Review: Amazon Kindle Wi-Fi (4th Generation)
As good as a paperback.
Mimics paper; Lightweight; Great build quality; Excellent battery life; Doesn't restrict you to the Amazon store; Excellent collection of books; Wide e-book format support.
Memory isn't expandable; Battery isn't user accessible; Lacks wall charger; Doesn't support EPUB format.
Not every new gimmick is worthwhile. There's a good reason why the internal combustion engine, the keyboard-mouse combo, and the bolt-action rifle have stood the test of time, and are here to stay. Similarly, no amount of LCD, Plasma, or AMOLED displays have managed to rival paper in terms of reading comfort. Needless to say, I had been scoffing at e-ink devices with my typical old-school disregard - that is until one fell right into my lap.
The Kindle feels great to hold and reads even better.
E-ink Done Right
It was the 4th generation Wi-Fi only version of Amazon's Kindle e-book reader. It didn't take me long to realise that its high-contrast Pearl e-ink display looks just as good, if not better than a regular paperback. The 6" display is capable of 16-level greyscale gamut and bears pixel dimensions of 800x600, which comes around to approximately 166 ppi. The Kindle, therefore, looks considerably crisper than your average Indian e-boook reader, such as the Infibeam Pi2 for example. Page switching is considerably faster than any e-ink display I have come across. That's because only the sixth page flip is a complete refresh.
Since the device draws power only when changing text, the battery lasts up to a month. That is, provided you keep the Wi-Fi radio switched off. However, considering how the bundled experimental browser is more of a gimmick, you're going to use the wireless feature only to download e-books anyway. Even then, you should be able to squeeze out two weeks of battery life without a sweat.
The Kindle is pretty lightweight at 170 grammes. It's also very compact at 6.5" x 4.5", with a thickness of 9 mm. The unit's weight and form factor makes it quite ergonomic for single-handed usage. It looks pretty svelte thanks to it understated slate-grey colour scheme, rounded edges, and a small footprint. The build quality is top notch, thanks to a sturdy plastic chassis bearing uniform panel gaps and buttons with a positive tactile feel.
Unlike its expensive touch cousin, navigation is courtesy of a pair of forward and back buttons mirrored on either side of the device for ambidextrous usage. The four-way D-pad and the central select button handle all menus and prompts. This cluster is also handy for selecting words to look up their meanings and add annotations. The D-pad is flanked by the menu, home, and back buttons, in addition to a dedicated on-screen keyboard button. The bottom edge bears a micro-B USB 2.0 port along with the power switch.
Like all modern devices, the Kindle doesn't include a user-replaceable battery. You don't even get a wall charger for the price. Thankfully, you do get a micro USB cable, which manages to charge the device in a few hours. It's a pity that Amazon has discontinued the SD card slot available in the first generation Kindle. This is rather disappointing because this e-book reader bears only 2 GB of storage; out of which only 1.25 GB is available for storage. That's still good enough for approximately 1400 non-illustrated e-books, which should suffice for most users.
A No-Nonsense Reader
Apart from Kindle's own ebook format (AZW), the 4G ebook reader supports TXT, PDF, MOBI, PRC, HTML, DOC, DOCX, JPEG, GIF, PNG, and BMP formats. The popular open EPUB format is conspicuous by its absence though. That being said, Amazon thankfully allows you to connect the device through the mass storage mode and add any of the non-Amazon ebooks as per your convenience. Life is so much better without any of the Orwellian iTunes or Zune media transfer bullshit.
A major difference between this cheaper, spartan Kindle and the more expensive models is the lack of 3G connectivity, touchscreen, physical keyboard, audio capability, and extra 2 GB of storage space. To be honest, none of that matters to those who just want to read. Internet connectivity is not important on a greyscale screen that doesn't handle scrolling web content (which requires constant screen refresh) too well. The on-screen keyboard is an hindrance only to avid annotators, whereas the D-pad is good enough for regular usage. I personally don't like the concept of audio books, which can be a hit-and-miss affair for many as well. The $30 extra for a touchscreen is down to personal preference. However, for those purely into reading e-books, this plain-vanilla Kindle 4G is the right choice.
There's nothing like having access to friends and family, who can carry the $80 (Rs 4000 approx) ad-supported version from the US for you. Unfortunately, Amazon doesn't ship the ad-subsidised models to India. The $110 (Rs 5500 approx) version sans adverts comes down to Rs 7600, inclusive of taxes and shipping, by the time it reaches your doorstep. This is still a better deal than any of the Indian e-ink-based ebook readers. However, those who intend to buy e-books solely from Amazon Kindle Store should do so only after considering the fact that Indian paperbacks are actually cheaper than Kindle ebooks.
Design and Build Quality: 4/5
Overall Rating: 4/5
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