The Amazon Kindle Touch needs little in the way of introduction. This e-ink device is one of the best selling e-readers in the world, and is a refinement of Amazon’s successful line of Kindle devices. Amazon offers the same device in two prices: $99 “with special offers” (meaning, the device shows ads), and $139 “without special offers”.
In this post, we will be giving away one shiny, beautiful Kindle Touch Wi-Fi reader (“with special offers” version) to a lucky MakeUseOf winner. But before we get to that part, you might want to know what the Kindle Touch is like, especially if you already own a previous generation Kindle or a competing e-reader.
We purchased this unit for our review and the giveaway is in no way endorsed by Amazon.
The Kindle Touch is far from the only touch-capable ebook reader these days. Above, you can see the Nook Simple Touch, from Barnes & Noble, in all of its animated GIF glory. This capable reader ships for $99, but sadly, it is not available internationally. Another touch ebook reader, this one with a more international bent, is the Kobo Touch. The Kobo Touch can be bought all over the Web, as well as from physical locations all over the world, including Australia, the UK, France, Hong-Kong, New Zealand, Germany, and of course, Canada and the US. Its price varies, but you can get it at Rakuten.com for $80 “with special offers” (similar to the reduced pricing model Amazon uses for the Kindle Touch I’ll be reviewing below).
A Smaller, Lighter Kindle
At 212 grams (7.5 ounces), the Kindle Touch is lighter than the Kindle 3 (now known as “the Kindle Keyboard”), which weighs 240 grams (8.5 ounces). However, it is also a tad thicker – 1.5 mm thicker than the Kindle 3, to be precise. But the most noticeable difference in daily use, and the deciding factor for me, is neither weight nor thickness. Rather, it is the fact that the Kindle Touch is significantly shorter than the Kindle 3:
Here you can see the Kindle Touch lying on top of the Kindle 3, with both devices aligned at the bottom. The Kindle Touch is shorter than the Kindle 3 by 1.8 centimeters, a significant difference. The lighter weight and decreased height make the Kindle Touch somewhat easier to hold, but mostly easier to look at:
Above you can see the Kindle Touch with a Marware case (not included in this giveaway), and the Kindle 3 with the original Amazon case. You can see how much visual clutter the Kindle 3’s keyboard adds. The physical keys are black (thank heavens and/or Amazon’s industrial designers for that), but the keyboard is very much present, and will not let you forget that you are reading the book on an electronic device. The Kindle Touch, in contrast, has just a single button (those black stripes at the bottom of the device), and that’s it. There aren’t even page turning buttons, or anything like that. The control scheme is intuitive, and I’ll tell you more about it later on. The only other physical controls are clustered at the bottom of the Kindle Touch:
Here you can see Kindle 3 on top, and Kindle Touch at the bottom. While both Kindles feature headphone and microUSB jacks, the other controls are implemented differently. Gone is the Kindle 3’s neat sliding power button, replaced with a simple button that you just press to switch the device on. I was concerned by this design choice at first, fearing that I might constantly turn the device off while using it, just like what happened to me when I was using the Kindle Fire – but I am happy to say that this did not happen once while I was using the Kindle Touch: The power button is small and rigid enough so that I didn’t press it on accident.
Audio is not a function most Kindle users need on a daily basis, so I was not surprised to discover Amazon took away the volume button and replaced it with on-screen controls.
The Kindle Touch’s Killer Feature
The Touch part of the Kindle Touch experience could almost have been a gimmick, if not for one killer feature. I mean, how hard is it to press a page turn button on a Kindle 3? But the one defining moment of my Kindle Touch experience was the first time when I met a word I did not know, and wanted to look it up. Suddenly, I could just touch that word, and get a definition:
(I do know what village means, but you get my point here, I hope.) The dictionary pops up when you touch a word (or even an idiom), and the popup has been greatly expanded: It is no longer a two-line strip at the top or bottom of the screen. It now contains five full lines of text, which is plenty for most definitions. This feature alone is worth the device, for me. Take the e-ink look and combine it with this incredible ease in which you can look stuff up, and you get a real winner.
Then again, if you like highlighting quotes and interesting passages, you just need to hold your finger on the screen for a moment and then drag it across the text:
Simply fantastic, and really, pretty much the best part of the entire Kindle Touch experience.
Controlling The Kindle Touch
Now that I’ve shown you the very best feature (at least in my opinion), let me walk you through the rest of the interface:
This is more or less how the Kindle Touch interface works: The bulk of the screen is dedicated to the single most important function, which is flipping to the next page of your book. A narrow strip along the left edge of the screen is used for flipping back to the previous page, and a strip along the top brings up the full array of controls:
This includes, on the top part of the screen, a menu button, a search box, quick access to the store, and a Back button. On the bottom of the screen you will find the familiar “Aa” button for changing font and margins, the Go To button for quickly navigating your book, and a Sync button for initiating sync with Amazon’s servers, so you can pick up where you left off on your other devices. Sync usually happens automatically, but it’s nice to be able to initiate it just in case. Above you don’t see a Sync button – instead, some books contain an X-Ray button, of which I will tell you later (great feature).
