The third-generation Kindle comes in two versions: The Kindle Wi-Fi costs $139, while the Kindle (as Amazon calls it) has both Wi-Fi and 3G and costs $189, the same as what the 3G-only Kindle 2 cost previously. Each version comes in two colors: Eye-pleasing graphite (like the Kindle DX launched earlier this summer) and standard Kindle white. We took a closer look at the new model, comparing it against its predecessor, to see how the Kindle has evolved.
If you look at the numbers alone, it doesn't seem as if the third-generation Kindle (at left) shaves off that much compared with the second-gen model. The new model measures a stout 7.5 by 4.8 by 0.34 inches, versus the 8 by 5.3 by 0.36 inches of the Kindle 2. But when you observe the devices together, it's clear that the dimensions have shrunk.
Like the Kindle DX (Graphite), the six-inch Kindle now has a 6-inch E-Ink Pearl display, one of whose benefits is 50 percent better contrast. Look carefully at the screen on the left, which is the new Kindle: Blacks look more solid, and text looks smoother than the one on the right. Another benefit of the Pearl display: Faster screen refresh rates, which leads to a significantly improved user experience.
The difference between the displays on the old and new Kindle is especially apparent when you view images, such as the screensavers shown here.
The new Kindle unit is very streamlined, with all buttons and ports--volume rocker, headphone jack, micro-USB, and power switch--now neatly in a row along the bottom edge. The position of the power switch was unexpected, but the other buttons felt suitably situated. Nifty addition: When you slide the switch (or plug the device in to power it up), it glows green to signify a healthy battery life; and when the battery is low and it needs to charge, it glows amber.
The new Kindle (left) has a subtly grippy, rubberized backing, with the speakers moved up to the top and curling around the upper corners. Kindle 2 had a slick, metal back, with the speakers at the bottom.
Nowhere is it clearer that the third-generation Kindle is 21 percent smaller than when you view it stacked on top of its predecessor, as seen here. This angle leaves no question which model will be easier to hold in the hand, simply by virtue of its smaller size.
To achieve the third-gen Kindle's smaller design, Amazon tightened the keyboard layout (seen at bottom). The keys are now slightly closer together, and the dedicated row of numbers has been removed. For numbers, you must press the symbol button (Sym), much as you do on a touchscreen cell phone's keyboard; when you do so, an on-screen numeric keypad pops up. The keyboard's buttons are more rounded--and because they're closer together, I found this keyboard easier to type on than that of the second-gen Kindle. It's similar to typing on a physical cell phone keyboard.
One of the things I disliked about the gen-2 Kindle was that the page-forward and page-back buttons depressed inward, into the screen; the result was a noisy, mechanical press. The new model's screen is now flanked by simple forward and back buttons, mirrored in size and shape, and denoted by arrows, as opposed to words (as on the gen-2 Kindle, shown here).
The much slimmer page-turning buttons for this third-generation Kindle now depress away from the screen, like a rocker-style button that melds into the edge of the device. I prefer this approach, as my finger didn't need to hover in a single place to turn the page; instead, I could mix up my hand location, and still turn the page with my palm heel, or even the length of my thumb--a vastly superior experience (and one that was better than on the first-gen Kindle).
The Kindle 3's navigation buttons have been completely overhauled. On the Kindle 2 (right), the menu and navigation buttons were less finger-friendly, clustered around a joystick, and spilled onto the keyboard. On the new Kindle, a D-pad-like five-way navigation square replaces the joystick, with an oval Menu button above it and a Back button beneath it. In use, the new layout has been very finger-friendly and convenient.
For the first time, you can directly change line spacing from within the menus (choose between small, medium, and large), and you can finally change typeface, too (choose regular, condensed, or sans serif). Both kinds of options are directly accessible from the fonts button, now on the bottom row between the spacebar and the home button.
Unlike the Kindle 2, the new third-generation Kindle has Wi-Fi as well as 3G connectivity; or, you can save $50 and buy the comparatively bargain-priced Wi-Fi-only model for $139.
Like the Kindle DX (Graphite), this model has social networking integration, for Facebook and Twitter. Notice that, to manage your social networks, you're logging on to a Kindle-specific Website using the Kindle's built-in--but still termed "Experimental"--Web browser.
While E-Ink screens make great companions in brightly lit situations, they're not as good as LCDs in low-light environments--a reason some users cite for preferring an LCD-based device like an Apple iPad. Amazon catches up to a competitor (the Sony Reader Touch Edition) in offering a leather cover for the Kindle ($60) that has a built-in light. Sadly, the light is not adjustable (as it is on the Sony), and as you can see from this image, it disperses light unevenly (the top right corner is very bright, while the lower left is noticeably darker). The light sips its power from the Kindle's battery, which Amazon now claims can last up to one month.
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