- 6in E-Ink touchscreen
- 4GB storage
- Up to 2 month battery life
- 172 x 120 x 10.1mm; 213g
- Price as reviewed: £109 (Wi-Fi) £169 (3G)
Kindle Touch: Introduction
Amazon has long been the king of the ereader. The term Kindle is regularly interchanged with ereader in much the same way as iPad has come to mean tablet, for many people - except Apple that is, who never refer to an iPad as a tablet.
Over the years the Kindle's look and feel has been refined while its core functionality has remained pretty much unaltered. While some versions do allow you to surf the web and read emails, the Kindle does one thing very well, and that is letting you read ebooks.
The latest version of the Kindle continues this evolutionary process by removing almost all physical buttons and including a touchscreen through which you navigate the menu system and turn pages.
So has Amazon done it again with the Kindle Touch and has it done enough to persuade you to upgrade? Let's find out.
Kindle Touch: Design and Feel
The main place people see Kindles is on the public transport, and on casual viewing on the Tube or over someone's shoulder on the bus, the Kindle Touch looks very much like the fourth generation Kindle which was launched last year.
However, pick up the new Kindle Touch and the difference is immediately obvious. While it may have shed some buttons, the touchscreen Kindle has added on both girth and weight as a result.
The fourth generation Kindle shed the physical keyboard in favour of a row of physical buttons below the screen, but Amazon managed to produce a svelte and classy design, something it has not quite managed with the Kindle Touch.
The Kindle Touch is still a nice looking ereader, but the added bulk and girth take away slightly from the premium feeling we got used to with the previous Amazon ereader.
As we said the new Kindle looks very much like the previous model with a footprint of 172 x 120mm which is almost identical to the Kindle 4's footprint of 166 x 116mm. However it is the thickness which shows the main difference in the design, going from 8.7mm to 10.1mm.
You immediately notice the extra bulk and when you consider the weigh has gone from 170g to 213g (or 221g for the Wi-Fi + 3G model) , it is clear Amazon has had to make some design compromises to include the touchscreen.
The Kindle is once again composed of a combination of glossy plastic front bezel, coated metallic frame and rubberised plastic rear all in various shades of grey. All this grey is used by Amazon to help trick your eyes into thinking the contrast on the E-Ink screen is better than it is.
The screen is once again the same 6in E-Ink screen seen on previous models but is it now surrounded by a chunkier bezel. Below the screen sits the only physical button on the front, the Home button, which has a raised ridged, square design.
On the bottom edge you will find the micro-USB port for charging and data transfer, a headphone jack and the screen lock/unlock button.
On the rear you will find a pair of metal contacts, used by the official Kindle cover for powering the in-built light. Flanking these contacts are two speaker grilles, which have been reintroduced having disappeared on the previous model.
While the added bulk may not appeal to all, build quality is still very good, though there was some flex on the rear soft-touch panel of our review model.
The internal memory has been boosted back up to 4GB (from 2GB) while the battery size has also been doubled now offering two months of reading on a single charge. While this extra storage and extra battery is welcome, we have seen the drawbacks in terms of weight and girth.
Kindle Touch: E-Ink Touchscreen
As with previous models, the Kindle Touch features a 6in E-Ink screen, which offers the benefits of a paper-like image that's easier on the eyes than reading an LCD screen.
This is because E-Ink screens don't use a backlight, but of course this also means reading in the dark is out of the question.
Another benefit of this type of screen is the ability to read it perfectly in direct sunlight, unlike glossy screens on laptops, tablets and smartphones.
The 6in screen has a resolution of 600 x 800 pixels which is identical to the regular Kindle. This may not sound like a very high resolution compared to the likes of the Retina Display iPad, but because of the way E-Ink screen are constructed, it doesn't really matter.
Text on the screen is sharp and it really is like reading the printed page of a book.
The big feature of this Kindle of course is the touchscreen and Amazon has gone for a multi-touch IR touchscreen similar to the one used by Sony's PRS-T1.
This works by tiny laser being shot across the top of the screen and when your fingers cut this beam of lasers, the Kindle knows where you are trying to press. It works well, and produces very accurate results, though unlike capacitive screens, you do end up tapping the screen inadvertently.
Kindle Touch: Performance
Using the Kindle Touch is a completely different prospect than using the previous versions of Amazon's ereader. Moving to a touchscreen will mean those who used older Kindles will have to retrain themselves to flick, swipe and tap on the 6in touchscreen.
Amazon has divided the screen into three distinct areas. Tapping a horizontal rectangular section along the top will bring up an in-book menu, tapping a vertical rectangular section along the left-hand side will move back a page and tapping anywhere else will move you forward a page.
All very simple, and it works very well and if you want to go back to the main menu, then all you need to do is press the square, ridged home button.
There are a couple of other actions you can use, such as swiping downwards to bring you to the start of the current chapter, while swiping upwards brings you to the start of the next chapter.
