The Kindle interface hasn’t changed much in this 2011 edition. It’s still blissfully simple – simpler than most rival ebook readers. The home screen is a list of books and documents, arranged by date of last use by default. It can also be ordered by title or author, or changed into a list of Collections.
Collections are how Amazon lets you order larger libraries with a Kindle – but that’s about as complicated as it gets. However, there’s also a search function, which makes it possible to shove a gigantic library onto the device without watching 90 per cent of it fall into a headache-inducing organisational vortex.
Having used a great many ebook readers, including the Kindle 3, we can safely say this is the fastest yet. It’s significantly quicker than the previous-gen Kindle, making the speed issue of eink all-but disappear.
Eink displays are a lot slower to refresh than LCD screens because each time the screen refreshes, there’s a movement of microcapsules within the screen to form the image. This extra physicality of eink makes it slow, but is also what helps it appear so book-like – because the process is so much closer to the printing of “real” words.
The 2011 Kindle uses a new eink strategy to speed-up its operation. While reading, a full-screen refresh only takes place after every five page turns. A full refresh causes the screen to go black for a split second as the display is effectively reset. Turns between this refresh leave a slight residue on the screen, but it’s much less jarring than a full refresh every page.
Here’s what residue looks like, at its worst
Using intermittent refreshing, the Kindle lets you flick through pages faster than you could with a real book page-by-page. The lack of a physical keyboard does slow down other elements of navigation, though. When surfing the web using the “experimental” browser, using the search function or searching for a particular book in the Kindle Store, you have to use the D-pad to manually tap characters into a virtual keyboard.
Wise to how laborious this can become, Amazon has implemented extremely aggressive predictive searching in the dictionary and Store, offering up potential search terms as soon as you start typing. If you’re looking for something popular, you should find it in the list of best-guesses within a few taps. You don’t get such help when browsing the web, but then Amazon calls it an “experimental” feature for a reason.
Unless you’re buying the Kindle to browse the web – and why would you – the loss of the keyboard is not a huge one. It makes rifling through the Kindle Store slightly slower, but when you factor in how little time you do this compared with time spent reading, it’s barely a sacrifice at all.
As well as being faster than any other reader out there, the 2011 Kindle also offers the highest contrast we’ve seen in a device like this. Put up against the Kindle 3, the new model clearly offers better contrast, with visibly darker text. Like its predecessor, you can select from eight font sizes, and three styles – regular, condensed and sans serif.
There’s still room for improvement. The screen resolution isn’t quite high enough to make text pin-sharp, and as it uses the same 600×800 pixel resolution as most previous Kindles, this is no surprise. The iRiver Story HD, the first ereader set for Google branding, is likely to be the first eink reader of a similar size to offer significantly higher pixel density. For now, this is still the best 6in model, although the Sony PRS-350 offers sharper text thanks to its 5in 800×600 display.
The small Sony also arguably beats Amazon’s Kindles’ format support. ePub is not supported by the Kindle, although as conversion to a compatible format is quick, free and painless – and drag and drop file transfer works without a hitch – it is once again no reason to opt for a rival. There’s 1.3GB of user-accessible memory built-in, which is enough for tonnes of books and newspapers. The Kindle 3 offers 4GB of memory, but most people simply won’t need the extra.