The $79 Kindle — A Review 

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After pre-ordering a Kindle Touch, I changed my mind and ordered the $79 base model.

Back in the spring, I bought my wife a Kindle 3, and have borrowed it a good bit since then. The price was right, so I thought it was time to get my first Kindle. And it doesn’t suck.

Hardware

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The new Kindle is quite a bit smaller and lighter than the old one. The keyboard is gone, as is all of the audio gear. The new one weighs just 5.98 ounces. It makes the Kindle 3 — at 8.5 ounces — feel quite heavy.

The page-turn buttons are absent on the Kindle Touch, but have received a bit of a change on the new base model. They are a little more around the side of the bezel, as opposed to being on the surface. Also, instead of being rounded, they have a little bit of an edge to them:

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The sum of these changes adds up to an improvement in feel in my opinion. On the old Kindle, I was felt like if I pressed too hard, the buttons would just snap off the side of the device. With this new generation, I don’t feel that way anymore.

The buttons below the screen also feel improved. The 5-way pad seems much better, thankfully. The other buttons feel far more solid than the keyboard on the Kindle 3.

The back of the new Kindle is similar to the old one — the same soft-touch material is found on both units. However, the new one just looks a little … HTC-y:

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The page turning is much faster on the new model, and the new e-ink screen doesn’t have to flash to black between every page turn, as this video my lovely wife helped me make shows:

In summary, the new Kindle feels like a solid little device. The cheapness that felt present in the Kindle 3’s hardware really seems to have improved this time around.

Software

The software on the low-end Kindle is very, very similar to what’s on the Kindle 3. The biggest change is the software keyboard.

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It is actually fairly responsive. Thanks the improved 5-way pad, getting around the keyboard isn’t bad at all. I don’t think I’ll regret the choice not going with the Touch.

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The $79 Kindle does not include the new X-Ray feature found on the Kindle Touch. I didn’t realize this when I ordered mine, and was a bit disappointed when I learned of the segmentation here.

After thinking on it for a bit, I’m okay with it. If I ever need to look something up regarding a book, I have an iPhone in my pocket. While it might not be as seamless as X-Ray, I can live with it.

Oh, the experimental browser is still very, very strange to use. It’s nice that it is there, but I wouldn’t want to browser for any amount of time using it.

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Special Offers

Opting for the $79 model means living with Amazon’s “Special Offers.”

When the device is off, an ad shows up on the display, as the lead photo in this review shows. When in the main menu, a banner ad is run along the bottom of the display:

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I don’t mind the ad on the screen when I’m not using the device. They all seem well-designed, and the reality is that most of the time, the Kindle is on my desk or in my bag when I’m not using it.

The ad on the main screen is far more distracting, but without touch, it’s actually some work to navigate to it to click through to the full-screen version. While it’s annoying, they don’t get in the way of navigating the device or reading.

On a somewhat related note, Amazon has cleaned up its own branding with the new model. The front of the device just reads “Kindle.”

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Services

Obviously, Amazon’s Kindle book system is fantastic. No one has come close to matching Amazon in ease-of-use and variety of selection, including Apple and its iBookstore.

However, the Kindle can do far more than just read books.

Instapaper has two Kindle tricks up its sleeve. The service can send a daily collection of unread items. It does so using the Kindle’s subscription mechanism, and its not great. (I blame Amazon, not Marco, for this.)

Additionally, paid subscribers can send webpage text to the Kindle via a browser bookmarklet. It works great, and is well-worth the subscription costs. There’s something sort of magical about sending something from a web browser to the Kindle, over the air, and read it on go.

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Amazon also allows users to email files and documents to the Kindle. It’s a great way to get stuff to the device, albeit a little wonky. For example: with two Kindles on our family Amazon account, we can still only have one send-to-Kindle email address. Which would be lame, if my wife ever wanted to send anything to her device.

Conclusion

The $79 Kindle is very much a contender in the e-ink reader space. While it might not be as fancy as the new Kindle Touch or as large as the Kindle DX, its low price and high build-quality are a tough combination to beat. I’m thrilled with my purchase.

I really don’t see why anyone would buy a Nook Simple Touch or even an iBookstore book.

Amazon is still king, and thanks to this new Kindle lineup, that doesn’t look like it will be changing any time soon.

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