When Amazon launched the latest version of its Kindle e-book reader in September 2011, the company decided to break with tradition. In the past, the launch of a new Kindle meant the existing model would be discontinued, but this time round Amazon decided to expand the range instead.
As a result, what was previously referred to as the Kindle has been renamed the Kindle Keyboard and continues to be sold alongside the new designs. These include an entry-level model with fewer features and it is this device which is now being called the Kindle.
At present only the basic Kindle and the keyboard version are available in the UK, but in the US there are five models to choose from. At the very top of the range is the Kindle Fire – a tablet computer which features a vivid colour screen and allows users to browse the internet, watch films or stream television shows as well as read books.
Positioned at a price point just about the basic model is the Kindle Touch, so called because it uses a touch screen interface. The most expensive Kindle is the DX which features a larger, 9.7” screen instead of the standard 6” version common to all the other non-colour models in the range. This additional size makes reading newspapers, magazines and reports much easier, but the device is less portable.
Although the new, entry-level Kindle is smaller, cheaper, slightly faster and around 30 per cent lighter, the Kindle Keyboard has several additional functions that are not present on the basic model. Chief among these is the ability to load and listen to audio books, podcasts and MP3 files. This can be done either by connecting headphones to the audio jack or by listening through the built-in speakers. The Kindle Keyboard also has a text-to-speech function which means that, if the publishers choose to allow it, certain books can be read to you in a computerized voice.
In the UK the Kindle Keyboard also comes with free 3G which allows you to download books and other content even if there is no Wi-Fi connection available. The 3G function works worldwide over the same networks that are used for mobile phones, and is particularly useful if you subscribe to newspapers or magazines as the latest editions will automatically appear on your Kindle Keyboard, wherever you are.
The cost of the 3G service is included in the purchase price and is a one-off fee so there are no monthly bills or contracts to sign. In the US both the Kindle Keyboard and Kindle Touch are available with or without 3G.
Whether you would be better off choosing a model with or without a keyboard depends on the way you plan to use your ebook reader. Most users require a keyboard only very occasionally – to enter passwords or access the dictionary. The entry-level version features a virtual keyboard, accessed using a five-way selector switch and this is more than adequate for most purposes.
If, however, you like to make a large number of notes and annotations while reading, the Kindle Keyboard will allow you to do this far more easily.