Hands-On with the Kindle Family

| Reviews

While most of the attention this week may be paid to the Kindle Fire, Amazon also did something for book lovers out there by rounding out its Kindle family with the release of the Kindle Touch. For those consumers who primarily use their digital device to read and find LCD displays hard on the eyes for extended periods of time, the E-Ink-based Kindles are the more exciting release this week. 

Amazon Kindle Lineup

From Amazon’s Kindle Page, the complete Kindle Line-Up

For the purposes of this review, I’ll use the same naming conventions as Amazon: the “old” Kindle, which Amazon still sells in limited quantities, is the “Kindle Keyboard,” the non-touch Kindle is simply “Kindle,” and the touch-based Kindle is “Kindle Touch.” Got it? Excellent.

As an avid reader and gadget lover, I’ve owned every Kindle since the first generation. I was excited to hear that Amazon wasn’t abandoning the e-ink technology when it introduced the tablet version of the product line, the Kindle Fire, and I pre-ordered both models of new Kindles right away. Unfortunately, after spending some time with the new Kindles, I’m going back to my Kindle Keyboard for day-to-day use.

I’ll break my disappointments down by device.

Amazon Kindle

First, the Kindle. It’s thin; it’s light; it’s beautiful. But it’s hard to hold. Amazon has made the Kindle so light and small that there’s barely enough room to place your thumb and fingers while holding the device. 

If held from below, in a situation in which you’re holding the Kindle down low and looking down upon it, it works pretty well because the device is supported by your fingers on the back. But hold it at 90 degrees or higher, resting in bed for example, and it’s difficult to hold the device without placing your thumb and fingers on the screen, which obscures the text or can inadvertently hit a page-turn button.

Compare this to the Kindle Keyboard, which has plenty of space for thumb and fingers and, due to the extended length caused by the physical keyboard, nestles nicely in the palm of your hand when held one-handed. I can read all day and from any angle on my Kindle Keyboard; I get frustrated within minutes while holding the Kindle.

[Remember: The “old” Kindle, which Amazon still sells in limited quantities, is the “Kindle Keyboard,” the non-touch Kindle is simply “Kindle,” and the touch-based Kindle is “Kindle Touch.”]

Aside from this factor, the device works great. I love the new refresh mode that doesn’t require the “flash” Kindle users have become accustomed to (although Amazon has just released an update, Kindle 4.0.1, that allows the user to turn the full refresh back on if they experience text ghosting). I also love the styling; the Kindle has come a long way from its thick and ugly first generation. 

Text entry using the directional pad is clunky but manageable considering the lack of a physical keyboard, and the page-turn and other interface buttons are responsive and feel solid when pressed. Overall, at least on paper, the pros of this new Kindle vastly outweigh the cons. But, at least for me, that one con is so overwhelming that it takes the whole device down with it. The Kindle is a device built for long periods of reading. If it’s not comfortable to hold, then all else is irrelevant.

Amazon Kindle Touch

On to the Kindle Touch. Ah, that’s more like it! Some space for my thumb and fingers! The Kindle Touch has a much wider area around the screen for holding the device and, due to the lack of page turn buttons, the space can be used without fear of triggering an inadvertent page turn.

The device is also slightly thicker and heftier, which helps it nest into your palm a bit better than the Kindle. The Kindle Touch shares the excellent styling and good looks of its non-touch sibling; they both look quite striking.

So where’s the problem? It’s the touchscreen. While great in theory, in practice a touchscreen based on e-ink technology is not a perfect marriage. Due to the limitations of e-ink, there is a noticeable lag between touches and response. As I mentioned above, the one area of the Kindle I loved was the fast page turns. On the Touch, the lag between touch and turn is long enough to remind me of the days of the first generation Kindle.

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. For example, while reading in bed, I set the Touch down, face up, on my chest to ask my wife a question. When I looked back at the device, I was about 30 pages further into the book than I had been. A bed sheet had come to rest slightly on the bottom corner of the screen and had triggered those inadvertent page turns.

While Amazon has built in some neat features to take advantage of touch, such as pinch to change font size, the practical implementation of them is more annoying than helpful, and it all centers around lag. Perhaps we’ve grown spoiled by the instant-response touch screens we see on iPads and iPhones. Perhaps in another world absent those products the Kindle Touch would be a miraculous device. But in this world, it’s simply a game of “gesture, wait, wait, wait, gesture.” 

I would love for Amazon to take the Kindle and put it in the body of the Kindle Touch. A little more room to hold the device would go a long way. And as e-ink technology improves perhaps the Touch will get better and more responsive. But, as it stands, this marks the first year I’ve been disappointed by the new Kindles, and as I finish this review, I’ll grab my tea, lean back, and reach for my Kindle Keyboard. Amazon made a valiant effort, but, for me, it’s a tragedy.

Product: Kindle

Company: Amazon

List Price: $79-$99

Pros:

Fast page turn refresh

Improved looks and appearance

Lowest-priced Kindles yet

Cons:

Difficult to hold (Kindle)

Unresponsive touch screen (Kindle Touch)

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Comments

Tom Hurley

Wow, sorry to hear about the Touch’s touchiness. I ordered one as soon as they were announced, and will be picking mine up tomorrow. I hope I can make it work since I really don’t like the forward/backward buttons on the Kindle Keyboard I own. It’s too bad companies besides Apple can’t make perfect stuff.

webjprgm

It?s too bad companies besides Apple can?t make perfect stuff.

Apple says no to anything that isn’t perfect.  Other companies try to make it work anyway to see what corner of the market they can get.

Clearly a screen with such lag is not going to work with the same gesture support as an iPad.  So either they would have to invent a totally new set of gestures, or a new display technology that could handle this problem.

I wonder why they didn’t use a capacitive touch screen that would ignore the sheet touching it ... found an article about it darkening the e-ink display.  OK.  So another Amazon vs. Apple difference; they should have waited for better technology.

(http://www.cnn.com/2011/09/29/tech/gaming-gadgets/kindle-touch-screen/index.html)

I found a couple articles about upcoming technologies, by the way.

http://www.engadget.com/2010/08/12/e-ink-begins-sampling-color-and-capacitive-touch-displays-on-tr/

and

http://www.mirasoldisplays.com/ereader

jennielf

Funny, I find the Kindle Keyboard (I have a 2nd gen) very awkward to hold and too heavy and never really used it for reading in bed because of that. However, I have held a new Kindle in a Best Buy and much prefer the lightness and shape of it. I am currently trying to figure out how to justify spending $109 (Kindle with no ads) on a new Kindle that I don’t need…

I do love my Kindle Keyboard, I just wish it didn’t have a keyboard. smile

ibuck

If you buy the cheaper version of a Kindle model and then decide you’d like to block the ads, can you pay the difference to “upgrade”?

kindle lover

The new nook app for Kindle is brilliant - you can get all the Android apps free now!  We got the nook app download instructions from www.kindlemad.com through google.

I love my new Kindle!

Richard McArthy

e new nook app for Kindle is brilliant -

Did you mean new nook app for kindle Fire?

ibuck

Jim Tanous wrote:  Amazon has made the Kindle so light and small that there?s barely enough room to place your thumb and fingers while holding the device. . . it?s difficult to hold the device without placing your thumb and fingers on the screen, which obscures the text or can inadvertently hit a page-turn button.

Called Amazon and their customer service rep said you can rotate the device 180 degrees and the on-screen text would rotate with it.

Jim, have you tried that? Wouldn’t that resolve the inadvertent page turn?

Also, to follow-up….Amazon’s rep said one cannot upgrade to eliminate the ads on a “special offers” model. So choose wisely,

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