The Amazon Kindle Family

Knowing which device is which in the current Amazon Kindle lineup takes a little thought.  There are five breeds, with variations within breeds depending on whether you choose with special offers (ads on the home screen, not in-your-face, but ads all the same) or 3G connectivity (unless your away from WiFi hotspots a lot, you don’t need this).  Further complicating things the special offers option is not available on all breeds and neither is the 3G connectivity.  The breeds are:

The Kindle

Kindle Basic
The Kindle

“The Kindle,” also called the Kindle 4th generation, the “basic” entry level Kindle.  It sells for $79 with special offers, and $109 without special offers.  3G connectivity is not available on this model.  This model does not have a keyboard, so if you want to type something, e.g., to register the device, to annotate a passage, to use the “experimental” browser, etc., you have to select the letters from an alphnumeric grid using the five way controller bottom center front.  The four arrow keys surrounding the central Enter button move the on-screen cursor.  The display is 6″ eInk pearl, which looks really good.  If black and white reading is what you want to do, you don’t need anything else.  Text clarity is exceptional.  There are next and previous buttons flush with both sides of the case, and Home and Menu buttons to the right of the five-way controller, Back and Keyboard keys (i.e., to bring up the onscreen keyboard) to its left.

Since the device uses an eInk display, the only power it consumes is when it paints a new screen, which occurs quickly and invloves displaying a brief inverse video flicker.  Consequently the battery life is excellent (a month or more–most when WiFi is turned off).

Storage capacity is 2GB, 1.25 for user content, with unlimited cloud storage for Amazon content.  Amazon says this amount of storage is equivalent to 1400 books.

The device charges via its USB cable (standard USB on one end, micro-B on the other).  A power adapter for connection to a wall outlet is sold separately.

It weighs in at 5.98 ounces, exceptionally light and easy to handle.

If you like hardware buttons for page turning this is your model.  Typing using the 5-way controller is a drag, but if you are not planning on much typing it’s not a hindrance.  The “special offers” are really low key and non-disruptive, so you might as well save $30 and go with the $79 version.

The Kindle Touch

Kindle Touch
Kindle Touch

The Kindle Touch sells for $99 with special offers, $139 without, $149 with special offers and 3G connectivity, $189 without special offers and with 3G connectivity.  That’s four sub-breeds by my count, but Amazon markets calls this one Kindle Touch if it does not have 3G connectivity (with or without ads) and Kindle Touch 3G if it does have 3G connectivity (ads or without), so two breeds with two sub-breeds each.

The Touch jetisons all the hardware buttons except for a bottom center home button.  Page turning proceeds via keyboard taps or swipes.  Typing is done on an onscreen QWERTY keyboard complete with shift and backspace keys.  Page turns are smoother with the Touch, and display less inverse video flicker, but the difference between the Touch and the basic Kindle in this respect is slight.  There are no page turning hardware buttons or other buttons of any sort except for an on-off button.  There is a 3.5mm stereo audio port, however, for earphones and this device supports text-to-speech and mp3 music files.

You get 4GB of storage (about 3GB for user content storage), which Amazon says is equivalent to about 3000 books.

As with the Kindle, you get a micro-B USB charging/sideloading cable but no power adapter.  Amazon claims 2 months of battery life on a single charge if WiFi is kept off, 3 weeks if WiFi is continuously on.

It weighs 7.8 ounces, only slightly larger and heavier than the basic Kindle.

The eInk display is, as with all the pearl eInk displays Amazon markets, outstanding.  Text is clear and crisp.

Touch sensitivity is not as good as on higher priced devices, like the Kindle Fire or (very noticeably) the Apple iPad, but of course the cost is much less.

It seems to me the decision point between the Touch and the basic Kindle is whether you want to control your device via hardware buttons or onscreen touches–which works well enough.  If you plan to annotate works to any extent you will want the Touch, because operating an on-screen keyboard with the basic Kindle’s five-way controller is much too awkward and slow.

The Kindle Keyboard 

Kindle Keyboard
Kindle Keyboard

The Kindle keyboard is the classic 3rd generation Kindle, with the physical keyboard occupying a large chunk of real-estate on the bottom of the device.  The rounded chicklet keys are annoyingly small and too closely inset to close to the surface of the device to give you good tactile feedback.  You can type much more quickly and accurately with an onscreen touch keyboard, but each to his own.  This is the model that Amazon is clearly deprecating, and no one would be surprised to see it disappear in the next new product cycle.

You can purchase the Kindle WiFi for $139 (there are no special offer versions of this one), or get it with 3G connectivity, with special offers for $139 or without for $189: three sub-breeds.

It is heavier than its cousins, of course, but still only 8.7 ounces.  Not only the typing keys, but the controls are all too small for me on this device, having largish hands.  There are hardware Next and Previous buttons for page turning built-in flush to the sides of the face and a 3.5mm stereo audio jack, as with the Touch.  In fact, this IS the previous iteration of the Kindle (3rd) generation, that Amazon just couldn’t leave behind.  If you are new to Kindle there is no reason to pick this one.  If your an older Kindle owner and are sentimental over your keyboard you might consider it, but if you are going to spend $189 for the 3G ad-free version, why not spring for another $10 bucks and buy the Fire?  You’ll thank me if you do.

 The Kindle DX

Kindle DX
Kindle DX

This is the large-screen, black sheep cousin that the Kindle family doesn’t mention at social gatherings (9.7″ diagonal measurment vs. 6″ on the eInk Kindles and 7″ on the Fire).  It is clearly a product on the wane.  Amazon’s initial intention was to develop a platform on which large form texts, like college textbooks, could be well displayed, but it hasn’t caught on.  The price has been lowered to $379 and that is probably good until stocks are cleared.  There have been persistent rumors that Amazon is working on a large screen color version of the Kindle, but if you want large screen (same screen size as the iPad) this is your choice, but then again, why not buy an iPad?  The DX is a comparative kludge.

With the large form factor comes weight (18.9 ounces) and a shorter batter life.  It’s hard to imagine what the justification for this device might be.

The Kindle Fire

Kindle Fire
Kindle Fire

The Fire is the future for eReaders.  While there are serious virtues in eInk technology (not being backlit) they will never be the elegant web browsers or app engines that the Kindle Fire (or the Nook Tablet, for that matter) are, and the relative step up in pricing ($199 for the Fire) is too small worry about.  Like the commercial says, you can own a Fire and two Kindles and still have spent less than you would on a single iPad.

While the Fire doesn’t have the iPad’s elegance, it is $300 cheaper and has 70% of its elegance.  The Fire is far more than an eReader, but a really good eReader too.  It runs apps, does email, browses the web like a real browser, plays movies and music.  All that.