Review: Amazon Kindle e-reader provides bargain basics
At a Glance
Simple and straightforward: The fifth-generation Kindle is a sharpshooter that aims to provide an inexpensive e-reading experience, and little more. The Kindle retains the design, button navigation, and old-school software of its predecessor, which means the device hasn't kept pace with its more visual, easier to navigate competition. But it also means that Amazon can keep the price low; at $69, it's the cheapest e-reader you can buy.
The Kindle is Wi-Fi only, and has advertisement-supported and ad-free versions. The $69 “Special Offers” version has ads on the unlock and home screens, while the the price jumps to $89 for the ad-free version.
The Kindle's 6-inch display has a 600 by 800 pixel resolution, which works out to 167 pixels per inch. Its text quality looks about the same as it did on last year's model, but the backplane is a brighter, lighter shade of gray than found on the fourth-generation Kindle; the difference is very clear in a side-by-side comparison. Both models have an E Ink Pearl display, but clearly Amazon has tweaked something in its software to improve the display's appearance. The Kindle still comes with 2GB of memory, which Amazon says can hold up to 1400 books.
Physically, the Kindle feels comfortable in-hand, with a soft-touch paint texture on the back of the e-reader, and contoured edges. It measures 6.5 by 4.5 by 0.34 inches, and weighs just 0.37 pounds. That's noticeably narrower than the Barnes & Noble Nook Simple Touch.
The new all-black chassis is positive improvement over last year's silver-gray bezel. I found it less easy to scratch—though it is prone to fingerprints, same as on the Kindle Paperwhite. And the black bezel helps make the already improved contrast pop even more so on the E Ink Pearl display.
Along the bottom edge are a micro-USB port and a power/sleep/wake button. The power button is the only way to wake the device.
As with last year's model, this Kindle supports the ability to share books via the public library system. However, it doesn't support newer features like X-ray, which makes it easy to find details on specific content in supported books and is only found on the touch-enabled Kindle Paperwhite.
The central navigation buttons run along the bottom row, and look and feel the same as before. The five way navigation square sits centered beneath the display; to its left sit a back button and on-screen keyboard pop-up button, and to its right are menu and home buttons. The buttons are usable, but less convenient than the touch interface.
As with the fourth-generation Kindle, both the left and right sides have page forward and back buttons. The design is identical, and I continue to like how these buttons are angled along the edge of the Kindle. The angle makes them easy to press, but not so easy that I'd do so inadvertently. The buttons on my test unit seemed a tad quieter than on last year's model, and appeared to require an ever-so-slightly lighter touch to press.
The Kindle's home screen and menu navigation looks more or less the same as it's looked for several product generations now. You can sort by most recent, title, author, or collection, but the views are presented entirely in text.Kindle is not set up to be showing your books visually, as its competition does. The lack of innovation and progression in the Kindle's software is a disappointment—even on this inexpensive, basic version. It might be how Amazon has kept lowering the price each year, but it's still unfortunate to see this baseline model not evolve.
Likewise, it's annoying to watch Amazon continue hiding its web browser under an “experimental” section (same as it does on Kindle Paperwhite). The browser has been in place since the first Kindle launched in 2007, and remains rudimentary and largely for logging into Wi-Fi that requires a web page gateway.
On the software side, Amazon adds support for parental controls that block access to the browser, archived items, and store. And it adds support for children's books with Kindle Text Pop-Up and comic books with Kindle Panel View.
Kindle has eight font sizes, including one of the largest of any e-reader. You can also adjust line spacing and words per line, but the options are limited to one of three choices. Same goes for the typeface—you get the default font, or your choice of condensed or sans serif. That's it. This is another disappointment given the numerous options provided by Kindle Paperwhite and Nook Simple Touch with Glowlight (six fonts) and Kobo Touch eReader and Sony Reader Wi-Fi (seven fonts each). The previews happen quickly, though, and in real-time, so you can see what you're getting. I found the default font's text rendering average, sharper than last year's Kindle, but not as good as on the Paperwhite.
Page turns are fairly standard, with a quick dissolve as you move forward. Amazon says the performance is faster, by 15 percent, but it was hard to see a noticeable improvement.but I preferred the smoother fonts on the Kindle Paperwhite. The on-screen keyboard was speedy to navigate, even if doing so felt like a throwback to an earlier era.
Kindle now handles Amazon's more advanced Kindle 8 format, plus text, PDF, unprotected MOBI, and PRC; other formats, like HTML and DOCX, are supported via conversion if you email the file to your Kindle. PDF viewing is annoying without a touch screen, though; I also found it endlessly frustrating to look up a word in the dictionary, adding a notation or highlight, or sharing a passage via Twitter or Facebook.
The ad-supported Kindle is a bargain e-reader at $69. However, its ad-free version costs more than the $80 Kobo Mini (due out imminently), and comes close in price to the $99 Nook Simple Touch. Granted, Kobo's model has a slightly smaller 5-inch display, but it also has a touch screen, same as the Nook. The bottom line is that if you're already committed to Amazon and need an inexpensive e-reader (as opposed to the flagship $119 Paperwhite), this model will do the trick, but its software is trapped in a timewarp. If you can spare a few dollars more, and aren't committed to Amazon's Kindle format, then there are other, better choices.