Amazon Kindle 4 - smallest and lightest Kindle ever

Less is less, reckons Amazon boss Jeff Bezos. With the latest iteration of Amazon's Kindle ebook reader, Bezos has snapped off the keyboard, stripped out 3G connectivity, silenced audiobooks and halved on-board memory and battery life.

In return, the digital literati get the smallest, lightest Kindle ever – and a sub-£90 price tag that leaves rival readers looking like overpriced tablet wannabes. The UK might not be getting the Fire tablet (yet) but here’s something to keep your stocking stuffed this Christmas.

Amazon Kindle – no jack or speakers for audiobooks

Finally, with the Kindle 4, Amazon has produced an ebook reader that’s light, tough and cheap enough to take anywhere you might want to read (except the bath). Ditching the physical keyboard makes it the first truly pocket-friendly Kindle, although it’s destined to be seen and not heard as there’s no jack or speakers for audiobooks.

Amazon claims 10% faster page turns but in practice there’s little improvement from the 2010 Kindle (now known as the Kindle Keyboard). Text is beautifully solid and crisp, and web images and PDFs render nicely. The background is still a touch muddy, though – don’t believe the ‘good as paper’ hype just yet.

Kindle controls

Thumbs up for the page turn buttons – they’re slightly plasticky but perfectly located and with just the right action. The five-way pad feels equally Poundland and equally impressive, zipping around the screen in a flash. Hit the Keyboard button to summon a soft keyboard and a headache simultaneously – text input is slow and awkward.

Amazon Kindle - screen

The home screen’s dull text-only lists are staler than week-old Wotsits – no Fire-style animated shelves here. However, buying and reading books remains simple, smart and sensible, with real page numbers and speedy dictionary look-up.

Kindle in the cloud

Cloud storage works excellently, backing up the internal 2GB with an Archive that downloads books over Wi-Fi in seconds. Without 3G, the ‘experimental’ browser is even less useful than before - think Teletext through a blender. British readers also miss out on US freebies like ebook library loans, games and access to hotspots nationwide.

It’s tempting to dwell on what this Kindle lacks (a keyboard, 3G, audio out, a new name) but what it packs into its slender frame more than makes up for that. It’s plenty fast, has a great screen, good battery life and adequate storage, plus zippy cloud access over Wi-Fi, and it’s also a good £40 cheaper than Sony’s incoming PRS-T1 Reader.

It’s true that you get what you pay for – except with Amazon you also get access to the largest and easiest to use ebook ecosystem on the market.

Stuff says... 

Amazon Kindle 2011 review

You get what you pay for with this stripped-down Kindle – but Amazon's ebook ecosystem lifts it above the competition