Which Kindle should you get (Fall 2011)?

Which Kindle should you get (Fall 2011)?

Yesterday, September 28, Amazon introduced several new devices including a tablet with the Kindle name (the Kindle Fire).

That more than doubles the number of choices for people who want to read e-books on Amazon hardware.

While it’s important to note that many of these have not been in the hands of the public yet (so we don’t have user feedback), Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has told us to pre-order them…suggesting they some may sell-out during this holiday season.

Since that’s the case, I’m going to give you a profile of each of the Kindle-brand products available new (or for pre-order) from Amazon. Note: these are not all available outside the USA at this time.

All of the Kindles

All Kindles have some things in common. They all come with the what I call the “Kindle Service”. That’s the matrix of services and features Amazon gives all Kindle users…even those people who use free Kindle reading apps on non-Amazon hardware.

  • Amazon stores your Kindle store purchases for you, and you download them again, even to other devices on your account, for free
  • Amazon Allows you to “return” Kindle store books within seven days of purchase for a refund…something neither Barnes & Noble nor Sony allows at any time, last time I checked
  • Amazon has a huge selection of in-copyright titles (averaging about a thousand added a day in the USA), and compatibility with formats that give you access to millions of free public domain titles (including from other sources). There are about 40,000 free books available directly from the Kindle store.
  • You can borrow books from public libraries
  • You get Amazon’s highly-rated Customer Service, which gets great response from their customers, both for people and for policies. For example, you have a thirty-day return period for the Kindle hardware
  • You can get free samples of books
  • You can use Amazon’s free Cloud Reader to read your books in a web browser
  • Amazon backs up your notes and other annotations on Kindle store books*
  • You can use Whispersync to start reading a book on one device and continue it on another device from the same place
  • There is no limit to the number of devices that can be registered to your account (although publishers limit the number of devices for which a book can be licensed at the same time…that number is usually six)

Big Decision #1: Ad-supported or not

All of the Kindles, except the Kindle DX and the Kindle Fire, come in two “flavors”. You can get one (at a discount) that is ad-supported and comes with special offers, or you can get one without advertising.

The ads appear as the sleep mode pictures (“screensavers”) and as a small banner ad on the homescreen where you select the book you want to read…it takes the place of one title. Ads do not appear while you are reading a book. The advertisers presumably  pay Amazon, and Amazon reduces the purchase price of the device for their customers.

When the idea was initially announced, there was a lot of resistance…people didn’t want advertising with their book reading. However, the ad-supported Kindles have been more popular than their non-ad-supported equivalents. When I polled my readers who had bought an ad-supported Kindle

How do you feel about owning your KSO?

no one regretted the decision.

One reason for that is the special offers. Those are often related to books, but could be many different things. People like the special offers: some of my readers reported having saved more than the cost of the device.

Amazon is also adding AmazonLocal to the Kindles with Special Offers, which gives you local discount coupons.

If you don’t want advertising, that’s your choice. Choosing a device with ads/special offers saves you between thirty and fifty dollars, depending on the device.

Big decision #2: 3G or not 3G

There are two ways a Kindle device connects wireleassly to the internet: wi-fi and/or 3G. In the Kindle Touch and Kindle Keyboard lines, you can choose a device that has just wi-fi (for less money) or one that has both wi-fi and 3G.

Adding 3G access makes the device more expensive initially, although there is no monthly charge for using 3G, or for using it to go to websites. 3G is easier to connect: wi-fi often requires a password, and isn’t available in as many places. Connecting with 3G is like using a cellphone…wi-fi is a short range form of wireless. Many people have wi-fi in their homes (they may use it with laptops, SmartPhones, printers, Tivos, Rokus, and so on). Some businesses also offer free wi-fi (like many Starbucks, McDonalds, some restaurants, and so on). You can find free wi-fi hotspots using


Essentially, when you have a choice between wi-fi or wi-fi and 3G, you pay fifty dollars more (currently)initially to have both options, but you are able to connect in more places more easily.

The Kindle ($79 with Special Offers/$109 without)


I’m nicknaming this one the “Mindle” (for mini- or minimum- Kindle).

