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Amazon Kindle (2019) review: Cheapest Kindle is an illumination

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There's good news and bad news about the "="" kindle"="">, the next iteration of Amazon's entry-level e-reader. First, the good: It now has a self-illuminated screen and an upgraded design. The bad? It costs $90 (£70, $AU139), or $10 more than the previous model, the Kindle 2016

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7.9

Amazon Kindle (2019)

The Good

The Kindle (2019) has a refined, compact design and is the most affordable Kindle with an integrated light. Base storage bumps up to 4GB. Bluetooth audio is on board for audiobooks. Minor updates enhance Amazon's already best-in-class reader experience.

The Bad

A little more expensive than the previous model. The ad-free version costs $20 more.

The Bottom Line

Although the Paperwhite remains the Kindle to get, the cheapest Kindle now includes an integrated light, plus an improved design that makes it more appealing.

I'll cut right to the chase: Unless you need a new e-reader right away, you'd do better waiting for the step-up model, the Kindle Paperwhite, to go on sale for $100 (from $130), as it periodically does. That said, this isn't a bad e-reader. It's actually quite good -- it's just that the Paperwhite is even better. So until Amazon puts the new Kindle 2019 on sale, which it will inevitably do, a discounted Paperwhite is the way to go. 

To encourage people to upgrade their Kindles, Amazon is offering an Amazon.com gift card for trade-ins of old e-readers, plus a 25 percent discount on a new device, including this new Kindle. No cover is included, but Amazon sells covers for $30 and third-party covers, such as this one from MoKo, can be had for almost a third of the price.

Read more: Kindle Paperwhite vs. Kindle Oasis: Comparison and buying advice for Amazon's best e-readers

Available in black or white, the first thing I noticed about the new Kindle compared to its predecessor is that it looks and feels less cheap. Previous entry-level Kindles typically had a utilitarian vibe to them -- they weren't much more than a boxy frame around an electronic ink display. This new 10th-gen Kindle still looks pretty basic but its edges have been rounded off and it's a bit more compact and subtly sleeker.

Amazon Kindle (2019)

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At 174 grams, it weighs slightly more than the previous model (161 grams), which is presumably due to the inclusion of the lighting system and some other small upgrades. Amazon says it's equipped with the "latest electronic ink technology for better contrast" and has been upgraded with capacitive touch "to prevent accidental swipes" on its 6-inch 167 ppi display. Like the previous model, this Kindle has Bluetooth connectivity for listening to audiobooks, too.

Amazon's step-up Paperwhite and Oasis e-readers still outshine this entry-level model, with sharper 300 ppi displays and waterproof bodies. And the base models of those e-readers include 8GB of storage while the new entry-level Kindle has 4GB (no step-up cellular version is available, this model is Wi-Fi only). That's plenty of space to store thousands of e-books, but audiobooks eat up your storage a lot faster due to their much larger file sizes.

I spent some time comparing this model to the Paperwhite and it's easy to see that the text and graphics (cover art on books) is noticeably sharper on the Paperwhite. The lighting on the Paperwhite is also a little brighter and whiter, which makes sense given that the Paperwhite has five LEDs compared to the Kindle's four. 

If you didn't have the Paperwhite on hand for comparison purposes, of course, you'd probably think the new entry-level Kindle is just fine -- and it is. It's also a nice upgrade over its predecessor, which was really hurt by not having a light. Amazon also says the contrast on this new model is better. I compared the two screens with the light off on the new model and the text does appear to be slightly darker -- closer to black than a dark gray.

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The new Kindle (left) is more compact than its predecessor (right).

Sarah Tew/CNET

As before, you can choose from 10 different reading fonts, 16 font sizes (all the way to ones for visually impaired folks) and five boldness settings. What's new is the ability to save custom settings for yourself or various members of your family who like to read with different font sizes on the same Kindle. You can also create a custom setting with a bigger, bolder font, for instance, and label it for the gym. You can then quickly toggle to that saved theme in the settings.

In the past few months, Amazon has implemented a new home screen that adds additional layers of Amazon recommendations based on your reading habits, as well as tips for new features.

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A cover is an optional accessory.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Like its predecessor, the Kindle (2019) includes only a Micro-USB charging cable and no power adapter. That's not a big deal because most people already have one -- it'll work with any phone charger -- but I thought I'd point it out so there are no surprises.

Aside from the small price bump, the new entry-level Kindle has become a lot more appealing thanks to the inclusion of a self-illuminating light. It's now similar to what the Paperwhite was a few generations ago before it was updated with a higher resolution display.

As I indicated above, I'd probably be even more enthusiastic about it if the new-ish (2018) waterproof Paperwhite -- a CNET Editors' Choice -- didn't exist. Although the Paperwhite costs $40 more, it's frequently on sale for $100 or only $10 more than the starting price of this new Kindle. Needless to say, if that's at $100 and this is at $90, the Paperwhite's a no brainer. 

However, where things will get interesting is when Amazon discounts this model to $70 or even $60 during a flash or holiday sale. It's reasonably priced at $90, but it's a bargain if you see it at those price points.  

The 2019 Kindle's specs, according to Amazon:

  • 6-inch, 167 ppi electronic-ink display
  • Improved contrast
  • Integrated front light with four LEDs (the Paperwhite's light has five LEDs)
  • Weight: 174 grams
  • Dimensions: 160x113x8.7mm
  • Bluetooth for streaming Audible audiobooks (Bluetooth headphones or speaker required for listening)
  • 4GB of storage 
  • Three months of Kindle Unlimited included, a $30 value
  • Wi-Fi connectivity
  • Weeks of battery life
  • Price: $90 with special offers (add $20 to remove special offers), £70 (add £10 to remove special offers), AU$139 with no special offers
  • Available in black or white
  • Ships April 10

Read more: The best e-book readers you can buy now

kindle-2019-1
7.9

Amazon Kindle (2019)

Score Breakdown

Design 7Ecosystem 10Features 8Performance 8Value 7