Amazon Kindle Touch 3G review

It wasn't all that long ago that we reviewed the new Kindle. As you might imagine, we loved it. This is, after all, the best known and best designed ebook reader on the market. It's simple, cheap, and pretty much single-purpose. What it does, it does very well, and it does it for £90.

So what does the newly launched in the UK Kindle Touch bring to the table? There are two versions, one sporting 3G, the other a Wi-Fi-only model. Both have touch-sensitive screens and support for both text-to-speech and audiobooks.

So, does the Touch offer enough to make it worthy of consideration, or does the price-hike mean it's just some extra baubles on an already near-perfect device?

Design

Like the old Kindle, the Touch is slender and light. It is, however, heavier than the non-touch edition. This is a minor problem, and it's not so much heavier that you will struggle to lift it. But it will make a small difference if you read for a long time.

The overall design remains very simple. There is just one button now, a home key, located at the bottom and centre of the reader. This will take you to the main menu, should you want to get there without going through a menu.

On the bottom is a power switch a USB socket for charging the reader and transferring files, and a headphone jack for music and audiobooks. On the back is a set of small and under-powered speakers. These are for the audiobooks or text-to-speech but are too quiet to be any major use at all.

Avoiding the pratfalls of touch screens

All of the touchscreen eBook readers we've seen so far, the Kindle manages the touchscreen better than any. At least, it does in the standard book-reading mode. Where other readers have gone wrong is that they try to emulate a tablet. With e-ink screens, this is a poor idea, as they don't update anywhere near fast enough.

Amazon cleverly just assigns areas of the screen to flip pages, and the top of the screen allows you to access the menu and search functions. This simple system means that the Kindle touch feels just like the Kindle to use, but you interact with the screen, rather than some buttons.

We never had much of a problem with the controls on the original Kindle, but the touch interface does work well, and it's very simple to use.

Elsewhere in the device, the touch system is likeable, too. On the main page, tap the book you want to read, and it pops up straight away. You don't have to touch it hard, it's more than sensitive enough for just a gentle tap.

The only place the touch system doesn't work is in the experimental web browser. Here, you need to scroll around the page, and it's the same pain it is on any device that uses e-ink. But having said that, the browser on our Kindle was dreadful, wouldn't work half the time and was rubbish when it did.

Wi-Fi and 3G

The Kindle's Whispersync wireless download and sync system is utterly brilliant. Click on "buy" on Amazon.co.uk and books are sent to your Kindle almost instantly. Newspaper subscriptions can also be delivered to your device each morning, and we love this service too. It's by far the best electronic newspaper service we've tried. 

We found 3G slow most of the time though, and although we like that you can buy a book on the way home from work, the number of times we've wanted to do that is so small that it's irrelevant. And if you were desperate, using your phone as a wireless hotspot is always a possibility. 

Wi-Fi works brilliantly though, and the power drain from it is also less than on 3G. It is a seamless and brilliantly designed system though, and one that makes the closed system Amazon uses for books to be quite worthwhile. 

Social sharing

As with everything now, you can share your current books via Twitter and Facebook. Simple authorisation is needed, but once that's done you can tweet and send status updates about what you're reading anytime you like.

For any device with internet access, this makes sense. But frankly, it's useless and no one will actually thank you for spamming their feeds with the book you're curled up reading.

Text-to-speech

When the original Kindle came along, and supported turning words in to sound, the publishing industry exploded with rage. Audio books, you see, are a business in themselves, and publishers were scared that Amazon would decimate their profits.

They needn't have worried. Stephen Fry reading Harry Potter the Kindle is not. It's a flakey text-to-speech engine that works well enough, but is really here for people who have trouble reading or for those who are tired on the way home from work, and want to hear a few pages from their book while they relax on the train.

It's fine for those uses, but intense listening in this way really isn't much fun. It's clear enough, to get the point across, but in itself it's quite tiring to listen to, and many words just don't sound quite right.

The Kindle can also have proper audiobooks too, care of Audible - an Amazon company. This is a much more sensible option, and it works well on the Kindle Touch. Simple play controls allow you to navigate through the audio, and you can skip 30 seconds at a time, in either direction. Obviously, audio is clear - although Audible audio is quite heavily compressed, and this is apparent when you listen.

It's fair to say though, that audio support is something we like about the Kindle Touch over the regular Kindle.

Verdict

The Kindle Touch is, like all Kindles, excellent. There is no reason not to buy one at all.

However, we'd also say that there's not an overwhelming reason to buy the 3G Touch either. For most people, the Wi-Fi only non-touch Kindle is perfect, and costs substantially less than the 3G equipped touchscreen version.

So that's confusing.

Our score, however, reflects the device and its abilities. In this regard, it is flawless and a joy to use. It's possible to get angry about Amazon's closed, walled-garden system, but it's possible to get angry about pretty much anything else in the whole world too. When it comes down to it, the Kindle is a great device that offers a great reading experience.