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Amazon Kindle 2016 review: Cheapest Kindle loses weight, adds Bluetooth feature

The most affordable Kindle is now thinner, lighter and has a few other small upgrades. So how good is it?

David Carnoy Executive Editor / Reviews
Executive Editor David Carnoy has been a leading member of CNET's Reviews team since 2000. He covers the gamut of gadgets and is a notable reviewer of mobile accessories and portable audio products, including headphones and speakers. He's also an e-reader and e-publishing expert as well as the author of the novels Knife Music, The Big Exit and Lucidity. All the titles are available as Kindle, iBooks, Nook e-books and audiobooks.
Expertise Mobile accessories and portable audio, including headphones, earbuds and speakers Credentials
  • Maggie Award for Best Regularly Featured Web Column/Consumer
David Carnoy
3 min read

Amazon's most affordable Kindle e-reader ($80; £60; AU$109) has been refreshed for 2016. It's now 11 percent thinner, 16 percent lighter, has more rounded edges and comes in white as well as black.


Amazon Kindle 2016

The Good

The most affordable Kindle gets a subtle but worthwhile design upgrade (it's slimmer, lighter and less angular) and adds Bluetooth audio for accessibility, so visually impaired readers can hear VoiceView audio.

The Bad

No integrated light; price hasn't gotten any lower.

The Bottom Line

While the 2016 Kindle isn't a huge improvement over its predecessor, it's a perfectly good e-reader with a clearly improved design and a big upgrade for the visually impaired.

The design changes may not seem major, but any time you can shave some weight off an e-reader it makes a difference. At 5.7 ounces or 161g, the latest entry-level Kindle is actually the second lightest Amazon reader, trailing only the top-of the line Amazon Kindle Oasis.

Enlarge Image

The new Kindle (on right) is smaller and lighter than the 2014 model. It's available in white or black.

Sarah Tew/CNET

It feels light in hand, but it's worth noting that the shell and edges are made out of of hard, smooth plastic (it retains the same no frills look, making it a touch slippery). Optional protective covers are available, including Amazon's well-designed form-fitting case -- though it's a bit pricey at $30, £20 or AU$30 (it's slimmer and lighter than previous covers).

One key missing feature is the integrated light found in the step-up Paperwhite, Voyage and Oasis models. Also, those devices have higher-resolution displays -- this entry-level Kindle's screen isn't as crisp (167 ppi compared to 300 ppi of its more expensive siblings).

But this Kindle does have a touchscreen (unlike the pre-2014 baseline models) and it's equipped with 4GB of storage, which enables you to store thousands of e-books. Amazon has also apparently doubled the amount of RAM, bumping it up to 512MB. I didn't really notice a difference in performance, however.

Enlarge Image

It's thinner, too.

Sarah Tew/CNET

New on the features front is Bluetooth audio, allowing visually impaired readers to hear VoiceView audio -- automated reading of what's on the page, as well as navigation prompts -- on wireless headphones or speakers. Set-up is a tad tricky, but I got it working after a few tries. You can't listen to music or Audible audiobooks, but it's nice to have the voice-reading feature return, even if the voice is that of a robot (the female voice is pleasant enough, but not quite as smooth as Alexa).

This is a Wi-Fi-only e-reader: There's no version that bundles 3G cellular data service. And this base model has ads on it -- or "special offers," as Amazon calls them. To get rid of them you'll have to spend an extra $20 or £10. (Weirdly, I couldn't find the no ads option on the Australian site.)

It also goes without saying that Amazon's Kindle e-book ecosystem is the best in business. Yes, the Nooks and Kobos of the world are still out there if you prefer an alternative (and the current Nook is fully waterproof, which no Kindle is), but Amazon one-ups the competition with loads of extra features and a catalog of e-books that's measured in the millions of titles. And while Amazon's dirt-cheap Fire tablet costs even less, it's glossy LCD screen isn't as pleasant for reading straight text.

Because of the integrated light, we generally steer readers toward the Paperwhite, but aside from the missing light, this is a perfectly good e-reader for the money, particularly if you pick it up during those frequent (at least once a month, it seems) Amazon flash sales when it gets discounted to $60 or so.

While it isn't a huge upgrade over the 2014 Kindle, I did appreciate the design improvements and modest feature updates.

Here's a quick summary of the design and feature upgrades in the Kindle 2016:

  • It's 11 percent thinner and 16 percent lighter than the previous model.
  • The new Kindle is available in white as well as black.
  • Its edges and body are slightly rounded, compared to the squared-off look of the previous model.
  • It adds Bluetooth audio for accessibility, so visually impaired readers can hear VoiceView audio.
  • A personalized home screen adds more integration with Amazon's GoodReads community recommendations.
  • A new "export notes" feature finally lets you send your notes and highlights to your email.

Amazon Kindle 2016

Score Breakdown

Design 8Ecosystem 10Features 8Performance 7