The new non-touch Kindle

September 30, 2011

I've owned all of the Kindle models over the years and can say with some confidence that I probably use mine more than you or anyone you know. (See my long-winded review of the Kindle 3.) It's gotten to the point now that whenever I come across an article longer than a ~page I send it over to the Kindle (else it goes to Instapaper), which is nice for a couple of reasons: 1) I prefer to read long-form content on the Kindle; and 2) I can highlight passages in articles, which makes it really easy for me to go back and figure out what I want to quote if I decide to blog the article, as I've previously explained.

It's no surprise then that as soon as Amazon announced the new Kindles earlier this week I ordered one, and was happily reading books on it the following day.

Why didn't you get the touch model?

To be frank, I just don't see the point. It seems to me that the magic of touch is kind of lost on slow-to-refresh e-ink. Touch is all about the perception of real-time manipulation; today that illusion is simply impossible to pull off with e-ink. (I don't think infrared touch on an e-ink display will ever approximate the experience currently possible with capacitive LED displays.)

Relatedly, I don't want smudges all over my screen. E-ink screens aren't backlit, and so any oil/dirt shows with normal use. Ever since the first-gen model I've gone out of my way to keep the screen spotless; touch isn't enough to make me want to forgo a clean screen.

Along the same lines, I don't like the next-page finger motion required by touch; with the non-touch model, my thumb never really moves as I hold the device--I simply apply a bit more pressure when I want to go to the next page. Moreover, on a non-touch device my fingers never get in the way of the content. (See also Lukas Mathis making the case for physical page-turn buttons on the touch model.)

Yes, the touch model has more storage, but that's a non-issue. Trust me, 2GB is a ton of a space for a device like this. In all these years I've never once thought about storage space on my Kindles.

Yes, the touch model has twice the battery capacity, but that too is a non-issue. As John Gruber notes, the battery lives of Kindles are measured in months. The non-touch model gets one month of battery life; the touch model gets two months. Unless you plan on being stranded on a remote island sometime soon, I just don't see how this metric matters much.

Finally, yes, the touch model has the option of 3G connectivity. I had 3G on previous Kindles, but never used it. Ever. I send articles to the Kindle via the @free.kindle.com address1 and am always within range of Wi-Fi when I do that because I'm using either a browser bookmarklet or Mr. Reader's2 Kindlebility integration. Furthermore, I always have 8–12 books on my Kindle, and so I've never been away from Wi-Fi and felt like I needed to download a book right that instant.

They'll sell a ton of the touch models (mostly, I suspect, to those that don't have prior experience with e-ink), but I think they maybe could have gotten away with not having this model in the line-up at all.

Why didn't you order a Kindle Fire?

Apps, apps, apps. I spend 99.9% of my iPad 2 time within five apps, and these apps aren't available on Amazon's (Android-based) platform and won't be for a long time, if ever. I've said this a million times: it's going to take some incredibly compelling hardware and software to get me off of iOS. (And once the retina-display iPad 3 comes out? Forget about it.)

Note that I'm not at all saying the Kindle Fire won't be a huge success. It will be. I'm simply saying that I'm probably not shifting away from iOS any time soon.

Versus the Kindle 3

Apart from the obvious physical differences, there really isn't much to discuss here. Clearly the biggest difference from the previous model is the lack of a keyboard. This is a good thing, and something I've been asking for for a very long time. Is the virtual keyboard experience great? No, it's kind of terrible actually, but I don't care because I'll almost never use it. I used it during the initial setup to punch in my Wi-Fi information, but going forward I likely will use it only to create new collections, something I expect to do maybe twice a year. As far as I'm concerned, the removal of the keyboard is a (huge) net win.

Another big physical difference is weight. The Kindle 3 is 8.5/8.7(3G) ounces and the new Kindle is 5.98 ounces--a reduction of 30%! Given that the Kindle 3 is great for multi-hour, one-handed reading sessions, you can just imagine that the new model almost becomes invisible. We are fast approaching the point where it really does feel like you're holding a small stack of paper. It's great. (This is another ding on the touch models, which weigh in at 7.5/7.8(3G) ounces.)

As I've pointed out in previous reviews, the refresh rate of the screen isn't that important, because after just a bit of use you get used to the delay, and from that point on you simply don't notice it. You read. That said, with respect to refresh speed, I can't detect any real difference between this screen and the one on the Kindle 3. There may be a difference (I've read that the new model is supposed to refresh faster), but side-by-side I just can't see it.

One odd thing I did notice when playing with both devices today was that "page turns" on the Kindle 3 always flashed the entire screen (including the non-text border surrounding the content); on the new Kindle the entire screen is flashed every sixth page turn. This does make the transitions slightly less jarring, but again, the flashing (no matter how egregious), is something you won't notice after a while.

The "readability" of the display on the new model is better, but only slightly. I don't know if it's just better contrast or what, but the new screen definitely looks cleaner and crisper when put next to the old model. I have a feeling though that if I were to look at the screens an hour apart I probably couldn't tell a difference.

My main niggle with the new Kindle has to do with the page-turn buttons. They have the same basic design as those on the Kindle 3 (i.e., they're flush with the side and top of the device and have a short travel height), but are noticeably smaller and thinner (due in part to the smaller bezel on the new model). As you might suspect, their smaller size makes them feel a bit more fragile than I'd like. They have a nice action to them, but I almost wish they required a bit more pressure to activate. (I have to assume that they require so little pressure because of the lightness of the device.)

As with the Kindle 3, the five-way controller feels very solid. That said, I think it should have been placed in the bottom-right corner of the device (as on the Kindle 3), instead of in the center. (Sorry lefties!) 99% of the time I'm holding the device with my right hand and pressing the next-page button with my thumb; on the Kindle 3 I could just jump down to the controller with my thumb (without having to use my left hand at all), but on the latest model I have to hold the device with my left hand while I press the controller with my right thumb.


  1. From Amazon: "In general, send personal documents to your "name"@free.kindle.com address to wirelessly transfer personal documents to your Kindle over Wi-Fi as well as to the e-mail address associated with your Amazon.com account at no charge. If you are not able to connect your Kindle via Wi-Fi, send your documents to your "name"@kindle.com address. The files will be sent to your Kindle over Wi-Fi if available. If Wi-Fi is not available, the files will be sent via 3G for a small fee."  

  2. By the way, if you're still using Reeder on the iPad and haven't given Mr. Reader a try, I suggest you check it out. Once I started using it I never went back.  

You should follow me on Twitter here