Kindle 4 vs Kindle 3

This Kindle 4 vs Kindle 3 review will compare the new Kindle 4 (the $79 new Kindle) against the Kindle 3.

This post does not cover the Kindle Touch – please read my Kindle Touch Review for that.

Kindle 4 vs Kindle 3 – Top 7 Initial Thoughts

Have the new Kindle 4 and Kindle 3 side by side and the first things that are apparent are:

  1. The $79 price of the Kindle 4 is amazing ($79 for the version with Ads included). Kindle 4, apart from the keyboard and speakers, is very similar to Kindle 3 and delivers a similarly great reading experience. Getting that for $79 is a steal.
  2. You can now get the Kindle 3 for $99 (with Ads included). Kindle Touch is also $99. These are both great prices and, in my opinion, much better value for money than the Kindle 4.
  3. Lack of a keyboard, when coupled with lack of a touchscreen, makes some things painful on Kindle 4. Typing notes longer than a few words is out of the question and even things like searching for a book become difficult.
  4. Lack of speakers means Kindle 4 gets neither text to speech nor background music. Neither is a necessary feature – but they are both nice things to have.
  5. There is no 3G model for the Kindle 4. That might be an issue for you.
  6. Kindle 4 takes a lot of inspiration from Nook Touch. We see it in things like the black border around the screen and the new Page Turn mechanism where the screen is flashed only on every 6th page turn. It’s good to see Kindle and Nook incorporate each other’s best features and push eReaders forward.
  7. Kindle 4 is actually more like Kindle 3.25 (+.5 due to some improvements but a -.25 due to no keyboard or touch screen). Kindle Touch does seem like a Kindle 3.5 (perhaps even a Kindle 3.75 if Amazon can squeeze in more features by November 21st).

At this stage in this Kindle 4 vs Kindle 3 review, my gut feeling is – Kindle Touch is the best choice overall, Kindle 3 is the best choice if you must have a keyboard, and there really is no reason to ever get the $79 Kindle 4.

There’s also the wild card i.e. Nook Touch is already available and is better than Kindle 3 and Kindle 4. Of course, it’s better only if you don’t mind stepping away from the comfortable Amazon ecosystem.

Let’s dig deeper into Kindle 4 vs Kindle 3 and see what we come up with. References to Kindle Touch are included throughout since it is probably the best Kindle for you – even if you start off thinking Kindle 4 vs Kindle 3 you are likely to decide on Kindle Touch.

Kindle 4 vs Kindle 3 – Areas the new Kindle wins

The new Kindle does do some things well –

  1. The screen seems to be a bit better. However, it is not a big jump like the jump from Kindle 2 (normal eInk) to Kindle 3 (eInk Pearl). Note: I’m taking lots of Kindle 4 vs Kindle 3 photos and will put them up in another post.
  2. The lightness and compactness are cool. It’s noticeably light at just 6 ounces whereas Kindle 3 is 8.5 ounces. It’s also 18% smaller in size. Kindle 4 is 6.5″ by 4.5″ by 0.34″ while Kindle 3 is 7.5″ by 4.8″ by 0.34″.
  3. The Nook inspired features are valuable – The black border around the screen makes the background seem whiter plus it probably is a bit whiter to begin with. The screen flashing every 6 turns (instead of every single time) is a big improvement.

That list ends quickly because the underlying software is almost identical. If you look at things like Settings Pages, Book Menus, Options – they are the same across Kindle 4 and Kindle 3. If the hardware changes are 3.0 to 3.25 then the software changes are 3.0 to 3.0.5. Amazon is calling it 4.0 but the software is the same for all practical purposes.

The shortness of the above list is a big indictment of the $79 Kindle 4. For comparison, Kindle 3 improved on Kindle 2 in 12 to 15 different areas and had lots and lots of software improvements and changes.

