Apparently this is going to be the week of reviews. Today I'll be sharing my opinions on the 4th generation Kindle. If you're looking for a detailed comparison of different e-reader models, I can't recommend Marco Arment's post on the topic highly enough. The model he refers to as the Kindle 4 is the only e-reader I've ever owned (unless you count the iPad 2) so it'll be the only topic of this post. Before getting a Kindle I honestly did very little reading. I haven't kept track, but you could probably count the number of books I read beginning to end during all of high school and college on your fingers. Yes, that includes books assigned to me. Sorry, high school English teachers. The main reason? I really just hate books. Physical books. Dead trees strapped together and covered in ink. As far as I'm concerned, they're an entirely outdated, uncomfortable, inefficient method of holding and acquiring information, and I can't believe it's taken us this long to even start replacing them.
Since getting my Kindle about a month ago, I've read as many books as I think I read in the year prior. I won't dwell on the details of the e-ink screen, as everyone understands by now it's very clear, reads like print, and uses almost no energy. If anything, my only gripe is that in the newer models of the Kindle the screen only does a full refresh about every five page turns. What this means is that for four page turns in a row, the clarity of the page gets a little bit worse each time. It's not terrible, but every once in a while I do notice that the letters are not as crisp and the background sometimes has "ghosting" of the letters from the previous page. On the other hand, using this method means that page turns are faster 80% of the time. It would be nice if there was an option for force a full refresh on every page turn, but without comparing both options it's hard to know how much of a benefit it would really be.
The main differentiating factor of this Kindle model that's worth talking about is the lack of a keyboard. The first three generations of Kindles had physical keyboards below the screen, and the Kindle Touch has an on-screen touch keyboard, but on the Kindle 4 typing requires navigating an onscreen keyboard using the 4-way directional buttons. Obviously, this is slower and less ideal than using a physical or touchscreen keyboard, but as any Kindle owner can probably attest to, there's very little typing to be done. I put in my wifi password and my Amazon.com login information the day I got the Kindle, and since then I don't think I've had to type anything at all. I make my purchases on Amazon's website from my computer or even my iPhone and the new books show up almost instantly on my device.
One of the most important features on any e-reader, of course, are the page turning controls, considering that they make up such a huge percentage of the interactions you'll have with the device. Unfortunately, the buttons on the Kindle are a bit disappointing. I tend to do a lot of reading while lying on my side in bed, holding the Kindle in one hand (side note: trying to do this with a physical book is probably the most awkward and uncomfortable experience you can have in a bed alone). Because of the way the buttons wrap around the edge of the Kindle, you can't simply press them down, you sort of have to press them inwards at an angle. It's a bit tough to describe without trying it yourself, but suffice to say it's not the easiest thing, and I find myself having to adjust my grip simply so that I can press the next page button reliably. It's not a huge pain, but it definitely could have been improved.
As we approach nitpicking territory, I have to point out that the power button and charging port are located on the bottom edge of the Kindle. This means that if you're reading while charging, the power cable sticks out of the bottom and can get in your way (although this positioning is actually helpful in the case of reading on your side as I described earlier). Similarly, if you rest the Kindle on it's bottom edge, you run the risk of pressing the power button. It hasn't happened to me yet, but it still seems like a strange place to put these items. Lastly, I have only two criticisms of the Kindle's menus and interface. The first is that when scrolling up and down through a tall menu, you can't skip directly from the top item to the bottom item by pressing up. To me, it's very normal to expect that pressing up while you're at the top will move to the bottom and vice versa, but for some reason this is not possible on the Kindle. Similarly, on a menu which spans more than one screen (specifically the Settings screen), you have to press the Next Page/Previous Page buttons to see more options. Because I'm in the habit of navigating menus using the 4-way directional buttons, I was briefly stumped as to why pressing down or right didn't take me to the next settings screen after I reached the bottom of the first. Again, these are very minor criticisms, but hopefully things Amazon can rectify in a software update.
Of course, you can't discuss the Kindle without discussing Amazon's ecosystem supporting it. There are other articles out there which compare the size and selection of ebooks available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, and others, but the simple way of putting it is that if a book is availble digitally, it's almost definitely at least available on Kindle. In addition, the Kindle Owner Lending Library is a very nice option, available for free to Amazon Prime members. It allows you to borrow one book per month, with no "due" date. The selection is tiny compared to the number of books available for sale, but Amazon seems committed to growing it as a benefit for Prime members.
All in all, the Kindle is a great device. It's the size of a paperback but a fraction of the thickness and weight. Starting at only $79, it's easy even for someone like me who doens't typically do much reading to decide it's worth getting. The Kindle doesn't replace any other computing device I own, and no other device I reasonably expect to buy in the next year will replace it. I wholeheartedy recommend it as either an upgrade to an older e-reader or as a new gadget to add to your collection.