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).

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