The latest Amazon Kindle electronic reading device is, in some ways, a game changer. It is an evolution of the product that brought eBooks to the masses, but it's also the first major eReader to come in well under the magic $100 price point. Two versions are available, one with special offers for $79 (ads in the form of a screen saver) and one without for $109, both prices at launch. The models feature a 6-inch eInk display, 2GB of storage, Wi-Fi connectivity, and up to a month of battery life in a device small enough to tuck into a purse or even a large coat pocket.
BUILD & DESIGN
The newest Amazon Kindle is a radical departure from the previous generation devices, as it has abandoned the physical keyboard in favor of an even smaller and lighter design. Measuring just 6.5-inches long and 4.5-inches wide, the new Kindle is significantly shorter than the last model and slightly narrower. By comparison, it is almost the same size as the latest generation touchscreen NOOK, though a bit narrower and thinner.
The front of the device is dominated by the 6-inch E Ink Pearl display, with the five-way navigator centered below the screen and two buttons on each side. The back and keyboard buttons are on the left, and the menu and home buttons are on the right.
The page forward and back buttons are on both sides of the reader, on each side. At first they seemed rather "loose" and too easy to activate by accident, but those fears proved unfounded. They require a light touch, but work well. Whether you hold it in your right hand or your left, the page turning buttons are perfectly situated. And the corners are rounded just enough that they don't dig into your palm.
There are no other buttons or controls except for the charge/sync port on the bottom edge, next to the power button. The power button is no longer a slider as found on what Amazon now dubs the Kindle Keyboard model. Now, you simply press it to turn the device on or off. A small LED light briefly turns green when you do so, and it also serves as an indicator light when charging the battery.
The Kindle is solidly built and very sturdy. The exterior case is tight, with no flexing or creaking of any kind. All of the seams are smooth, with no gaps or rough spots or any indication that this is anything other than a well-constructed device. The back of the case is slightly textured to improve grip, though it still feels just a bit slippery if held at too steep of an angle.
One of the most remarkable things about it is just how light this new Kindle is; it weighs in at a fraction less than six ounces. The Kindle Keyboard is a heavyweight by comparison, at 8.7 ounces for the 3G version. The difference is quite noticeable, making the new Kindle even more comfortable to use for long periods. You truly can get lost in a book without experiencing any hand or wrist fatigue, even during a marathon session. And after feeling that weight difference, it may be hard to go back to the older model because those two and a half ounces do make a substantial difference in your reading comfort.
Screen and Speakers
The 6-inch E Ink Pearl display is simply a marvel, and looks even better than the one on the Kindle Keyboard model. Though Amazon didn't announce any major screen upgrade on this model, there's a definite improvement when compared to the last generation device. Text is somewhat crisper, with enhanced contrast. Photos look better than ever, and even the sponsored screensavers look better.
One of the main advantages of eInk displays is their readability under virtually all lighting conditions, and that's true here as well. I experienced virtually no glare at all, and of course, it's terrific outdoors in the blazing sunlight.
The major limitation of eInk screens is that they aren't backlit. That's great if you're concerned about eyestrain and always want to read in well-lit conditions, but that isn't so great if you're the sort who likes to read in bed at night. The bezel around the screen is quite narrow, so most clip-on lights will obscure part of the screen.
There's no hinge attachment system like there was on the last Kindle either, so the SimpleLight reviewed in the cheap Kindle accessories article won't work. Amazon will soon offer a lighted leather cover that attaches to the two small square points on the bottom center edge of the back cover, but at $59.99 it's almost as much as the device itself.
There are no speakers on the new Kindle, which means it does not have the text-to-speech capability that can read a book to you, it doesn't support playback of Audible books, and there's no way to play your own music while you're reading either.
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