Amazon Kindle review: Amazon Kindle

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Since you're locked into Amazon's proprietary AZW format -- there's no ePub support here -- the only way to really fill up your Kindle is by loading up audio books or PDF files. The latter generally display fairly well, although navigating them is slow and clunky. Each Kindle has a dedicated email address to which you can send PDFs.

If you stick with the Kindle Store for content, you shouldn't have any problems. Books download over Wi-Fi in seconds, rather than minutes, and display beautifully, including real page numbers on newer titles. The reading experience is smooth and simple, with pages turning much more quickly than on Amazon's original reader. The current Kindle's size is just about right -- large enough to grasp like a book but small enough to hold for hours at a time, without accidentally bashing buttons too often.

As with previous Kindles, everything you do is synced with the cloud via Whispersync. No matter which Kindle device or app you're using, all your content is up to date, including bookmarks and highlights, and you can always pick up from the very last page you read.

Sadly, there's no sign here of the new X-Ray feature that Amazon big cheese Jeff Bezos teased us with last week. X-Ray lets you search a dictionary for the meaning of a word, and search Wikipedia entries for stuff the book refers to. Instead of supporting X-Ray, the new Kindle lets you use the nav pad to position the cursor by a word, making a dictionary definition automatically pop up. Hit the nav pad to select the word and you can see a full definition, or add a note or highlight.

Keyboard

The disappearance of the physical Qwerty keyboard is one of the few sour notes. Now you have to use a soft keyboard for everything from entering Wi-Fi security keys and searching for books to inputting text queries and using the browser. The keyboard is activated by pressing a dedicated button.

The soft keyboard is as good as it can be, but it still feels too much like trying to use a remote control to browse the Web on your TV. It's even worse when using the browser -- if you can get through more than a simple Facebook status update without fishing out your phone or a real tablet, you're far more patient than us.

Amazon Kindle photo rendering
The Kindle renders photos well enough.

The other major feature change is the lack of any 3G connectivity. Wi-Fi is great for use around the home and some Internet cafes but free wireless is far from ubiquitous in the UK.

Browser

The main non-reading feature you might want to use is the 'experimental' browser. This isn't the super-duper cloud-accelerated browser that the Kindle Fire tablet will use, but basic HTML software that tries its best to show hi-tech websites on the Kindle's low-res display.

Amazon Kindle menu
The text-only home screen can look cluttered and confusing, especially when you call up the menu.

The effect is similar to that of putting your favourite sites through a potato masher and then trying to reconstitute them on the other end. Text loses formatting and sizing, images float all over the place and columns and tables get painfully stretched out. Unlike mashed potato, however, this browser is not helped by the liberal application of tomato ketchup.

When a page first loads, you can move around a window to choose an area to zoom into. This was the only time during our tests that the Kindle showed any sluggishness or lag. Overall, the browser is usable -- just -- but almost any other wireless gadget you have at home is likely to do a better job of surfing the Net. Frankly, without a 3G link, it's hard to see the point of the browser.

British Kindlers lose out again when it comes to other exciting extras. American users get Kindle Active Content: free mini-apps and games, such as poker and Scrabble knock-offs, to while away minutes between newspapers and books. Many can also borrow ebooks for free from over 11,000 public libraries in the US. We tested this feature in Seattle and managed to download a book, for a three-week loan, in a matter of minutes.

Amazon claims the new Kindle has a battery life of around a month. While we haven't had the Kindle long enough to verify this, we had no difficulties with the battery during our test.

Conclusion

The new Amazon Kindle is light, nimble and amazing value for money. No other device can touch it when it comes to the simplicity of buying and reading books. The gains in portability make up for losing the keyboard, especially as the larger Qwerty Kindles are still available.

British book-lovers should feel rightfully miffed at Amazon's tardiness in providing the little extras that would have made the Kindle an absolute must-have, though -- free Wi-Fi hotspots, free mini-apps and Special Offers support. Bolt these on and the new Kindle would be right in line for our coveted five-star Editors' Choice award.

Edited by Charles Kloet