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First Look: Amazon's third-generation Kindle reader

updated 09:25 pm EDT, Sun August 29, 2010

Updated version brings welcome improvements

Electronista has taken a closer look at the third-generation Kindle, Amazon's latest attempt to cement its dominance in the e-book reader market. We found that the company followed through with its promise of an improved display paired with a lighter housing and ergonomic design. Page turns appear to be slightly quicker, while the "experimental" browser shows potential for basic tasks such as Wikipedia research.

The third-generation design shaves several ounces from its predecessors, bringing the weight down to 8.5 oz for the Wi-Fi model and 8.7 oz for the 3G variant. We found the lean design to be slightly more comfortable than the previous Kindle. The weight savings further widens the gap with dedicated tablets, such as the 1.5 lb. iPad.

Aside from the weight, we also liked the Kindle's rounded back panel with a rubberized finish. The device is slightly thinner than the second-generation Kindle, while the overall form has been shrunk without reducing the screen area. Amazon's new design improves both the overall aesthetics and ergonomics.

If the housing tweaks do not give existing Kindle owners enough of a reason to upgrade, the new E-Ink display might. Amazon claims to have achieved a 50 percent increase in contrast. Although we didn't run a scientific test to verify the claim, the new screen is clearly an improvement over the earlier Kindles. The change brings the user experience one step closer to reading a print book, while placing the Kindle ahead of its direct competition.

Amazon suggests the new Kindle turns pages 20 percent faster than the previous model, which appeared to be true. Attempting to backtrack through several pages or navigate the UI inevitably brings a noticeable lag, however. We found the new keyboard layout and smaller page-turn buttons to be just as usable as the previous version, although the directional pad is slightly more awkward for single-hand operation.

The WebKit-based browser is an interesting addition, although Amazon is correct in labeling it an "experimental" function. We had no problems browsing through Gmail, Wikipedia or other sites that focus on text instead of images and media content. The browser properly handled several other media-heavy sites, however the load times were extremely slow. Although the experience falls short of dedicated tablets and many smartphones, it is acceptable for a limited number of simple uses.

The third-generation Kindle also brings extended battery life, despite its smaller size. Amazon claims users can keep the reader running for up to a month with Wi-Fi and 3G components disabled. We also welcome the addition of PDF support, MP3 playback and 4GB of storage.

After using the new Kindle for a short period of time, we were impressed with its enhanced E-Ink display and range of other refinements. Amazon appears to be on the right track, although the device is still sluggish and lacks support for certain popular formats such as ePub. All of the new features come with a lower price tag: $139 for the base model or $189 with 3G connectivity.

by MacNN Staff



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