Kindle Touch Hands-on Review

The newest of the new Kindle devices have begun to show up on doorsteps all over the US this week.  As a result, we can finally get some direct information about the improvements made by the new hardware.  Today we can take a look at a hands-on review of the new Kindle Touch eReader, the latest in Amazon’s popular line.

Overall, aside from being somewhat smaller, this is the same sort of Kindle that users will be used to.  The display is exactly the same as both the Kindle 3 (Kindle Keyboard) and the Kindle 4 non-touch model.  As a whole it measures only slightly larger than the cheaper Kindle 4 and users will note little difference in perceptible weight between any of these devices.  The battery life remains impressive at approximately 2 months between charges, assuming 30 minutes per day of reading on average.  This is twice the battery life of the other Kindle 4 model.  Also distinguishing it from the earlier releases, the Kindle Touch completely lacks physical buttons aside from ‘Power’ and ‘Home’.

These more superficial differences have been known for some time now, however.  The interesting details come from the actual use.  The biggest change in how you use your Kindle Touch will obviously be the interface.  Moving to the touchscreen has produced a slightly different experience.  A tap on either side of the display will turn a page in the associated direction, as will a swipe either left or right.  A swipe toward either the top or bottom of the screen will result in moving to the next or previous chapters respectively.  While some users will find this occasionally difficult to use, particularly in the case of the left-handed who will be forced to swipe for page turns when reading one-handed, for the most part it comes naturally after a few moments of use.  Speed of navigation has been increased at least in part by only doing a full screen refresh every 6 page turns.  If the ghosting becomes a problem, and from time to time it might, this can be turned off.

Interacting with the text is much easier now, as a result of the touchscreen.  To look up a word in the dictionary, just touch and hold it.  To highlight, all you need to do is tap, drag, and tap again to confirm the selection.  Searching and annotating have changed little besides the change to a virtual keyboard.  Since there is a very slight delay in on-screen response to input (barely longer than the similar delay when using the physical keyboard on older Kindles) it can be slightly strange at first, but that fades quickly with continued use.

The localization features that seemed likely given Amazon’s recent push into international markets are indeed present.  Non-latin languages such as Russian, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, and more are all to be found on the device.  There will no longer be any need to hack in additional fonts.  Even if your language of preference is not present in the default setup, the new Kindle Format 8 eBook format should allow for the inclusion of fonts with books.  I would expect this to be widely implemented in the near future.  Included with the device are 3 typefaces (regular, condensed, sans-serif), 8 sizes configurable by two-fingered zooming, 3 spacing options, and 3 options for “words per line”.  That last seems unnecessary, but I’m sure it comes in handy for somebody?

The Kindle Touch features Amazon’s most recent Kindle software, unsurprisingly.  Kindle 5.0.0 compared to the non-touch version’s 4.0.1.  Obviously this newer software exists in part to accommodate the completely altered physical interface, but a few new features are present as well.

PDF functionality is greatly improved.  The new software allows for both better navigation through the inclusion of working Table of Contents options as well as Text-to-Speech.  This latter is at best situationaly useful given the peculiarities of the format and how it handles text, but it is a step in the right direction and works more often than not.  Oddly enough the ability to switch over to landscape mode while reading a PDF has been eliminated, though.  This is at best strange and will, we have to hope, be fixed in a future update as it makes browsing many documents quite difficult without extensive zooming and scrolling.  While these are easier with the touchscreen, it gets tedious.

The biggest advertised feature, Kindle Touch X-Ray, does not disappoint.  While it is only working on a limited selection of books at the moment, Amazon has indicated that the numbers will improve in the near future.  It seems to draw on Amazon’s Shelfari site for book data, providing character lists based on proper noun occurrences, character bios that include detailed plot information (with spoilers hidden by default), and a fairly good plot summary.  It isn’t perfect, sometimes picking up on pieces of introductions or afterwords, but people who were worried that it was going to be nothing but a glorified search function will be pleasantly surprised.

In summary, anybody who is interested in a Kindle Touch will find it to be basically a slightly polished new Kindle with a better interface method.  It is far more easy to use than the non-touch Kindle 4, even in terms of basic things like chapter navigation thanks to the placement of the less expensive device’s directional control.  The 3G model will be worth it for some, if travel purchasing or lack of local WiFi signal is a concern, but unlike the previous Kindles this will not allow users to browse anything besides the Kindle Store and Wikipedia so some of the value is removed. The improved PDF support is nice, as is the X-Ray functionality, but in general the big draw is the touchscreen.  Being able to select, highlight, look up, zoom, etc. without menu navigation or the use of a 5-way controller is very nice.  Losing the keyboard to make the new Kindle even lighter and easier to hold is even nicer.

Let’s face it, there was nothing wrong with any of the other Kindle products when it came to the reading experience.  That said, the Kindle Touch stepped things up and made a good thing even better.

