Leaving aside the obvious giveaways - smaller size, less wasted real estate around the edges, new button design, new colour - you only have to hold the Amazon Kindle 3 to realise that you are in new e-reader territory. The third-generation Kindle comes in two versions: the Kindle Wi-Fi retails for £109, and it costs £149 for a 3G and Wi-Fi version. This is the same as the 3G-only Amazon Kindle 2 cost previously, and is the first device launched specifically into the UK.
(Incidentally, if Amazon asks, we didn't call this device the Amazon Kindle 3. Amazon says its name remains simply 'Kindle', but for simplicity's sake we'll go with 'Amazon Kindle 3' for this review.)
The Amazon Kindle 3 comfortably hold a Kindle e-reader in one hand. At 246g, the Kindle is not the lightest such device on the market, but it is lighter than Barnes & Noble's Nook. And the new Kindle is 15 percent lighter than its predecessor; between its lighter weight and its more compact design, we could immediately tell that using the third-generation Kindle would be a more pleasing experience than with earlier models. The unit felt very balanced in-hand, and the buttons felt like they were in convenient, ergonomic places (more on that in a moment).
What's notable is that Amazon achieves its design improvements even while adding features (notably, Wi-Fi), and boosting the screen technology.
Clearly, the new Kindle looks vastly different. For starters, it now comes in graphite, like its big brother, as well as in white; in our experience, the darker border enhances readability, as would be expected given the visual perception a dark border provides. But the display is dramatically better in its own regard: Like the Kindle DX (Graphite), the Kindle now has a 6-inch E-Ink Pearl display, which boasts faster refresh rates and 50 percent better contrast. As on Kindle DX (Graphite), blacks look more solid, and text is smoother.
The physical design is smaller, too - by 21 percent, according to Amazon. If you look at the numbers alone, it doesn't feel as if that much has been shaved off: The new model measures a stout 190x122x9mm, as compared to the 203x135x9mm of the Amazon Kindle 2. But the difference felt more dramatic when holding the device (an act also made easier by the rubberised backing).
To achieve this smaller design, Amazon has in essence trimmed the white space around the bezels, to give the Amazon Kindle 3 a tighter and more efficient presentation. The effect is that the device is now dominated by its 6-inch screen, although there's still enough room around the edges for your fingers to comfortably rest. The keyboard has been tightened, with the keys slightly closer, the row of numbers removed (to get to numbers, you now have to press the symbol button, much like on a touchscreen mobile phone's keyboard). The navigation buttons have been clustered together and rearranged; and more notably, the page forward and back buttons have shrunk dramatically, to just one-quarter of an inch wide.
Indeed, all of the buttons have been redesigned on the new Amazon Kindle 3, to great effect. The screen is now flanked by simple forward and back buttons, mirrored in size and shape, and connoted by arrows, as opposed to words (as on Kindle 2). By having these buttons on both sides, the Kindle is especially handy for both left- and right-handed users.
One of the things we disliked about the Kindle 2 was that the page-forward and -back buttons depressed inward, into the screen. The much slimmer buttons for this third-generation Amazon Kindle 3 now depress away from the screen, a rocker style button that melds into the edge of the device. We prefer this approach, as fingers don't need to hover in a single place to turn the page; instead, we could mix up our hand's location, and still turn the page with a palm heel, or even the length of our thumb - either a vastly superior experience.
The Amazon Kindle 3's keyboard buttons are more rounded, and by being closer together, we found the keyboard easier to type on than that of the Kindle 2. The experience was more akin to what we're used to on a physical mobile phone keyboard.
As already noted, the navigation buttons are completely overhauled. The Home button has moved to the bottom of the Amazon Kindle 3's keyboard, and the joystick navigation cluster of Kindle 2 replaced by a D-pad like approach with a 5-way navigation square, with an oval Menu button above it, and a Back button beneath it. We found this organisation easy to adapt to, and certainly better than the comparatively stiff joystick. We look forward to trying a shipping unit for a longer period to see how well the navigation works in practice.
Speaking of navigation, one thing is very clear: the navigation is noticeably faster. We could breezily scroll through menu items with practically no lag; previously, we'd have become frustrated by the sluggish responsiveness of the Kindle 2 (never mind competitors like Kobo, which is interminably slow). Page turns are 20 percent faster, too; based on our limited hands-on, that stat translates into a more zippy experience, but again, the full impact will be more obvious when we get to use the device for hours, not minutes, of reading.
While the overall design of the e-reading experience remains unchanged, Amazon has added some new and noteworthy features. For the first time, you can change line spacing (choose between small, medium, and large), and you can finally change typeface (choose from regular, condensed, and sans serif). While we would have like to see some other options, and see the names presented in sample text, much like how the font size options are represented, we're glad to see Amazon add the ability to change fonts, given that's a feature Nook and most all LCD-based e-readers have had for some time.
Like the Kindle DX (Graphite) and updated Kindle 2, the Amazon Kindle 3 supports sharing passages via Facebook and Twitter. And, it supports viewing popular highlights (aggregated from the data of what passages Kindle users are sharing). Uniquely new for this Kindle: a WebKit-based Web browser. The browser is still classified as experimental, but it provides a better experience than before.
The new Amazon Kindle 3 doubles the internal memory from 2GB to 4GB, which Amazon says translates into 3500 books (up from 1500). Amazon now claims Kindle has up to one month of battery life; the company says its battery technology hasn't fundamentally changed, but rather it has achieved double the performance of Kindle 2 through software.
The Amazon Kindle 3 made an unusually quick, and positive, impression. The new Kindle's solid build quality, improved design, integrated store, and cross-platform transportability (books are usable on any Kindle reader app, including iPhone, iPad, Android, BlackBerry, and PC) all add up to a winner poised to top the pack.