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The new Kindles: Which to choose?

Jason Snell | Sept. 30, 2011
Amazon’s Kindle product line, which expanded with three new models Wednesday, has come a long way since it was first introduced in 2007.

Amazon’s Kindle product line, which expanded with three new models Wednesday, has come a long way since it was first introduced in 2007.

That original $399 Kindle had a poor design–I bought one and returned it after a couple of weeks. The $359 Kindle 2 introduced in 2009 was better—a lot better—and I bought one and kept it. The 2010 model continued the trend of a rapidly declining price ($189 for a Wi-Fi and 3G version, $139 for a Wi-Fi-only model) and rapidly improving hardware design. (Let’s not speak of the enormous and expensive Kindle DX, please.)

For the fourth generation of Kindle, Amazon’s fragmented the Kindle product line even further. There’s the fourth-generation Kindle itself, the new Kindle Touch, and of course the full-color Kindle Fire. If you’re in the market for an ebook reader, choosing among Kindle options has never been more confusing.

The namesake

Let’s start with the Kindle’s namesake. Like previous Kindles, it’s powered by a grayscale E-Ink screen that looks great in sunlight and requires lighting at night. This little guy is the cheapest Kindle yet, but the trade-off is that it’s got no touchscreen. As with previous-generation Kindles, you move forward and back through the pages of your book via buttons on the left and right side of the device. Four other buttons and a directional square sit just below the screen, and you presumably use these buttons to navigate through the rest of the Kindle interface. Since the keyboard of old Kindles has vanished, you’ll need to do any typing through the laborious use of a “ouija board” keyboard, guided by the directional square.

If that sounds painful, well, yeah, it’s painful. But I’d wager that most Kindle users do very little work with the keyboard, which is why I’m excited that Amazon decided to dump it. I will occasionally highlight a passage and leave a note, but it’s rare. I basically only use the keyboard to enter in wi-fi passwords, and I can manage that from the ouija board.

If you do type a lot on your Kindle, the new fourth-generation Kindle isn’t for you. (The fourth-generation Kindle only supports Wi-Fi networking, so if you’re a big traveler who is often without nearby Wi-Fi, it’s also not for you.) But starting at $79, I suspect, will make it the right Kindle for a whole lot of people who are curious about the ebook thing.

The whole “starting at $79” complication to the product is because of a new wrinkle to Amazon’s price structure, added earlier this year: the ad-supported “Kindle with Special Offers” approach. In exchange a discount on the Kindle hardware, your Kindle displays ads when it’s turned off, as well as a small ad tile on its home screen. (Relax—there are no ads in the books themselves.)


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