This is the entry-level Kindle for people who want to read e-books. It doesn’t play music or audiobooks (or have text-to-speech). It doesn’t have a keyboard or a touchscreen…if you need to enter a word, you do it with a hunt-and-peck method like you do on your Tivo (thanks to Andrys Basten of A Kindle World for pointing this out). That means “over-over-over-up-up-click, over-over-down-click”, and so on to select letters. You don’t have to type too often on a Kindle, but you use it for search and shopping.

It’s the smallest Kindle (it doesn’t need room for speakers, for one thing). You have access to the Kindle store, including the games which don’t play on the oldest Kindles. It’s grayscale  (not color) like all of the Kindles except the Kindle Fire.

It does have the same web browser as the Kindle 3s, the ability to increase the text size (with the same options as the Kindle 3), and will display your personal documents in a way similar to the Kindle 3s.

This is going to be a good choice for an entry-level device. For people who pretty much just want to read, the same E-Ink screen as the Kindle 3s makes this attractive. It doesn’t have as much on-board memory as the other Kindles, but that’s not a huge factor for many, since Amazon stores your books for you anyway.

It is only available in a wi-fi only configuration. That makes it a bit harder to use for non-techies: they may need help getting it on a home wi-fi network, and it may not be able to download books in a park or at the beach.

I think this is going to be very popular. People who have been saving for a Kindle can go for it. I also think a lot of kids in the 8-11 year old age group will get them. Those kids don’t need color in the way a six-year old might, and more limited web access may even be more attractive to the legal guardians. As a gift for a kid whose a reader (or who you want to encourage to read), this is a good choice.

The Kindle Touch ($99 ad-supported wi-fi only; $139 non-ad-supported wi-fi only; $149 ad-supported 3G and wi-fi; $189 non-ad-supported 3G and wi-fi)

Kinde Touch

Kindle Touch 3G

This is really the new standard Kindle (Amazon calls it the “top-of-the-line e-reader”). It’s the first Kindle with a touchscreen. That appears to add some weight, and may contribute to the lower user-available memory compared to the K3 (3,000 books estimated as opposed to 3,500 with the same size drive).

If you want a full-function, new generation Kindle, this is the line. I use the text-to-speech for hours a week in the car (I’m unusual in that, I think), and that would eliminate the Mindle for me. If you want music and audiobooks (and audiobooks are available from many public libraries), you start here.

If somebody just wants a Kindle, this is the one. It also adds a new feature called “X-Ray”.  It’s supposed to intelligently add information about key phrases in a book. This may be essential for students, say, in high school and college. It’s a little hard to tell until we see it work, but this is really an innovative feature.

I would say for somebody who likes being up-to-date but wants something where they can comfortable read for hours, the Touch is your choice.

The Kindle Keyboard ($99 ad-supported wi-fi only; $139 non-ad-supported wi-fi only; $139 ad-supported 3G and wi-fi; $189 non-ad-supported 3G and wi-fi)

Kindle Keyboard

Kindle Keyboard 3G

This is the rebranded Kindle 3 (the product page tells me I have previously purchased it, confirming that Amazon considers it the same device). The pricing is interesting here, with it basically the same as the Kindle Touch, except that the non-ad-supported wi-fi only model is ten dollars more for a touchscreen. My guess is that may change in the future.

For people who prefer a physical keyboard, this is going to be the choice. That may be more comfortable for people who are less techie. However, this doesn’t have the X-Ray feature that the Touch line has.

I think many people are going to pay $10 more to get the touchscreen (people who use SmartPhones or an iPad are used to those). It looks to me like the K3 covers won’t fit the Touch line (which I really consider the K4…the Mindle and the Fire seem like different lines to me).

I’ll keep my eye on the rankings, but my guess is these take a backseat to the Touch line at the current price points.

Kindle DX ($379, 3G only)

Kindle DX

I was surprised Amazon didn’t retire this one with the reformulation of the line. It’s much more expensive, and doesn’t have the latest software. The plus for it is the size: the screen, at 9.7″, is much bigger. It’s already the least popular Kindle, and has dropped to number 28 in the Electronics bestselling rankings at Amazon. I don’t know how long it can stick around, especially at this price. You could get a Kindle Fire, a Touch, and a Mindle for the same amount of money.

The Kindle Fire ($199, wi-fi only)

Kindle Fire

Since Amazon is calling this a Kindle, I’m going to call it that…but it’s really a very different device from the others.

