Back in April I blogged on “A Kindle Taxonomy” where I laid out a timeline and family groupings of Kindle products. That was six months ago. Things have changed. The new Kindle species are now alive and roaming the wild, and here is the low down on new developments.
There are now three clear family groupings of Kindle products, down from four. The DX is no more and has been withdrawn from the Kindle store. The family groupings are the e-ink Kindle eReaders, the true Android tablets known as the Kindle Fire family, and the free suite of software products delivered as Kindle reading apps.
The E-Ink Kindle eReaders
There are three subspecies in this group: the basic Kindle, the Kindle keyboard (both of which have not changed in the latest product cycle and are the same as they were six months ago) and the new Kindle Paperwhite (see my review). The Paperwhite replaces the former Kindle Touch, or rather is the evolutionary descendant of the Touch.
They have in common a very convenient small form factor and light weight (the basic Kindle being the lightest at 5.98 ounces), e-ink displays, long battery life (4 weeks on the basic Kindle, 8 weeks on the other two, all with wifi off), and the remarkable content storage system devised by Amazon that stores all your Amazon content in the cloud, including your annotations and place in books you are reading. If you have a Prime membership they share all Amazon lending library benefits too.
What sets them apart is their means of navigation. The basic Kindle uses a five-way controller and some ancillary buttons, physical buttons located on the bottom of the face cover. To navigate a menu structure and navigate into works you are reading you press the sides of the 5-way switch to move left, right, up or down. An on-screen keyboard appears for typing at the press of a button, but then you must move right, left, up and down to type in characters using the 5-way controller. It is just as crude as it sounds (like searching with the typical TV remote or Roku controller). Since it is difficult to type, annotating and using the other special reference features of the Kindle are discouraged.
The Kindle Keyboard’s most obvious feature is it’s actual, button keyboard located on the bottom of the face cover. The buttons are small, but useable. Still, it is slower going than an on-screen keyboard and navigating the menu structures and moving within works also requires moving a cursor around with a 5-way controller.
The Kindle Keyboard has a headphone jack and stereo speakers, but the basic Kindle does not. The Keyboard also comes with 4GB of onboard storage, and the basic Kindle with only 2, but this hardly matters when works can be easily downloaded from the cloud at will. Both the basic Kindle and the Keyboard have 167 PPI resolution pearl e-ink displays that render clear, sharp text.
The newest entry into the e-ink eReader family is the descendant of the original Kindle Touch. It does the Touch one better in that other than the power button it has no physical buttons on the case whatsoever (and insets the power button rather than the old, easy to accidentally push outy button). It also does away with the headphone jack, so no text-to-speech or audio listening is possible. What it adds is a revolutionary new lighting system that permits the user to brighten or dim the screen, from a non-lit pearl screen for bright daylight to a brighly illuminated, white screen, with true black on white text, in less light. It is not back lit, but rather uses a new light channel approach on one of the layers of the screen.
It is a fully, 2-point enabled touch screen, and the entire interface is by touch. The interface is also simplified from the original Touch, with fewer menu choices and better use of popups. The Touch is, in my opinion, by far the best choice as a dedicated eReader, bar none, including the Barnes & Noble, Sony, iRiver, and Kobo offerings. The lighting system is far superior to the B&N Simple Touch with GlowLight, and renders a clean, clear true black on white text at 212 PPI.
With regards to pricing, things get a bit complicated. Amazon permits 2 options which add (or reduce, depending on how you look at it) cost. The options are with/without “special offers” (ads from Amazon), and with/without 3G connectivity, but this option is not universally available.
Here are the prices:
Note: The special offers are in-your-face, but I personally do not find them disruptive in any way. 3G connectivity is not available with the basic Kindle.
Additional charges will apply for a cover ($20 and up—but you really need a cover), power adapter ($10—otherwise you must charge the device from your computer), and an extended warranty. The warranty is optional, but to me, the price is so low and the quality so high that a warranty is superfluous.
You will buy one of these devices for READING. They are not tablet devices that can run apps (though all come equipped with “experimental” web browsers that will serve in a pinch). If you are a serious reader, and especially if you highlight and mark up your books, the Kindle Paperwhite is the eReader of choice.
