Kindle Fire vs Kindle Touch: Deciding Which Meets Your Needs Better

Early on in the Kindle’s life, there was a lot of insistance than it couldn’t possibly succeed as a product when there was something as great as the iPad available.  As we know, these predictions of doom didn’t exactly pan out.  Dedicated eReader products were able to carve out their own market by bringing along capabilities that made them exceptional at what they did, even if that one task was somewhat narrow compared to potential competing types of products.

With the recent announcement of greater variety in the Kindle line, however, there is likely to be at least a small amount of confusion among prospective buyers.  After all, Amazon has made a great eReader line and many will want to force the Kindle Fire into that niche despite its better fit elsewhere.  While it makes sense for Amazon to want to capitalize on the popularity of the Kindle line by including the new tablet in it, it remains important for people to realize the things that the Kindle Touch will do better as a reading device.  In order to help simplify things, let’s look at some ideal uses are for each specific device.

Kindle Fire

Kindle Touch

Video Streaming Extended Reading
Internet Browsing Reading in Sunlight
Email Correspondence Audiobooks
Casual Games Textual Analysis (X-Ray)
Magazines & Comic Books Library Lending
Color Document Access

As you might expect, the actual eReader is a bit more focused on the book experience while the Kindle Fire is able to handle many tasks.  At first glance, this implies that the tablet is the more valuable tool.  For many people this may well be the case. Just as the iPad does more than the Kindle in terms of sheer feature quantity, the Fire will always come out on top in that way.  This should not be mistaken for an indication that the Kindle Touch is never the superior device, though.

No matter what advancements become possible with LCD technology, it is unlikely that these displays will be able to match the ease of use provided by the E INK Pearl.  While some will claim that they have no trouble with reading on a backlit screen, the vast majority have expressed a definite preference for something like the Kindle Touch during the long periods of reading likely to be taking place over the course of a novel.  These displays are also handle sunlight quite a bit better if that happens to be your preference while reading.

In addition to the screens, when you’re reading a book it is nice to be able to put it down and pick it up again a day or two later without worrying about charging.  The fact that Kindle eReaders last weeks to months between charges makes them feel more like read books.  The weight is also less than half that of the Kindle Fire, which while not necessarily a major issue at first will be noticeable over long periods of on-handed reading.

Perhaps the biggest selling point for the active reader will be the X-Ray feature.  Amazon promises that this will be a great aid for picking out important passages, accessing related material, and generally supplementing your reading experience.  While it is not something that we have been able to preview at this time, a system that works as well as Amazon claims X-Ray will would be an invaluable tool for many reasons.

If reading isn’t your main concern, of course, then the Kindle Fire still makes a lot of sense.  The 8 hour battery life is at the high end for similar products, the app store is one of the best, and the whole end to end experience is geared to make viewing, listening, browsing, and reading as comfortable as possible.  At $199, this is a game changing device that packs far more power and functionality than you would expect into a compact package.

To go along with the launch, Amazon has beefed up their Instant Video collection with tens of thousands of new titles including many available for free to Amazon Prime subscribers.  They have put a lot of work into making sure that streaming video runs smoothly on the new tablet, so it is safe to say the experience there will be as pleasant as possible on a 7″ screen.

I would not recommend the Kindle Fire for readers, due to screen type and battery life especially, but other than that it will be a valuable resource to just about anybody.  It’s portable, light, fairly powerful, and capable of opening just about any form of media you can think of.  While nobody is really expecting that the iPad is in any trouble from this corner at the moment, it’s hard to argue with something that does a comparable job at less than half the price with what may be an even better source of content to draw on.

Kindle Touch vs Kindle Keyboard: Is It Worth An Upgrade?

Some of the longest running customer demands for the Kindle line have been a touchscreen, a color display, and a price under $100.  The Kindle Touch and Kindle Fire each manage a different combination of two out of those three.  The big question now is what this means for Kindle owners.  Is the addition of these features worth the cost of purchasing a new eReader, even as cheap as they’ve become?  For that matter, should people just now coming to the eReader experience jump on the newer Kindle Touch or the Kindle Keyboard being sold for the same price?