A pinch-to-zoom action, so well-known from tablets and smartphones, will automatically bring up a font size selection menu, letting you choose between eight different sizes.
While these actions are handy, you can find yourself accidentally swiping to the next chapter when you only want to turn to the next page.
We also found one-handed use to ba a bit awkward, as depending which hand you are using means either moving back or forward a page can be a bit of a stretch.
We realise that we may have small hands, bu then again so do lots of people and we did miss having both actions available on eight side of the device, as is the case with previous Kindles.
The context menu which comes up when you press along the top of the page, lets you go to the Kindle Store, go back to the start of the chapter, change the size of the text and go to a specific page or 'location'.
You are also able to search for a particular word, either within the book you are reading, My items, the Kindle Store, Wikipedia or the inbuilt dictionary.
Kindle Touch: X-Ray, MP3 Player, Text-to-Speech, web browser
Amazon has always included some features it likes to call 'experimental' and the Kindle Touch is no different. There is only one truly new feature however, with the others making a return having being omitted from the £89 Kindle last year.
The new feature is called X-Ray which Amazon says will let users explore the "bones of a book" by simply highlighting a particular word or phrase.
Readers will then see all the passages across a book that mention ideas, fictional characters, historical figures, places or topics that interest them, as well as more detailed descriptions from Wikipedia and Shelfari, Amazon's community-powered encyclopedia for book lovers.
This feature is only available for books optimised for it, but we expect X-Ray to become a standard feature for all new books available in the Kindle store.
We think that X-Ray will be a feature some will find very valuable if they do want to learn more about a certain book, character or theme, but there will also be people who will find X-Ray pointless and never use it.
Returning to the Kindle Touch is the ability to use the Amazon ereader as an portable music player, supporting as it does, MP3, AAC and WAV file types. Again it is not a reason on its own to buy the Kindle Touch, but for those wanting to listen to music while they read, it will be a welcome return.
Going hand-in-hand with the music playback is the text-to-speech feature, which lets you turn any ebook into an audio book.
You will hear a synthesised American male or female voice reading the book back to you when you turn it on, and while it's not the same as a real audio book, we welcome having rh choice.
Another experimental feature available to owners of the Kindle Touch is the web browser, but if you're thinking about using your Kindle as your primary web browsing tool, then a few minutes using this 'experimental' browser will change your mind.
Amazon does not play up the browser's abilities and is meant to be used only when there is no other option available.
The Kindle Touch, like all other models, is available in Wi-Fi only and Wi-fi + 3G models, with the latter coming with free worldwide 3G access for the lifetime of the device, which is a nice added extra.
Kindle Touch: Kindle Store
Speaking of the Kindle Store, you can access it from the main menu or from the in-book pop-up menu.
As you have to register your new Kindle with an Amazon account when you first buy it, there's no need to sign in again, removing the need to input payment details if you have a card already registered with the account.
All this means that buying books is a breeze, and can be downloaded to your Kindle Touch via Amazon's Whispernet network almost instantly, depending on whether or not you are on a Wi-Fi network.
The layout of the Kindle Store is pretty straightforward, with six sections (books, newspapers, magazines, blogs, new releases and pre-orders) at the top and Featured items below that.
Along the bottom you'll find Editors' Picks which is a visual representation of books chosen by Amazon which may be of interest to you.
Amazon is the Apple of the ereader world, as it doesn't really want you to stray outside of its eco-system, with content purchases where the company makes its money, rather than on the price of the hardware.
As such the Kindle Touch, like the rest of the line, does not support a number of the mainstream file formats. The main one you will miss is EPUB, which is the de facto format for pretty much all other ebook readers out there.
This means that you won't be able to loan any books from libraries which support this feature, as all of them currently only use the EPUB format.
Kindles do support TXT, MOBI, PRC, PDF and its own AZW file format. While being able to handle PDFs is obviously a bonus, navigating around them and zooming in and out is buggy at best and the E-Ink screen is not ideal for viewing these stations.
Kindle Touch: Verdict
The Kindle Touch has added a lot of features left out of the most recent update of the regular Kindle, such as the MP3 playback, a bigger battery, text-to-speech and 4GB of memory - as well as a couple of new features like X-Ray and touchscreen navigation obviously.
However this added feature set has come at an aesthetic cost, with the Kindle Touch being noticeably heavier and bulkier than the regular Kindle. It is also slightly cumbersome to hold in one hand, especially if you have small hands, and the added cost (£20) may lead you to stick with the regular Kindle.
The Kindle Touch is still one of the best ereaders on the market and Amazon has finally included a touchscreen, catching up with most of its rivals. Whether the extra bulk and cost is worth the extra features will be a personal judgement, but for simply reading ebooks, Amazon's Kindle is still king.
Kindle Touch: Scores
- Screen 9/10
- Value 8/10
- Design 7/10
- Build Quality 8/10
- Overall 8/10
- Great battery life
- Good E-Ink Screen
- Slightly bulky and heavy
- Awkward one-handed use
- Limited file format support