The new Kindle range is here. Well, sort of. In the UK, we currently miss out on the two Kindle Touch versions, the Kindle Fire and all the ad-funded options our US doppelgangers enjoy, but we do get one new-to-2011 model. It's the… Kindle. Yes, the name hasn't changed but the design certainly has. This £89 beauty is a simplified version of its predecessor, cutting out almost all superfluous features to offer an equally-good, or even better, reading experience for less money.
The first thing you'll notice upon glancing at the new 2011 Kindle is that it doesn't have a keyboard. Yep, it has been unceremoniously lopped off, and there isn't a touchscreen to ease the transition to Qwerty-less operation either. This is the biggest difference in the new Kindle, and it allows the new model to be smaller and lighter while, in some respects, improving build quality.
What improvements? The Kindle's edges, apart from the page turn button areas, are covered by a strong band of metal. It extends a good centimeter beyond the most sensitive areas, the USB port and power button, and so should stop any of the warping and flexing between seams that dropping an older Kindle could cause. This metal strip also adds a subtle touch of luxury. Just a hint, mind. This isn't a design revolution, more a new approach with a tweak or two.
Current Kindle users might find that the less-curved edges of the new design are less comfortable on the palm, but this is partially offset by a significant weight loss. The 2011 model weighs just 166g - the Kindle 3 is 222g. Most folk find the older model fine to hold one-handed for extended periods, but the new edition is definitively focused on the one-limbed approach. Holding it with two hands feels like overkill now that the body is less wide. It's slightly slimmer too, although only a tad.
No 3.5mm jack 'ere
To shrink down to this extent, a few feature compromises have been made. There's no 3.5mm headphone jack, ruling-out MP3 playback, and no internal speaker. If you want to have your book read to you by a synthesised voice, you'll have to buy the older model as that feature is gone. Some may moan about these feature cuts, but the Kindle is such a successful device because it - primarily - does just one thing, and does it better than any convergence device.
Simplified functionality allows for a less-adorned look that's prettier than previous iterations. The back is now plain and clean, no longer speckled by speaker grilles, and the dark grey has been replaced with a more relaxed-looking two-tone light and dark metallic grey finish. The US button-free Touch edition looks even neater, but physical page-turn buttons on an ereader shouldn't be underestimated.
The positioning of the 2011 Kindle's buttons, the same on each side, are designed to cater for both left- and right-handers and let you change the page with just a tiny fractional movement of a thumb. Your thumb naturally rests against the large "next page" button, while the smaller, less-used back button is given less space and requires a bit more effort to press.
New Kindle at top, and the 2010 model below
These buttons are smaller than those of a Kindle 3, but offer a very satisfying hinge-like action. The key to getting used to them is in realising your thumb can rest on them, letting them take a little weight. There's a little give before the click. We'll hand it to the older model, the Kindle 3 offers a slightly more relaxed-feeling grip, but being able to fit into a jacket pocket without sticking out the top is a portability bonus for the new model.