In order to facilitate a more informed decision, let’s take a look at what differentiates the two devices:

Kindle Keyboard
Kindle Touch
Display 6″ E INK Pearl 6″ E INK Pearl
Connectivity WiFi + Optional 3G WiFi + Optional 3G
Battery Life 2 Month 2 Months
Weight 8.5 – 8.7 Ounces 7.5 – 7.8 Ounces
Dimensions 7.5″ x 4.8″ x 0.34″ 6.8″ x 4.7″ x 0.40″
Storage 4GB (3,500 Books) 4GB (3,000 Books)
Features Full Physical QWERTY Keyboard IR Touchscreen, X-Ray, EasyReach
Price $99 – $139 $99 – $149

Not quite as much as one might think, really.

Kindle Touch

The Kindle Touch is the newer device.  As might be expected in the portable electronics field, it is smaller, lighter, and faster (if videos posted to highlight the device’s anticipated user experience can be trusted).  Removing the physical keyboard seems to have saved about an ounce, which while equaling a weight reduction of over 10% still means little enough to not factor into any decisions.  At that point any case you get will probably render the point meaningless anyway.  It is also slightly smaller than the Kindle Keyboard, for obvious reasons.  You save almost an inch on the vertical and all other measurements are comparable. For a direct comparison, check out the device overlay here:

The real differences that come in stem from software improvements.  As you might notice in the table above, though the two Kindles share the same storage space measurement they have different listed book capacities.  This is because there are a couple things going on in the Kindle Touch software that the Kindle Keyboard does not have access to, which decreases the available area of the device’s storage a bit.

The less significant, though still quite useful given the interface, is the EasyReach system.  This partitions off the touchscreen so that the majority of the screen can be tapped for paging forward while the leftmost edge of the screen will work as a backward page turning button.  This eliminates the need for finger swiping.  Swiping was certainly a fine idea and emulates the page turning experience found in a paper book to a certain extent, but it gets old after a few hundred pages as anybody who wore out their original Nook can likely attest to.

More importantly, the Kindle Touch will be coming with something called X-Ray.  The X-Ray feature is basically intended to be an intelligent extension of the search function, based on Amazon’s description.  Not only will it find instances of word use, though, it will supposedly find all instances of a character, idea, place, or topic throughout as well as linking to relevant articles on either Wikipedia or Amazon’s own Shelfari service.  How successful this feature is remains to be seen, but Amazon clearly places a lot of confidence in it and emphasizes their own expertise in machine learning and data processing in explaining how they can make such a bold claim.  The product page literally says that “The vision is to have every important phrase in every book.”  An intriguing, if highly ambitious claim.

Kindle Keyboard

The benefits of a Kindle Keyboard are a bit more modest.  Aside from it being a proven device with very few shortcomings attached to it at this point, you also get physical buttons, more application/game options, and a slightly different experience in 3G usage.

The keyboard isn’t the most wonderful thing in the world, but it does the job.  This will be a benefit for anybody who prefers feedback on their button pressing.  It also means that more of the games and other applications currently available will work for you.  For the most part developers have been able to assume the presence of these controls up until this point and it is unlikely that many will be able to adapt to a touchscreen display.  This is not to say that there won’t be plenty of games and such that exclusively use the touchscreen in the future, but for now Kindle Keyboard owners have a clear advantage when it comes to non-reading eReader usage.

The 3G coverage that I mentioned is also noticeably more useful than that on the Kindle Touch.  Unlike the newer device, the Kindle Keyboard remains able to access the entirety of the internet through this connection (albeit in a sub-par browser), while the new Kindle will be restricted to the Kindle Store and Wikipedia.  Anything more is going to require access to a WiFi network, in which situations you will generally be able to access a more internet friendly device anyway.  Of course, I am personally taking this as a sign that the Kindle Keyboard is either going to be phased out in the near future or blocked off in a fashion similar to the Kindle Touch, but it is safe to say that current owners and near-future adopters will not be affected.

Conclusions:

When it comes right down to it, there isn’t enough difference between these two to really justify an upgrade.  If you own a Kindle Keyboard already and have no particular attachments to touchscreens or potentially super-smart text searches, you shouldn’t feel too bad about waiting a while before getting another eReader.  If you’re new to the whole eReader scene, I would probably recommend the $99 Kindle Touch.  It is the newest and most likely to be supported in the long term, especially in terms of firmware updates.  In addition, you get the touchscreen interface which is certain to be a bit more versatile for most users when compared to the directional control on other Kindles.  Completely worth it considering both devices are the same price anyway.