Review: Kindle Touch

Review: Kindle Touch

When Amazon first announced the Kindle Touch line of readers I was pretty indifferent about it.  I mean they looked nice, but I was perfectly happy with my Kindle 3 (now the Kindle Keyboard) and my older eInk devices (Kindle 2, Cybook Opus & Sony PRS-505) and saw no real need for anything else.  So I didn’t need a Kindle Touch by any stretch of the imagination, but need seldom comes into play when it comes to gadgets for me.

I opted for the $99 Kindle Touch WiFi with Special Offers.  Since you can now pay the difference ($40) and get the ads removed I figured there was little to lose by getting the special offer version and some of the previous offers folks have received seemed to be pretty good.  For what it’s worth I’ll be keeping the ads as I don’t care what my “screen saver” looks like (I don’t really look at the device when not reading) and the banner on the home screen is quite unobtrusive.

 

What You Get:

The Kindle Touch comes packaged in a very minimalist cardboard box that contains the device itself, a very short getting started card and a USB cable.  Amazon went cheap and eliminated the power adapter that came with previous versions (in the US anyway) of the Kindle from the package.  You can charge via USB or order Amazon’s power adapter for $10 (this is the same adapter the K2 and K3 came with).  I also tried charging with my iGo charger and had no problems.

 

Hardware:

The Kindle Touch itself is fairly minimalist in design, gone are the days of a hardware keyboard, 5-way controllers and page turn buttons.  There are no buttons on the device at all except for the Home button (looks like a speaker grill) on the front and a power button on the bottom edge.  Other than that you have a micro USB port and headphone jack next to the power button and a pair of speakers on the back.  The device housing, like all other Kindles, is plastic and has a nice feel in-hand.  The back is smooth and slightly rubberized and I find the device to be quite comfortable to hold.

The display is the same Pearl eInk screen used by the majority of eInk based readers now.  The screen on my Kindle 3 has a very slightly lighter background to it, but I think it’s manufacturing variances as two other K3′s I compared the Touch too looked to be exactly the same as the Touch’s screen.  Either way the Touch has the contrast folks have come to expect from Pearl screens.

The big difference between the Touch and previous Kindles is of course the touch screen.  Like readers from Sony, B&N and Kobo the Kindle Touch uses an infrared touchscreen which allows the screen to appear the same as non-touch devices (no extra touch layer causing glare).  The bezel edge around the screen is slightly raised to accommodate the touch sensors (like other IR touch devices).  I found the touch screen to be nicely responsive (not quite as responsive as a capacitive LCD as found on modern smart phones) and had no problems using it to turn pages or access menus on the device.

Of course one thing missing from this edition of the Kindle is the physical keyboard, which I found I don’t miss at all.  Now I don’t type much on the Kindle by any means, so I might not be the best judge, but while the hardware keyboards always worked fine for me I found I was able to type faster and with more accuracy on the Touch’s onscreen keyboard.

 

Technical Details:

Screen:
6” E Ink Pearl screen with infrared multi-touch interface, optimized with proprietary waveform and font technology. 600 x 800 pixel resolution at 167 ppi and 16 levels of grayscale.

Size/Weight:
6.8” x 4.7” x 0.40” (172mm x 120mm x 10.1mm)
7.5 ounces (213 grams) for WiFi, 7.8 ounces (220 grams) for WiFi + 3G

Storage:
4GB internal storage (approx 3GB available for user content), no storage card slot.  Free cloud storage for all Amazon content.

Battery Life:
Battery lasts up to two months with wireless turned off, up to 6 weeks with wireless always on depending on usage.

Wireless:
Supports public and private 802.11b/g/n WiFi networks and hotspots with support for WEP, WPA and WPA2 security using password authentication.  Does not support WPA or WPA2 using 802.xx authentication methods or connection to ad-hoc (or peer-to-peer) WiFi networks.

WiFi+3G models also have an HSDPA modem (3G) with EDGE/GPRS fallback; wireless coverage provided by AT&T in the US and through partner networks outside the US.

Ports:
USB micro connector (USB cable included, power adapter sold separately), 3.5mm stereo audio jack, rear mounted speakers.

Content Formats:
Kindle (AZW), TXT, PDF, Audible, Audible Enhanced, MP3, unprotected MOBI/PRC; HTML, DOC, DOCX, JPEG, GIF, PNG and BMP through conversion.

 

Software:

The overall look of the Kindle Touch’s interface will be very familiar to users of previous generations of Kindle’s.  The Home Screen lists your books and/or collections in the same way as other Kindles with one change, collections are now sorted alphabetically instead of by last read as they are on the Kindle 2, 3 and DX.  I still wish Amazon would let users have options in how their collections are sorted, but they didn’t ask me.  The Home Screen also has a back arrow, store button, search box and menu icon across the top of the page.  Changing pages on the home screen is accomplished by swiping back and forth on the screen.

One place the touch screen shines is when interfacing with the Home Screen and with menus.  It’s no longer necessary to use the 5-way controller earlier Kindles had to make selections and navigate in general.  Now all one has to do is tap a collection or book to open it or tap and hold to bring up a menu giving you various options.  It’s much more intuitive and navigation feels much faster.

Reading a book looks much the same as it does on earlier Kindle’s with a few exceptions.  The progress bar is gone and all we are left with is the current location number in the lower left corner and the percentage read in the lower right.  Right now I’m unsure how I feel about the progress bars demise.  While the screen has a nice clean look I had gotten accustomed to seeing the bar and more importantly the little marks that indicated each chapter in a properly formatted Kindle book.  I’d often find myself planning my stopping point for the night by seeing how much was left of the chapter.  That said, in actual use I haven’t overly missed the chapter marks at this point and even though they’re unseen you can still use them to skip forward and back by swiping up and down on the screen.

