The big question with Amazon’s new Kindles is “Which one should I buy?” And of course, the answer is… It depends.
Note: If you’re looking for a more hands-on look at these Kindles, check out the Amazopia YouTube channel.
I have owned every Kindle that Amazon currently makes and have spent hours using each one. I think I’m in a good position to write about them.
First off, let me just say that it’s really important to keep perspective in mind here. I’ve heard people bashing the regular Kindle because of its “limited” storage space and battery life. It can “only” hold 1,400 ebooks and “only” has a battery life of one month. That’s probably way more ebooks than you will ever have. And if you somehow do manage to get over 1,400 ebooks and you need more space, you should probably try deleting some from your Kindle (they’re stored in the cloud for ever).
Someone asked me a few days ago said, “So apparently the Kindle has a one month battery life, assuming you read for half an hour a day. Do you think that’s enough?”
Seriously? Let’s put that into perspective here. How long does the battery on your laptop last? How long does the battery in your phone last? Yes, I think the month-long battery life is sufficient. That means you can go on a trip for a freaking month and never have to charge the thing. That’s amazing.
I think the most important question to ask yourself when buying a Kindle is “What will I really use this for?” Because if you’re just going to be using it to read ebooks, you won’t care that the regular Kindle doesn’t have speakers or a keyboard. If you’re going to be listening to tons of music, don’t get the Kindle Touch. Because sure, it might have an MP3 player, but it kind of sucks. If all you do is read ebooks, don’t get a Kindle Fire. Some Kindles have more features than others, but always remember what you’re REALLY going be using the thing for.
And let me talk about the “special offers” (ads) that Amazon has on its cheaper Kindles. I personally don’t find them that annoying, and I don’t have a very high tolerance for annoying advertisements. The ads show up in two places: 1) the screensaver when you turn off the device, and 2) at the very bottom of the screen on the home page. That’s it. The one at the bottom of the screen on the home page is about half an inch high and the width of the screen. The next time I buy any new Kindle, it’ll be the version with special offers. I recommend you do the same. If you get your Kindle and find that you really hate the ads, you can pay $30 (the difference in price between the ad-supported and ad-free models) and remove the ads.
Below I go over each of Amazon’s currently available Kindles and say who each one is good for.
Kindle (a.k.a. Kindle 4)
This is the one that sells for $79 with “special offers” and $109 without. I love this Kindle. It’s the one that I read on most often. It’s small, light (surprisingly so), and cheap. It’s perfect for reading ebooks.
No, this Kindle does not have speakers or a headphone jack. You can’t play music or audiobooks on it. You can’t watch movies on it. And that’s why I love it. It’s just an e-reader. There are no other distractions.
You CAN browse the web and read PDFs with this Kindle, but neither one is a particularly pleasant experience. It can be done, though. Also, a lot of the Kindle games don’t work on this Kindle.
There is a popup keyboard on this Kindle, meaning that you press the keyboard button and the on-screen keyboard pops up. Typing anything in is laborious. But if you’re just using this Kindle to read and not pen your novel, it shouldn’t be too big of a deal for you.
It’s designed only to read ebooks, and it does that perfectly. If you want a Kindle that has more media-playing capabilities, this is not the Kindle for you. It is not available with 3G. If you want a cheap, simple e-reader, this is the one to get.
Kindle Touch/Kindle Touch 3G
This is my least favorite Kindle. I ended up selling mine. I personally thought the touch screen was too responsive when just reading an ebook (I’d often accidentally highlight things and turn the page when I didn’t mean to), and not responsive enough when actually trying to press buttons and navigate around.
Now, if you just hold the Kindle by gripping it from the back with one hand, with the thumb on one side and the rest of your fingers on the other side, the touch screen isn’t a problem. But I often hold my Kindles (and books, for that matter) in different positions. Usually I like holding a Kindle with one hand and with my thumb on the screen, and that’s not really an option with the Kindle Touch. It’ll turn the page on you.
Also, this Kindle does not have screen rotation capability, which I found odd. Even the $79 Kindle lets you read in portrait or landscape mode (landscape is much better for PDF reading and web browsing). You can’t do that with this Kindle.
This Kindle does have a primitive MP3 player. You can play songs and adjust the volume and stuff, but you can’t create playlists or shuffle the songs.
It has text-to-speech which will work with PDFs (which was surprising to me) and any text-to-speech enabled Kindle ebooks. You can also play Audible audiobooks on this Kindle, and I found this feature to work quite well. You can easily skip between chapters and fast forward or backward in 30 second increments. The audiobook player on the Kindle Touch is newer and better than the audiobook player on the Kindle Keyboard.
You should know that the 3G on this Kindle (assuming you buy the 3G version) works only for syncing/downloading ebooks, browsing the Amazon store, and Wikipedia. It does not work for web browsing (unlike the free 3G on the Kindle Keyboard, which works for doing anything on the internet).
Kindle Keyboard and Kindle Keyboard 3G
These were previously known simply as the Kindle and Kindle 3G. This is the 3rd generation Kindle. The 3G version was the first Kindle I ever bought and it blew my mind. I loved it then and I still really like it. It’s actually a tiny bit thinner (in terms of depth) than the Kindle 4, and I like that its edges are more curved and smooth (versus the more angular Kindle 4).
Now, this is by far the ugliest Kindle. The keyboard on it just doesn’t look that great. And there’s a lot of that black plastic around the screen. And the MP3 player and text-to-speech functions are very primitive (worse than the ones on the Kindle Touch).
But all of the regular Kindle games and programs that you can get in the Kindle Store on Amazon will work with this Kindle. If you’ll be doing a lot of typing (you can makes notes or send emails) with your Kindle, get this one.
