Lost amid the brouhaha surrounding the color touch screen LCD Kindle Fire e-reader is Amazon's other new Kindle – the Kindle Touch, the online giant's answer to Barnes & Noble's Nook Simple Touch and the Kobo eReader Touch.
Nook's touch interface was the primary reason I preferred it to the previous over-sized Kindle, with its mostly useless keyboard.
Having now used the Kindle Touch for more than a week, I consider the e-ink e-reader race a bit closer. In short, its touch capability has made Kindle ridiculously easier to navigate than its predecessors and, more importantly, less awkward to physically handle.
But Kindle Touch suffers from a couple of annoying – and avoidable – flaws that keeps it from surpassing Nook (IMHO), which to me still suffers from its own navigation annoyances. (You can read all about Nook in my previous "E-Book Wars" e-reader series.)
In other words, each e-ink e-reader pile on pros and cons in equal share, making a unqualified recommendation difficult. Sorry to be so wishy-washy. Your choice will depend on which pros are, well, pro-ier, and which cons are con-ier to you and your e-reading habits.
The reading experiences
Both Kindle Touch and the Nook Simple Touch offer similar touch e-reading experiences. However, Nook's screen is a hair lighter and/or its text is a bit darker than the Kindle Touch, making Nook more pleasurable to read.
Nook's slightly more contrasty display may be an optical illusion, however. In order to avoid duplicating Nook's black bezel, Amazon has chosen a sliver/gray frame nearly the same color as the screen itself. As a result, text seems to sit on a wider expanse of grayness. Nook's black bezel seems to make text jump off its gray background.
These comparative text-to-screen contrast levels will be hard to detect, however, unless you compare the two e-readers side-by-side – and only apply to serif fonts (serifs are the added flourishes on individual letters; sans serif is plain, unadorned block text).
Kindle's lone sans serif face, which looks like Helvetica, is thicker and, therefore, darker than the comparable sans serif faces on Nook. So, if you like reading sans serif faces – and I don't – Kindle gives you much darker text.
Speaking of typefaces, Kindle only offers two, both unnamed: the aforementioned Helvetica-like sans serif and regular and condensed Caecilia (I matched it to the identical named face on Nook). Nook, in fact, provides six total typefaces, three serif and three san serif.
Kindle does compensate by offering one additional type size, although the largest size gives you five giant lines of text with maybe three words per line, a size I can't imagine anyone but the most vision impaired requiring.
Both e-ink e-readers also offer three line spacing options and three line margin widths (although Amazon labels its "words per line").
Oddly, Kindle segregates its text/font/spacing options on two different screens; Nook has them all in one similarly-sized menu block.
Bottom line: I prefer Nook for pure reading.
While Kindle's and Nook's actual screens are the same size, Nook is around a half-inch wider and a half-inch shorter. This normally would make Kindle a little easier to slip into a pocket and to keep balanced in one hand, but Nook compensates with a concave rubberized rear that provides a firmer grip than Kindle.
Nook's biggest advantage ergonomically over the Kindle has been the former's page-turn ridges, thin nearly imperceptible strips on either side of the Nook screen that enable to turn pages forward or back, regardless of which hand you are clutching it.
Kindle now also enables one-handed page turning, forward and back, not with physical buttons or ridges but by re-mapping the touch screen.
For reading navigation purposes, e-reader touch screens are usually divided into three vertical stripe touch areas: tap or swipe the right third of the screen to turn the page forward, tap or swipe the left third of the screen to turn back, tap the center third of the screen to get the pop-up text/font/spacing options menu.
Instead of these anal retentive screen strips, tap anywhere on around 80 percent of Kindle's screen, save for a thin strip above and a thin strip on the left, turns the page forward. Go back a page by tapping on a thin area on the left, access the menus by tapping the thin area above. (You can see Kindle's touch areas here.)
As a result, when you hold Kindle in your left hand, your thumb can easily reach over the page-back strip on the left to tap the page-forward area.
But, if you're holding Kindle in your right hand, you still need your left hand to move back a page. Nook's dual set of page turning ridges allows one-handed forward and back page turning regardless of which one hand you're holding it in.
So, even though Kindle's unique touch screen mapping is clever, Nook is still easier to use single-handedly.
Nook's user interface has always been a mess. Three-quarters of its Home screen, for instance, is devoted to pushing other books to read.
But if Nook's Home page is mostly advertising, at least it is just for books. To get Kindle for $99, you get real ads, little half-inch tall strips on the bottom of your Library page and full page ads on the sleep screen. You never get ads in actual books, however, so the "special promotions" are easily ignored.
Finding your books in Kindle's Library is much easier. Nook lists your books in no discernable order; if you've got an extensive collection, you may have to swipe through several pages to get to your current fave. By contrast, Kindle logically lists your titles in order of last accessed, so the book you're currently engrossed in is always at the top of the list.
But these navigation issues, in my view, are secondary to Nook's darker serif text and dual-hand page navigation. Kindle isn't as egregiously archaic as it used to be, but it still needs to take a couple of more steps before equaling Nook.
As to whether you're better off with a Touch rather than the Fire or the Nook Tablet – or even an iPad – that's a whole other topic for whole other day.