I bought a Kindle Touch, and it’s pretty great

Almost a year ago today, I waved goodbye to the world of print books and got myself an Amazon Kindle 3. You might recall I blogged about the experience, pointing out some of the advantages of e-books in general and some of the disadvantages of the Kindle 3 in particular—namely on the ergonomics front.

I’ve spent many hours cradling the Kindle 3 since then, reading everything from Steinbeck to the Hunger Games trilogy to e-novels written by some of my favorite webcartoonists. I did my reading at my desk, in bed, at the beach, and after hours at the Consumer Electronics Show, when I needed to wind down after long days of meetings and writeups. It was great, and I never thought about returning to print media for a minute.

However, I never got over the Kindle 3’s ergonomics problems. After a year of use, I still hadn’t found a comfortable way to hold the device for extended periods of time. The closest I came was holding the Kindle in my left hand, propped up on an extended pinky finger, with my thumb resting next to the page turn buttons. That was okay, but not great. After reading for a couple of hours in that position the other day, I stood up and felt something like an electric shock propagate down my left arm. I guess I must have pinched a nerve somewhere. Not fun.

I always managed to hit the buttons by accident, too, whether on the keyboard or around it. The d-pad was especially vulnerable to accidental presses. Those would throw me forward or back entire chapters, and pressing “back” didn’t always help me find my place again. Heck, I occasionally hit that button by accident. Call me a klutz, but I think the dearth of empty spots on the front bezel is a real problem. I tried one of those leather covers Amazon sells to see if it would alleviate the problem, but it seemed to weigh down the device without making it much more comfortable to hold. I also hated the velvety interior.

I was understandably tempted, then, when Jeff Bezos introduced the Kindle Touch last September—and not just because he put together a great pastiche of a Steve Jobs keynote. The device looked genuinely compelling. At the same time, I had mixed feelings about touch-enabled e-readers. I’d seen them in stores and libraries, and they were always covered in really gross smudges. Since e-ink displays aren’t backlit, the smudges almost seemed to compete with the text for attention.

So, I waited. The Kindle Touch wasn’t available in Canada right away, which gave me plenty of time to weigh the pros and cons. And weigh them I did.

Amazon cleared the Kindle Touch for international shipments in early February. I placed my order last Sunday. My reasoning went something like this: I’d been spending an increasing amount of time reading, and I was sick of the Kindle 3’s poor ergonomics. I figured I’d try the Kindle Touch and return it if the device didn’t live up to my expectations.

The Touch arrived alongside a matching zip sleeve (hey, gotta stay protected) at my door the following Tuesday. UPS works in mysterious ways—I had selected the slowest shipping option, and Amazon had told me to expect my shipment some time in late March or early April.

Anyway, I haven’t returned it yet.

And I don’t think I’m ever going to. This thing is great. It feels like an improvement over the Kindle 3 in just about every way imaginable: better ergonomics, better software, a better form factor, and less weight. Even the screensaver images are better. Where the Kindle 3 spat out creepy renderings of Virginia Woolf or Mark Twain when put to sleep, the Kindle Touch displays cool-looking stock photos of pencils and movable type and stuff.

For me, though, the main thing is that the Kindle Touch is infinitely more comfortable to hold than its predecessor:

Look at that! I can put my thumb anywhere I want on the bezel, and no bad things happen. Well, I do have to avoid the home button at the bottom, but that’s no big deal—none of my fingers want to go there when I’m holding the Kindle Touch one-handed. Also, since the Touch is both lighter and thicker than the Kindle 3, I have a better grip on it, and my muscles don’t get tired as quickly. It’s like Amazon did usability testing on actual humans with hands instead of robot claws this time.

The touch screen works well, too. It’s more responsive than I expected, and swiping to turn pages restores some of the tactile intimacy of printed books. If swiping ain’t your thing, you can just tap to turn pages. Amazon made the “previous page” area a tiny strip on the left side of the screen, so you can go back and forth with just your left thumb.

Even the on-screen keyboard is solid. The keys are laid out properly, unlike on the Kindle 3’s bizarro hardware keyboard, which positions keys on a grid instead of staggering them as it should. I’ve never had to do a lot of typing on either Kindle, but having a functional, usable keyboard is definitely a good thing.

And there are plenty of other improvements. There’s Amazon’s X-Ray feature, for the relationally challenged among us who forget which characters are whom, and the new-and-improved dictionary, which lets you look up words by just tapping them. Oh, joy! No more awkward d-pad navigation. The on-screen interface is cleaner and easier to navigate, as well.

Is the Kindle Touch entirely perfect? No. I do notice the smudges sometimes, which makes my pseudo-OCD kick in, and the display is more recessed, which means the bezel can cast a more noticeable shadow depending on the lighting. That second issue is actually due to the way the touch screen works: instead of having a capacitive overlay on top of the screen, the Kindle Touch uses infrared lasers along the edge of the panel to detect finger positions. (According to CNN, Jeff Bezos doesn’t like capacitive touch on e-readers because he says it adds glare to the display.) Oh, and I kind of miss the progress bar at the bottom. The Touch has ditched it in favor of a simple location indicator and percentage, which doesn’t tell me how close I am to the next chapter or how much I’ve read since my last session. I wish they’d bring that back.

Overall, though, I’m a happier Kindle user and a happier reader thanks to the Touch. The international, Wi-Fi only version set me back $139, but if you live in the States (as most TR gerbils do), you can get a version with ads for only $99. As I understand it, the ads only show up on the screensavers and on the home screen. The ad-supported model sounds like a no-brainer, and that’s probably the one I would have bought if it were available up here. An ad-free Wi-Fi model is also available Stateside for $139.

The little sleeve Amazon sells isn’t bad, either.

Comments closed
    • libradude
    • 8 years ago

    Big ups for the screenshots with text from ASOIAF in them 😀

    (that’s A Song of Ice and Fire, the series of books that the HBO series Game of Thrones is based on, for the uninitiated) – I am currently reading them on my tablet as well!

    Grats on your Kindle Touch, and thanks for your insights.

    • Metonymy
    • 8 years ago

    Cyril, if you see this (or anyone else with a Touch) I’m curious about something: I bought a K Keyboard last Aug because I didn’t want to wait for the Touch. I’ve never had the ‘hard to hold’ issues you did but I think that’s because I found a [wonderfully cheap since the Touch as on the way] cover that helped.

    What I’m wondering is this: I used to dislike the ‘flash’ when turning a page, but grew to like it because it alerted me if I’d accidentally done so. I’ve read that the Touch doesn’t ‘fully refresh’ a page every time you turn a page (but rather every few turns) and that it can leave ghost characters.

    Do you notice that, and is it distracting?

    thanks

      • Cyril
      • 8 years ago

      That’s the default, and yeah, text quality kinda degrades after a few turns. There’s an option in the settings to make it refresh with every page turn like the Kindle 3, though.

        • willmore
        • 8 years ago

        I’ve got a Nook Simple Touch and it does this–though no option to turn it off. To me, it looks like reading a normal print book where you can see the text on the other side as well as the page behind it. It subtly made me think I was reading a print book–but with much whiter paper.

        It’s going to be hard to read a paperback again.

    • Kougar
    • 8 years ago

    Got a Kindle Touch in Jan, been loving it ever since. Won’t buy a ‘dead tree’ anymore… can price shop from multiple stores and have my book instantly downloadable. Can resize the font from tiny to presentation-size. And the one-touch dictionary lookup is excellent… I am still surprised by the breadth of the dictionary too as it is far more complete than others I’ve used in the past. Being a voracious reader, not having a pile of used paperbacks cluttering up the place is another plus.

    Didn’t realize it was not a capacitive touch screen, but that explains why occasionally the Touch acts like I double-tapped the screen when I actually hadn’t. Probably the only real negative I have about the thing. But there’s always a go-back button to undo anything, so it’s pretty hard to lose one’s place. The lack of expandable storage is a little unfortunate given the Touch doubles as an audiobook / music player though.

