Last year, we awarded the entry-level Amazon Kindle our Editors’ Choice for its excellent value, slim form factor, and robust ebook ecosystem. This year, Amazon introduced the higher-end Kindle Paperwhite, which got most of the press ink thanks to its new edge-lit lighting. However, the company also saw fit to release a modestly updated version of the base model, with a slightly improved screen and a lower ($69 direct) price. After testing it, we found that the new improvements help keep this little ebook reader solidly in the lead among budget models, even if its lack of a touch screen is beginning to feel a bit dated.
Design and Display
This year’s Amazon Kindle has the same form factor as before. It measures 6.5 by 4.5 by 0.34 inches (HWD) and weighs 5.98 ounces. You can now get one in black as well as the standard gray. And the new black version looks sharp. Both models have the same plastic bezel and soft touch back panel as before, and are quite comfortable to hold for long reading sessions. In fact, you could argue it’s easier to hold one of these than it is a touch screen version, since you can place your fingers on the screen without accidentally turning pages.
For that task, duplicate sets of hardware page-turn buttons sit on the left and right edges of the Kindle’s frame. The larger one moves forward one page, while the smaller one moves back one page. The buttons are a little tough to press at first, but once you get used to the positioning, they’re quite responsive. Now that the Kindle has been out for a year in this form factor, reports have surfaced about the page turn buttons loosening up and eventually not working. I can confirm that the buttons on the model I purchased last November feel decidedly looser than the new loaner I’m reviewing, although they still work fine. It’s just something to be aware of.
Beneath the screen is a raised, five-way control pad, bracketed by Back, Keyboard, Menu, and Home buttons. A Power button and micro USB charger port occupy the bottom panel. The package includes a white USB cable, but no AC adapter. Amazon sells a $9.99 AC adapter if you want one, along with a $34.99 leather case that looks nice but adds noticeable heft and thickness.
At 167ppi, the 6-inch, E Ink Pearl screen shares the same pixel density as the older model; it doesn’t get the Kindle Paperwhite’s sharper 212ppi screen, nor does it get touch capability. When placed next to last year’s model, there’s a slight but noticeable difference in contrast. The new version’s fonts look ever so slightly darker and crisper. It’s nothing you would notice without the side-by-side comparison, though.
Interface, Reading, and Kindle Store
To get started, plug the Kindle into a USB port on a computer to begin charging it, choose your interface language, and then log onto your Wi-Fi network. It’s little places like this where you’ll wish you had a touch screen, as moving the cursor from letter to letter to enter the network password is a little clumsy.
Once you download a few books and start reading, though, the Kindle offers an enjoyable experience. Page turns are just as fast as before thanks to the 800MHz processor, and as with last year’s model, no longer flash the entire screen black each time. Amazon employs a caching mechanism that only flashes the page every six page turns. You get eight different font sizes, three line spacing settings, and a choice of three fonts: regular, condensed, and sans serif. You can make annotations and take notes, but without an on-screen keyboard, this is a novelty at best; if you think you might be doing that a lot, it’s worth the extra cash to spring for the Kindle Paperwhite.
A few nits: The Home screen is still the same, boring one that lists your books, sorted by most recent, title, or author. You can create collections, but those collections stay on the device and can’t be easily transferred to the iPhone app, for example, the way iTunes shares music playlists in the cloud. You also don’t get the book cover view that the Kindle Paperwhite adopted this year; it’s text only. None of these are deal-breakers, though.
Amazon’s Kindle Store is packed with Recommended and Top Book lists, so finding new things to read is a pleasure. You can even browse the store easily from the Kindle, which is a better shopping experience than you get on the Kobo Mini, despite that ebook reader’s touch screen interface. Amazon makes apps for the iPhone, iPad, Android phones, Macs, and PCs, and syncs your book collections, last-read pages, and notes among all of them.
Other Features, Special Offers, and Conclusions
There’s no 3G version, which is fine for an inexpensive ebook reader; the base Amazon Kindle supports 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi; there’s no cellular radio here. You get 2GB of internal storage as before, with 1.25GB free for your books, which should be good for roughly 1,000 of them. As always, Amazon stores all of your purchases in the cloud, so you can retrieve them whenever you want, and also view them on other devices.
The Kindle supports Amazon’s own Kindle format, plus TXT, PDF, MOBI, HTML, DOC, and DOCX files, but not ePub, which might limit your ability to borrow books from public libraries. There’s no memory card slot either, so you can’t expand storage or easily sideload books. If these features are important to you, have a look at the Barnes & Noble Nook Simple Touch, which adds ePub support and a memory card slot. Also missing: A headphone jack and audiobook support.
As with other Kindle products, there are two versions available. The $69 model comes with Special Offers, which appear on the home screen whenever it’s locked, and also appear as small banner ads while browsing in the store. They don’t appear during actual reading, although I still find it disconcerting to pick up the ebook reader and see a new ad each time. If you don’t like the ads, you can either pay $20 to remove them, or you can buy a version without ads up front for $89. Note that while the base model with Special Offers receives a $10 price cut, from $79 to $69, the model without Special Offers is now $20 less expensive, down from $109 to $89, which is a welcome development.
The new $69 price keeps the Amazon Kindle competitive and easily worth the cash. The Kobo Mini costs $79, doesn’t display ads, supports ePub files, has a memory card slot, and offers a touch screen. But the screen itself is an inch smaller, at just 5 inches, its sluggish page turns and slightly stubborn finger response are difficult to overlook, and its store isn’t as fun to browse from the device. The Barnes & Noble Nook Simple Touch costs $99; it has a 6-inch touch screen and many of the same benefits as the Kobo Mini, but $30 is a fairly significant jump in price. Otherwise, your other options sail past the $100 mark, which puts you in an Amazon Kindle Paperwhite. For just $69, or $89 without ads, the base Amazon Kindle remains our favorite low-cost ebook reader.
More Ebook Reader Reviews:
|Dimensions||6.5 x 4.5 x 0.34 inches|
|Screen Type||Monochrome E Ink|
|Book Formats||PDF, MOBI, TXT, HTML, RTF|
|Screen Size||6 inches|
|Storage Capacity (as Tested)||2 GB|
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc