In the age of Lolcats, Facebook and amazingly immersive video games, the good old-fashioned book has become a bit of a minnow in the fight for our downtime. The fourth generation Kindle from Amazon is doing its best to change that, with a stunning lightweight design and access to Amazon’s brilliant Whispersync service.
There’s a reason that Amazon is often compared to Apple in the way it views its business. Not only do they offer the same closed ecosystem of hardware and software, but Amazon also has that attention to detail that makes opening its products feel special. Unlike an Apple product, the Kindle comes in an understated cardboard box. There’s no gentle opening either – you have to tear at a cardboard tab to rip open the packaging, rekindling the joyful memories of receiving mail as a child.
Once you’ve unboxed the eReader, you need to get connected to the internet via Wi-Fi. Unlike the first Kindle to come to Australia, this particular model doesn’t feature an integrated 3G SIM card for immediate downloading of books anywhere in the world. That means you need to have a Wi-Fi hotspot in order to get books onto your device.
The lack of a keyboard – while much more aesthetically pleasing – makes entering complicated passwords significantly more difficult. Thankfully you’ll only have to do it once, unless you change your wireless password, of course.
Like Kindles that came before it, the fourth generation device makes buying eBooks incredibly simple once you’ve connected the device to your Amazon account. After downloading the Walter Isaacson Steve Jobs biography – which took about a minute to download to the device – it became evident that the e-ink technology has advanced dramatically since the early days of ereaders. Turning the page is almost instantaneous, while the contrast seems even greater than previous versions, making the act of reading a truly enjoyable experience.
Whispersync is another one of Amazon’s strengths, offering readers the ability to wirelessly sync where they are up to on the page with all of their devices. Over the weeks reading the Steve Jobs bio, pages were turned on the Kindle itself, on the iPad using the Kindle app, on the iPhone using the Kindle app, and on the Mac using the Kindle app. Switching between devices was seamless, with Whispersync ensuring that every time the book was opened on a new device, it updated to the latest page I had been reading.
But despite those strengths, there are a couple of fundamental flaws in this generation Kindle device. The major one being the button controls. Where previous generations all featured the next page buttons flush on the front, this version has gone for a more subtle approach on the corners. While it looks nicer, it also makes holding the device a lot less comfortable, and the act of changing pages a lot more difficult.
Also frustrating is the control rocker’s move to the centre of the device, placing it out of the way of convenience and into the open maw of visually pleasing design. It’s far from being a dealbreaker, but if you want to annotate or look up a word, not having the control conveniently under the thumb can become a small annoyance.
Overall, the Kindle is still far and away the best eReader on the market. And the good news is that Amazon is still selling the keyboarded version of the Kindle, which answers many of the criticisms of this model with its different design. Whether you prefer this model or the model with keyboard will largely depend on whether you prefer form over function.
Like: The stunning good looks, the satisfying unboxing experience and the fast refresh rate all make the fourth generation Kindle an amazing device. Whispersync reminds us why Amazon is well out in front in this market.
Dislike: The controls have been sacrificed to make way for a minimalist design, and it makes using the gadget less enjoyable.
Nick Broughall is the Australian Editor of TechRadar.com, where he gets to indulge his passion for geekery and the lastest technology. He is also the Editor of EFTM.com.au, where he gets to indulge his passion for manliness, from sampling fine liquor to the joys of growing a beard. It’s a pretty good life, really.