    • Anarchist
    • 8 years ago

    for me I can’t get on board the ebook train until I get to buy/sell used ebooks. Furthermore With mp3 you can download individual songs without buying the whole album. Perhaps it should be possible for people to buy individual chapter of a book instead of entire book.

    • ShadowTiger
    • 8 years ago

    You mentioned that you didn’t like the new progress bar replacement. This brings up my issue with all of these handheld devices, the closed platform issue. If you are selling hardware then you should open up the platform and let software developers modify the applications or write new ones. I realize that a large portion of the revenues for some devices come from software sales (e-books are basically software), and its fine to lock down those mechanisms, but why not let us tinker with stuff?

    Does anyone else agree that leaving it up to the device manufacturer to provide the software often leads to an inferior experience?

    Edit: I just searched google and there are some hacks out there, including someone running linux on it. I just think it should be officially supported.

    • Namarrgon
    • 8 years ago

    I chose the Nook Simple Touch. Its epub files and Adobe DRM can be transferred to many other readers, and it’s trivial to root, which let you install many useful Android apps.

    My wifi Nook Touch now has the Kindle and Google readers on there as well, Foxit PDF reader, Dropbox (for easy file transfers), a Wikipedia app, and even Google Maps (a little slow to use on eInk, but occasionally useful). It’s far from a full tablet, but you can still do a lot with it, and the size, weight, readability and battery life can’t be beaten.

      • insulin_junkie72
      • 8 years ago

      EPUB sounds great in theory, but the reality is that everyone’s different spin on the DRM front (B&N licensed their DRM to Adobe, but Sonys and Kobos generally don’t support the B&N part; Apple has their own slightly different version of EPUB; even Amazon’s new KF8 is basically EPUB3) means you end up having to run it through something like Calibre with the Apprentice Alf plugins anyway if you want to move books between different vendors’ hardware.

      Granted, if you want to make sure you have a copy of your e-books that’s completely in your control, you should take the few seconds per book to run it through Calibre w/Apprentice Alf (or equivalent) regardless.*

      * – also comes in handy in the not-infrequent case where an older book has been sloppily OCR’d, leaving it with typos galore, and you want to edit the file to fix the typos

    • egon
    • 8 years ago

    I find the inevitable screen smudges that catch the light as the Kindle Touch is subtly moved makes it less of a pleasure to read on. Of course there’s a wide range of tolerance here – take computer screens. Some allow there’s to become filthy and aren’t bothered, others need to wipe any blemish immediately. And numerous people have accidental page turn (and accidental other stuff) complaints about the Touch, so this is another thing that varies depending on personal habits.

    The frustrating thing is the market seems to be heading in a more homogenous direction which will only cater for one type – those who prefer touch screens. People who get along better with a physical keyboard and clean screen might be poorly served once the last Kindle 3 (aka Keyboard) is sold.

    • indeego
    • 8 years ago

    Got my daughter a Nook Color and she really, really likes it.

    I’d say it’s reduced our book buying budget 90% and about 50% of our library trips.

    It is amazing how many books are unavailable on any platform. It’s amazing how very overpriced books are. It’s a huge gaping hole I think in their strategies.

      • Yeats
      • 8 years ago

      Considering the amount of enjoyment or knowledge one can gain from a book, I think books are an amazing bargain.

    • kamikaziechameleon
    • 8 years ago

    While I really really really enjoy paper books and have actually started purchasing them recreationally this makes sense for travel like no other.

    • Yeats
    • 8 years ago

    The sleeve is ugly.

    • tejas84
    • 8 years ago

    The Tech Report is fast becoming the The Tablet Report.

    Sorry guys but this seems to be the pattern at TR these days.

      • Cyril
      • 8 years ago

      I don’t think it’s accurate to call the Kindle Touch a tablet. It doesn’t run apps, and the built-in web browser is very slow and clunky (and still tucked away under the “experimental” menu). This is an e-book reader through and through.

      • BIF
      • 8 years ago

      There’s a good reason for “the pattern.” Tablets of all kinds are a big deal. People are interested in them, people use them. Heavily. People are willing to pay for them. Heavily.