For a more extensive and detailed review, check out Andrei’s over at BlogKindle

Kindle Fire Brings Far Greater Functionality To Kindle Family

Whether or not the new Kindle Fire changes the face of tablet computing as we know it, it has certainly reinvented the Kindle line.  It is cheaper on release than either of the first two Kindle eReaders were, can open virtually any form of media, and runs apps from a well stocked Android App Store.  While yes it does sacrifice the benefits of the Kindle’s characteristic E Ink screen to do this, but other than that things seem to have stayed fairly consistent.

You can, of course, read books on the new Kindle.  Given that it sports a 7″ LCD screen, and the back-lighting that one would expect from said screen, you might not really want to if you’re used to the Kindle already, but you can.  On the flipside, magazines and other illustrated publications will now be easy to read and available in quantity, opening the door to areas of reading largely left untouched by the Kindle platform so far.  Chances are good this will be a big deal in the weeks leading up to launch.

You can also, much more importantly, treat it as a “Kindle for Movies”.  This means shopping, purchasing, downloading, and viewing all from the tablet itself.  Given how much Amazon has recently fleshed out their video selection, it seems likely that this was the real intent behind the Kindle Fire from the start.  It has 8GB worth of storage space, which is enough to store a couple movies if you’re going to be away from the internet for a while, but other than that will mostly be streaming from Amazon’s server cloud.  Normally this would be obnoxious at best, but experience has shown it to be a generally satisfactory way to access music and movies.

Probably the most useful, if unsurprising, aspect of the Kindle Fire will be the Amazon Android App Store offerings.  Although it looks nothing like vanilla Android, this Kindle is running a highly modified version of Android 2.3.  This opens the door to both the thousands of apps and huge numbers right around the corner.  We’ve already seen it using games, email apps, and more.  For such an under-priced device, it seems to have no trouble handling the tasks it is put to (though obviously those tasks wouldn’t be the things to highlight on the day of the press conference anyway, I suppose).

The storage space is limited, which means that you can’t necessarily fit in everything you have at once.  That’s ok, though.  Amazon will store all purchased content in cloud storage until you need it, free of charge.  You should even be able to upload anything you own but don’t buy through Amazon to the Cloud Drive, though at this time only the first 5GB of extra space is free there.

To get you started, the Kindle Fire comes with a month’s worth of Amazon Prime.  This will let users try out the video streaming and get a taste for it.  While Prime membership doesn’t get you unlimited access to everything, the selection is worth checking out.  You will definitely be getting your money’s worth out of this tablet.

Kindle Fire Tablet Coming Wednesday

It is safe to say that the place of Apps in the Kindle hardware line is about to change rather drastically.  This Wednesday a press conference has been scheduled for Jeff Bezos to officially announce and demonstrate the new Kindle Tablet, which we now know to go by the name “Kindle Fire“.

This has seemed like an inevitability for a long while now, and Amazon has certainly done plenty to pave the way for a positive experience.  Moves have been made to lure Android developers over to the Amazon App Store, which makes perfect sense given the current knowledge that the Kindle Fire will be running a highly modified forking of Android 2.1.  While there have been a couple hiccups along the way, in general the Amazon App Store seems to offer a superior experience to the official Google alternative.

Similar strides have been made in setting up the video distribution options.  In recent months Amazon Instant Video has gone from a joke that provided a bit of extra incentive for Amazon Prime adopters to a respectable video library.  Recently they have even signed agreements allowing them to offer movies and television shows held by companies including CBS and Fox, bringing the title count up to tens of thousands.  The Kindle Fire is clearly going to be pushing these services, and should have integrated access to the relevant store built right into the user experience.

Naturally there will also be the option for users to access both Kindle Edition eBooks.  This is not meant to be considered an eReader, however, and the experience is likely to be inferior in some ways to that of the existing Kindle eReader line.  The same is true in a general sense of the music playback capabilities.  While Amazon obviously offers the Kindle Cloud Player, which has comparable functionality to most any similar product on the market, a Tablet is just not the perfect playback device.  Doesn’t mean you can’t do it, of course, just that purpose-made devices will offer superior experiences in these areas.

Overall, the Kindle Fire is likely to impress.  Its 7” back-lit screen is slightly small compared to the iPad, but will meet customer needs in general and lends to a lower price point.  The processor seems to be a dual-core 1.2GHz TI product that will lend the device as much processing power as any comparable tablet on the market today.  Even the operating system, which at first glance would seem to be a slight disadvantage since it is based off of an older version of Android, is reported to have been optimized to the point of a smooth, seamless, and generally superior experience for the user.

Expect to be seeing the first of these tablets ship out in the second week of November, if reports are to be believed.  While it has not been announced for certain yet and will not be before the press conference, it is expected that pre-orders will be taken beginning almost immediately and that they will be priced well under $300.  Possibly as low as $250, with the potential for a great deal of promotional pack-ins for early adopters.  Keep an eye out for more details!