While we wait for the Kindle Fire to appear in the UK, and Sony plays catch up launching its own ebook store, Amazon is pushing ahead with another Kindle, and for the first time bringing a touch screen to the UK.
The Kindle Touch comes in two versions – there’s a Wi-Fi only one for £109 and a Wi-Fi plus 3G offering for £169.
The introduction of the two new models gives Amazon a total of four Kindles currently available in the UK. The previously available Kindle 3G with keyboard is £149 and the non-touch, Wi-Fi only entry level Kindle is £89.
So, given that you can spend between £89 and £169 on a Kindle, what do the new models add apart from touch support, how good is that touch support and should existing Kindle owners consider the upgrade?
The new Kindle is entirely backwards compatible. As an existing user of a Kindle Keyboard 3G within seconds of turning my new Kindle Touch on I had logged in and all my existing purchases were available for me to read.
I was sent the Wi-Fi only version of the Touch to review. Choosing between Wi-Fi only and Wi-Fi plus 3G could be quite an issue. Obviously you can only update your library when in Wi-Fi range if you want to save a not inconsiderable £60 on the purchase price. I could live with that, but maybe you couldn’t.
Whichever model you select you’re looking at a small device very much in keeping with the currently available Kindle range in the UK. At 172 x 120 x 10.1mm there’s a slight size gain on the non keyboarded Kindle, a slight loss on the keyboarded version, but it’s all pretty negligible stuff. Weight is in between the previous versions with the £89 Kindle considerably lighter.
Screen size in every available Kindle is 6in, and the screen technology is good old e-ink. The screen resolution is 600 x 800 pixels – that’s the same as the other Kindles. There’s 4GB of internal storage with 3GB available for user content, equalling that of the keyboarded Kindle and more than doubling that of the £89 Kindle with its 2GB and 1.25GB available. There’s no memory expansion support.
The Kindle Touch shows off a new feature called X-Ray. This is an option you’ll find on some books – though not all. If it is present, choosing it will highlight all the bits of a book that mention certain pre-defined concepts such as ideas, characters or places and link to information from Wikipedia.
I haven’t seen X-Ray in enough books to decide for sure if it is useful. From what I have seen, though, the selection of what to index appears to be a bit random and I don’t think it is something I’d use a lot.
There are plenty of other features, including the web browser that’s been an experimental feature for a long time now, and a text to speech engine whose American male and female (you choose which) computerised voices are grating and despite efforts to raise the timbre at question marks, lack inflection.
There’s a perfectly adequate loudspeaker and a headphone socket that friends, family and fellow commuters would probably prefer you to use. It is worth noting, though, that on my review sample all sound stopped the first time I inserted headphones and wouldn’t start again. Let’s hope that’s not a widespread issue.
The headset connector is on the bottom edge of the chassis. If you like using a stand for your Kindle that’s the least ergonomic place for it to be, but Amazon has clustered all its buttons and connectors on a small bay in the same location.
As well as the headset connector there’s the on-off switch and a microUSB connector for mains charging and PC connection should you want to transfer any files by hand rather than use the over the air method. The Kindle Touch will also play music, incidentally, which you can transfer via USB connection, but the speaker died before I could test the quality.
What you really want to know, though, is how much the touch controls add to the user experience. You have no choice but to use them as the chassis has no button controls. Well it has just one – beneath the screen – that acts as a Home button taking you to the main screen where your downloaded items are all listed.
There are three ‘hot zones’ on the reading screen. The main bulk is a zone, which takes you forward a page, while a small strip on the left of the screen moves you backwards.
Tap at the top of the screen and you get the menu bar with its search facility, access to the Kindle store and main device menu.
There are also some sweeping gestures supported. Sweep upwards to go forwards a chapter, downwards to go back a chapter and, on the home page, sweep to move through your full list of items. Also on the home page you can tap and hold to get an item specific menu for deleting and searching books, looking at notes, archiving and so on. Press and hold works within books for getting dictionary definitions and adding notes or highlights.
Multi-touch support runs to stepping up and down a texts size as you pinch out and in on the screen, and a bit of scrolling in some other areas such as the web browser.
The system has been well designed, and its uncomplicated structure makes it very easy to work with. Responsiveness isn’t lightning fast, but page turning seems no slower than using the buttons on previous Kindle modes, and working through menus actually feels a bit faster because you tap what you want instead of scrolling to it and then selecting it.
If you aren’t careful about how you hold the Kindle Touch fingers can stray off the bezel and onto the screen, at which point you will activate the touch screen. Now, after a couple of accidents in the first few minutes of use, I didn’t find myself accidentally tapping the screen at all while reading. But when I forgot to turn the Kindle off to bag (because previous models turn themselves off automatically), the screen was tapped by accident. A lot. You’ll learn quickly to use the off button when you stop reading – or suffer the consequences.
So, it is time to return to those questions I asked at the outset.
What do the new Kindle Touch versions add (apart from touch support)? Well, there are a couple of new features and a sleeker hardware design, but the basic premise of the Kindle remains unchanged.
How good is the touch support? I think it is very good. It is easy to learn to use without resorting to the manual and that is really important for a device intended for the mass market rather than geeky types. Moreover, it actually affords some speed improvements over the button based previous Kindles when you are working through menus.
Should existing Kindle owners consider the upgrade? Well, that has to be a personal choice, but I’m not sure that’s the point of the new Kindle anyway. Amazon has simply widened its portfolio in order to offer a spread of devices at different prices and to suit different needs.
The Amazon Kindle Touch is a good addition to the Kindle line up. Many of the touch elements make getting around easier, though accidental screen presses may be an issue for some people.
Pros: Small, light and very recognisably a Kindle, the addition of touch really does make getting around easier.
Cons: Adding 3G into the mix raises the price considerably, and it’s easy to brush the touch screen when you don’t mean to.
Size: 172 x 120 x 10.1mm
Weight: 213g (Wi-Fi), 220g (Wi-Fi and 3G)
Screen: 6in E-Ink 600 x 800 pixels
Battery life: up to 2 months
Storage capacity: 4GB
Supported formats: Kindle (AZW), Kindle Format 8 (AZW3), TXT, PDF, Audible (Audible Enhanced(AA,AAX)), MP3, unprotected MOBI, PRC natively; HTML, DOC, DOCX, JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP through conversion