      It’s what we want to read about on TR.

      • JDZZL
      • 8 years ago

      i know, they haven’t done any hardware reviews, system builds, specialty pieces or even a graphics card comparison!!! what the H TR???

      • ludi
      • 8 years ago

      Then you’re waaaaayyyy out of the loop. Apple had sold about 45 million iPads by the end of 2011 and is expected to sell another 55 million [i<]this year[/i<]. Amazon was estimating 4-5 million Kindle Fire sales by the end of 2011, and there are numerous Android tablets totalling perhaps another 15-20 million per year. This IS the front wave of the technology market for the indefinite future; TR would be remiss if they weren't giving it a lot of attention.

    • bcronce
    • 8 years ago

    Getting to the point in my life were gaming is less appealing as it use to be and reading looks like fun, I’m torn between ebooks and dead-tree.

    Any opinions are welcomed.

      • flip-mode
      • 8 years ago

      Opinion = ebook

        • BIF
        • 8 years ago

        Me too!

        Since buying my Nook two years ago, I have been reading as much as 2-3 novels per month. Have NEVER done that, not even when I was a bookworm in high school.

        I am trying to reduce the physical footprint of my dead-tree books. I very much would like to eliminate the 8-foot tall book rack in my living room so that I can install a grand piano or maybe a second 100+ gallon aquarium in there!

        I should clarify that I am pro e-book, not necessarily pro Nook. When my Nook gives up the ghost, I’ll switch to my new iPad or I’ll shop afresh. My Nook Books are an asset that I wouldn’t want to lose access to, so I’ll have some reason to stick with Nook. But Nook books are available on Droid and iPhone, so it probably wouldn’t be a great loss.

          • EsotericLord
          • 8 years ago

          If you spend that much time reading, your eyes will thank you later on if you stick to e-ink readers instead of LCD screens.

          Trust me on this one. I can’t see a thing without contacts anymore.

      • Washer
      • 8 years ago

      Both. Since I got my Kindle I’ve found I prefer buying a new ebook versus buying a new dead-tree book. However, I read a lot of older books, the combination of price and the experience of visiting a good used book store just can’t be beat. So both, books are awesome either way.

      • dashbarron
      • 8 years ago

      I can appreciate what you’re saying.

      If you want to go solely reading, buy the Touch and be happy.

      But if you aren’t quite sure and want some options, go middle of the road with a Kindle Fire for $200. If you don’t mind screen size and want a “better” device, go the iPod Touch route for the same amount. Both give you multimedia options along with good reading capabilities. Though the screens are different than the regular Kindle Touch, I’ve had no problems reading for long periods of time.

        • Washer
        • 8 years ago

        I have a feeling bcronce has a smartphone that does everything an iPod Touch would, and I’d never ever wish that reading experience on someone (not just the iPod, but that form factor is horrible on your eyes and there’s no good way to position yourself to read). For reading the Fire is fine, but a LCD is always going to be a bit rough on your eyes. I personally have to crank my Fire to the lowest brightness (wish it went lower) and on low contrast background and text. It’s just uncomfortable after a couple of hours otherwise.

          • Namarrgon
          • 8 years ago

          Been reading on smartphone screens for many years now. It’s not the best form for daytime reading (though the convenience of having your book always on your person is a real plus), but I find a small, lightweight, self-lit screen is ideal for reading in bed. LCD is fine, but OLED is perfect – contrast is superb, even when you turn the brightness way down for night-time reading.

            • Voldenuit
            • 8 years ago

            I also use my smartphone (SAMOLED) for reading. Great for vacations, reading in bed, killing time. Have been contemplating a tablet for reading, but I’m not sure if the larger screen will make up for the convenience of always having your device on you.

          • dashbarron
          • 8 years ago

          Like a book, one has to find a comfortable position.

          I’ve read well over an hour before on my iPod and have consumed voluminous books. I’m by no means an avid reader either.

