The Kindle (cheap)
This is not the old Kindle, it’s the new Kindle. But it’s just called the Kindle. Don’t be confused. This is your base model, but it’s 30 per cent lighter than the previous generation, and it’s 18 per cent smaller even though the screen is the same 6-inch size. It’s only $US79 if you don’t mind having ads on your ebook reader. If you want to go ad-free it’ll run you $US109. The biggest downside to this model is that there’s no keyboard anymore, so when you have to input text you have to deal with scrolling through a slow, awkward onscreen keyboard.
The Kindle Touch
This is the first major departure for the Kindle line (though, not the majorest, ultimately). It does away with almost all of the buttons — none for turning pages, and no keys for entering text. Instead, you get an IR touchscreen. Good news, the touchscreen looked very responsive, and the onscreen keyboard seemed to work just fine. It’s $US99 bucks with the aforementioned ads, or $US139 to damn the man. The coolest part of this one is its X-Ray feature (check out some video of it here), which gives you a bunch of contextual information about the book you’re reading. It’s actually pretty genius.
The Kindle Touch 3G
It’s the Kindle Touch. But with 3G. This means you can download stuff without a Wi-Fi connection. It’ll cost you 50 bucks more for the privilege ($US149 with ads, and $US189 without). On the plus side, it is unlimited, contract-free, international 3G, but in my opinion, it’s probably not worth it. Maaaybe if you plan on using your Kindle for reading a lot of short things, but if you’re primarily downloading full books, those take a while to read, so you can probably just stock up when you have Wi-Fi.
The Kindle Keyboard
This is the old Kindle, but with a new name, and a lower price. They Kindle Keyboard has… a keyboard. It’s definitely handy if you plan on doing a lot of searching and typing, but if you’re going to be doing more reading than typing, you probably don’t need it. It’s $US99 with “Special Offers” and $US139 without. It’s bigger, heavier and slower than the new basic Kindle, and it costs $US20 more. Unless you’re going to do a ton of typing, don’t bother. There’s also a 3G version available for $US139 with ads, or $US189 without. The subsection of humanity that should buy this is minuscule.
The Kindle Fire
Well, hi there, new hotness. Obviously, this is the biggest departure for the traditional Kindle line. That’s because it’s not just an ebook reader, it’s a full-fledged tablet. There are pros and cons with that. On the pro side, you can do way more with it. Full web, email, Android apps (including some very nice games), video, the whole shibang. It’s still small and light, but it’s got a Gorilla Glass front, pretty good resolution, and a wide viewing angle. Oh, and it’s only $US199. No ads, no caveats. It’s fast and very sweet-looking, and yes, of course you can read your ebooks, too. On the con side, it’s only available in the US at this point in time, and it’s not e-ink anymore, so that sensational battery life is gone. They say you’ll get seven to eight hours of screen-on time, which ain’t bad, but it doesn’t come close to e-ink (think weeks). It’s not as easy on the eyes, either (though you can read in the dark). It’s built on top of Android 2.3, but it’s basically unrecognisable. It doesn’t have Android Market, or a lot of other Google goodness, but it’s got a fast and (much more) intuitive interface. Easily the best $US200 tablet we’ve ever seen.
Look, there are two categories here: there’s the five e-ink e-book readers, and there’s the one tablet. Of the e-ink, e-book readers our pick is… The $US99 Kindle Touch. Wi-Fi only, with “Special Offers”. Here’s why. Entering text and selecting words is just much easier. It’s nice and clean-looking. The X-Ray feature is awesome. It’s like a dictionary, encyclopaedia and Cliff’s Notes wrapped into a preloaded package (it downloads with the book, so you don’t need connectivity to see ’em). And guess what, though we talked a lot about the ads, the “Special Offers” are essentially a screensaver and only display when you aren’t reading. They’re incredibly unobtrusive, and who knows, you might even find a local deal. At $US99 it’s an awesome deal.
As far as the tablet goes, the Kindle Fire looks awesome. For $US199 it’s the highest-end device for the least amount of money we’ve seen (it’s the same hardware as the $US500 BlackBerry Playbook). You won’t get the full “Google Experience”, but this tablet isn’t for someone looking to replace a laptop. This device is for consuming media, and its interface is vastly more intuitive than Honeycomb’s. If you want a cheap but still very good tablet that isn’t an iPad, it’s looking like this is your baby. When HP’s TouchPad dropped to 100 bucks, it flew off the shelves, and it really didn’t even work that well. For just $US200 you’re getting something that’s alive, good and fast. If you’re wondering if you should be excited, the answer is yes, we think you should.
So now you have our preliminary, pre-review recommendations. It just comes down to do you want an ebook reader or a tablet? But really, you could get both of them and it would still cost a whole lot less than an iPad. You can pre-order these now at Amazon if you’re in the US, though the new ones won’t ship until November 15. Which Kindle (if any) will you take? Let us know in the comments.