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Amazon Kindle 4

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What's hot: Extremely affordable and portable, good Pearl E Ink display.

What's not: Navigation not a joy without touchscreen or keyboard, only basic features.


Reviewed October 8, 2011 by , Editor in Chief (twitter: @lisagade)

Amazon wants to own the eBook market, and they've been well on their way. With the $79 Kindle, they're much closer. The newest Kindle, aka Kindle 4 is only $79 "with offers" and $109 without. "With offers" means you'll see ads instead of dead authors or the images of your choice when the Kindle goes to sleep, and there's a small banner ad at the bottom of your library listing page. These ads range from Amazon special sales offers (we don't mind those at all) to AT&T and clothing ads. At $69, and even $89, this is the least expensive big name ereader yet. At $100 and less, the Kindle transforms from an object of desire and a thing one fears to lose to an expendable purchase. Competitors aren't all that far off in pricing at $139 to $149, and to be fair, the Kobo Touch, Sony Reader WiFi PRS-T1 and Barnes & Noble Nook Simple Touch are higher end ereaders with touch screens, but Amazon's very large ebookstore and trusted name combined with the low price will likely sell a lot of units.

Kindle 4

Amazon doesn't assign version numbers to each new generation Kindle, but the rest of the world does to keep track of each generation. Before the $79 Kindle, each generation added new features and improvements, so it made sense to increment the model numbers. In this case, the Kindle 4, or Kindle buttons as some folks call it (because it uses hardware buttons rather than a touch screen), isn't better than the Kindle 3, re-christened as the Kindle Keyboard by Amazon. It's simply the latest model. In late November 2011, Amazon will release the $99 to $139 Kindle Touch that competes directly with Sony, B&N and Kobo's offerings, and they'll also release the Kindle Fire, a $199 Android-based 7" color LCD tablet that competes both with the Nook Color and 7" Android tablets.

Kindle 4

The Kobo Touch, Kindle 4 and Sony Reader PRS-T1.

That doesn't mean the Kindle 4 is a bad reader, in fact it has a lot going for it. It has a very good 6", 600 x 800 pixel Pearl E Ink Pearl that looks just as good as the Kindle 3's and Sony PRS-T1's (and better than the Nook Touch), WiFi for downloading books and surfing the web using the same basic Webkit web browser found on the Kindle 3, and it has enough storage to hold hundreds of books. What's missing? There's no speaker and no audio player (thus no Audible books) and no keyboard. There's no 3G option. Like the Kindle 3 it lacks the touch screen found on competing brands. The Kindle 4 targets first time ereader buyers and those on a very tight budget. It's perfect for novel readers and previous generation Kindle owners who want a smaller and lighter ebook reader and have rarely used the keyboard on the Kindle.

Kindle 4

The Kindle Keyboard and Kindle 4.




Deals and Shopping:

Kindle 4 Video Review


I personally own a Kindle 3 and rarely use the keyboard, and was tempted by this more portable 6 ounce, 6.5" x 4.5" x 0.34" model. But there are usability issues that are worth considering. The Kindle 4 has page turn buttons on both sides, and they're improved over the last gen model: they're smaller and thus not so easy to accidentally press when handling the reader. All other control and navigation is done using the 4 hardware buttons and a d-pad. The buttons are: back, keyboard, menu and home. The keyboard brings up an on-screen keyboard that you'll navigate using the d-pad. This isn't an expedient or joyous process, but if you don't use the keyboard often, it's bearable and worth the smaller size and 2.5 ounce weight reduction vs. the Kindle Keyboard. If you're coming from a Kindle 3, you may miss keyboard shortcuts for bookmarking, font changes and other settings.

To add a bookmark, you'll use the menu button, then arrow down using the d-pad to select the bookmark function. To look up a dictionary definition (sorry, Amazon's new X-Ray feature isn't included on this model) you'll use the d-pad to move to the word you want defined. To enter notes and highlights, you'll use the d-pad and then the on-screen keyboard for notes. To change the font size, you'll use a menu option. Font and layout settings are the same as on the Kindle 3 (font size, line height and margins), and the included font is the same fairly bold and pleasing looking font that's high contrast, though slightly chunky.

The display itself looks identical to our Kindle 3 in terms of contrast, and there might be a teeny tiny bit less glare, but all E Ink readers have a matte display so glare is rarely an issue except when positioning a clip-on reading light. Since it's E Ink, the Kindle 4 display is very viewable outdoors and is hard to see in a dim room. It depends on ambient light and has no backlighting, which is easier on the eyes. The Kindle 4 supports 4-way rotation, so you can read in portrait and landscape orientations.

