Why Kindle 3 is the best eReader

The Kindle 3 is, for all intents and purposes, the best eReader available.

Let’s ponder why this is – why Kindle 4 and Kindle Touch were unable to wrest the crown from Kindle 3.

Please Note: If you haven’t used a Kindle 3, or have already bought a Kindle Touch, then feel free to consider the Kindle Touch the best thing since sliced bread. This post is mostly for Kindle 3 owners and for people who are deciding between Kindle 3, Kindle 4, and Kindle Touch.

Why Kindle 3 is the best eReader

1) Kindle 3 is dependable. It’s the polished version of a familiar device. The magical third generation that sorts out 90% of the issues.

With Kindle 3, Amazon refined what it started with the original Kindle. It didn’t try any big design changes because none were needed. It improved lots of aspects and messed up only a few (keyboard being too tiny, number keys missing, etc.).

Kindle Touch and Kindle 4, on the other hand, aren’t familiar or dependable. They aren’t exactly 4th Generation Kindles – they are more like a branching out from the main Kindle family into some strange branch where being able to touch the screen becomes as important as reading from it.

They throw away the entire user interaction model. Kindle 4 does this in spectacular fashion by having neither a keyboard nor a touchscreen. Kindle Touch also involves quite a shift – using a touchscreen makes for an entirely different user experience. Amazon makes the change even more drastic by removing the 5-way and the page turn buttons.

For all intents and purposes, Kindle 4 and Kindle Touch are the first generation devices for their respective user interfaces. That means – they will not have the sort of polish Kindle 3 has. This is why lots of people are running into problems with screen responsiveness and are struggling with things like one-handed reading and page turns.

2) The Kindle 3’s keyboard and 5-way and page turn buttons add something of significant value.

Physical Keyboard = Faster typing of Notes. In things like crossword apps and games you can use the keyboard. Keyboard can be used for shortcuts (Alt+G for screen refresh to remove ghosting – Is that even possible on Kindle Touch?).

Physical Page Turn Buttons = Keep your finger on the button and press down (minimal effort). Also, makes one-handed reading easier.

5-Way = Faster moving around and more precise moving around. The touch screen of the Kindle Touch is a bit hit and miss with Menus and also is awkward in some places.

There is also familiarity and being comfortable. If you’ve owned Kindle 1 or 2, then Kindle 3 is comfortable. If you’re used to a physical keyboard then, again, Kindle 3 is familiar. The opposite applies too – If you’re in love with touch screens, then you’ll prefer Kindle Touch (just don’t expect LCD smoothness).

Here’s what you get by removing the keyboard and 5-way and page turn buttons: smaller size, lighter weight. These aren’t very important because Kindle 3 was already compact and light. It’s 7.5 ounces vs 8.5 ounces.

3) Amazon cuts a LOT of corners with Kindle Touch.

This is something that doesn’t become apparent until you actually start using the Kindle Touch.

All the cut corners add up – the interface being awkward in places, no charger included, no free 3G browsing. To get the price down, Amazon cut a lot of corners. You get the distinct feeling that you are using the ‘value’ version of the Kindle.

Think about it – there isn’t even a wall charger included.

Kindle 3 didn’t have any of this nonsense.

Kindle 3 is $99 with ads for a device that used to sell for $139 and had to be priced lower to compete with Nook Touch. Kindle Touch is $99 with ads for a device that often reminds you it’s a $99 device.

Interestingly, all the Kindle Touch’s drawbacks (and the Kindle 4’s drawbacks) stem from two very interesting sources.

The Fundamental Flaws – Amazon reacted to Nook Touch instead of improving Kindle 3, Amazon went for value over quality

It’s finally struck me.

Kindle 3 was really great. Kindle 4 should have been a higher quality device built on Kindle 3 as the foundation.

Instead, Amazon prioritized -

  1. Lowering the price to reach more users.
  2. Reacting to what it thought was the threat of Nook Touch and the new Sony Readers.

Neither of these have much to do with reading or quality of reading experience.

Why prioritize lower price over quality? Because every Kindle sold is a channel to Amazon. Amazon wants to reach as many users as possible.

Why no keyboard? Amazon doesn’t want a keyboard because it wants the Kindle to be used for buying and consuming – Not for taking notes. Time spent on taking notes is time that could be spent buying and reading. Amazon has progressively made the keyboard smaller and more stunted and in the newest Kindles it has gone into full consumption device mode – forget typing, focus on buying and consuming.

