- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 23, 2011

If Amazon.com’s Kindle Fire falls a bit short of ideal for a tablet computer, as I suggested here last week, another new Amazon product, the Kindle Touch, does quite well at its main purpose: serving as a quality e-book reader. The price is low if you’re willing to tolerate some ads; it’s reasonable if you want to be ad-free. Unlike the Kindle Fire, it has built-in 3G wireless for free downloading and synchronizing of e-books and, I imagine, digital magazines sold via Amazon.

It won’t play music - sadly, the MP3 audio-file-playing feature is only for audiobooks, it appears - and its screen is monochromatic. The 6-inch display may be too small for some. But this superslim, superlight device is seriously tempting on many levels.

No tech product is right for every user, but I could see a lot of people enjoying the heck out of the Kindle Touch. It’s small, more or less pocket-sized (large coat pocket, perhaps, but still), and highly portable. You can read the screen in direct sunlight, the maker says, and it’ll tote 3,000 e-books in its roughly 3 gigabytes of available storage space. In other words, Washington-area Metro riders, this one’s for you.

I’m also impressed with the Kindle Touch’s battery life: Charge it up and you’re good to go for up to two months, the maker says, if you read for a half-hour a day and keep the wireless turned off. (Having wireless always on shortens that life by two weeks, Amazon says.) I haven’t had the unit long enough to test that claim, but I do know that it holds a charge quite nicely and doesn’t run down as quickly as, say, any of Google Inc.’s Android-based devices currently extant on this planet.

One of the things that makes the Kindle Touch different from more general purpose tablets and even some other Kindles is that there’s no tiny keyboard below the display screen. If you need to enter something, the keyboard appears on screen; a tap on the screen turns a book’s “pages” for you. This took virtually no getting used to, although I did have to remember that the power button is on the lower edge of the device, and isn’t the “home” button on the front.

Amazon is touting a new feature, “X-Ray,” as a way to get “inside” a book: “With a single tap, see all the passages across a book that mention ideas, fictional characters, historical figures, places or topics of interest, as well as more detailed descriptions from Wikipedia,” is how the firm describes this. It’s interesting, and certainly useful if slogging through James Joyce’s “Ulysses” (or, for that matter, any book whose author has “Kardashian” in its name), but I found it a nice extra, not necessarily a must-have. Were I working on a doctoral thesis, I might feel otherwise.

One of the nicest things about the Kindle Touch is its price: If you’re willing to put up with some onscreen advertising, the price is $99, or add $50 and it’s ad-free. The $99 price tag is, of course, subsidized by the ads, which are there to make you buy stuff. Fair enough, I suppose: At $99, this is almost a no-brainer of a gift item, even if you’re the recipient.

Why do I say that? Because the Kindle Touch really excels at doing one thing, and doing that one thing very well. The adjustable screen-display type size is a blessing to those of us old enough to remember, say, Walter Mondale’s 1984 presidential campaign, and the “e-ink” is about as sharp as you could hope for. Refreshing the screen is a superfast process; there’s no “ghosting” when you turn a digital page here.

My one (continuing) lament with the Kindle Touch is that Amazon, for reasons that elude seemingly common sense, makes it difficult to find a Kindle-formatted text of the Bible that offers a way to “jump” to a particular verse. If you’re not religiously inclined, you might yawn at this point, but consider: Researchers at Wheaton College peg the evangelical Christian population of the U.S. at between 90 million and 100 million people. Common to almost all of them is a fondness for the Bible, and electronic Bible devices have sold well for years. Telling Kindle users, easily, where they can find such a text (to go along with the many other books they would buy) seems like a sensible idea. Amazon seems to disagree, and thus may be cutting itself off from selling a few million units that they would move otherwise.

Apart from that complaint, I’m really impressed with this device. You might be, too.

E-mail mkellner@washingtontimes.com.

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