The Kindle 4 has approximately 1.25 gigs of available internal storage, and that will hold hundreds of books. There's no expansion card slot (Amazon seems to be allergic to those), but you do get Amazon cloud storage. Books you purchase from Amazon are always available for download, even if you've deleted them from your Kindle. And any books you send yourself using Amazon's service are stored in the cloud too. You can also attach the included micro USB to USB cable to manually back up books to your computer and side-load compatible books. The Kindle is compatible with Kindle AWZ format books as well as PDF and non-DRM Mobi, PRC, HTML, doc, docx, jpeg, gif, bmp and text files. It is not compatible with the ePUB format used by competing ebookstores and ereaders.

Amazon and Overdrive recently added public library ebook support, and it's fairly easy to check out library books. You'll use your computer to check out a book, and then it will be sent to Amazon who will then shoot it to your Kindle, just as with purchased Amazon titles. Amazon will send you a notice a few days before the book is due to expire, reminding you that your notes will live on and be available should you check out the book again or buy it from Amazon.

The Kindle has basic PDF support, and it's a bit faster at PDF page turns thanks to its faster Freescale i.MX508 800MHz ARM Cortex-A8 family CPU vs. the Kindle 3's 533MHz Freescale CPU. Once the Kindle 3 caches a PDF, page turn speeds are equal though, and we haven't noticed the Kindle 4 feeling faster in most other tasks. PDF support won't blow you away, and hasn't really evolved from the Kindle 3 running OS 3.2 (the Kindle 4 runs OS 4.0). We don't recommend most 6" E-Ink readers for technical and highly illustrated PDFs since the screen is too small to render readable text without zooming and lots of scrolling around a single page. The Sony Readers, particularly the discontinued Sony Reader Daily Edition PRS-950 and the new Sony Reader WiFi PRS-T1 are an exception with advanced PDF handling.

Amazon doesn't include a charger with the ereader (one of the way they keep costs down), but you can buy a charger or charge it using your computer or a cell phone charger with micro USB connector. It charges in 3 hours or less via USB, and in our tests, should last about 2-3 weeks if you read an hour per day and leave WiFi on. The battery is not user-replaceable, but at $69-$89, when the battery's runtimes decrease markedly after 2-3 years, you'll probably want to buy a new model.


If you're a novel reader who doesn't take notes and has little use for a keyboard, the Kindle 4 is an enticing proposition. When you buy into the Amazon ecosystem you get their very large and competitively priced ebookstore and their excellent customer service. You won't be able to shop around at B&N, Kobo, the Sony Reader store or Google Books however, because those stores use the ePUB format-- that story hasn't changed. At least you get public library books now, just as you do with ePUB readers.

The Kindle 4 is very light and portable, and it's easy to hold unless you have big fingers (the bezel is very thin). If you're primarily a novel reader who needs only page turn buttons, the Kindle 4 is a great low cost solution. However, if you want to make notes, enter lots of URLs in the web browser and in general make use of a keyboard, get the Kindle Keyboard instead. Likewise, if a music player and Audible integration is important, get the Kindle Keyboard or Kindle Touch.

I prefer touch screen ebook readers because it's so much easier to select a word for lookup, and it's easier to highlight passages. Navigation and the user interface tend to be more straightforward and pleasurable with touch screen ereaders as well. If these are important to you, you might want to get the Kindle Touch, or consider the Sony Reader PRS-T1 and Nook Simple Touch. But if you just want the basics or money is tight, the Kindle 4 is a sweet, basic portable ebook reader with a sharp Pearl E-Ink display.

Price: $69 with ads, $89 without ads

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Kindle 4


Kindle 4


Kindle 4

The Kindle 4 and Kindle 3.

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Display: 6" Pearl E-Ink display, 800 x 600 resolution, 167ppi. 16 grayscale levels. Supports screen rotation in all 4 directions.

Size: 6.5" x 4.5" x 0.34", 6 ounces.

Wireless: WiFi 802.11b/g/n (no 3G option available).

CPU: Freescale i.MX508 ARM Cortex-A8 family CPU with 800MHz max clock speed.

Storage: 2 gigs with approximately 1.2 gigs available. Mounts as a mass storage device in Windows and Mac OS X for USB transfer of content.

Battery: Sealed in unit. Claimed 1 month battery life with wireless off when reading 30 minutes per day. Charges via USB, micro USB cable included, charger sold separately.

Formats supported: Amazon AZW, MOBI, PRC and PDF natively. Doesn't support DRM-d MOBI and PRC files. Other formats supported: HTML, DOC, JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP.

OS: Kindle OS 4.0.


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