Thursday, 3 August 2017

Review of the 8th generation Kindle Basic: The best entry-level six-inch e-reader

Amazon’s 8th generation Kindle is priced similar to other entry-level e-readers but what makes it, in my opinion, the best entry-level e-reader is its refined operating system. The device itself is very capable and there is no skimping on performance. The big compromise is the absence of a front-light and a lower 167 dpi E-Ink Pearl display. Also, compared to the Kindle Paperwhite there is a clear difference in clarity and sharpness. However, there is an upside with the lower resolution as you get better text scaling (clarified below). The E-Ink Pearl screen itself has acceptable contrast and is superior to other e-readers with a similar low-resolution. Further, due to good hardware and software integration, fonts are rendered with more weight to appear darker and this somewhat offsets the lower resolution.

The absence of a front-light, for some users, might be an issue. If that is the case then the Paperwhite would be the better option. Personally, I find the absence of a front-light a non-issue, as zero light emission is the reason I choose to primarily read on E-Ink screens. What I like in the entry Kindle is the superior text scaling, compared to the higher-resolution Kindle models. The higher dpi of the Paperwhite means more text appears on the screen for each font scale but, this might be due to the higher resolution too, the incremental difference between each scale is too high. In comparison, the entry Kindle’s size increase is more balanced – level three is a balanced medium setting that works well (see picture below for font scaling comparison between the Kindle and Kindle Paperwhite). It would be a good idea if Amazon gave the user more control to choose a suitable font size.

Finally, another positive is the device’s lightweight in comparison to the Paperwhite. The device’s weight (161 grams) makes it ideal for one-handed reading.


Font size at level three - the entry Kindle is the white e-reader (please click on image to enlarge)
Font size at level four (note the Paperwhite's large increase in size between levels three & four)

Firmware

As noted, the hardware is capable and the display is good enough. What makes this the best entry-level e-reader is the firmware. Amazon’s firmware is near identical across its Kindle devices - the Kindle Oasis and entry-level Kindle have near identical features. First, some negative issues need to be flagged about the firmware:
  • There is no way to organise content in collections through folders created on the device’s local storage. Further, for a personal document to be stored in the cloud and synced across devices, it needs to be sent to the user’s designated Kindle email. Greater flexibility and integration between local storage, device collections and cloud synchronisation would simplify the process of organising user content. 
  • There is limited control over text - in comparison, Kobo’s operating system (Nickel) provides superior features. Nickel gives the user greater control over font size, text alignment, margins, line spacing and the further option to sideload fonts. For example, expanding reader settings features might resolve the problem of scaling that comes with a higher dpi screen. One possibility might be to allow the user the option to increase font size by selecting an exact font number (Android e-reading applications, e.g., Moon+ Reader and Bookari, support this feature). Greater control over reading settings and the absence of a larger Kindle, in my opinion, are the two central issues that Amazon needs to address. 
  • An odd quirk with Amazon’s Kindle software is the extension of selected reading settings from one document to another. Thus, settings selected in one e-book is then applied to the next document opened. It is a small issue but there is no reason why this problem should persist. 
  • There is no page number support; instead, there is the location number or percentage of the book read. Again, Nickel is better in this area; Kobo allows the user to display page number in whether in the current chapter or entire book.
Below are some positives - these are not exhaustive but, overall, they are examples of why the entry Kindle is the best entry-level e-reader:
  • Acceptable PDF support: Both Barnes & Noble and Kobo e-readers offer poor PDF support. Amazon’s Kindle software, in contrast, does consider PDF reading and allows the user to highlight text, annotate, look up definitions, write notes and search in a PDF file. The only problem is that there is no Kindle model beyond six inches to optimise the different use cases of these features (seven inches is the minimum size to read PDF documents comfortably in landscape mode). 
  • Exporting notes and highlights: Amazon allows users to export their annotations and highlights for both Kindle e-books and personal e-books. There is further control on the format of the notes and highlights exported (citation styles include APA, Chicago Style, MLA or none). The exported document produced even categorises the annotations and highlights in reference to e-book location and categorises the output in its relevant chapter and section. 
  • Touch response is excellent when interacting with menus/settings or highlighting. 
  • Sync support for non-Amazon personal documents: Amazon synchronises personal e-book if they are emailed to the Amazon cloud - this means notes and highlights are available across devices and may be exported via a Fire tablet or the Kindle application. 
  • Vocabulary builder: Look-up words and they are then archived for later access; this feature and Word Wise (Word Wise provides simple definitions for potentially difficult words) are useful for learning. 
  • Wikipedia support: If WiFi is turned on the user is able to select a key term and look up it in Wikipedia.

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