Amazon Kindle Store
There are two versions of the Kindle Touch, one with 3G and one without. Both have Wi-Fi, and simple, integrated access to Amazon's Kindle Store book shop This is home to more than 1.2 million books, from the latest paperbacks by teenage vampire romance peddlers to cheap classics.
Relying on the Amazon infrastructure, the Kindle Store offers a better experience than any built into an ereader. Its interface is similar and familiar, borrowing its layout from the Amazon website, and you can easily order from a computer and have the book automatically sent over to your Kindle Touch using something Amazon calls. Whispernet. As simple as it sounds, you order online and the thing shows up on your Kindle automatically following an online sync.
The Kindle Store also offers a wealth of magazines and newspapers. Most UK broadsheets are now available, at around £10 a month, as are a bunch of magazines. However, the latter in particular fare better on iPad, often hampered by poor optimisation for Kindle and the lack of colour.
A key limitation of the Kindle range is that it does not support EPUB, probably the most common format outside of the Kindle Store. If you're planning on buying direct from Amazon, it's nothing to worry about. Also, existing libraries can be reformatted to a suitable format easily enough and online resources like Project Gutenberg already cater for Kindles. So why is it still a biggie?
The issue is that in the UK, libraries now lend ebooks, and they do so using EPUB files loaded with DRM (digital rights management). Want to load books from libraries? Don't buy a Kindle. Amazon has launched its own alternative, the Kindle Lending Library, for Amazon Prime members, but it's not available in the UK at the time of writing.
The Kindle Touch can hack, TXT, MOBI, PRC, PDF and its native AZW (Kindle) format. The most notable of these is PDF, which ereaders often trip-up with.
Being able to navigate around PDFs using the touchscreen is an upgrade over the budget Kindle, but it's still not perfect. Compared to the fairly slick Sony PRS-T1, zooming feels clumsy, limited to steps rather than giving you free rein, and re-rendering of the image is a little slow. If PDF-viewing is your main aim, you're better off with the Sony rival.
Extra features and online functions
The Kindle Touch can do a few things the similarly-priced Sony can't, though. Near the top of the list is text-to-speech conversion, which has been an "experimental" feature of the series since 2010.
This turns ebooks into audiobooks, using either a male or female synthesised American reader. It has that slightly "fake" sound, but is nevertheless a neat feature that lets you carry on "reading" while you're on the move.
Audio playback is also in, after being culled from the £89 Kindle, which lacked both a headphone jack and internal speaker. We don't imagine many will turn the 4GB ereader into their primary music source, the Kindle Touch does let you play music files while reading. It supports AAC, MP3 and WAV formats - hardly a wide array, but enough for the purpose.
The Kindle Touch doesn't shout too loud about its bells and whistles, preferring to keep an impression of simplicity, but the more you dig, the more you find. New to the Touch is X-ray, which packs books with information from online sources Wikipedia and Shelfari. This only works with books optimised for the feature, but is likely to become standard from now.
The "Experimental" features menu
Alternatively, you can search for any word or phrase on Wikipedia manually, and even translate between nine languages. Social network integration is also built-in. The Kindle Touch lets you share your highlighted bits of books over Facebook and Twitter. It's the perfect way to lose followers and alienate your Facebook friends…
The Wi-Fi edition of the Kindle Touch costs £109, and the 3G version £169. A 70 per cent price increase may be a little hard to swallow for the upgrade, but for frequent travellers it's absolutely worth it. Amazon promises a global 3G service, with no hidden costs to pay once you've bought the ereader. With a web browser on-board, it's an extremely handy way to check your emails without incurring huge roaming costs, too, without considering being able to snag books wherever you are.
But what about value versus the opposition? This is a worthy £20 upgrade over the non-touch Kindle, boasting double the battery life at one month with a half-hour's use a day, and if you don't care about PDF reading or book loans, it's a better all-rounder than the Sony PRS-T1.
Similarly, the Kobo eReader Touch is much cheaper and boasts a touchscreen, but isn't as well-made. There are good reasons to go for alternatives - EPUB support, better PDF handling and physical page turn buttons at the top of the list - but as an all-round device this is the one to beat.
The latest Kindle has gained weight and girth since getting the touchscreen treatment. But it has gained a lot more besides, too - MP3 playback, voice synthesis, and a much larger battery. It is a fantastic ereader, with ease of use benefits that'll outweigh the flexibility bonuses on offer from other manufacturers. However, we're not convinced touchscreen operation is better than good old buttons here, and the Kindle Touch doesn't eclipse the cheaper model.