The devices' lower price points represent an aggressive push by Amazon to boost its lead in the e-book space as competitors like Barnes & Noble's Nook, currently $99 for the latest touch-screen version and a CNET Editors' Choice, pose a growing threat.
All three new non-Fire Kindles offer the same 6-inch e-ink Perl screen found on the previous-generation Kindle. According to our hands-on review of the $79 Kindle: "In other words, the text on the screen looks exactly like it did on the previous model, which is to say: it looks good, but don't expect any improvements in contrast or sharpness."
The biggest difference between old and new is that all three 2011 e-ink Kindles ditch the physical keyboard (although the company is calling the older, still-available versions "Kindle Keyboard"). They all also have built-in Wi-Fi to download books and deploy other Internet-dependent functions when in range of a hot spot.
Amazon also addressed one glaring shortcoming compared with other e-readers when it enabled the ability to download and read e-books for free through participating local libraries and public schools. Unlike the Nook or Sony Reader, the Kindle still does not support the EPUB format, but nonetheless more than 11,000 public libraries now allow Kindle borrowing via industry leader Overdrive. You can search the site to see whether your local library or school is onboard.
Each e-ink Kindle is available at different pricing depending on whether you want "special offers" advertising. According to Amazon, "special offers and sponsored screensavers display on Kindle when you're not reading." The premium to avoid advertising is $30 for the base Kindle or $40 for the Kindle Touch and Kindle Touch 3G.
From there, differences emerge.
Kindle ($79 with special offers, $109 without special offers, Read the full review) The basic Kindle is actually the smallest and lightest of the three. It lacks a touch screen, so page turns are accomplished via buttons mounted on either side. It does include a dictionary and Wikipedia, but manual text entry requires shoving the cursor around an onscreen keyboard with the directional keypad. Fans of audio books, background music, or text-to-speech ("read-to-me") will be disappointed in the lack of audio support--the new base Kindle is totally silent.
Kindle Touch ($99 with special offers, $139 without special offers, Read the full review) The $20 step-up buys you a touch screen, audio support, and a few other extras including a new X-ray feature that lets readers examine "the bones of a book." Page turns, search, dictionary look-up, and menu access all happen at a touch, no buttons required. The Kindle Touch and Kindle 3G are a bit bigger and heavier than the non-Touch version, but their batteries last twice as long.
Kindle Touch 3G ($149 with special offers, $189 without special offers, Read the full review) The additional $50 buys 3G wireless, which Amazon calls "Whispernet." It allows downloading and other Internet access in areas where you can't get a Wi-Fi signal, and unlike 3G for smartphones, for example, there's no monthly fee.
|Kindle||Kindle Touch||Kindle Touch 3G|
|Dimensions||6.5 x 4.5 x 0.34 inches (HWD)||6.8 x 4.7 x 0.40 inches (HWD)||6.8 x 4.7 x 0.40 inches (HWD)|
|Weight||5.98 ounces||7.5 ounces||7.8 ounces|
|Storage||2GB (1,400 books)||4GB (3,000 books)||4GB (3,000 books)|
|Battery||1 month (30 min/day, Wi-Fi off)||2 months (30 min/day, Wi-Fi off)||2 months (30 min/day, Wi-Fi and 3G off)|
|Wi-Fi||802.11 b/g/n||802.11 b/g/n||802.11 b/g/n|
|Screen size||6 inches (e-ink)||6 inches (e-ink)||6 inches (e-ink)|
|Content formats||Kindle (AZW), TXT, PDF, unprotected MOBI, PRC natively, DOC, DOCX, JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP through conversion||Kindle (AZW), TXT, PDF, Audible (Audible Enhanced(AA,AAX)), MP3, unprotected MOBI, PRC natively, DOC, DOCX, JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP through conversion||Kindle (AZW), TXT, PDF, Audible (Audible Enhanced(AA,AAX)), MP3, unprotected MOBI, PRC natively, DOC, DOCX, JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP through conversion|
|Unsupported formats||EPUB, LIT, LRZ/LRX (Sony), Audible (Audible Enhanced(AA,AAX)), MP3||EPUB, LIT, LRZ/LRX (Sony)||EPUB, LIT, LRZ/LRX (Sony)|
|Price with "special offers"||$79||$99||$149|
|Price w/o "special offers"||$109||$139||$189|
Three new Amazon e-ink Kindles
Note: This article has been updated with additional content since the initial announcement as Amazon has confirmed product details and CNET has published reviews.