“Wait,” I hear you ask, “how can I flip to the previous page if I’m holding the Kindle Touch with my right hand and eating a ham sandwich with my left?” Well, I’m glad you asked! The Kindle Touch supports swiping gestures: You can swipe right to go to the next page, and swipe left to go to the previous one. That’s neat, but unfortunately, the Kindle Touch features two other gestures: Swipe up to go to the next chapter, and swipe down to go to the previous one. I don’t know why Amazon thought this is something people do so often that it deserves such key gestures – it would have been much better to use the up/down directions for changing font size, for example. I have triggered these by mistake when trying to remove a bit of cat fur from my screen – a pretty irritating experience. In general, because it’s a touch screen device, it becomes very important to turn it off when you’re trying to clean it – a minor annoyance that is new to this model (and the Kindle Fire, of course).
Oh, and by the way, the Kindle Touch uses multi-touch technology, so you can change font size using the regular “pinching” gesture for zooming in or out.
Typing On The Kindle Touch
The Kindle Touch features a beautiful, clear, on-screen keyboard. It is much, much better than the Kindle 3 keyboard, because each button has more space. I was able to type quickly and easily, and the only thing that delayed me was when I wanted to use a comma or exclamation mark – for those, I had to switch to the numbers and symbols layout, wait for the sluggish e-ink screen to refresh, type my character, and switch back. But as long as you don’t use much punctuation, this keyboard is excellent.
Seeing Your Books With X-Ray Vision
So, remember that X-Ray button I showed you before? Here’s what happens when you tap it:
Pretty amazing, really: You get a listing of major characters and terms in the book, each with a little strip showing where the character or term occurs along the book. Above you can see that Scarlett Amber Perkins shows up near the beginning of the book, then goes away for most of it, then comes back near the end. If you tap an item, you can see its occurrences in the text:
And if it’s a known term (like Glasgow), you get the beginning of its Wikipedia article and can tap to access the rest of the article using the built-in browser. Amazing stuff, really.
Browsing with The Kindle Touch
The browser on the Kindle Touch is still tucked under the “experimental” section, but it is more usable than ever before. E-ink is far from ideal for consuming Web content, but being able to tap links and images is a huge improvement. Scrolling is done by swiping up and down the screen, just like on a smartphone or tablet. Pinch to zoom works, too.
Nobody in their right mind will try to use this for any serious Web browsing, but it’s still very nice to know the browser is there, especially when you need to check something on the Web in a pinch.
Living With the Kindle Touch
Reading on the Kindle Touch late at night is a very quiet experience. With a regular book, your significant other can hear you turning pages, which can be irritating. Even with a Kindle 3, the page-turn buttons make audible clicks that can be annoying if both of you are trying to read at the same time (each on their own Kindle). It can make reading into a sort of competition, and is just not fun. Turning a page on the Kindle Touch, in comparison, is absolutely silent. The touch screen is very responsive, so you merely have to touch your finger to it, and the page turns. Not to mention that with the Kindle 3, looking up a definition involves lots of click-click-clicking around with the D-pad, and can actually wake up a light sleeper – and as you’ve seen above, this is something that just doesn’t happen with the Kindle Touch.
During daytime, the Kindle Touch screen does look a bit different than the Kindle 3 one: It seems to be a bit more reflective, even though Amazon claims it is the same type of screen (6” E Ink Pearl). But the slight reflection doesn’t really get in the way of reading, even when you read outside.
In terms of battery life, Amazon claims 2 months, which I have not yet had time to verify. I have been using the Kindle Touch a few hours every day, and it required its first charge after about three weeks – but that was its very first charge, as I was using it right out of the box for that whole period, without connecting it to power even once, to see how long the initial charge would last. For all practical intents and purposes, both the Kindle 3 and Kindle Touch have insane battery lives compared to every other modern gadget. Battery life is simply not an issue – you can charge the kindle before your three-weeks vacation and not have to plug it in once during that whole time.
Should You Buy It?
In a word: Yes. I had some concerns before I got the Kindle Touch: Will the touch interface really work for me, will it be easier to use than the Kindle 3, and so on. I am happy to say that after a few weeks of daily use, all of my fears have been alleviated. The Kindle Touch is an excellent e-reader, and a worthy update for the Kindle family. Highly recommended, and a great value for money at $99.
How do I win the Kindle Touch?
It’s really simple: create a MakeUseOf account, earn points and exchange your points for an entry! Competition ends June 30, 2012.