As noted in Amazon Kindle: A Look at the Late 2011 Lineup, I originally intended to review only the Kindle Touch and Kindle Fire this holiday season. The reasoning was simple: Amazon's other new Kindle device, eponymously named "Kindle," lacks the free 3G networking option I happen to find very useful as a regular traveler. But the sheer inadequacy of the Kindle Touch led me to rethink things. So I ordered a base Kindle and hoped for the best.
And folks, this time Amazon got it right.
As a refresher, the base Kindle is cheap, really cheap. You can get the base model for $79; that comes with the Special Offers ads, which I happen to prefer. Or, pay $109 for a version without ads. Either way, you're getting a tiny, light device with a great 6-inch e-ink screen that offers Wi-Fi connectivity and a month of battery life. Via a new range of (added cost) cases, there's even an integrated nightlight capability, which was also a fun feature on the previous generation model.
Amazon Kindle (2011, base model)
The base Kindle isn't perfect, of course. There's no 3G option, as noted, so you have to make do with Wi-Fi, which should be fine for most home users but not so optimal for those that wish to make impulse buys on the go. It lacks any kind of integrated nightlight capability, which was a fun feature on the previous generation model (made available via a special case from Amazon). And for those who enjoy listening to music or audio books on the Kindle, you should note that this new base Kindle eschews any kind of audio capabilities; there's no headphone jack or speakers at all.
Eschewing Apple-like packaging, the Kindle offers only the basics
Finally, like the Kindle Touch, the new base Kindle features a power button instead of a slider, which means it could be possible to accidentally shut the device off while reading. That last issue, alas, hasn't happened, as it does so often with the Touch. And I think I've figured out why. It appears to be a matter of weight, or weight distribution, or what you might think of as balance. Because of the lack of a multitouch screen, the base Kindle is far lighter--and a bit smaller--than the Kindle Touch. So you hold it--or balance it--a bit differently than you do with the Touch. And that means that your palm is less likely to be right under the device, where the power button lies.
What's in the box: Not much. There's no charging adapter included.
Obviously, everyone holds these things differently. And we're entering into a strange area with these little Kindles in that they're so small and thin and light that holding them with one hand in such a way that you can still use the navigational buttons is a bit awkward. So the base Kindle has required a bit of an adjustment. But it's one I'm quite willing to make. And the reason is simple. The base Kindle, unlike the Touch, and unlike the Fire, has those glorious mechanical navigational buttons that also appeared in the previous two generations of Kindle devices. And they are reason enough to choose this model over the Touch. In fact, they're wonderful.
Kindle (top) and Kindle Touch (bottom)
What's funny about the base Kindle is that it looks tiny--just unbelievably small and thin--next to the old Kindle (now called the Kindle Keyboard). It looks so different that I repeatedly held them next to each other to reassure myself that the screen size did, in fact, not change at all. Only the device is smaller. Part of it is thanks to the removal of the superfluous hardware keyboard, of course. But part of it is just the general technological improvement that occurs over time. This new Kindle benefits from years of miniaturization work from Amazon and its suppliers.
Kindle (left) vs. Kindle Touch (right)
And from a software perspective, this new Kindle is the Goldilocks of eBook readers. That is, everything is just right. Gone is the hokey, touch-based garbage from the Kindle Touch, replaced by the same menus, UI, and navigational methods employed by the Kindle 3/Keyboard. It's familiar, yes, but it's also superior. Periodicals work as before. Which is to say, correctly, and well.
Kindle (top) vs. Kindle 3/Keyboard (bottom)
From a button perspective, Amazon basically looked at the Kindle 3/Keyboard, removed the alphanumeric keys, and left everything else intact. So you get the dual sets of Back/Forward buttons on both sides, meaning you can hold it with one hand--either hand--and easily navigate through content. And you get the same four way toggle button, straddled by small, wonderfully mechanical Back, Keyboard (for bringing up the new software keyboard), Menu, and Home buttons.
I still wish this thing had 3G, but I'll try to make a go without it. In the meantime, I feel comfortable recommending this device wholeheartedly over the Kindle Touch to the majority of people who still want a dedicated eBook reader. It's that much better. And I'll also point out that the clear and crisp e-ink screen used by this device is far superior to any glossy, reflective, and potentially eye-straining LCD screen, so if what you want to read is the typical novel or book, or the newspaper, then this Kindle, or one like it, is the better choice. Devices like the Kindle Fire or iPad have their place, but avid readers know that dedicated Kindle eBook readers are the solution of choice. And with the new Kindle, Amazon has struck the right balance and made up, somewhat, for the lackluster Touch device. The new Amazon Kindle is highly recommended, despite the lack of a 3G option.