23/04/2012 17:10 | By David Phelan, contributor, MSN Tech & Gadgets

Amazon Kindle Touch review

Does touchscreen functionality bring an extra level of usability to Amazon's e-reader, or is it an unnecessary addition?


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What is it?
The latest tablet from Amazon to reach UK shores, with e-ink display and touchscreen interface.

What's great
The Kindle Touch has a smooth, sensitive touchscreen interface, and reduced screen flashing as you turn pages.

What's not
It's occassionally slow to respond to commands, and it's too easy to turn pages when it's in your pocket.

The bottom line
This a brilliant e-ink display ebook reader, with access to the massive Kindle library of ebooks. Still, some may prefer the lighter, thinner and cheaper basic Kindle.

Review
Let's get one thing straight: it's hard to beat paper. Traditional books are sublimely easy on the eye, feel good in the hand and encourage a more intimate relationship. After all, with a book held in your hands you can tell by touch alone how far through the book you are. And there's something satisfying about the way the book's shape changes in your hand with the weight moving from right to left hands as you progress.

However, if you want to take a bunch of books away on holiday, an ebook reader is tremendously convenient. You can carry literally thousands of novels at a time. Plus, ebook readers have connectivity so when you finish one novel, you can download your next one instantly, wherever there's a 3G or wi-fi signal.

This latest model from Amazon uses a six-inch e-ink screen. It's similar in design to the company's basic model. It's a little bigger, thicker and heavier, though still lighter than many a paperback. While the earlier model has a row of buttons including a direction pad to navigate an onscreen keyboard, this has a touchscreen interface.

Actually, the screen itself isn't touch-sensitive. The bezel around the display (notably deeper than on previous models) contains infra-red sensors. When these sensors spot an interruption, they know where your finger is touching. This has the advantage that you can touch the screen wearing gloves or poke it with a pencil, unlike the capacitive screens of the iPad, say. And it responds to the very lightest of touches, unlike resistive touchscreens.

So you can turn the page with a gentle touch or intuitive sweep of your finger. It's a very good system. Except for one thing: the Kindle takes a long time to respond. Once you're used to this it's no problem, but at first, or if you're in a hurry, there's a temptation to jab at the screen repeatedly to make sure it's recognised your touch. This is a shame and takes the edge off the Touch's improved usability.

I also miss the page forward and back edge buttons found on other Kindles. True, you don't need them, but they remain the simplest one-handed interaction. You absolutely can read one-handed with the Touch, but you do need to move your thumb more, and it suits holding the reader in your right hand rather than left.

Before you start reading a book, the home screen shows a list of titles, or images of front covers. If you have several pages of these, you must swipe your finger across the screen to reach the next one, instead of just poking at the screen (which opens the nearest book). It's not a big problem but those page forward and back physical buttons would have solved it.

Kindle Touch review (© Amazon)

Like the basic Kindle, but not the older Kindle Keyboard, this one has improved page turning effects. The nature of e-ink is that to completely refresh the screen, as happens at page turns, there's a flash from white to black and back. It's ugly and off-putting.

However, the Kindle Touch defaults to a more advanced page turning system where the flashes happens every sixth page turn. This is much, much better, though it does mean there's some slight drop in pixel sharpness thanks to artefacts between flashes. These are minor and hardly noticeable, unlike the flash. Still, if you prefer, you can go back to the every-page flash system.

The touchscreen functionality on the Touch has another downside - put it in your pocket or bag and you risk turning pages when you don't want to. After a period of inactivity, the Kindle switches off but it's important to remember to switch off before putting the device away if you want to stay on the right page.

And if you have the Kindle app on your smartphone, the Kindle cleverly synchronises between gadgets, so you don't want to accidentally record a false page location.

Extra features include X-ray, basically a sophisticated search feature which collects passages referring to particular words, topics or characters and guides you to relevant Wikipedia entries. It's neat enough, especially when it shows a graphic of the frequency with which the search term appears, but X-ray is not available on every title. It's also straightforward to share a passage to Facebook or Twitter.

The Kindle Touch is available with wi-fi only or wi-fi and 3G connectivity. If you can afford the extra, 3G is worth it so you can download content pretty much anywhere instead of waiting to be in a wi-fi hotspot. There are no data traffic charges no many how many books you download. Prices are £169 with 3G, £109 without.

Battery life for the Kindle remains impressive - weeks rather than the hours a smartphone or tablet promises. And the Kindle screen (identical in resolution across all current models) remains superbly easy to read. Though it still ain't paper.

Verdict
This is a deeply effective ebook reader. The arrival of a multi-touch interface is very welcome, though it brings into focus the slow speed with which the Kindle responds. That's about the biggest downside, though inadvertent page turns can be annoying. The new X-ray function will become more useful as titles are added, the less in-your-face page turning is a big step forward and the range of titles available on Kindle is huge and impressive. Even so, if you have last year's non-touch Kindle, there's little to tempt you to upgrade.

4 stars


Essential info:
Camera: none
Video: n/a
Display: Eink display, 600 x 800 pixels, 6-inches
Dimensions: 172 x 120 x 10.1mm
Internal Memory: 4GB storage, RAM not stated
Card Slot: none
Colour: dark grey
Weight: 213g
Touchscreen: Infra-red sensors for touchscreen interface
Audio playback: 3.5mm Ear Jack
Processor not stated
Operating System: Amazon proprietary OS
Battery Life: 3 weeks + (3G)
Keyboard: virtual

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