Still don't have an e-reader? I can respect that. Physical books just feel better. Print is sacred. I'm with you—or at least I was, until our reviews editor thrust a Kindle in my hand and made me use it.
Amazon has just updated its bare-bones, entry-level Kindle to finally include touchscreen navigation like phones and tablets, and at $80, we figured it might just be cheap enough for ye holdouts to finally give e-readers a try. And so with a reluctant mix of analog nostalgia and gadget snobbery, I turned on my first Kindle.
Right away I noticed that the display's dull lighting and grayish tint—the Kindle's Pearl e-ink display—is indeed a very welcome break from the constant headachey glow of laptop and smartphone screens. It mimics the traditional ink-on-paper look better than I'd expected.
The screen was easy to read in the (rare) shine of bright sun, but the lack of built-in light also means you won't be reading at night unless you're shining a lamp on the device. Even trying to make out the screen text in Gawker's dark cave of an office was a strain—I immediately found myself searching for how to adjust the brightness level, which of course you can't.
[Ed: Pricier e-readers come with built-in lights, like the $120 Kindle Paperwhite, which also feels superior to this model in most every other way.]
That's no love lost for bookworms already used to squinting at a printed page. Navigating around the Kindle's features, however—even with a touchscreen—took some getting used to. Granted, I was lazy and didn't bother to read the beginner's guide the gadget so handily comes loaded up with, and actually got stuck in a book flipping through pages like a dope before figuring out you tap the top left corner to get back to the home screen. (Tip: read the guide.)
Make fun, but the point is, navigation isn't exactly intuitive—especially if you've been locked in Apple's ecosystem for the last decade. It took me several hours to shake the instinct to scroll down for more text instead of tapping to turn the page.
The latency was considerably more frustrating. The updated basic Kindle boasts 20% faster processing speeds than its predecessor, but it was suuuper slow compared to my phone. I finally gave up searching for books on the device itself and opted to shop on Amazon's much more user-friendly website from my computer. Then I just transferred books to the reader over Wi-Fi.
The good news is the lightweight device is real easy to transport. Margaret Atwood traveled with me to the bar, the concert, and the yoga class without a hitch. I shoved in my tiny bag without a care. Since the display isn't glass, I could read it while walking down a busy sidewalk, balancing it precariously with my coffee and muffin, stress-free. And unlike the five novels you were ambitiously planning to finish next vacation, it's easy to tuck into an overpacked suitcase or even a large pocket, plus it stays charged for weeks so no need to cart along the cord too.
If you're a voracious reader, there are plenty of other benefits to taking your literary prowess into the 21st century. The built-in dictionary is handy for those re-cher-ché words you encounter, social media integration if social reading is your thing, annotations to scribble notes in the digital margins, instant gratification through one-click purchases and speedy downloads, and thousands of books packed into 6.7 ounces.
I didn't use any of these bells and whistles beyond some basic experimentation. But then, I'm not a voracious reader. If I'm being honest, I haven't read an entire book in months. A neverending stream of news stories, magazines, and social media content yeah, but not a book. And for those of us used to being glued to the latest, fastest, shiniest, app-packed gadget, this no-frills reader is going to feel like a time warp into the past. It's worth considering that for just $20 more you could get Amazon's new Kindle Fire HD 6 and get a tablet that doubles as an e-reader.
Kindle Fire HD 6 is on the left.
But that's missing the point. You're not going to buy the basic Kindle because it's the best e-reader out there. You're not going to buy it instead of a tablet. You're going to buy it because you love to read and you aren't afraid of the future when it only costs $80. If that's the case, now's a good time to take the plunge.
Would I get one? I really expected the answer to be no—I've got a backlog of Pocket reads doing a perfectly fine job of filling up my commute. But I realized the greatest value of the Kindle and its ilk is that it's not possible to surf the web or really do anything at all except immerse yourself in the text. This perfectly decent if somewhat archaic e-reader managed to force me to stop multitasking and totally lose myself in a novel again, and that's probably worth 80 bucks to me.
But not for everyone. Here's my colleague Michael Hession's perspective on why phones still make the best readers.
Kindle (2014) Specs:
- 6-inch display (just slightly bigger than the iPhone 6 Plus)
- 167 ppi (lower resolution than other readers)
- 4-weeks of battery life (same as previous model)
- 4 GB storage (holds thousands of books, double the previous model)
- New touchscreen control
- Wi-Fi so you can download books without connecting to the computer
- $79 with special offers—read: ads—and $99 without ($10 more than the previous model)
- 20% faster processor for smoother page turns
Photos by Nick Stango