Kindle 4 vs Kindle 3 – Areas the Kindle 3 wins

Kindle 3 holds its own due to the following reasons –

  1. The eInk Pearl screen is stellar and Kindle 4 and Kindle 3 both have it. If you consider reading the main use of the Kindle (apart from time travel) then the screen readability becomes critical and Kindle 4 vs Kindle 3 is almost a tie in readability (to the best of my perception).
  2. The Keyboard. Try to search a book for appearances of ‘Mr. Darcy’ and the Kindle 4’s one button keyboard will remind you of some of Mr. Darcy’s traits. It’s very proper and there are things like accented characters – and at the same time using it with a 5-way is a sweet type of torture. Note: The $79 Kindle 4 has no Touch. It’s quite possible that Kindle Touch makes up for the lack of the keyboard in a far more elegant manner.
  3. The cost-cutting in the $79 Kindle 4. This is apparent from the 50% lower battery life, the 50% lower memory, and the lack of speakers. The 50% lower memory translates into only 1.2 GB of available memory (as opposed to 3.3 GB on the Kindle 3). Losing all of that just to save $20 is the type of short-sighted thinking that would qualify you to work at Goldman Sachs.
  4. If you like the feel of something somewhat solid in your hand, you’ll prefer the Kindle 3. The Kindle 4 suffers from the same ailment the Sony Reader Pocket Edition does – it’s so light it’s discomfiting. Kindle 4 looks better but it just doesn’t feel very good. Note: Kudos to Amazon for making a 6″ screen device so small – Not sure it thought about how customers would feel when holding it in their hands.
  5. Kindle 3 wins on button placement and feel. You might find it annoying/awkward that the Kindle 4’s 5-way placed at the bottom-center of the device. If you’re right-handed, then you will probably prefer the Kindle 3’s 5-way placement (it was at the bottom-right of the screen and felt very natural). Kindle 4 also has strange page turn buttons – even less area to hit than the kindle 3. The page turn buttons are literally as thin as the border of the bezel. The power on switch is better on the Kindle 4 but it doesn’t make up for the other two things.

To be quite frank, the Kindle 4 is dropping down in desirability far faster than I would have guessed. The sacrifices made to get it to $79 are not good ones and the usability was sacrificed to accommodate for compactness and a slightly prettier design.

Kindle 4 vs Kindle 3 – The Elephants in the room

Look closely at Kindle 4 vs Kindle 3 and three things jump out –

  1. Kindle Touch is the natural choice. Kindle 4 is just Kindle 3.25 and makes too many sacrifices to save $20. It’s incredible value for money and good – it’s also not competitive (at all) when compared with either Kindle 3 or Kindle Touch.
  2. Nook Touch is a better choice than both Kindle 4 and Kindle 3 – provided you don’t mind leaving Amazon’s ecosystem, and that you won’t miss the physical keyboard. If you look at the direction Amazon is moving in – touch screen, only 1 flash per 6 page turns, black border around the screen, more compact design – it seems that it’s endorsing Nook Touch and Kobo Touch.
  3. It almost seems as if Amazon released Kindle 4 to make Kindle 3 and Kindle Touch look better. It’s perhaps retail strategy – have a lower priced model that loses badly to the higher priced model; then sell tons of the higher end model. Amazon has played it to perfection.

It’s strange to see Amazon follow Nook Color with Kindle Fire and Nook Touch with Kindle Touch. All the innovation seems to be limited to the Cloud and the Store. When it comes to hardware, Amazon seems to be willing to let others experiment and take the big risks. Not a bad strategy – especially when we consider that Amazon’s expertise doesn’t lie in hardware. Come to think of it, Amazon did the same thing with the Kindle – It let Sony take the first steps and stumble around.

Kindle 4 vs Kindle 3 – Final Recommendation

The Kindle Touch would be my recommendation. Amusing, considering we are comparing the Kindle 4 and Kindle 3.

Kindle 3 would be my recommendation if you’d like a physical keyboard and a more friendly feel with better page turn buttons and an easier-to-access 5-way.

There’s also one important qualifier – The Kindle Touch will compete with the Nook Touch, and possibly with Nook Touch 2. If you love the Amazon ecosystem, then Kindle Touch is the clear choice. However, if you are willing to switch and/or want to be extra safe, then you really should wait until Nook Touch 2 is announced. Kindle Touch vs Nook Touch 2 might be a far more competitive contest than Kindle 4 vs Kindle 3.