Kindle Touch Review

by Mike Shea on 26 December 2011

30 second summary

If you're shopping for a Kindle, pick up the 4th generation non-touch Kindle for $80 from Amazon. With a small size, light weight, simple interface, and nearly disposable construction; it's the best device for the money. While a touch-based device seems like an effective interface for a Kindle, the execution doesn't work. With a bigger size, heavier weight, slow page-turning, and common accidental touch response; the Kindle Touch certainly isn't worth the extra $20 over the simpler, smaller, and lighter non-touch Kindle. For simple ebook reading, the straight 4th generation Kindle is the way to go.

A short note on ebooks

Moving to an e-reader is like jumping forward in time. The separation of the content from a physical medium never becomes so apparent as when you load up the same book at the same page on two different devices. I went from cultivating a nice library of paper books to the point where I repurchased books I already owned just so I could get them on the Kindle. My library gets smaller and smaller as my criteria for keeping or donating books changes. Within six months, physical books became museum pieces in my home. Even if I decided to read them again, I'd just go buy or check out the ebook version. Physical books now just feel like a hassle.

Add in to this my love for ebook publishing and my world is completely different now. Like a future written by Neal Stephenson (whose books Anathim and Reamde I both enjoyed on my Kindle), physical books are a quaint artifact of an older age. As a publisher, I can either sustain the costs for massive printers hammering chemicals on sheafs of dead trees and big hulking guys moving boxes from cargo ships stained by the salt of the pacific to diesel-stained semi-trucks hauling said boxes across the country or I can write some text, stick it on a server, and sell a million copies without even being aware of it until Paypal tells me to download my giant oceans of cash.

The Kindle keyboard

For the past year or so I've greatly enjoyed my Kindle 3. It's small, simple, lightweight, durable, and cheap. I read a dozen or so books on it and enjoyed every one of them. However, the device is far from perfect and the worst offender is that shitty keyboard. It sits there, under your thumb, just waiting for you to accidentally bump into one of its teeny 1980s calculator keys. It adds two to three inches onto the bottom of the unit and seems to serve no practical purpose what so ever.

I couldn't wait to get rid of it and that's when Amazon announced the new keyboard-less Kindles.

Touch, great in theory, weak in execution

When I first saw that Amazon was going to sell a Touch, it was the number one item on my Christmas list. I love my iPhone and iPad and expected, while not a perfect match, something close. A touch interface just seems natural for a simple device such as this.

Unfortunately, it didn't work out like that. There's a heavy price to pay, both literally and figuratively, for a touch-screen interface. While smaller than the Kindle keyboard, the touch just feels bigger and heavier. Something about the size and weight ratio makes it feel like it would break apart if you dropped it. The depth also seems much thicker. After spending a few hours reading with it, I could never really find a great way to hold the thing.

Much of that has to do with the constant worry that you'll accidentally touch the screen. That's not something I should have to worry about but you do. A couple of times I'd make a motion accidentally on the screen that seemed to jump me forward entire sections or chapters. Without knowing what gesture I had made, I would have to page back and back to get where I was.

I had hoped for a simpler device but the touch screen actually makes the whole thing more complicated.

When using the keyboard, however, the touch interface is quite nice - even responsive. While it can't quite keep up with your thumbing speed, it types fast enough to make it much easier to use than the D-button letter shifting you have to do with the non-touch Kindle.

In daily use, however, I almost never type text into the Kindle. When I'm using a Kindle, I'm reading a book. The only interface I really need is page turning and loading up the next book, two techniques easily done with the non-touch Kindle.

Amazon: iteration instead of perfection

The biggest problem with the Kindle Touch interface is the delay between your gesture and the response. This is why reading on an iPad or iPhone works so much better. Like Steve Jobs talked about back in 1980, the vast power of modern computers (like the iPhone, iPad, and the Kindle) should be used to make these devices easier to use. We experience this subconsciously with the iPhone and iPad. We touch it, it does something. We swipe, it moves. There is no perceptible delay between our action and the response. That just isn't yet possible with the touch Kindle.

Amazon doesn't care about perfection, they care about iteration. The first Kindles were bulky, hard to read, and expensive, but they kept iterating and the result is the 4th generation Kindle, a cheap device that does what it needs to do very well. While Apple was spending 5 years working with a processor company able to produce a CPU that gives it instantaneous response and long battery life, Amazon put out three generations of Kindles, getting it closer and closer to perfection each time. We get those evolutionary improvements in the Kindle, but the Kindle Touch feels more like a first generation device. It's a good try and the price is right, but it isn't good enough.

Go cheap, small, and light

At $100, the Kindle Touch isn't a bad price, but at $80, the non-touch Kindle is a much better deal. It's almost 20% better in many ways including cost, weight, and size. The only real thing you lose is the nice-to-use keyboard but when it comes to switching pages and reading a book, stick to the smaller one.

If you enjoyed this review, please consider using this link to purchase the 4th generation non-touch Kindle or, if you decide you really want the Touch, use this link to buy the Kindle Touch. Thanks!