E Ink screen
Like every generation of Amazon’s Kindle ereader, the Kindle Touch uses an E Ink display. If you’ve used one before, its benefits will go without saying, but if not – E Ink offers a paper-like image that’s much easier on the eyes than LCD. It doesn’t use a backlight, instead relying on ambient light to keep text visible.
In direct sunlight, it’s a hundred times better than reading on something like an iPad, with virtually no screen reflection issues and superb clarity. In darkness, though, you won’t be able to see a single letter unless you use a light.
The Kindle Touch screen is 6in across and has a resolution of 600 x 800 pixels. In a direct comparison with the latest smartphone and tablet screens, this may sound woefully inadequate, but it’s like comparing apples to wicker furniture. An E Ink screen’s image is made up of microcapsules, either white or black, meaning it has none of the gappy look a similarly-specced LCD screen would have – where subpixels are surrounded by an expanse on black on (very) close inspection.
While reading, text looks fairly sharp and contrast isn’t too far off that of a printed page.
This screen quality is nothing new, and is no upgrade over the £89 Kindle, but what you do get is a touchscreen. The Kindle Touch uses a multi-touch IR touchscreen, similar to that seen in the Sony PRS-T1. Teeny lasers are fired across the surface of the screen, and finger prods cut off their flow thereby letting the Kindle know where you’re pressing.
It’s accurate, quick and has no effect on the screen image, beyond making the screen bezel that little bit more substantial. The main function for the touchscreen is, of course, page turning.
The bezel is a little more raised than the non-touch version
A touch or a swipe works, and flicking through pages is roughly as quick as it is on the £89 Kindle. Due to the way E Ink works there’s a fraction of a second delay between turns, but unless you’re completely new to ereaders, it’s no turn-off.
By default, the Kindle Touch flushes its screen after every five page turns. This is where the screen flashes black in order to get rid of any afterimages left by previous pages of text. There’s also an option to make the screen refresh at every page turn, although some rivals like the Kobo eReader Touch give you much more control over the refresh cycle.
Using an IR touchscreen, it’s quite easy to turn pages accidentally – unlike a capacitive screen it’ll respond to any object big enough, rather than just conductive ones. However, we found that the chunky bezel made this less of an issue than in some touchscreen ereaders such as the Sony PRS-T1 and the capacitive-screened Bookeen Cybook Odyssey.
Pressing on a word brings up its OED definition, as well as options to highlight it, add a note, translate it into another language or search for it on Wikipedia. This is one aspect that benefits hugely from the touchscreen, making looking up words much quicker, taking you out of the “reading zone” much less than fiddling about with a D-pad does.
The touchscreen is also used to alter font size. A pinch gesture while reading lets you make fonts smaller and bigger on the fly, and resizing a book only takes a second or two. You are given some limited control over font style and spacing. While reading, you’re just a couple of taps away from the font menu, which offers three styles and three line spacing options.
Although we find this selection of options more than adequate, it is extremely limited compared to other big-name ereaders. Here you have eight font sizes and three fonts. The Kobo eReader Touch offers 24 sized and seven fonts. Would you want to use most of them? Probably not, but some people appreciate having the choice.
The Amazon approach to the Kindle Touch’s interface is identical to previous models. It tries to streamline your experience by keeping only the most central, most-often used features front and centre. The home screen is your book list, with just a thin nav bar up top. There are no book covers and no visible links to extra features like the MP3 player. It wants to get you reading as soon as possible.
The potential downside of this is that it can make the ereader slightly harder to get on with at first for those used to plain old main menus full of plain old options. For example, the web browser, MP3 player and the Text-to-speech options are all hidden away within the Experimental sub menu. Kindle veterans will know they’ve been snuck away in there for years (a long experiment, eh Amazon?) but others may get frustrated trying to find out how to do things.
As with self-consciously simple devices like this and Apple’s iPhone, though, once you learn to play its way, the Kindle Touch is blissful to use.