Kindle 6-inch (2012)

No one could really accuse the Kindle of ever having been massively over-priced. For one, there has always been a good range of models, giving users the choice about what they spend and what options they get. But recently, Amazon has made the entry-level Kindle even more affordable by dropping its price to £69 with free delivery.

But there's a catch, right? There's always a catch. To find out, we got the company to send us the basic model so we could have a good look over it. Is this cheap e-reader worth the money, or is it second fiddle to other readers?

A new colour

Gone is the old Kindle grey, and in is a new black look. This matches the US-only Paperwhite, which also comes in this new and exciting colour. We like the new black colour, but we also really liked the old grey colour too. It's hard to say which we prefer, but it also doesn't matter.

The control layout is much the same as the Kindle 4th generation, there's a row of keys on the bottom front of the reader. These are for going back, the virtual keyboard, the four-direction scroller, menu and home. Home is great, because it always gets you back to the start screen, something we like for quickly flicking around.

On the left and right-hand side of the Kindle, you'll find forward and backward buttons for moving through your text. These fall under your thumb, no matter which hand you hold it in, and mean you can navigate through books without even thinking. We find this is just about the most natural navigation system we use, although it's slightly behind a proper "page" turn.

On the bottom of the Kindle, there's a USB socket for charging, and a power button to turn the device on. To save power, the Kindle shuts off after a few minutes of inactivity. You always get an e-ink wallpaper though, as this doesn't use power to display, which is the main attraction of the tech.

Locks you in, throws away the key

There are a few different types of eBook formats knocking about. Most readers use either PDF or ePub these days, although there are dozens of different formats, often incompatible, sometimes only mildy different from one another. Amazon though has a format of its own, no one else can support it, and no one else can sell books you can read on your Kindle. There are some ways around this, at least to get PDF and ePub on your Kindle, but that's extra fuss.

So clearly, Amazon's model is to sell cheap Kindles and sit back and wait for the money from book sales to roll in. And of course, most people - including, to be honest, us - are happy with that. We're happy because the Kindle is a great device, Amazon is an easy-to-use and pleasant environment and the whole Whispernet thing is utterly brilliant.

But we can see that it's a bit restrictive, and it's not brilliant for the consumer. Apple used to do this with music, where the iPod meant that your purchased music was only ever any good on its devices. Eventually, Apple worked pretty hard to open the store up, and now iTunes tracks can, with a bit of a faff, be played on a multitude of devices. We hope Amazon goes this way, but we have our doubts.

A tremendous reading experience

There's no argument that the Kindle is a lovely way to read books. Of course, for some, paper will always win out. But no one buys a Kindle and never picks up another paper book again. This is a device to augment your reading life, not destroy your cherished collection of printed word material.

Eye strain is, as always, non-existent. Reading at night is a pain, because there's no light on this model - Amazon isn't yet selling the model that has a light in the UK. But if you've got a bedside light, you don't need much light to happily read with the Kindle.

Electonic ink still has some problems. Pressing the button for the next page does mean everything goes blank for a while, and the power saving systems in the Kindle mean you sometimes get after images visible. These are nothing to worry about though, and they don't last, but are just a result of the Kindle not fully cleaning the screen each time it loads a new page. This speeds things up though, and makes reading more natural.

Wireless quirks

The wireless on the Kindle works very well. It's able to check for magazine subscriptions each morning without bothering you, and for auto-downloading books it's perfect. Buy online, and your purchase is transferred automagically.

We noted, however, that the range was pretty poor. No doubt this has something to do with power consumption and management. Even so, take the Kindle upstairs in a semi-detached house, and the signal is gone. Not a massive problem, but worth remembering.

Great value

Honestly, £70 is a great price for a Kindle. The reading experience is marvellous, the device is well-built, has a battery that lasts seemingly forever, and is just a wonderful experience from start to finish.

Amazon also gives you cloud storage for every book you buy too. This means that if you want to revisit an old book that you've removed from your Kindle, you can just download it again. They're usually tiny, so they download incredibly quickly. Amazon says you can keep 1,400 books on the 6-inch Kindle, which has about 1.2GB of storage available - there's 2GB installed, but much of that is used by the Kindle OS. This is the main area that Amazon is saving money, it seems, as memory is likely to be one of the more expensive components in the device.

But, of course, there's some cutbacks that have been made to keep the price low. There's no audio support on this Kindle, and you don't get a mains power adaptor either. Because it charges over USB, there's no real problem there. Your phone charger will juice it for you, and you do get a cable supplied, which you can use to connect it to your PC.

Postage is free too, and Amazon sends Kindles out in the very barest of packaging. This should be applauded, as it's incredibly easy to open your new device. But also, it's good because it must reduce the environmental cost of both the packaging - which is recycleable card - and the shipping costs.

We also think that the Kindle will get cheaper every year from now on. We predict, eventually, it will be given away free - perhaps when you take out a Prime subscription. But for now, it's still terrific value for money.

Verdict

Not much has changed on the entry-level Kindle since the price drop. It's still got that amazingly sharp and easy-to-read screen, along with all the Amazon features we've come to love over the years. It's well-built and stylish while being one of the most affordable eBook readers on the market.

We aren't keen on the way you're locked in, but the Amazon experience is one that is so enjoyable, and well thought-out, that we can't stop using it. As long as Amazon keeps its book prices competitive, we honestly don't mind the fact that we have to do things the way IT says.

For book fans, or even just casual or occasional readers, the Kindle is the ideal buy. With Christmas coming, we think Amazon is going to sell more Kindles than ever. And why not, it's still the king of eBook readers.



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