Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Gear: Kindle Touch 3G

As a frequent traveler, my Kindle Keyboard (as it's now known) has been a constant companion. It's been from Seattle to Stockholm, and Abu Dhabi to Athens. Everywhere I've gone, it's been my e-reader and my backup communicator so when Amazon announced their new Kindles, I had to get my hands on one for a review. After the break, we'll take an in-depth look at the Kindle Touch 3G (with Special Offers) and see if it lives up to it's older brother.

To start off, let's talk price. The Kindle family is now four devices deep with prices from $79 to $199, depending on what you're looking for. The Kindle Touch comes either with or without 3G and with or without special offers. Special offers save you $40 up front (you can pay to remove them later), but gives you a small advertisement bar at the bottom of your home screen and ads for screen savers when the devices goes to sleep.

A Kindle Keyboard with no Special Offers vs. a Kindle Touch with Special Offers

Buying a Kindle with special offers won't affect performance, but may affect your enjoyment as an owner. If you opt for the special offers, the Kindle Touch starts at $99 for a wifi only version and $149 for the 3G unit shown here. The same units without the advertisements will run you $139 for the wifi and $189 for the 3G. While there is a Kindle that is offered at $79, the Kindle Touch is the least expensive Kindle you should consider: For $20 more, you get twice as much memory, a user interface that is easier to use, and several features which are just absent from the basic model like text to speech.

The hardware feel solid while you're holding it and is neither too heavy or too light. You can throw this in your bag and forget it's there. The materials feel high quality and well constructed. In terms of hardware interfaces, there are two speakers, one LED light, two buttons and two ports (one micro USB and one headphone jack), and everything else is done via the IR touchscreen. The screen is surprisingly responsive and the onscreen keyboard is much easier to type on versus the Kindle Keyboard, although how often you need to do that has been limited somewhat (see the 3G discussion below). As an E-Ink display, it's sharp and readable anywhere there is enough light to see the screen. Overall, my complaints about the hardware are pretty small: The screen seems seems to be set deep in the device (perhaps to better protect it) and Amazon changed the way it attaches to the official case (compare this with this. To be fair, the new case looks like it will offer more protection). In the box, you get the Kindle and a USB cable, which is downgrade from the Kindle Keyboard that came with an international USB power adapter.

The user interface for the Kindle Touch is easy to use for someone who is familiar with computer basics. The "Easy Reach" interface in the books is exceedingly simple to use: Tap where your finger naturally goes to turn the page forward. Tap on the left side to go back. Tap on the top to get to the menu. Click the home button to go back to the main menu. In the main menu, tapping and holding will bring up the options menu for a particular item (to add to a collection or delete, for example), while there is a menu bar at the top that gives you access to the Amazon store, the search function (plus wikipedia!), and the actual setting menu where you can manage your wireless networks and the device. Anyone can figure this out, but someone who is completely new to computers would benefit from a 15 minute tutoring session.

One strong thing for ease of use when it comes to the Kindle (across all versions) is that it's really designed to be used without a PC. With a 3G version ordered from Amazon, 99% of everything the Kindle has to offer is accessible right out of the box with zero set up. For wifi versions, the maximum amount of set up required is to enter the password for your wifi network. If you buy one in store, "set up" consists of getting online (automatic with 3G, password with wifi) and entering your Amazon email and password. There is never any time you will be required to hook it up to a computer to manage your library or set it up.

There are a couple of things that really shine in the new version of the Kindle OS: The first is the new text to speech options. On the Kindle Keyboard, you only have two options for text to speech: On and off. In the new version of the software, there are more options including the ability to slow the reading down. In the previous version, the text to speech is blindingly fast, so this is a great change. I hope that they roll this to the Kindle Keyboard at some point in the future.

The second killer feature is the new x-ray feature, which is currently only available on the Kindle Touch. When you download a book, it analyzes the text for phrases and words of note and automatically pulls Wikipedia snippets. When you open x-ray, many of the concepts of the book, page, or chapter are just there to browse. With two clicks, you can be on the wikipedia entry for the concept, person, or place you're interested in and with the Kindle Touch 3G, you can get access to this information virtually anywhere in the world. It's a great feature.

Overall, the Kindle Touch 3G may be the best Kindle for reading out there. The interface is easier to use than previous generations, it's snappy, compact, lightweight, new features like x-ray add something to the reading experience, and E-Ink is ideal for actually reading. With 3G, it's one of the most seamless experiences you can have: Any book you want is available to you, anywhere, anytime. There is no need for your computer to ever be involved with your Kindle: Any book you own can be pulled over 3G to your device whenever you want. It really is fantastic and it is 100% free with nothing to manage.

That said, there is one caveat. In the Kindle Keyboard, you could fire up the experimental browser and surf the web on your Kindle over the 3G. It was a little clunky, but it meant that in emergencies you could fire off an email, translate something on the fly, and check the news. On the Kindle Touch, you are only allowed to access Wikipedia over the 3G and the rest of the internet is cut off from you. For most people this won't really have an impact, but if you're a power user and travel extensively this might be a reason to look at the Kindle Keyboard 3G instead even if it is lacking some of the cool features that the Kindle Touch 3G has.

Accessing over 3G on the Kindle Keyboard (left) and Kindle Touch (right)

In total, the new Kindle line up offers a family of devices which are aimed at different user groups. The Kindle Touch 3G is meant to be the flagship E-Ink reading device and it is, unless you have some very demanding needs. It is leaps and bounds better than the $79 Kindle and the 3G offers a user experience that can't be replicated on a wifi only device. Unless you plan on traveling internationally and need the full internet access, this really is the device to get.

....of course, if you want to do more than just read books, check out my review of the Kindle Fire! You can also read my review of the Kindle Keyboard here, if you're a power user and need that full internet access.


  1. sigh. was hoping that the 3g wldnt be limited.

  2. Hi there!
    Does Kindle Touch has build-in russian interface and virtual cyrillic keyboard?
    Thank you for any information.

  3. Hi MiraAmira!

    No, I am afraid that the Kindle Touch does not have Cyrillic as an input option. It is English only.