One feature of the 2011 Kindle which is slowed down by the lack of a touchscreen, as found in new US models, the Sony PRS-350 and PRS-650, is the built-in dictionary. You can't simply tap on words to open up the relevant dictionary entry - you have to navigate to them using the D-pad.
An upward press on the pad brings up a cursor that you can move line-by-line up to the right word. A short definition pops-up as your move the cursor about, while a press on the select button in the middle of the D-pad gives you access to a full dictionary definition. You can look up definitions of words within the definitions too, letting you lock yourself into a never-ending purgatorial dictionary look-up cycle. The Kindle uses the Oxford Dictionary of English, so we're not dealing with flim-flam definitions written by an Amazon intern, either.
OED - makes you write proper good
The full dictionary is kept within the device's internal memory, so Wi-Fi connectivity is not required to discover the meaning of Maastricht. Just as the lack of keyboard slows down surfing the Kindle Store a bit, the dictionary does make us want a touchscreen, but again the time lost is dwarfed by the time spent pleasurably reading away.
Being a Wi-Fi only model, this 2011 Kindle lacks a billboard feature of the current top-end model. It doesn't have 3G mobile internet. However, it's not the feature's mere presence that makes Kindle 3G so remarkable. It's that it's completely free, worldwide.
Roaming charges can make using data on your mobile when overseas a costly mistake, but with a 3G Kindle there's no such issue. And you can even search the web with Kindles, including this non-3G one. This roaming feature is what makes the "experimental" Kindle browser worth using, but here it comes across as what it is really is - rather bad.
There are no tabs, some content refuses to display properly and it is, of course, all in black and white. As an emergency solution it'll do for a quick check of emails, but the presence of Wi-Fi will also often be partnered with the presence of a more capable web surfer - like a smartphone, tablet, netbook, laptop - heck, even a PDA. To damn the £89 Kindle because of it is to miss the point entirely, though. It's still a fine ereader.
One of the three bears was adopted
Using connected features puts an extra strain on the battery, but switch it off and Amazon says the battery will last for a month when used for half an hour a day. A month's battery life sounds good - and it is - but it's half of what the Kindle 3 claims. Using a smaller battery is an important part of how this new Kindle is so slight, though.
The keyboard Kindle is the powerhouse of the two, but the light and nimble approach offers its own benefits - especially if you're going to use the reader on a morning commute rather than a 6-month trip across the globe, where charging might become a problem. As the tired saying goes - you pay your money and take your choice.
And this choice doesn't require too much money, either. It's bad news for rival budget ereaders because this £89 model is much better than any we've tried. The iRiver Story and the LCD-screened Archos 70b are nowhere near as good. The Sony PRS-350 remains a great alternative, being smaller, offering a screen of comparable quality and a nifty touch-based interface - but it costs around £50 more. Amazon's aggressive pricing has given it a monopoly-like stranglehold on the ereader market, but when its products are as good as this, we can't complain.
The new Kindle is here. And while it's not categorically better in every respect, it's different in a rather brilliant way. It's more portable than its predecessor and the new intermittent refresh eradicates the sluggish page turning of other ereaders. The screen quality has been given a slight upgrade too, darker text offering better contrast. It misses out on a handful of periphery features, like MP3 playback, but as a device to simply read books and newspapers on, it can't be beaten for under £100. Or at any price, in fact.