November 22, 2011

New Kindle first impressions

New Kindle vs. first generation Kindle DX
New Kindle 4 vs. original Kindle DX. Apologies for the crappy iPhone photo.

Amazon delivered my new Kindle 4 a day early – a nice Monday afternoon surprise. The new Kindle is replacing my first generation Kindle DX, which seems absurdly large by comparison.

I decided to go for small, light and cheap this time. The DX is great for reading, but it’s a pain to lug around and it’s expensive enough that I’m worried about losing or breaking it.

I’ve read that Amazon’s goal with the most recent refresh to the Kindle line is to make the devices themselves less important while emphasizing the great content you can access on them. With this in mind, going cheap makes sense. When Amazon releases a new version of the Kindle, it will be much less painful to upgrade from a $79 Kindle than a $250 Kindle.

Kindle vs. Kindle Touch

I decided not to get the Kindle Touch because I really didn’t want the extra weight and the speakers. I also rarely type on my Kindle DX, so I thought I probably wouldn’t mind the “keyboard” on the non-Touch Kindle.

On-screen keyboard of the Kindle 4
Kindle 4 on-screen keyboard.

The “keyboard” on this Kindle is controlled with the four-way selector. You have to select one character at a time, but it actually works surprisingly well – as long as you only use it for entering wifi passwords and the occasional search. If you ever use the Kindle’s notes feature or do a lot of searching on the Kindle Store, I would imagine the Touch or the Kindle with the physical keyboard would be the better choice.

Using the Kindle

The new Kindle is incredibly small and light. It is very comfortable to hold in one hand while reading. There are page turn buttons on both sides of the device. They essentially make up the middle 50% of both the left and right edges. They don’t extend very far onto the front of the device, which can make them hard to push initially, but I adjusted quickly. They are hard enough to push that I didn’t have any trouble with inadvertent page turns.

The refresh time has improved significantly since the DX. The Kindle only refreshes the entire screen (this causes the Kindle’s screen to flash black for a moment) about every six page turns, which makes page turns more seamless and faster. There’s been some speculation about how this would affect the clarity of the text as this theoretically degrades with each page turn that doesn’t trigger a full refresh, but I can’t notice any difference under normal reading.

The price point

With a charger and a case, my order came in at $115. This is approaching the point where for many people, the Kindle will be more of an impulse buy instead than a carefully considered purchase. For me, I think think this point is closer to $60 – I thought about this purchase for almost two months before I pulled the trigger.

Getting to the “impulse buy” price is critical for Amazon to succeed with their device-only-as-interface strategy. People will not want to pay a lot of money for a device that is meant to be replaced frequently and doesn’t offer the same functionality as other expensive devices.

The Kindle Fire is moving towards the “impulse buy” price point in the tablet market – despite suffering from some pretty serious usability issues, they are selling like hotcakes.

I think this device-as-interface philosophy will help Amazon to lead the digital content market for books and video. By lowering the barrier to entry for consumers by making fairly good devices at low prices (Jeff Bezos likes to call them “premium products at non-premium prices”) I would imagine Amazon will pick up a lot of business selling content.


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