The Kindle is the exemplar of Australian buying habits moving online. Despite the fact that it historically has only been available from the Amazon US website, you need only catch a peak hour bus or train to see how popular a product it has become. It's had such an impact on the nation's reading habits that it seems to have been around forever. Given that success, do we really need a new one?
Look at the specifications page and the initial answer might well be no, because the latest Kindle is in many respects a downgrade. It has no keyboard, there's no 3G option (only Wi-Fi), the internal storage capacity is half that of the Kindle Keyboard at 2GB, and there are no longer any speakers or 3.5mm audio jack for headphone connection. That means, sadly, no more text-to-speech option, and no opportunity to use the device for audiobook playback.
It also uses the same E Ink Pearl display as its stablemate, with no discernable improvement in legibility. So, why would you buy one? Well, for starters, it's $US 80 cheaper than the 3G Kindle Keyboard. It's also lighter, slimmer and more portable, weighing 164g and measuring 114 x 8.7 x 166mm (WDH). This Kindle really does fit in your (large) pocket.
The store integration is just as good as on its predecessor, allowing you to buy a huge range of content - from newspapers to trashy thrillers - with only a few button presses, directly from the device. If you buy the Kindle directly from Amazon, it comes preloaded with your account details and is ready to make book purchases from the second you switch on the device.
But the biggest attraction of all is the sheer speed of it. Page turns in our test EPUB file were dispatched in a mere 0.7 seconds, a full 30% quicker than the Kindle Keyboard, and that makes the whole experience of using an ebook reader more immediate. Successive page turns are even quicker: you can now flick ten pages back and it will take only a couple of seconds. The new Kindle also reduces refresh flicker, only flashing to black fully once every six page turns to prevent ghost images appearing over time.
That performance makes up for the lack of keyboard. Selecting characters one by one using the five-way D-pad will never match the keyboard on its bigger brother for convenience, but single search terms and names don't pose too much of a problem.
For those with specific needs the new Kindle may not be the best choice. Navigating complex technical documents in PDF format remains awkward, and those who make regular notes and annotations would be better served by the Kindle Keyboard or Sony Reader Wi-Fi.
But if all you want to do with your reader is read books, the new model's simple, slim design, rip-snorting performance and low price is the perfect combination. It replaces the Kindle Keyboard in our affections as the best ebook reader on the market, and is a deserving winner of our latest eReader group test.