Kindle Touch Review

"The Kindle Touch is a fantastic product -- one that anyone, regardless of technological ability, can appreciate."

Amazon's Kindle Touch

I've admittedly dabbled in the e-reader waters before, and back then, I came away unenthusiastic. 

I bought an original Nook but it was largely left unused during its time with me. The concept was good, and due to its status as a newcomer to the ebook market, B&N was remarkably responsive to its user feedback in its frequent software updates. But despite a good experience, I wasn't convinced e-ink was for me. In retrospect, a large part of that was B&N's web interface, and also the Nook's small, secondary LCD. Regarding the LCD, many praised it for the color and ease of use, but in retrospect, having used the Kindle Touch, it tainted the reading experience in a very bothersome way. Obviously it was my fault to have gone with B&N's offering over Amazon's, but there was something about a traditional book seller fighting back against its market-usurping competitor that was too romantic and interesting to pass up. 

In the time since, the iPad and tablets have revamped the landscape, and having spent a large amount of time reading using the Kindle app on my iPad, I felt it was time to order a new dedicated device. In fact, I was ready to order the Kindle 3 several weeks prior to Amazon's press event, but rumors suggested change was imminent. Despite my eagerness, I waited, and I was pleasantly surprised by the Kindle Touch's introduction -- both by the hardware and the price.

The Experience

The Kindle Touch embodies much of what I would hope an e-reader to be. Amazon has removed the hardware that made an e-reader technical (e.g., buttons and a keyboard), and replaced all distractions with an intuitive and simplistic touch interface that is -- as odd as it is to say -- inherently book-like in its nature.

Reading on the Kindle Touch is like reading a physical book -- the words are unobstructed, and the package is uncomplicated. Page turns, in comparison to my old Nook, are extremely quick, and with Amazon's latest innovations in the space, the turns happen within the blink of an eye.

In short, the experience is unfettered by the Kindle's existence as a piece of technology, rather than lifeless paper. And that, my friends, is what makes the Kindle Touch a powerful device to behold. 

Forget iBooks' skeuomorphic page turn animation, here you tap the screen lightly, and the next page's words appear with minimal lag (thanks in part to new caching technology). In fact, I'd wager that turning a page on the Kindle Touch (and probably the latest Nook too) is faster than turning a paper page.

In terms of library, Amazon offers a huge amount of content, and with its expansions to include Kindle Singles, Blogs, Newspapers, and so on, the selection is better than it has ever been before. Furthermore, for Prime subscribers (such as myself), the Kindle Lending Library offers you what is ostensibly a free book per month (exclusive to Kindle hardware -- it is not compatible with Amazon's apps). B&N has nothing on that at the time of writing. And as for Kobo, Sony, and the like, the distance from both the Kindle and the Nook is painfully obvious.

From the moment you turn your Kindle on, the experience is seamless. In fact, from the moment you purchase your Kindle, the experience is seamless. You'll find that your details are already pre-filled and your hardware pre-registered to your Amazon account, any books you might be reading on any other Kindle software immediately begin to download (once there is a network connection), and upon opening a book, you're prompted to jump to your latest page. 

Essentially, the process is painless, and borderline enjoyable.

I had a brief urge to fill in my Amazon account details (à la iOS with my iTunes and Home Sharing details), but I was pleasantly surprised to find them sitting there, waiting for me in the Settings pane. Rather than having to visit the web interface to choose books for my Kindle, they were ready for me too.

The ease of use, coupled with the delightfully intuitive (and brief) instructions, make for a truly pleasant experience. I would go as far as to say that it is one of the most painless processes I have ever gone through with a technology purchase. And considering we're talking about a device marketed toward the broad consumer industry as a replacement for the venerable and inherently simple printed word, that's exactly what hardware manufacturers should be aiming for.

