The Amazon Kindle is now synonymous with e-book readers, even though Amazon’s model was arguably not always the best example of the breed.

We’ve always admired the Sony Reader range for its better build quality and navigation as well as its welcome embrace of e-lending libraries. 

With its latest offering, the Kindle Touch, reviewed here, Amazon comes closer than ever before to toppling the Sony Reader from the top of our e-book reader list. Here’s why. 

Touchscreen input has become the preferred input method for many display-based gadgets and the Kindle Touch implements this well. The screen is responsive to user input and onscreen information redraws quickly, ensuring interaction is positive. It even supports pinch-to-zoom and has a handy portrait/landscape toggle option. 

Tapping anywhere but the extreme top of a page lets you progress through your book. Click top right to return to the main menu, adjust the text size and adjust manual sync options. The latter checks whether you were reading the same book on another device and jumps to the last page you were on.  

Our test ebook contains complex graphics and lots of links. The Amazon Kindle Touch was unfazed by the way we darted between linked web pages, forward and back through the pages and between the standard page view and zooming in to view detail. Existing Kindle owners will immediately notice the difference.  

We also like the design. The subtly rubberised overlay on the rear aids grip as well as being protective. A slightly narrower frame would make the Amazon Kindle Touch easier to grip in one hand though. 

Importing titles you’ve already read is straightforward. Type in your Kindle login and password and they will appear almost instantly if there’s an available Wi-Fi connection.

Purchasing books, newspaper and magazine subscriptions can be set up via Amazon 1-Click ordering. You can preview sample pages or download sample chapters of many titles. Free books on the Kindle Store are a popular search term and we downloaded several classics, with accompanying audio files. The WhisperSync background downloader delivered each tome in around three seconds. 

Publications you've subscribed to await you each day. You have 4GB of internal storage to play with. You can 'share' literary finds with friends via email and Facebook. There's no library option, though. 

On the 3G model (at £169, a full £60 more than this model) you can sync and update your library without having to find a convenient Wi-Fi point. On holiday, that could make a big difference. It could also be useful for casual browsing. 

Navigation isn’t seamless. We got caught up in a loop in which pressing the Home button on the bottom didn’t do so and at one point we were stranded within the web browser. In general, the browser works far better than expected, though images and rich media remain a sticking point.  

Audio is poor, with a small single speaker at the bottom. This feature is useful if your eyesight is poor, but the text-to-speech implementation is crude and rather rapid, although you can slow the speech.  

After a full charge of the battery, it performed more in line with our expectations, with some battery drain noticeable after extensive web browsing while we dithered over book choices in the Kindle Store. Amazon says half an hour's use per day should result in the battery lasting for two weeks at a time. 

The Kindle Touch (Wi-Fi + 3G) is the flagship of Amazon's Kindle e-reader line - in the US at least. Amazon has no plans to release the Kindle Touch in the UK, although if you did buy one in the US it will work fine over here.  See also: New iPad review.

The addition of touch navigation aligns Amazon's Kindle Touch with its competition, but a few debatable interface and physical design choices reduce my enthusiasm for this product. Still, if you want a connected-anywhere dedicated e-reader, the Kindle Touch (Wi-Fi + 3G) is the way to go; no other e-reader maker currently offers a 3G version.

Like Amazon's nontouch base-model Kindle (which is available in the UK, from £89), the Kindle Touch comes in advertisement-supported and ad-free versions. The Wi-Fi-only model starts at $99 (£64) for the version with "Special Offers" ads on the unlock and home screens; the price jumps to $139 (£90) for the ad-free version. The Wi-Fi + 3G model costs $149 (£96) with ads, and $189 (£121) without. (All prices and conversions are as of November 29, 2011.)

Kindle Touch: Design

The Kindle Touch's touch design differs significantly from most that of most rival e-readers. The top inch-plus of the 6-inch display is reserved for accessing the menu and toolbar with a single tap. Below that, Amazon has divided the screen into regions: A 0.5-inch-wide strip running the length of the left-hand side is set aside for tapping to return to the previous page. The larger region to the right--effectively stretching from the center of the page to the right edge--is reserved for moving to the next page.

The advantage of this arrangement is that your finger doesn't need to be precisely aligned on the right-hand edge in order for you to turn pages. In practice, I found this approach highly appealing and finger-friendly for my smaller hands; other users, who had larger hands, responded well to it, too. The design is amenable to taps from either the left hand or the right hand. And the ability to reach farther into the midsection of the page lessened the disadvantage of working with such a deeply inset screen (Amazon says that the inset was necessary for its touch technology--but it's noticeably thicker, by millimeters, than the inset on the competing Barnes & Noble Nook Simple Touch and Kobo eReader Touch Edition).

Unfortunately, to call up the menu for reading options, you first have to tap at the top of the screen. That's not a problem if your next action is to go to the Kindle store, search the book, or enter the Kindle's menu (from which you can view notes and annotations, add a bookmark, manually sync to the furthest page read, and more). But if you want to change the font or text size, or go to a specific chapter, you have to move your finger all the way down to the bottom of the screen--an inconvenience that can become exasperating over time.