    • flip-mode
    • 8 years ago

    By the look of it, that thing must weigh twenty stone; you should have bought the fur-collared sleeve. You probably also bought a new iPad like Naughty Scotty, but after seeing him burn in effigy you wisely chose to keep it secret, keep it safe. [spoiler<]end of totally worthless post[/spoiler<]

    • Johnny5
    • 8 years ago

    That title was pretty great.

    • srg86
    • 8 years ago

    I’ve been erring on possibly getting one of these, or the Barns & Noble equivalent. Not for books though (I still like printed books) but mainly for PDF based datasheets and technical manuals.

    Can these display normal PDFs and what are they like with letter/A4 sized documents and things with diagrams in them? I’d much rather have an e-ink display than a backlit LCD.

      • tay
      • 8 years ago

      pdf manuals look great on my new ipad . I’m not trolling, I am thinking of picking up a stand to have and read on my desk.

        • srg86
        • 8 years ago

        No, not a troll post thanks, but I’d rather stay away from Apple products (partly because of don’t want itunes on my windows machine, plus I’m a linux user). Are these e-ink products any good, or would an Andorid or equivalent tablet be better for them?

          • Deanjo
          • 8 years ago

          With iOS 5 you don’t need iTunes on your computer.

            • srg86
            • 8 years ago

            I will keep that in mind, but I’d still be interested in all the options (i’ll only buy an apple product as a last resort).

            • EtherealN
            • 8 years ago

            Android works fine – I use my transformer for a lot of technical drawings, CAD on meetings etcetera. I also really like how easy it is to hook these things up to almost anything when you have to ad-hoc things (which is an exercise in frustration with the company iPad, wherefore I always bring my own Android tablet instead when I have the option 😛 ).

            That said, I’ve not tested these eink-based things for that application, so while I’ll definitely say Android tablets are awesome for this, getting a view on the Kindle/etc stuff is probably wise – they’re cheaper and have better battery, after all. 🙂

      • BobbinThreadbare
      • 8 years ago

      I have similar questions.

      I’ve recently been trying to get a game of GURPS started, and many of their books are out of print, but they sell PDFs of them. If I can read these on a device with E-Ink, I think my eyes would thank me.

        • BobbinThreadbare
        • 8 years ago

        So I got a Nook for my birthday, and I’m really liking it. However, it is not good for PDFs with a lot of tables in them. You have to set the text size so small when reading it that it’s uncomfortable.

      • poulpy
      • 8 years ago

      Got the Kindle Touch myself and my limited experience with PDFs isn’t very good.
      There was a lot of faffing about with zooming in, zooming out, turning page, <repeat for every page> and speed was also way below regular ebooks.
      That being said I’m not sure it’s down to this Kindle in particular, it probably says more about PDFs being rather bulky to handle for a such low specs devices.

      If the PDFs are books you can always convert them to ebooks but you’ll probably end up losing some of the formatting, the TOC, etc.
      If they’re schemas only I’m not too sure how these ones turn out post-conversion.

      • Washer
      • 8 years ago

      You’re going to want a “real” tablet for that. The e-ink display’s refreshing would drive you crazy, and you’ll want a real PDF app. The built-in ones I’ve used on the Kindle Fire and Nook were not great, I know the Fire has Adobe’s Reader in the app store though. In my limited experience with PDF’s on the Fire the built-in app doesn’t handle the formatting very well.

      • TakinYourPoints
      • 8 years ago

      e-paper is best for static pages and layouts. PDFs are better served by LCD tablets.

      I advise people to get both a Kindle for books (non-touch due to faster page refresh times, lower cost, and physical buttons) and an iPad for everything else if they can. Best of both worlds.

      • redavni
      • 8 years ago

      If you are going to use a Kindle for technical documents with diagrams the DX is the only real option. It’s 9.7 inch screen makes the scaling issues in PDF’s that the Kindle 3 has go away. At $380 though, it’s infringing on the LCD tablet space.

      It comes down to how much you value readability and battery life. E-Ink really is a lot more readable than any LCD no matter what people enamored by shiny things think. E-Ink literally does not use power after it draws the screen either. You can leave it on for weeks, and it charges in no time when you finally have to plug it in.

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