Kindle, Kindle Touch & Kindle Touch 3G

Amazon unveiled a lineup of four ereaders at a press event in new York City in September: a $199, 7-inch, full-color tablet called the Kindle Fire; a 6-inch E Ink touchscreen ereader called the Kindle Touch ($149 with 3G, $99 without); and a 6-inch E Ink ereader with a physical navigation system, called simply the Kindle, for $79.

(The prices for the three E Ink readers are for versions that display screensaver ads. Ad-free E Ink Kindles cost an additional $30.)

I spent some time with the Kindle Touch 3G this week. as a frequent consumer of ebooks on both the iPad 2 and Kindle 3, I was interested to see how the reading experience offered by the Kindle Touch 3G would compare.

The ereader sports the same 6-inch E Ink Perl screen and crisp, high-contrast display found on the Kindle 3. The device itself is slightly shorter: 6.8″ x 4.7″ x 0.4″ compared to 7.5″ x 4.8″ x 0.34″, now that there’s no physical keyboard. At 7.8 ounces, it’s also nearly a full ounce lighter than the Kindle 3, although with Amazon-branded cases on both it was difficult to tell the difference.

Like the Kindle 3, the Kindle Touch 3G has four gigabytes of storage — room for about 3,000 books — and a reported battery life of two months if the device’s wireless connection is turned off. it also has a 3.5mm audio jack, rear-mounted stereo speakers, an on/off button and a port for a USB 2.0 cable. The device takes about four hours to charge fully when connected to a computer. a power adapter is sold separately for $9.99

Since I was using the 3G version, I was able to shop for and download books when I didn’t have access to my home’s or office’s Wi-Fi connection — a feature I find convenient, but not entirely necessary, as I do most of my ebook shopping on my iPhone while perusing bookstores, or on my Kindle while connected to a Wi-Fi network at home. The 3G connection is useful, however, when traveling abroad. Amazon guarantees that 3G access will work internationally at no additional cost.

See also: Amazon Kindle Fire, iPad’s First true Competitor [REVIEW]

The touchscreen took some getting used to. I only needed to hold the device in one hand instead of two. instead of swiping, I needed only to tap the left or right sides of the screen to change pages. Tapping the top of the screen brings up the main navigation, including search and the Kindle’s new “X-ray” feature, which highlights some of the key terms on the page. (Users can still highlight individual words to bring up the dictionary definition, but now they’ll need to navigate over to the X-ray to access Wikipedia, which I find less convenient.) The keyboard only appears when necessary, and is well-spaced and easy to use.

Although the touchscreen functioned well enough — i.e., at about the same speed as the physical keybs on the Kindle 3 — I can’t say that it necessarily improved the Kindle experience. I’ve come to like the physical keys on my Kindle, and compared to the iPhone and iPad, the Kindle Touch 3G’s touchscreen felt slow and clunky. The one feature that was substantially better was the highlighter: it didn’t require any methodic navigation with a physical keyboard, and was much more accurate to the touch than the Kindle apps on my iPhone and iPad.

If you’re debating whether to buy the device, here’s what I’d recommend:

If you already own a Kindle 2 or 3: There’s no good reason to abandon your current device unless you simply can’t stand a physical keyboard. If you’re desperate for a smaller size, then I’d recommend you go with the $79 Kindle, which is even smaller (6.5″ x 4.5″ x 0.34″) and lighter (5.98 ounces), unless 3G is a requirement.

If you’re a first-time Kindle buyer: unless you want a 3G connection, again I would recommend the $79 version for the reasons cited above. The touchscreen does not, I find, substantially improve the Kindle experience.

These are of course my opinions and won’t apply to everyone. But I hope it helps some of you navigate through what is bound to be a difficult decision with so many different ereading devices to choose from this holiday season.