Kindle.”
Marco Arment (the creator of Instapaper) was similarly critical: “The entire Kindle Touch interface feels sluggish. Page turns, menus, and navigation all respond to touches only after lengthy delays. Its overall performance is similar to the Kindle 2.”
Even my good friend Dan Frakes tweeted: “Sticking with the Kindle 4 and returning the Touch. Touch responsiveness is frustratingly slow, and it’s larger and heavier.”
So, when my Touch did at last arrive, it was with considerable trepidation that I opened the box and began to play with the device. To my pleasant surprise, I was delighted. At first, I thought maybe this was because I had low expectations of the device. I had next to no experience with a first or second generation Kindle, so I could not compare my Touch to them. The responsiveness of the Kindle Touch was certainly not as good as the iPad, but I had not expected it to be.
To hopefully figure out what was going on, I decided to make my own comparisons. I went to my local Staples and laid my Touch next to a Kindle 4 demo unit. I was ready to do some speed checking. I especially focused on page turning, as this was by far the most frequent activity I’d be doing on a Kindle.
Guess what? The speeds were virtually identical. I couldn’t see any difference. I tested this over and over again and got the same result. Occasionally, after first opening a book, the initial page turn was slower on the Touch. But that was it. I watched the video posted by Arment, comparing the two models. All I can say is that I did not see this difference in my testing. Actually, even if I had, I wouldn’t complain. Even in Arment’s video, the Touch’s responsiveness seemed more than fast enough not to be a bother.
A related criticism of the Touch model (as cited in Jim Tanous’s review) concerns screen sensitivity: “The actual touchscreen is also hyper-sensitive, even if the response from the device is slow. The slightest brush against the screen will trigger menu pop-ups and page turns, all inadvertent.”
Once again, this was not a problem for me. Not at all. It’s true that an inadvertent touch can cause a page to turn unintentionally. In reality, this has almost never happened to me. To be safe, I press the Home button when I’m done with a round of reading. Otherwise, I do nothing special.
True, there is often a slight lag in the Touch’s responsiveness when pressing the Home button or tapping a screen item (such as to open a book). But so what? This is more than compensated for by the time I save not having to scroll through lists. Ask yourself, which is likely to be faster: Tapping a book title in the Touch’s display or scrolling through a list with the Kindle 4’s 5-way controller? The former was almost always faster for me, even considering any touch delay.
And the touchscreen is a much much better interface for doing anything that requires typing, such as if you want to search the text. The Touch similarly outpaces the Kindle 4 for tasks such as selecting a word to get its definition. Compared to the Kindle 4, the Touch also has longer battery life, twice the storage, an audio capability and more — all for just an added $20.
The Kindle Touch is not perfect
This is not the say that the Kindle Touch exceeds the Kindle 4 in every respect.
For one thing, the Kindle 4 is better if you want to hold and operate the Kindle entirely with one hand. You just hold the device and press a side button with your thumb to turn pages. The Kindle Touch provides an EasyReach feature that offers the same capability — except by tapping the screen. This works well overall.
However, tapping with your thumb, especially if you are holding the book in your left hand and have to reach over the Previous Page area to tap the Next Page region (see the figure below), is not as convenient as the Kindle 4’s buttons. It would help if Amazon offered an option to reverse the Next Page and Previous Page regions. Maybe they will in an update.
On the other hand, if you read with the Kindle lying flat on a table, you’ll find tapping the screen is more efficient than reaching for buttons.
If you prefer, the Kindle Touch offers an alternative to EasyReach. You can swipe the screen: right-to-left for Next Page or left-to-right for Previous Page. These swipes work anywhere on the display, independent of EasyReach screen regions. Swiping works best when using two hands — one to hold the book, the other to swipe. Even though Amazon worries this could lead to “fatigue,” I have had no difficulties here. After all, swiping is pretty much what I do when turning pages of print books.
The Kindle Touch is slightly larger and heavier than the Kindle 4. Overall, I did not find this to be an issue (both models are small enough to fit into a back pocket). Yet it did matter to me on occasion. With my hand size, I couldn’t comfortably palm the Kindle Touch in one hand (grasping it on both side edges). With the Kindle 4, I was able to do this easily (it’s amazing how much difference a fraction of an inch can make).
Another plus for the Kindle 4 is that you can rotate the screen. This feature was omitted from the Touch. Not surprisingly, given that the Touch is a 1.0 product, there remain some additional rough edges (as you’ll find if, for instance, you try to get your Instapaper documents onto the Kindle). But these do not affect the main functions of the Touch.
If you’re still debating which Kindle model to get, don’t pre-judge the Kindle Touch because of reports of its supposed “poor performance.” Give it a try. If you’re like me, you’ll find that the Kindle touch is more than speedy enough.
If you must have the smallest lightest absolute fastest Kindle, if you prefer buttons for page turning, and if you need the ability to rotate the screen, then you want the Kindle 4. But if you want the huge convenience of a touchscreen packaged with a bunch of other advantages, get the Kindle Touch. You won’t be disappointed.
As to whether you should get a Kindle at all, especially if you already have an iPad or iPhone, that’s a subject for another column. For now, I’ll just say that I’ve found the Kindle to be a worthwhile addition.
Bonus topic: Android Tablets and Phones
Speaking of my visit to Staples, when I was done comparing Kindles, I spent time looking at Staples’ selection of Android tablets and smartphones. Two observations stood out for me:
• Android devices are all Apple copycats. I already knew this. Still, seeing all the models lined up in the store made the point crystal clear. The copying is especially so in physical appearance. And most especially so for tablets; they all look like close variations on the iPad. The Android OS is also obviously derived from iOS. However, at least here there are distinct differences. True, Android is generally worse than iOS, but it is catching up. In some areas, it may have surpassed iOS (Jason Kincaid has recently posted a worthwhile column on this matter).
Companies competing with Apple have an odd business strategy. It goes something like this: Come out with crappy products that no one likes but that people buy because there’s nothing better. Wait for Apple to show how the product should be made. Then rip off Apple with an inferior imitation, hope your product finds a market and that Apple doesn’t successfully sue you for patent violations. Amazingly, this occasionally works out. Right now, with tablets, not so much.
• The 4.3” screens on smartphones are impressive. My main hesitation about larger screens has been that they would make the overall size of the phone too big. It turns out this is not necessarily so. On several models (such as the Motorola Droid X2 and the HTC Sensation), the physical dimensions are only slightly bigger than that of the iPhone.
I hope Apple moves up to 4.3” screens for the iPhone 5. The larger size offers much more real estate. I imagine that Apple will need to offer a 3.5” compatibility mode for existing apps, in order to prevent screen distortions on the larger display. But eventually, apps will be upgraded to take advantage of the new size. It will be worth the transition hassle.