A more critical problem is the e-reader's lackluster in-book navigation. You first tap Go To, and then select from cover, beginning, end, or page/location. There's no visual slider, and you can't see where you are at glance—two features that both Barnes & Noble's Nook Simple Touch and Kobo's eReader Touch Edition offer.

I didn't like the prominent link to the Kindle Store from within a book, either. Overall, the menu design felt unnecessarily cluttered.

By contrast (and disappointingly), the sparse-looking home screen hasn't changed much for several product generations now. You can sort by most recent, by title, by author, or by collection, but the e-reader presents those views entirely in text. The Kindle Touch isn't set up to show your books visually, as Nook Simple Touch, the Kobo eReader Touch, and even the Sony Reader Wi-Fi PRS-T1 do. Also, Amazon continues to hide its Web browser under the 'experimental' section, along with the text-to-speech feature; the browser has been in place since the original Kindle launched in 2007, while the text-to-speech debuted on the Kindle 2.

At least the Kindle Store's presentation has improved somewhat, with a more visual and finger-tuned approach to shopping.

The Kindle Touch lets you choose from eight font sizes, including one of the largest I've seen on any e-reader. You can adjust line spacing and words per line, too, but here Amazon gives you only three options. The same goes for the typeface—you can opt for the default font, or for condensed or sans serif type. In contrast, the Nook Simple Touch offers you six fonts choices, and both the Kobo Touch eReader and the Sony Reader Wi-Fi make seven fonts available. The screen doesn't rotate, either, unlike the screen on the basic, nontouch Kindle.

Page turns had plenty of zip, though I could still perceive the page flashing in front of me. I preferred the fast dissolves and speed of the Nook Simple Touch (with its software update). Like its predecessors, the Kindle Touch handles Amazon's format, plus text, PDF, unprotected MOBI, and PRC; and the device can convert files saved in some other formats, such as HTML and DOCX, if you email the files to your Kindle. The Kindle Touch also supports pinch-and-zoom in PDF viewing; and in this respect its implementation is better than the Sony Reader Wi-Fi's. As before, Kindle has Audible audiobook support.

The Kindle Touch lets you tap a word to look it up, or to make a notation or highlight. You can share the highlights via Twitter or Facebook, but the e-reader's social component is fairly rudimentary. Amazon did add one new feature, called X-ray, that ties metadata to a book, so you can view characters, historical places, and more, indexed by its appearance in the book and fleshed out via a Wikipedia entry. This information travels with the book; however, X-ray struck me as more gimmicky than substantial.

See also: Group test: what's the best e-book reader?

Kindle Touch: Physical Design

The Kindle Touch's 6-inch display has a 600-by-800-pixel resolution, at 167 pixels per inch. Text looked a bit fainter on this model than on the updated Nook Simple Touch, the Kobo eReader Touch, or the Sony Reader Wi-Fi. It comes with 4GB of memory, which Amazon says can accommodate up to 3000 books.

Physically, the Touch feels good in hand, with a very slightly textured back and contoured edges. The Touch was noticeably bigger than the competing Nook, Sony, and Kobo models, though it slims down from its predecessor's thickness by 11 percent and weight by 8 percent. It measures 172x120x10.1mm, and weighs just 213g.

The new model's silver gray bezel was easy to scratch and did nothing to help the contrast pop on the E Ink display. The Nook Simple Touch has a charcoal-black bezel, while the Kobo and Sony e-readers have a pitch-black bezel. Another design oddity: The ridged design of the home button on the front of the device seemed out of place on a stylish and simple e-reader.

Along the bottom edge are micro-USB and headphone ports, plus a power/sleep/wake button. The only way to wake the device is via the power button.

PCWorld Verdict

Though the Kindle Touch is a necessary catch-up upgrade for Amazon, this model's hardware and software introduce little innovation and imagination to separate it from the competition. The most compelling aspect of the Kindle Touch is its inclusion of 3G, and you'll pay a steep premium for it over the cost of Wi-Fi-only model. That is, of course, if you are prepared to import one from the US.

Melissa J Perenson

Amazon Kindle Touch: Specs

  • 6in E Ink screen
  • 600 x 800-pixel resolution
  • 16-colour greyscale
  • touchscreen input
  • web browser
  • Wi-Fi
  • 4GB internal storage
  • headphone port
  • mono speaker
  • text-to-speech, audiobook support
  • MP3 playback
  • landscape/portrait screen mode
  • 172 x 120 x 10.1mm
  • 213g
  • 6in E Ink screen
  • 600 x 800-pixel resolution
  • 16-colour greyscale
  • touchscreen input
  • web browser
  • Wi-Fi
  • 4GB internal storage
  • headphone port
  • mono speaker
  • text-to-speech, audiobook support
  • MP3 playback
  • landscape/portrait screen mode
  • 172 x 120 x 10.1mm
  • 213g

OUR VERDICT

Both the hardware and navigation of the Kindle Touch won us over. With solid Kindle Store integration, near instant book downloads and even a usable web browser, this is the best Amazon e-book reader so far.

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