Hardware

In terms of specific details, the screen is depressed to such a degree that the threat of accidental touches is somewhat mitigated. Given the surprisingly sensitive touch screen, this is most welcome. The screen itself is similar to any other e-ink display you might've seen -- it displays words with great clarity, and is a joy to read from. There are only two buttons: one at the base, and one on the devices chin (yes those lines you see in press shots are, in fact, a button). Both are sturdy and resistive enough to avoid accidental pushes, contrary to what some might argue. The back is, to my surprise, pleasantly textured and very easy to hold.

Regarding the touch interface, it is intuitive, and easy to comprehend. Even the soft keyboard is a pleasure to use. I'd argue typing on the Kindle Touch demonstrates just how far e-ink has progressed in a relatively short period. While it's certainly not as fluid as typing on a touch screen phone or tablet, the keys are responsive and refresh very quickly indeed. 

At the end of the day, though, what really matters here is the displaying words of on a screen, and that is where the Kindle Touch excels. Thanks to the lightness of the hardware, and the lack of any obvious buttons, the experience is untainted and, most importantly, the hardware is easy to ignore. I have always found reading on an iPad distracting due to the backlight and bezel, but the Kindle Touch seems to have been engineered to avoid just that, and to provide a easily consuming experience. 

And that's really what it's all about.

Software

There is only so much to say about the Kindle's software that hasn't been said before. 

The Kindle software, beyond reading, offers a great deal of functionality. Obviously the most important area, the Kindle Store, makes it easy and intuitive to get hold of new literature. There's social media integration for sharing highlights and notes, which works just as you'd expect. Your Kindle has an email address so you can send content to it. You can subscribe to your Instapaper queue. You can play MP3s. You can browse the web if you really need to. Basically, it does everything you could ask of an e-reader. 

I honestly can't think of anything that I'd say it's truly lacking -- everything works just as I would've hoped.

X-Ray 

The exception to the otherwise familiar experience is X-Ray.

The best way for me to explain this is by example: I'm currently on page 310 of Walter Isaacson's Steve Jobs biography, at which point Jobs had just returned to Apple. So, if I open X-Ray -- which is available with two taps at any time while reading -- I am greeted with a window showing me the primary people on the page, where else they appear in the book, and how frequently they are mentioned. In this specific instance, Larry Ellison, Gil Amelio, and Alvy Ray Smith appear, with varying degrees of frequency listed beneath their names. If I choose to look at the chapter view, X-Ray shows me the people in the chapter, their locations throughout the rest of the book, and the number of recurring terms (e.g., companies, magazines, movies, and general repetitive phrases). If I look at the book view, it lists all people (240) and terms (307) in an easily navigated manner.

I'll put it this way: as a former English major, I'm sad I didn't have this functionality as a student. In a graphical sense, in an extraordinarily quick and accessible way, the reader is greeted with the recurring themes, characters, and items of a book, and shown their respective frequencies and locations throughout the book.

What happens when you tap on one of these items? Sticking with this chapter, I tapped on former President Bill Clinton. Upon tapping his name, X-Ray displays his Wikipedia summary, and then goes onto list the exact passages in which he is mentioned. 

I would guess that this feature may go unused or unexamined for many users, but for those who like to delve deeper into literature, or who are looking to write a character analysis, X-Ray is likely to be of great use.

To Conclude...

In case you can't tell, I'm thrilled with the Kindle Touch. It is a competent, stress-free piece of technology, one that I feel complements the other devices in my life.

Reading on an iPad is fine, but for long-form writing, the e-ink experience is the best option available. While I would like to support the underdog, the Nook, I am simply too involved in Amazon's ecosystem to look back now. Prime is a truly great service, and with its continually growing benefits, I can't see myself diluting my shopping habits purely for e-books. I wish B&N the best, and I admire their leg work, but for now, I'm definitely on board with Amazon's offering.

Overall, the Kindle Touch is a fantastic product -- one that anyone, regardless of technological ability, can appreciate. With its price and feature set, I can't help but feel that this may be the vessel that carries e-readers into true mainstream use, and that's certainly something Amazon can be proud of.