Amazon's third major iteration of its flagship reading device, the Kindle, comes out of the gate looking strong: the new graphite finish (just like its big brother, the Kindle DX) with a slimmer, lighter form factor, plus a bumped refresh rate for its E Ink screen. Best of all, the WiFi only and 3G readers have newly lowered prices (though they're still not exactly bargain basement level). We've spent the past few days putting the tinier Kindle through the paces to see just how much Amazon's improved it. Though the market is increasingly flooded with cheap readers, the Kindle is arguably still the leading name in the field, and Amazon is already touting the third model as its bestselling ever -- even though there are still no sales figures to be had. So, is this the best Kindle ever? Read on to find out.

Amazon Kindle unboxing and hands-on

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Amazon

Kindle (2010)

Pros

  • Slimmed down and lighter
  • Improved E Ink screen
  • Reduced price

Cons

  • Page turning buttons are a bit awkward
  • No EPUB support
  • No memory expansion
Summary


Look and feel

The new Kindle looks... well, exactly like the Kindle 2 in many respects. The form factor itself is pretty much unchanged, which isn't a bad thing. While we had a fondness for the original's somewhat crazy sense of style, the second and third iterations are far more streamlined. The 6-inch E Ink screen is the same size as the previous model, though Amazon says it's got a faster refresh rate and better contrast ratio (more on that below). The 21 percent decrease in size and 15 percent reduction in weight shows. The new Kindle is seriously light, and it's certainly now approaching the size of a mass market paperback -- and, in our opinion, as long as we don't lose screen real estate, the smaller and more portable, the better. Amazon's rubberized the back of the device and that, coupled with the downsizing, makes it extremely comfortable to hold in your hand.

In plenty of ways that matter, however, Amazon's made tweaks. First off, the company has ditched the top row of keys for numbers, obviously because of the smaller amount of space the device is working with. This isn't necessarily a good thing, but it's not really bad, either -- for instance, when entering a password into the experimental web browser, it took a minute for us to realize that what we were looking for wasn't there -- and that the numbers are now housed in the symbol menu. Regardless, it's so minor that most new users will never notice the disappearance. The rocker has been changed so that it's now almost completely flush with the face of the device, which is an improvement for stowing it away, and gives it a nicer overall look. In use, it does take some adjustment getting used to it, but it's much smoother than the previous iteration and seems to be a good update. Amazon's also rather inexplicably moved the sliding power button from the top left of the device to the bottom of the unit, along with the volume button and the headphone jack. Honestly, these decisions probably make no real difference and are just minor things to adjust to -- though the headphone jack makes more sense in its new placement.

Amazon Kindle review

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The side buttons on both sides of the device have changed, too, and this is one update we're not that keen on. They feel a bit 'mushier' now, and if you're not looking (as we're often not when reading), it's easy to miss the keys. While the bottom forward arrowed buttons have been enlarged, the back arrows are now smaller -- a feature we agree with, but, as we said, overall, we're not a fan of how easily you can miss the buttons completely when trying to press them. Still, this is definitely the sleekest Kindle yet, and we seriously love the look graphite gray review unit we were provided with.

Other key changes Amazon's made to the Kindle include the doublling of storage up to 4GB from 2GB, and the company also claims to have doubled the battery life from two weeks to four (that's with the wireless off, of course). With the new capacity you can squeeze around 3,500 books onto one of these now, and while we did not test Amazon's battery life claim (because we haven't had it nearly long enough), trust us when we say the battery should rarely be an issue with one of these.


Performance and reading experience

What can we say? It reads just like a Kindle. Yes, the page refresh is slightly faster, but it's barely perceptible in comparison with the Kindle 2, and it's still a very E Ink experience... probably because of the E Ink screen. What is noticeably awesomer is the contrast ratio... this thing is incredibly sharp, and we suspect that it boasts the same quality E Ink screen that the newest DX packs, as that one also impressed us. Honestly, we still find E Ink to be rather frustrating to deal with at times -- mostly because of the refresh rate -- though this is the best Kindle reading experience yet.

There are a few other notable new features -- mostly that new, experimental Webkit browser. In our experience with it, it's called experimental for a reason, and we can't really imaging using it on a regular basis, but we do get a kick out of seeing the internet in glorious grayscale. The 3G browsing experience is (as expected) somewhat noticeably slower than the WiFi one, and while it's obviously in its infancy, we suspect Amazon will continue to improve the browser, and it far exceeds the previous one in terms of quality. Other additions include native support for PDF files, which some people will certainly be very happy about, though there is no support for the EPUB format.


Wrap up

Amazon obviously thinks that it's got a good thing going for itself, and has made very few other changes. The new Kindle is extremely iterative, though we can get behind most of the updates its made. What's clear, however, is that if you're looking for a standalone e-reader (i.e., a portable replacement for physical books), this is the go-to, standard-setting device. While Barnes and Noble's Nook is probably its main competitor, Amazon's got the name in this category, and the new Kindle is lighter and thinner. Amazon's worked out enough of the kinks that its third gen device seems pulled together well enough to seriously start appealing to an even wider audience than previously. The two models -- a WiFi only version for $139 and a WiFi / 3G model for $189 -- are competitively priced for the high quality of the device. At the end of the day, there are two paths a consumer can go down when buying a new reading device: the standalone reader or the do-it-all unit which also reads books. In the standalone category, the Kindle is probably the one to beat, and its support for the platform with apps for many devices are certainly helping it to flourish. We are still, however, not at all assured that the standalone path is the one most consumers will ultimately traverse.

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