Amazon Kindle e-reader

Amazon's newest, cheapest, smallest, simplest Kindle is, we think, its best

Amazon has refined the Kindle several times since its Australian debut, and each time the e-reader du jour has become increasingly attractive to potential buyers. This iteration of the popular e-book reader — by our count it’s the fourth generation — is smaller, lighter, slimmer and cheaper. Australian buyers are well served with local and international stores to buy from, most popular books are very reasonably priced, and using the device is almost as seamless as it could be.

This review largely covers the most recent updates to the Amazon Kindle. For background info on e-readers, reviews of previous Kindles and competitors, read our Amazon Kindle page.

Amazon Kindle 4: Size and weight

Amazon’s specs page for the Kindle proudly boasts that it’s 30 per cent lighter and 18 per cent smaller overall than the last model — this translates into real-world dimensions of 166mm tall, 114mm wide, and only 8.7mm thick. It’s light (but not enough so that it feels cheap) at 170 grams.

The new Kindle, by virtue of its lack of physical keyboard and slimmed-down dimensions, now fits nicely in the back pocket of a pair of jeans. Because of this, we took it where we wouldn’t even consider carrying a paperback. The trade-off is that the Kindle isn’t at all flexible like a paperback, so you’ll need to store it where it won’t get damaged (no sitting on it when it’s in your back pocket, for example).

Amazon Kindle 4: Design

The newest Kindle is the simplest yet, eschewing a keyboard for a far simpler five-way control pad and four basic buttons. There are a pair of ‘shoulder’ buttons on the device’s left and right sides, with the larger button advancing a page and the smaller button retreating. While we realise this has been Kindle house style for a while now, when we started reading with the Kindle 4 we instinctively thought both buttons on the left were for flipping back a page, and both on the right for flipping forward. What we’d propose is a simpler single button on either side of the screen, customisable for each rotation of the Kindle’s reading layout.

The lower button layout — five-way controller, home, menu, keyboard and back buttons — is easy to understand and becomes second nature to use after a short time with the Kindle. The power button, hidden away at the bottom of the device next to the microUSB port, is harder to find for a first-timer. Apart from these buttons, that’s it — nothing else to learn or navigate with.

The new Kindle has built-in Wi-Fi (but no 3G) and a wired USB 2.0 connector for charging and transferring files via PC. We used the Wi-Fi connection (802.11b/g/n supported) to download books off the Amazon Kindle Store, but also transferred PDF, TXT, DOC and JPG files directly onto the device to see all display correctly and with no errors.

You do need to remember to turn off Wi-Fi when you’re not using it, though — it will drain the battery faster than you’d expect. Once during our testing we thought we’d accidentally killed the Kindle, but some testing revealed that we’d inadvertently left the Wi-Fi enabled during a marathon reading session. Thankfully, switching it off is a few seconds’ work.

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