The Kindle Fire Family
There are three subspecies of Fire in the Fire family, true Android tablets that run Android apps from the Amazon app store, watch movies or play music, and do a host of other processor intensive things that the basic eReader just cannot do.
The basic Kindle Fire is a continuation of the original Fire, updated and at a lower price: $159 (with special offers, $174 without)! It has a color 7″ LCD screen (all the Kindle eReaders have 6″ screens), 1024 x 600 screen resolution, stereo speakers, wifi with no 3G or 4G connectivity option. Of course cloud storage is included and all the Prime membership benefits, including the Instant Prime streaming movies, which look great on this device. It comes with 8GB storage on the device, and a 2-point multi-touch screen. The interface is a heavily modified version of Android, with emphasis on Amazon content.
The Kindle Fire HD at $199 is a tremendous bargain, with 7″ HD LCD color screen, 1280 x 800 screen resolution supporting up to 720P HD video, Dolby audio with stereo speakers, dual-band wifi, 16GB or 32GB on the device, with a 10-point multi-touch screen interface. The 16GB with special offers model is $199; the 16GB without special offers is $214; the 32GB with special offers model is $249; the 32GB without special offers model is $264. I know it’s a bit complicated, but just decide how much storage you need (more is always better—remember, you always fill what you have) and whether you mind special offers or not. I do not. So the model I would choose for myself is the 32GB with special offers model at $249. 3G connectivity, which I cannot imagine needing, but must have its place, is not available on this model.
The Kindle Fire HD 8.9″ is a large-form Fire which replaces the old large-form DX, only with the advantages of an Android tablet. It comes with or without 4G LTE connectivity (with unbelievably low 4G pricing) and in 16, 32 or 64GB models. If textbooks have a future on the Kindle, and I think they do, this is the device that will best display large-format textbooks.
The Kindle Fire 8.9″ HD has an LCD HD screen at 1920 x 1200 resolution screen supporting up to 1080P video, with 10-point multi-touch screen interface. The non-4G 8.9″ model with 16GB on-board and with special offers is $299; without special offers it is $314; with 32GB and special offers it is $369; and with 32GB but without special offers it is $384.
The 4G LTE model with 32GB and special offers is $499 plus $49.99 first year data plan that allows 250MB per month, an additional 20GB or cloud storage, and a $10 Amazon store credit. The same model without special offers is $514. Apparently the cost of special offers this high in the price stratosphere comes down. The 64GB model with special offers is $599 and without special offers is $614. The cost of the data plan is required on all models, of course.
Which to buy? First, does 4G connectivity matter to you? It does not to me, so I would give the higher cost item a pass. Secondly, do special offers bother you? To me, no. In fact, I rather enjoy them. Finally, does the large form-factor really matter. To me, having grown used to using an iPad, I would say yes. It’s the difference between reading a pulp, mass-market paperback and and trade, large-format paperback, to put it in physical, bookish terms. Like memory, space is something that matters. Though I have met many people, especially those who carry purses, who value economy of space over economy of price. My choice is the 32GB 8.9″ non-4G HD. This page has an excellent comparative chart of the various Kindle hardware models, along with all—if not more—of the promotional material you can stand.
The Kindle Reading Apps
Kindle is also the name of the reading apps that Amazon distributes freely for several platforms:
From Amazon’s point of view, getting you to read on the Kindle platform is better than selling you a Kindle eReader. The quality of the eReading devices and tablets is so high that Amazon makes little or no money by selling them. It is content sales where they make their money. If they can sell you content and not have to provide you the device, so much better for them. But that’s assuming the device itself does not do the sales job, and in the case of “special offer” devices that is exactly what happens. I do most of my Kindle reading on my iPad, and even on my iPhone in a pinch (like standing in lines or waiting at the doctor’s office). I miss out on all those special offers, but to visit the Kindle store (which because of Apple’s restrictive in-app sales regulations you cannot do from within the Kindle for iPad app) I also use the Cloud Reader.
That’s the taxonomy as it stands today. The future direction of the Kindle concept is not completely clear, and in large part it will depend on developments in screen technology. Flexible, fold-able, even disposable screens are not far away, and I am sure we will see Kindle software running on them. You can be sure that the eText revolution will proceed, faster, I think, than most expect, and that whatever devices you own in the future Amazon will be right there with you, special offers or not.