Amazon has reinvented the Kindle yet again, cutting the weight, size, features and, crucially, cost of its ebook reader. At £89, it's the cheapest Kindle ever, turning what was once an indulgence into a pocket-money proposition. It will ship in the UK on 12 October, but we tested the very similar US version, which is available now.
Kindle vs books
If the Kindle keeps shrinking like this, it'll soon be the size of a book of stamps. The new entry-level model is 30 per cent lighter and 18 per cent smaller than its predecessor. It now takes up less room in your bag than the slimmest paperback and weighs about half as much.
Incidentally, Amazon has also taken an axe to the device's name. This Kindle, version four by our count, is once again called simply Kindle, with the previous model being renamed the. That's great for branding purposes, but there will inevitably be confusion when you come to buy cases, accessories or second-hand devices.
The space and size savings are largely down to Amazon getting rid of the physical keyboard. In its place are four buttons and a five-way navigation pad. There are large page-forward and small page-back rockers on either side of the Kindle, and a recessed power button on the bottom, next to the micro-USB port. Amazon's cost-cutting hits here -- you only get a USB cable for charging, with a UK adaptor costing an extra £8.50.
Despite its low price and slightly plasticky buttons, the Kindle is solidly built. There isn't a hint of flex in the grey plastic housing and the 6-inch, 600x800-pixel E-Ink display is identical to those on its pricier siblings. Consequently, text looks beautifully solid and dark, page turns are rapid, and greyscale renderings of graphics, banners and photos are acceptable, if never brilliant.
We tested the Special Offers version of the Kindle. It's 25 per cent cheaper, but you have to put up with sponsored screensavers and a small banner ad on the home screen. When this option eventually appears in the UK, we recommend snapping it up. Not only are the adverts unobtrusive, they're also geo-located for relevance, and often contain attractive offers along the Groupon model of pre-paying for discount vouchers and coupons.
The Kindle wakes up from the screensaver or being fully turned off in under 2 seconds. The home screen is identical to that of previous Kindles. There's a list of recent items, sorted in the order in which you last used them. On the left side, you might see a little icon saying 'new' or 'PDF'. You can sort publications by title, author, most recently acquired, or user-defined categories (called Collections). There's also a link through to older, archived items.
You can visit the Kindle Store by hitting the menu button, which is also used for creating Collections and tweaking settings, including the font size and screen orientation. The Store is unchanged from previous incarnations, with plenty of bestseller lists and a few grainy thumbnails of suggested reads.
Most navigation and selection is handled via the five-way pad, which is fast and responsive but feels painfully cheap. With Amazon having no plans yet to sell its new devices, or the Kindle Fire tablet, in the UK, you'll have to console yourself with Amazon's boast that the navigation pad at least means 'no on-screen fingerprints'.
There's also a 'back' button that takes you back one step in whatever menu you're using.
The new Kindle has just 2GB of on-board memory and no memory-card slots. That sounds stingy, but it's actually plenty of room. 2GB equates to around 1,400 full-length books, and Amazon also commits itself to storing all of your Amazon purchases in the cloud, for free, forever.