Why react to Nook Touch? Because color eInk is too far away. Amazon was worried about a feature that is more of a marketing/selling feature than an actual benefit. And it almost certainly made the wrong choice.

Nook Touch used touch as a differentiator even though touch has nothing to do with reading (unless you’re reading braille). Touch is great for marketing and so B&N had to include it – because Kindle 3 was far ahead of Nook 1.

Amazon, however, had no rational reason to react to Nook Touch as if it were a big threat.

Why on Earth would Amazon react to the #2 and #3 eReaders?

Kindle 3 was doing great. It was the #1 eReader. (In the opinion of lots of Kindle owners, including me, it still is).

Amazon had two options -

  1. Wait until Mirasol was ready and release a color eInk Kindle. An actual big breakthrough. A Kindle 4 worthy of having that ‘4’ in the name. A worthy successor to Kindle 3.
  2. React to what B&N and Sony were doing. Release a stop-gap Kindle. Create a me-too device that panders to the weird belief that a touchscreen is essential to reading.

For some strange reason Amazon chose the second option. It decided that it needed to copy the moves and designs of Nook Touch and Sony Pocket Reader. So it got rid of the keyboard and slapped on a touchscreen. To show just how avante-garde and zen minimalist it is, it even got rid of the 5-way and the page turn buttons.

It’s a puzzling decision. Every single book involves hundreds of page turns. The physical page turn buttons are super important. Why get rid of them?

With the new Kindles, Amazon has strayed from ‘a device that makes no compromises when it comes to reading’

Let’s consider -

  1. No charger. That’s a compromise. No computer needed … unless you want to charge it.
  2. No keyboard. You could push it and say it’s a trade-off. No keyboard does make taking notes tougher.
  3. No free 3G Internet. Note: This is for the more expensive 3G models.
  4. No physical page turn buttons. Again, you can argue semantics but seems like a downgrade to me. If Nook Touch can keep physical page turn buttons, why can’t Kindle Touch?
  5. Poorly thought out Touch interface (in places). This sometimes gets in the way of doing things. Touch should make things smoother, not rougher.

When we went from Kindle 2 to Kindle 3 there were 15 to 20 additions and 3 to 4 negatives. This time it seems like there are 5-8 improvements and 3-5 negatives. It almost seems to be a lateral move.

Amazon wasn’t really trying to make the best eReader

The most logical conclusion we can arrive at is that Amazon wasn’t really trying to make a better eReader than Kindle 3. Kindle Touch seems like something that is meant to prevent Nook Touch from getting too much of the market.

If we see a Mirasol powered Kindle in the first half of 2012, then it’ll prove this theory. That Kindle Touch and new Kindle are just stop-gap measures.

There are other possibilities -

  1. Amazon wants to focus on a ‘good enough for reading’ Kindle that is low-priced and which lots of casual readers can embrace. Obviously, for these ‘hard-core’ book readers, the ability to use a touchscreen is the most valuable feature an ebook reader could have. Kindle 5 will arrive with animated page turns and wooden bookshelves. By Kindle 6 we will have the option to buy bookcovers instead of books.
  2. Amazon really does think Kindle 4 and Kindle Touch are better than Kindle 3. Perhaps the Committee for the Death of Keyboards inside Amazon is celebrating the liberation of users from the tyranny of physical keyboards.
  3. Kindle 4 and Kindle Touch got a bit lost in all the focus on Kindle Fire. It’s possible.

Whatever the reason(s) for the cutting corners and lack of tangible progress – it’s disappointing that we haven’t progressed. Kindle 3 came out 1.5 years ago. Since then we’ve only had Nook Touch, which is not as good (but is close), and these two new Kindles that are clearly not as good (probably because they prioritize things other than reading and quality).

15 Responses

  1. Sure, but how do you find the page turning experience on the Kindle Touch? Your review of the device is from public information, so doesn’t delve into this matter.

    I like the fact that the Nook has page turn buttons, but they are rather difficult to press and are decidedly inferior to Kindle 3’s.

    • Actually, I own the Kindle Touch and the Nook touch. Yes, Nook Touch page turn buttons are not as easy to use as the Kindle 3’s – but they are there.

      Kindle 3 > Nook Touch > Kindle Touch in my opinion.

      with Kindle Touch you have to turn pages using the touch screen which is fine but not as easy as using physical page turn buttons.

  2. I bought my K3 in July. It is my first e-reader. It meets my needs perfectly and doesn’t do things that I don’t need it to. I have no problem with the keyboard. I plan to keep it as long as it works.

