Since its 2007 introduction, the Amazon Kindle has transformed from a pricey, single-purpose gadget into a family of aggressively priced tablets and e-readers. Having choices is a good thing, but it also muddies the decision-making process. Before you go out and spend for a Kindle, it's prudent to spend some time getting acquainted with their features. That will help you decide which is the best fit for your lifestyle.
The Kindle Family
The Kindle family is divided into two types of devices, e-readers and tablets. The e-readers use a monochrome e-ink screen, which provides crisp text and good contrast for reading in most lighting conditions. The tablets of the Kindle Fire family have color screens, providing the versatility to display magazines, graphic novels and other colorful content. They're also fully featured tablet computers, running a customized version of Google's Android operating system. Both the e-readers and tablets offer multiple screen sizes, and differing ways of connecting to the Internet and Amazon's online book store. Your choice of Kindle will depend on how important you find their respective features.
Reading vs. Other Entertainment
For reading books and textual documents, Kindle e-readers have several advantages over the tablet models. Their screens provide excellent contrast and readability indoors or out, and the Paperwhite model provides a backlight for nighttime or low-light reading. Kindle Fire tablets are also good e-readers, though their screens are less visible in outdoor light. In low light their backlit screens are easier to read than on most e-readers, and they're able to display color illustrations. However, books are only part of the Fire's appeal. They're also capable of playing games, streaming video from Amazon or other providers, and providing general-purpose Internet access.
Kindles are primarily intended as a means of viewing content, and how you want to access that content is an important part of the decision-making process. Almost every Kindle has Wi-Fi connectivity, letting you use it on your home network or any public hotspot. Some of the e-readers can also use 3G data transfer, allowing mobile Internet access across most of the country. The Kindle Fire HD models have high speed dual-band dual-antenna Wi-Fi, and the 8.9-inch Fire HD has 4G LTE capability. Wherever 4G coverage is available, it provides fast downloads and high-quality streaming.
Other hardware specifications also factor into the decision-making process. Screen size is an obvious difference, with e-readers in the 6-inch and 9.7-inch form factors and tablets in 7-inch and 8.9-inch versions. Larger screens allow for the viewing of larger pages, but they also make the devices heavier, bulkier and more power-intensive. Battery life on the e-readers is substantial, ranging from 3 to 8 weeks when the wireless is not turned on. Amazon rates the tablets at up to 11 hours of continuous use. This can be a factor if you spend extended periods away from your charger.
Try out a couple of Kindles before you make a decision, either by borrowing from friends or going to a retail store. Some local libraries also offer Kindles for loan. Think about how you'll carry it with you, and whether compactness or a larger screen is more valuable to you. If you're primarily after an e-reader, decide whether you favor the battery life of a standard Kindle or the superior screen of a Paperwhite. If tablets appeal to you, consider whether you are willing to take on the expense of a 4G data plan to gain the extra bandwidth. If not, you might prefer the inexpensive and versatile Wi-Fi option.
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