Amazon Kindle (2014) review: Everything you want in an e-reader except a light
Amazon's entry-level Kindle is the company's most affordable touchscreen e-reader to date and is only missing one key feature.
Editors' note, June 22, 2016: Amazon has unveiled an updated version of this Kindle that's slightly thinner and lighter, and adds a few new features. The original review, published Oct. 10, 2014, follows.
Good, better, best. That's what you're looking at when it comes to Amazon's Kindle e-ink e-readers these days, with the e-reader you see here -- the 2014 Kindle -- representing the entry-level or "good" model in the lineup. It retails for $79 in the US, £59 in the UK, and AU$111 in Australia.
Like the line-topping Voyage ($199 in the US, £179 in the UK, not yet available from Amazon Australia), this is an entirely new Kindle (last year's second-gen Paperwhite stays in the line, occupying the "better" spot for $119 in the US, £109 in the UK, and AU$151 in Australia). But unlike the Voyage, it doesn't seem all that fresh and exciting, though it does have the touch-screen missing from Amazon's previous entry-level Kindle , last updated in 2012.
In fact, it's a little generic-looking. That said, it seems a bit better engineered than other entry-level e-readers I've used -- it weighs in at a pretty svelte 6.7 ounces (191 grams) and measures 0.40 inch (10.2 mm) thick -- and there's something endearing about its clean, utilitarian design that seems to say, "I'm boring but you can count on me to do my job."
That job is to store and serve up e-books (and other documents) on a screen that's easily readable in direct sunlight. Amazon has bumped the internal storage up to 4GB in all its e-readers (it used to be 2GB), none of which have ever offered an expandable storage option. That 4GB is enough to store thousands of e-books, so, in theory, you shouldn't need more storage. However, if you're a PDF hoarder, this probably isn't the e-reader for you.
Amazon has also unified all its e-readers under a 1GHz processor, so the core specs on all the e-readers are almost identical, save for the fact that the Voyage has 1GB of RAM, while its siblings have half that. That extra RAM helps make the Voyage slightly zippier.
You can also get the Paperwhite and Voyage in Wi-Fi + "free" 3G versions for $60 and $70 more respectively in the US. This entry-level model only comes in a Wi-Fi version. And as always, if you want to remove the "special offers" from the device and render it ad-free, that'll cost you an extra $20 or £10 with any of the Kindles.
Unifying all the Kindles' specs -- and having touchscreens on all the devices -- has enabled Amazon to offer the same Kindle experience across its e-reader line and streamline updates. The experience on all the devices is going to be pretty similar, but one key feature you gain by stepping up to the Paperwhite and Voyage is an integrated light. (Amazon sells a clip-on light accessory for the 2014 Kindle that retails for $15 or £16.)
Those models also have slightly more responsive capacitive touchscreens, while the 2014 Kindle goes with the older infrared-based touchscreen (IR sensors are embedded in the bezel).
Furthermore, the Voyage sports the latest Carta E Ink HD touchscreen, a 300 ppi "high-resolution" display that makes book covers and text look slightly sharper with slightly better contrast (The Kindle 2014 employs the older Pearl E Ink display). When it comes to reading at standard font sizes, you'll barely notice a difference (the increased resolution helps with smaller fonts). But if you want the Mercedes of e-readers, the Voyage is it. The Kindle 2014 is more of a Honda.
Battery life is rated at four weeks, based on a half hour of reading per day with wireless off. That's less than what the Paperwhite (8 hours) and Voyage (6 hours) offer, and those e-readers include using the integrated light in their battery ratings. However, at this point, with battery life measured in weeks rather than hours, that reduced battery rating shouldn't be a serious issue.
It's worth noting that it's a good idea to get a case for your Kindle. Amazon sells a couple of nice ones for this model, but they cost $30 (£25) and $40 (£35) for the basic and leather ones, respectively, which is a little pricey (other more affordable cases are available). Just be aware that whatever case you do get is what will give this e-reader its personality, for ultimately the Kindle 2014 is a bit of blank slate, perhaps purposely so (yes, Amazon's cases probably have higher margins than the e-readers themselves).
Cheap and cheerful
It's hard to write with too much excitement about using the Kindle 2014 because it's basically very similar to last year's Paperwhite minus the integrated light and slightly less responsive touchscreen. There's that bump to the processor speed (from 800MHz to 1GHz), which helps a bit, but in all, the reading experience is what I've come to expect from a Kindle (and other e-readers from Barnes & Noble and Kobo, for that matter). Overall, it's quite good, and Amazon's e-reading ecosystem remains tops in the market, with the largest library of e-books (it's hard to find exact numbers, but it's in the millions), the Kindle Lending Library for Amazon Prime members (you can check select titles for free once a month), and a new all-you-can-eat $9.99 e-book subscription service, Kindle Unlimited, that's similar to those offered by Scribd and Oyster .
Some competitors such as Kobo have made efforts to reduce the amount of flashing the screen does to clear e-ink's slight ghosting effect as you turn pages. With the Kindle (2014) I ended up turning anywhere from 7 to just fewer than 20 pages before the screen refreshed. Most people don't mind too much when the screen blinks, but it does bother some readers.
I'm not going to dig too deep into the Kindle features and interface, but the platform continues to mature and add new features. The kid-friendly Kindle FreeTime and Vocabulary Builder (words you look up are automatically added) are now on all of Amazon's Kindle e-ink e-readers and Amazon has enhanced its X-Ray ("bones of the book") feature. Goodreads, the social reading and reviews site that Amazon bought last year, has also been integrated.
With the Kindle -- as with other e-readers -- you can also borrow e-books from your local library. And Amazon's daily, weekly, and monthly deals ensure that there are always a huge number of e-books available for as little as $2 -- just don't expect them to necessarily be from mainstream authors that you've heard of.
After using the Kindle (2014) for a week, I've concluded that it's both kind of blah and kind of great at the same time. The main thing you lose by getting this model instead of the step-up Paperwhite is the integrated light. For some people, that integrated light will be a must-have feature that's worth the extra $40. For others who can live without the light, the Kindle (2014) offers the full Kindle e-ink e-reading experience with little to no compromise.