  3. Having owned the Kindle 2, 3 and now the 4 (wi-fi), I can honestly say that I prefer the Kindle 4. It’s much lighter and easier to hold and since I use it exclusively for reading (I don’t take notes and I’m not interested in apps) I have not missed having the keyboard. If the lower price point of the Kindle 4 gets more people reading, then it’s hardly the disaster you make the Kindle 4 out to be..

  4. I love my K3; I only wish they kept a slight wedge shape like my K1. But after playing with a K4 I think I’m faster on its virtual keyboard than on the tiny circles of the K3 (the 1st gen keyboard, while ugly, is still the best). To me the Touch feels cheaper than the K4. I would like a full featured K4.

    • Oh, I do take lots of notes. I just don’t think the K3 keyboard is all that zippier than K4’s virtual keyboard.

  5. I think Nook Simple Touch would have easily beat the Kindle 3 in this year’s holiday shopping season and Amazon needed a touch screen Kindle to stay ahead.

    I haven’t made up my mind yet about the Kindle Touch but so far I do like it. I think it is easier to type on than my Kindle 3. I think you have missed the great benefit of the $79 Kindle, which is how light it is. I used to take my Kindle 3 with me everywhere, but it is much easier to do with the $79 Kindle. With the K3, I decided if I was taking it with me, the $79 Kindle goes everywhere automatically without thinking about it.

    I do think the Nook Simple Touch beats both of the new eInk Kindles, and I wish this was the eReader Amazon made. Not only does it have page turn buttons, it is much easier to get around in your eBook. Press and hold a page turn button and the book pages flip quickly, and there is also a slider you can zoom around. Plus I like always having page numbers (even if they don’t match to a physical book) and not needing to hit the menu button to see them.

    • Joe good points.

      The lightness of the Kindle 4 is something I’m disregarding but should probably be factored in for portability.
      Also, agree with you that Nook Touch beats both the new Kindles. B&N has also been surprisingly pushy on pricing.

  6. I actually was talking to my husband back before the new kindles shipped, and I told him that I didn’t think the Kindle Touches would do particularly well with pre-orders. He was surprised until I pointed out that a ton of K2 and K3 pre-orders were placed by people who had the previous model (or in the case of the K3, people who had skipped the K2, but had a K1). In contrast, my guess (confirmed somewhat by discussions on Amazon’s forums) was that significantly fewer people who already had a K3 would purchase a Kindle Touch to replace it. Sure, a lot of those people would probably get a Touch or a Baby Kindle for someone else, since it was now available, but there was absolutely nothing in the Touch that I looked at and said “Ooh! I have to upgrade because I want THAT”. X-Ray looks interesting, but not enough that it justifies the purchase… (plus, i’m holding out some hope that the Fire will get X-Ray).

    I’m not surprised that it looks like they’re phasing out the K3, but I am a bit sad about it. It would be really nice if they kept the hardware and continued improving that model, or released a new keyboard model…

  7. Finally, you have a great post! Yes, K3 is indeed better. Also, K3 comes with the adapter (KT does not, e.g.). Also, K3 supports PDF. The one thing KT has that K3 does not is the X-ray. But, not sure if this is a deal breaker.

  8. Here’s a thread posted on the BlogKindle site that’s relevant. Its title is “Kindle Keyboard 3G On The Way Out.”

    http://blogkindle.com/2011/11/kindle-keyboard-3g-on-the-way-out/

    I don’t think that’s really going to happen (decommissioning the K3). I think the de-emphasis on the K3 has been mostly a desire to temporarily give the KT, KF, and K4 a chance to shine when they were released, rather than overshadowing them with an enhanced K3. This would explain why dozens of “no-brainer,” easy-to-do software upgrades have been omitted from the K3’s software updates.

    At least I HOPE that’s the reason they were put on the back-burner. It’s possible there are trendy anti-button zealots on the Kindle team, taking their cue from Steve Jobs, and that they see the K3 as just ALL-WRONG.

    “Kindle 4 should have been a higher quality device built on Kindle 3 as the foundation.”

    The tips you and I have given the company outline vastly more satisfactory versions of the Kindle. Maybe they’ll get around to it in a year or two. Touch … wood.

    • PS: Another factor may be that they want to see if the public likes touchscreens and no-keyboard devices (the K4) so much that their sales will far outpace those of the K3, in which case they’d have a pretext for discontinuing it. They might want to do that because it’s more expensive to make (?) and because they want to streamline their Kindle line. Therefore, they may be subtly handicapping the K3, in order to get the result they want.

  9. From this column, it sounds like Kindle Touch = New Coke.

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