Amazon has designed the touch screen with zones.  Tapping at the top of any page will bring up the same menu bar as the Home Screen at the top of the page and options to change font size/face/spacing, Go To and X-Ray or Sync (if the book doesn’t have x-ray) at the bottom.  Tapping on the left maybe 1/5th of the screen will go to the previous page and tapping on the other 4/5th’s of the screen will page forward.  Amazon’s reasoning is people will be going forward more than back and at least for me the design works great.  The forward zone extends over enough that I can tap to turn pages while holding the device in either hand with ease.  You can also swipe forward and back to turn pages if that is your preference.  I was glad to see that tapping as well as swiping works for page turns and I’ve tried different Sony devices and found I don’t really care for swiping to turn when reading for long periods, tapping however isn’t all that different than using a physical button.

Since this is a multi-touch interface you can also change font sizes by pinching or expanding you fingers on the screen (much like zooming in/out on smart phones/tablets) if you don’t want to delve into the menu’s to do it when reading.

While reading you can look-up a words definition by simply tapping and holding on the word, this is much less cumbersome than using the older Kindle’s 5-way controller.  Tapping and then dragging right after a word is highlighted will allow you to select passages which you can then highlight, add notes or share via social networks Facebook and Twitter.

X-Ray is a new development for the Touch which allows users to see the “bones of the book”.  When you use x-ray, if available for your book, you can see a time-line illustration that shows where fictional characters, ideas, historical figures, places and topics are mentioned on the current page, current chapter or the entire book.  Tapping on one of these entries will bring up a details page with a description/detail and also a list of excerpts from each page containing the selected character/item/etc., more detailed info can be had through links to Wikipedia or Shelfari.  At this stage I find x-ray interesting, but I’m unsure if it’s something I’d ever really use.

The Kindle Touch will also read PDFs, kind of.  Similar to the Sony’s you can pinch to zoom your document although it’s kind of cumbersome with the pages taking multiple seconds and flashes to actually appear zoomed.  Once the page is zoomed in swiping allows you to pan across the page and swiping far enough will change the page.  The next page will appear at it’s normal size and you can then zoom in again if desired.  I’ve yet to find a 6” eInk device that’s actually pleasant to read PDF’s on unless they’re formatted to the size of the screen and while I know some folks appear to like the way the Touch handles PDFs I find I preferred reading them on the Kindle 3 for one simple reason.

The Touch has done away with landscape mode as an option for reading and I found this the best way to read PDFs on the few occasions I tried.  Landscape viewing is also out for regular AZW/Mobi books as well which is something a few folks I’ve talked to that use really large fonts were disappointed to hear.  I don’t know if the problem has to do with the touch zones needing to reconfigure for landscape mode or what, but it’s too bad Amazon didn’t include the option for folks who like to use it.  I very seldom used it so it’s not a huge loss for me.

 

The Store:

I found going through the Kindle store on the device a much more pleasant experience than using the 5-way on the older devices.  Touch is a welcome feature here, although if I had to guess I’d say I’ll still to most of my purchasing of Kindle books by using Amazon.com and not by using the on device store.

 

Experimental:

The experimental features like the web browser, MP3 player and Text-to-Speech are all still there in this version of the Kindle.

I found the browser much nicer to use, although it’s still not a great experience and I doubt it ever will be with eInk’s refresh rates.  I was easily able to connect to my DropBox and download a few Mobi files to the device (PDF’s can’t be downloaded via the browser) and it was much quicker than doing it on my K3.  One note for folks used to using the Kindle’s free 3G to access their email, surf the web or download from DropBox.  That can’t be done with the 3G version of the Touch (which is why I went WiFi only this go around), the only thing you can use the 3G for is to access the Kindle store to buy and download books (and download from your archives).

The MP3 player is very basic.  It shows the current track and has skip forward and back arrows, volume, play/pause and an off button.  Once playing music will continue to play while you do other things, like reading, until you turn it off.  While the speakers aren’t the worst I’ve heard on a small device, headphones will give a much better experience.

Text-to-Speech is most easily accessed from the menu while in your book of choice.  Of course it only works on DRM-free books and on DRM’d books where publishers allow it to be used.  It acts/sound much the same as in previous Kindles to the best of my recollection.  It’s not a replacement for audio books by any means, but I know it’s quite useful for certain users, such as those with vision problems.  You can control the gender of the voice used and also control the voices speed, but it will always lack inflection and sound somewhat robotic.

 

Conclusions:

So is the Touch a game changer in the world of dedicated readers?  Nope, not really.  If I already had a touchscreen device from Sony, B&N or Kobo I probably wouldn’t drop them for the Kindle Touch unless there’s a specific feature you want and I wouldn’t dump a Kindle 3 for it unless you want the touch functionality.  That said the Kindle Touch is a solid new entry and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it, I know I’m quite happy with mine.

The Kindle Touch can be had (in the US only for now) in four versions.  $99 gets you the WiFi only version with special offers or you can get the same device without ads for $139.  For $149 you get WiFi + 3G with special offers or get the 3G version without ads for $189. Also remember you can remove the ads on the special offers models by paying the subsidy discount of $40.  You can also opt-in to the ads if you want to on a non-special offer Touch, K3 or K4 (and opt-out whenever you want).