The storage and battery life are better on this Kindle than the new Kindle. But remember what I said at the beginning of this about keeping everything in perspective? Do you REALLY need enough space for 3,000 ebooks?
The single greatest thing about the Kindle 3G is the 3G. You get FREE 3G. That means that you can use this Kindle to do things like browse the web, check and write email, go on Facebook and Twitter, all for FREE in places where there’s no wi-fi. You just need to be able to get cell reception.
This is something that no other Amazon e-reader or any other company’s e-reader has even come close to matching, and it’s pretty darn amazing. I bought a new Kindle ebook on a bus in the middle of nowhere in Texas because of the 3G. I checked my email on the south rim of the Grand Canyon using the 3G. I lost my phone when I was in Yosemite earlier this year, but I was able to use the 3G at a gas station in Nevada to send an urgent email to a friend back home. The free 3G is amazing.
If you can get a good deal on this Kindle (which you can usually find somewhere since it technically is the last generation of Kindle), go for it. It’s an awesome device.
Ah yes, the Kindle Fire. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a single piece of electronic equipment get such polar opposite reviews. Lots of people love it. Lots of people freaking hate it. I really like it.
For reading ebooks, it’s good. It’s significantly heavier than any other Kindle, and it might be uncomfortable for people to hold in their hands for extended periods of time. Also, the fact that it has a touch screen limits the number of ways you can hold it (you can’t really let your fingers touch the screen or else it’ll turn the page).
I have, however, been using the Fire for reading at night in bed. I don’t have a lamp or other light next to my bed (weird, I know), so I like that I can read the LCD screen in the dark. And it actually has a neat feature that lets you turn the text white and the rest of the screen black so that it’s not super bright.
I read a lot of PDF ebooks that I get for free online, and the Kindle Fire makes reading them a joy. It’s super easy to zoom in and flip the pages.
If I’m just reading a normal Kindle ebook, though, I reach for my regular Kindle.
If you want to listen to a lot of music on your Kindle, get the Kindle Fire. You can upload your current music to Amazon’s cloud and stream it directly to the Fire. You can also, of course, load music directly on the Fire for when you’re not around a wi-fi connection.
Amazon’s Appstore for Android isn’t huge, and the number of apps that work with the Kindle Fire is even lower. But there are still plenty of apps to do pretty much anything you need to do. And my favorite thing about the store is that every day one paid app is given away for free for everyone to download. And there have been some pretty good ones so far.
I did read one Kindle Fire review where the guy was absolutely livid that there was no Gmail app. I use Gmail several times a day, but the lack of an app doesn’t bother me in the least. I mean, you can still access Gmail (and read and write emails and do everything else you need to do) by just typing gmail.com into the web browser! What’s the big problem?
And speaking of web browsing, let me talk about that a bit more. There was a lot of hubbub and hype over the Silk browser that comes with the Kindle Fire. As far as I’m concerned, it’s just a regular web browser. It doesn’t seem any faster, but it doesn’t seem any slower either. You can have multiple tabs open at the same time. You can bookmark pages. It can remember your passwords. It’s more or less a regular browser and it works just fine. Surfing the web is easy, and zooming in to see something in more detail on any given web page is simple and requires you only to put any two fingers on the screen and moving them apart.
As far as video goes, you’ve got lots of options. If you’re an Amazon Prime member ($79 a year), you get free access to thousands of movies and TV shows that you can stream onto the Fire. There are good free apps for both Netflix and Hulu Plus if you’re members of those, giving you access to even more options.
There’s another great perk that comes with Amazon Prime. Kindle Fire owners get up to one free ebook a month (and you have to delete it in order to download a new one the next month) via the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library. The selection isn’t ginormous (there are roughly 5,400 titles there now; here’s the complete list), but hey, free is free. That 5,400 number does include over 100 New York Times bestsellers, so you should be able to find something to pique your interest. I’m currently reading Guns, Germs, and Steel, which is the book I got for free last month. No complaints here.
Some people don’t like the Fire because there’s no 3G and relatively little on-board storage space. This doesn’t bother me because I use it mainly at home, where I have wireless internet that lets me access tons of music and movies in the cloud.
Don’t get the Kindle Fire if you’ll mainly be reading with it. It’s a tablet, not an e-reader. Reading on it isn’t horrible, but it’s not perfect like it is on the regular Kindles. But if you want to be able to do a little bit of everything, it’s a pretty darn neat little toy. I use it to check email and Google Reader in the mornings while I’m still in bed. I play movies and TV shows on it daily; I have it set up next to my main computer while I’m working. I like having it on in the background.
I don’t *need* a Kindle Fire, but I sure do like it. For me it’s a toy, and it’s a darn good one. I’d never use it to replace my laptop (except maybe on short trips; typing on it actually isn’t as bad as I thought it would be). But then again, my main computer is a MacBook Air that is already pretty small and light.
If you’re looking for a device that lets you read ebooks, get the regular Kindle. It’s the perfect e-reader. Yeah, it does a couple other things, but buy it because it’s an e-reader.
If 3G is important to you, get the Kindle Keyboard 3G. And get the Kindle Keyboard (either the regular or 3G version) if you’ll be writing emails or typing notes but still just want an e-reader (and not a tablet like the Kindle Fire).
I personally wouldn’t recommend the Kindle Touch. It’s the lowest-rated Kindle on Amazon (currently slightly under 4 out of 5 stars). The page-turning buttons on all of the Kindle e-readers are great; I don’t think a touch screen is necessary at all or an improvement in any way.
If you’re looking for something to do anything else (watch movies, browse the web, listen to music, read PDFs, etc.) or do a little bit of everything, the Kindle Fire is awesome. It’s a media consumption device that is cheaper than any other option out there.