Kinda lost in all the Kindle Fire brouhaha is Amazon's new line of cheaper touch e-ink Kindles. If your e-book reading needs are less grandiose than Fire's fiery faculties, your quandary is – Barnes & Noble's Nook Touch or Kobo now, or wait for one of the new Kindle Touches?
A quick caveat: I didn't get much of a chance to handle the e-ink Kindles at the Amazon event on Wednesday. I spent what little demo time there was (and there wasn't much, and the tables were mobbed by other curious media types) with the Fire.
Therefore, my opinions on the two Touches and the entry level $79 Kindle are mostly first impressions.
First off, IMHO, the functionality improvement Amazon brings to the e-ink e-reader with its new Kindles is marginal, and mostly price. $99 for the Wi-Fi-only Touch and $79 for the plain old non-touch Kindle are e-reader no-brainers
But I suspect every other e-reader – especially Barnes & Noble – will drop their prices to below $100 at least by black Friday.
Which means around Thanksgiving – less than a week after the Kindle Touchs go on sale – you'll have your choice of $99 or less e-readers, which means you'll be able to judge the new Kindles on a level playing field with other e-book e-readers.
To break down the Kindle family:
- Kindle with special offers ($79, available now): "Special offers" means ads. This cheap non-touch Kindle – it has simple navigation buttons beneath the screen – replaces the current "classic" Kindle, now known as the Kindle Keyboard. If these ads are presented the same way as they are on the current $114 Kindle Keyboard, they'll never pop-up in your books, only on Kindle navigation and menu pages. If you want to play with it before buying, you can lay your fingers on it at Staples starting October 8, and probably at Best Buy as well.
- Kindle Touch Wi-Fi w/special offers ($99; pre-order now, available Nov. 21): Amazon's baseline 6-inch touch screen model.
- Kindle Touch Wi-Fi ($139; pre-order now, available Nov. 21) Same as above, only no ads.
- Kindle Touch 3G w/special offers ($149; pre-order now, available Nov. 21) Same as the Kindle Wi-Fi only with the addition of free 3G connectivity, which means you don't need to be in a Wi-Fi hot spot to order, borrow, lend or page sync e-books.
- Kindle Touch 3G ($189; pre-order now, available Nov. 21) Same as above, only no ads.
To me, the sweet spot in the Kindle lineup is the $99 version. You will barely notice the ads and it's not worth $40 to be rid of them.
I intellectually understand some people don't like touch screens. But I say you're not Amish, you don't own a horse and buggy while everyone else owns a car. A touch screen is better, period. Not only will you get used to a touch screen, you will soon wonder how you didn't like it before.
So how much more is there to the new Amazon Kindles other than their lower price?
Reach out and touch
Amazon brings two major functional changes/improvements to the touch screen e-reader.
One is ergonomics. Nook's big touch advantage are the physical page-turn ridges arrayed on either side of the screen bezel – the frame around the touch screen. You can either touch the screen to turn the page, or push the ridges. But the ridges allow you to turn Nook's e-ink pages forward or back, regardless in which hand you're holding your Nook.
Nook and other e-book e-readers also divide their touch screens into three vertical stripe/areas – imagine a vertically tri-folded piece of paper; tapping the right side turns the page forward, tapping the left side turns the page back, tapping the center for the type size/font/search menu options.
To read and easily move forward in your reading, it's best to hold the touch e-reader in your right hand and tap the right vertical stripe with your right thumb to move forward. This means you can't read holding the e-reader in just your left hand, then turn pages forward and leave the other hand free to, say, hold on to a subway or bus pole or strap.
Amazon has tried to accommodate lefties without Nook's physical ridges by remapping the touch screen area.
Instead of stripes, Amazon has divided the Kindle touch screen area into three different touch regions; a large area occupying around 75 percent of the lower right of the screen to move forward, a thin horizontal strip across the top to access the menu options, and a thin stripe on the left to move back. (Click here to get an approximation of Kindle's touch screen segmentation.)
I can't see how this is an improvement. If you're holding the Kindle Touch in your left hand, you have to maneuver your left thumb over the Kindle bezel to reach the left/back stripe.
I guess I'll get a better idea of the degree of left thumb reach difficulty when I get my digits on one.
Most if not all e-readers offer integrated dictionaries – no more glossing over words you don't know, no more racing after your Funk & Wagnall's or the Dictionary app on your smart phone.
But there are other references in books you often puzzle over – character context, historical references, etc. – and ultimately gloss over.
Amazon has provided this contextual information via an integrated dictionary-like feature called X-Ray.
In short, you can access context information from Wikipedia and a literary/fictional character information source called Shelfari, and maybe others, all included with the book itself. I'll have more on X-Ray when I get my Kindle Touch. You can see a sample of this in the photo on the upper left.
Better now, or now?
If Barnes & Noble lowers it Nook Simple Touch price to $99, the Nook remains my favored e-reader – again, without have played with the Kindle Touch.
First, looking at the photos of the Kindle, I can't discern a "home" button, which presents a navigation challenge.
Second, and most importantly, are Nook's page turn ridges. I've been using Nook, the now the old Kindle and the Kobo extensively. And even though I'm not right-handed, I often hold Nook in my left hand just to give my right hand a break. You can't do that with any other e-reader.
Being able to turn Nook's pages without wielding my other hand or switching hands is an unmatched ergonomic advantage, overcomes all of Nook's other shortcomings (such as it's cluttered interface) and, quite frankly, is even worth the extra money if the price remains the same.
But, I will reserve final judgment until I get to touch the Kindle Touch.