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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.

It sounds kind of chintzy, embedding ads in a product like this. And that’s why Amazon will let you pay $109 for a fourth-generation Kindle without Special Offers. However, I’ve talked to some people with the Special Offers Kindle who say that the ads are more of a feature than a liability. I’ve heard of good deals on Amazon merchandise, and even gift-card deals such as $20 Amazon credit for $10. If you have a stomach for a little marketing and enjoy getting deals on goods, the Special Offers Kindle might be an even better deal than it appears to be.

(And honestly, since Amazon doesn’t let you swap in your own images for its custom screen saver, all you’re doing is seeing ads instead of old woodcut illustrations of dead authors. I’d think more carefully about the Kindle with Special Offers if I was replacing pictures of my kids with ads.)

The touchscreen

The upgraded version of the “classic” Kindle design is the Kindle Touch, which starts at $99. It’s an e-ink-based device as well, very much like the fourth-generation Kindle but without all of those buttons. Instead, it’s the first e-ink Kindle to be driven by a touchscreen. (Kindle’s archenemy, Barnes and Noble’s Nook, got a touchscreen in May.)

To turn pages with the Kindle Touch, you just touch the screen. The bulk of the screen turns the page forward; a narrow strip on the left side turns it backward, and a tap at the very top brings up a toolbar. If you need to type, you bring up a software keyboard and tap on the keys as you would on an iPhone or iPad.

It all sounds quite civilized, and I’d expect that the Kindle Touch will eventually spell the death of the classic buttony Kindle. But if you don’t do a lot of text entry on your Kindle, I’m not sure just how crucial that touch interface is to the enjoyment of books. Clicking the next button works pretty well. I don’t have to move my finger to tap on the screen (and get my finger grease on that screen).

I admit that in the long run using a square of directional buttons to navigate around will feel about as modern as stone knives and bear skins. Yet I find myself wondering if I might actually prefer the fourth-generation Kindle to the touchscreen model—it’s a bit smaller and lighter than the Kindle Touch. I guess I’ll have to try the Kindle Touch’s touchscreen out to see just how it works in real life.

The pricing of the Kindle Touch is more complicated than the fourth-generation model, because it comes in both Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi/3G versions, with and without Special Offers. The Wi-Fi-only version will cost $99 with Special Offers or $139 without; the Wi-Fi/3G version (which offers 3G cellular-data connectivity to the Internet without any data charges, ever—still a pretty good deal) costs $149 with Special Offers, $189 without.


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