We've more or less accepted ereaders as the best way to read a book digitally, but there's still a whole lot that gadgets can do that ereaders suck at -- literally anything you own with a screen is better at this stuff than an ereader. The Kindle Touch is the first to really bridge that gap in a way that makes sense.
Giz AU Editor's Note: The Kindle Touch isn't yet available in Australia, and Amazon isn't shipping it here (yet).
What Is It?
An ebook reader with an IR touchscreen that lets you read, buy, search and skim books.
Who's it For?
Anyone who wants to do more with their ereader than just read words on a non-backlit screen.
The Kindle Touch is beautiful, a lot like the already-released non-touch Kindle. The difference is it's a little taller, a little wider, a little thicker and a lot heavier. The Kindle Touch also uses the same matte plastic as the non-touch Kindle, instead of the more durable, rubberised material of the Nook Simple Touch.
Actually reading words on an e-ink page is a lot unchanged with the Kindle Touch. You tap (or swipe) to turn the page, and with the oversized page forward area, you can basically read one-handed with either hand. The bezel's a little undersized compared to the Nook Simple Touch, and I found myself using my off hand to turn the page much more often than usual. That's not really a terrible thing, though -- it extends the physical metaphor of a book in a way that makes sense and feels natural. And it's nowhere near the button fiasco of this generation's non-touch Kindle. And of course it's got the two-month battery life (with all its wireless settings off) that you expect from an ereader at this point.
Where the Kindle Touch starts to seem like something new is when you get into all of the peripheral stuff to do with reading. Looking up a word in the dictionary is just holding your finger over it and giving it a long press. Without even having to press a "Look Up" button from there, the definition just pops up with options to get more information, add a note or highlight; and it fades away by tapping anywhere else. And the new search and X-Ray features are really impressive. X-Ray -- a skimmer's paradise feature that shows you the "important" words and phrases on a page, in a chapter or in a whole book -- works well, but it did spit out results for the wrong chapter a few times.
The touch features feel deliberately different from the way they're implemented in the Nook Simple Touch. Barnes and Noble's theme seemed to be getting out of your way, for the most part. You could do a lot of the same things as the Kindle Touch -- shopping especially is extremely easy and intuitive -- but there's a conscious decision to not overload the user. The Kindle Touch is totally in your face. It seems to be saying, "Hey, did you know you can do this? It's super easy!" "Why not try this cool thing over here?" Little features like swiping up and down to scroll through chapters, using pinch-and-spread gestures to change font size, or tapping the upper right corner to add a bookmark make this feel like a more complete implementation of touch.
The Best Part
Ostensibly, you've been able to use a Kindle to do more than read books for a while, with a web browser and access to the Amazon store -- but come on. Using the it for anything other than reading was like digging into the buffet at a dingy strip joint. Sure, you could have done it, but it was probably faster and easier to just fo to your computer -- or even your phone -- and do what you had to do from there. Now, though, it's basically a little portal to do basically anything that has to do with a book: shopping, borrowing, research, reference, skimming, note taking. You don't have to supplement the Kindle Touch for anything-related.
Holding the Kindle Touch doesn't feel quite right. It's not that it's absurdly heavy; it's only fractions of an ounce heavier than the Nook Simple Touch. The bezel isn't especially tiny, either. It's fine. I guess. But the Kindle's sleek design isn't as hand-friendly as the Nook Simple Touch, with its large bezel and indented back panel. And it's not as microscopically portable as the non-touch Kindle, either. So while it doesn't feel terrible, those particular features of those two products made them stand out, and the Kindle Touch is pretty unremarkable in comparison.
This Is Weird...
There's some inconsistency with how you interact with the interface. Turning pages is mostly done by tapping. You can swipe, but it's not necessary, and if you happen to swipe at a vertical enough angle, you'll shoot off to another chapter and have to page your way back. But in the menu, store and browser, you swipe to navigate. It can be a little disorienting to realise you've got to change the way you're interacting with the product—especially for all the mums and dads who are going to be unwrapping one of these this year.
• The text shadowing and degradation that affects the Nook Simple Touch and non-touch Kindle is still an issue, but you now have an option to "flash" on every page turn. This will slow down page turning, but ensure that you've got the prettiest screen possible at all times.
• There's a bit of lag to using the IR touchscreen, which is to be expected, but it defeats the point of the no-flash paging.
• Rapid page turning is surprisingly quick, though.
Should You Buy It?
Yes, if you're going to buy an ebook reader, it should probably be the Kindle Touch. You can make a case for the non-touch Kindle if pure portability is all your care about, and the same goes for the Nook Simple Touch with hand comfort. But the Kindle Touch feels more complete than either of those. Like, you can just buy one and say, "OK, I'm good on books." That's worth something.
Kindle Touch Specs
Price: $US99 for Special Offers Wi-Fi only; $US139 Wi-Fi only without Special Offers; $US149 3G with Special Offers; $US189 3G without Special Offers
Content Formats Supported: Kindle (AZW), TXT, PDF, Audible (Audible Enhanced [AA, AAX]), MP3, unprotected MOBI, PRC natively; HTML, DOC, DOCX, JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP through conversion.
Wi-Fi Only: Size: 6.5 x 4.5 x 0.34 inches Weight: 170g Storage: 2GB
3G: Size: 6.8 x 4.7 x 0.40 Weight: 213g Storage: 4GB Network: HSDPA/EDGE/GPRS