This is a media delivery system, in my opinion. It’s not just (or primarily) for readers: it’s got movies, TV shows, apps, games, music, the web…and e-books. It’s a backlit device: that means a much shorter battery charge life (measured in hours rather than weeks).

It’s all your entertainment in one place.

It’s not a work device…it’s not designed for you to do your spreadsheet for the quarterly sales, for example.

The fact that it is wi-fi only is going to be a negative.

They don’t list text-to-speech on the product page…hopefully, that will be included.

I’ve ordered one, and I think I’ll enjoy it…but I’ll mostly read on my reflective screen Kindle 3, I think.

I would also expect that Amazon will release another version, with 3G, a camera, and so on within the next year. That one will cost more money, and do more (I’m speculating here), and that one may really fit some of my needs more. This one is for fun…a later version may be more for work.

People are going to compare this to the iPad, but the iPad has more capabilities, and does serve many people as a professional tool…and costs a lot more. At $199, the Kindle Fire is going to be a great choice for fun, easy web access (it even has a brand-new browser Amazon has invented).

I would say, however, you are an early adopter with this one. That doesn’t mean I expect a lot of problems, just that people who get a later one will have more.

No question, though, this is going to be a hot gift this holiday season…I would guess it will sell out. Then, when the next one is released, many people who already bought this one will buy that one…and this will become a (very welcome) hand-me-down.

Comparison table:

Kindle Touch Touch 3g Keyboard Keyboard 3g KDX
Price* 79/109 99/139 149/189 99/139 139/189 379
Release 9/28/11 11/21/11 11/21/11 8/25/10 8/25/10 5/6/09
Screen 6 6 6 6 6 9.7
Height 6.5 6.8 6.8 7.5 7.5 10.4
Width 4.5 4.7 4.7 4.8 4.8 7.2
Depth 0.34 0.4 0.4 0.34 0.34 0.38
Weight 5.98 7.5 7.8 8.5 8.7 18.9
Books 1400 3000 3000 3500 3500 3500
Storage 2gb 4gb 4gb 4gb 4gb 4gb
Available 1.25gb 3gb 3gb 3gb 3gb 3.3gb
Battery 1m 2m 2m 2m 2m 3w
To charge 3h 4h 4h 4.5h 4.5m 4.5h
Adaptor No No No Yes Yes Yes
Wi-Fi Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No
3G No No Yes No Yes Yes
Interface 5-way Touch Touch Keys Keys Keys
X-ray No Yes Yes No No No
TTS No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
MP3s No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes

I may revise this post later, but this should give you a pretty good feel for which one would be the right one for you (or for a gift).

If you have any comments, please feel free to let me know.

This post by Bufo Calvin appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog

16 Responses to “Which Kindle should you get (Fall 2011)?”

  1. Up for air…casual talk about the new Kindle line « I Love My Kindle Says:

    […] I Love My Kindle Fun and information about the Kindle and the world of e-books « Which Kindle should you get (Fall 2011)? […]

  2. Rick Says:

    It took me less than five minutes to decide I wanted a Fire and only a couple more to place my order. Like most people, I want my mobile device for web surfing and e-mail. I hope URL entry won’t be too difficult without a keyboard, but I tend to go to the same sites over and over anyway.
    Here in WV wi-fi hotspots are few and FAR between, so I wish they had a 3-G version, but surfing would burn up far more minutes than book downloading.
    One thing I would like you to do a column on: exactly how do I legally wipe my Kindle 2 and legally transfer it to a new owner. Can it be done? It would make a great gift for one of my 16 grandchildren!
    Keep up the good work.

    Rick in WV

    • bufocalvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Rick!

      I’m guessing they’ll do a 3G version in 2012…but I also got the wi-fi one for now.

      I’ll give you instructions right now on wiping the Kindle, but you are right: I could probably do one on “preparing to sell or give away your old Kindle”…hmm, I’ll have to double-check to see if I’m done something like that

      Let’s start with the wipe:

      1. Copy any non-Kindle store material that’s on it to your PC if you want to keep it. The next step will erase them all.

      For the other people reading this, this is only to be done when you are giving away or selling your Kindle to someone not on your account, or other “extreme circumstances”. It will wipe out everything you’ve done to the Kinde (except software updates):

      * You will lose personal documents
      * You will lose internet bookmarks
      * You will lose wireless networks it has remembered
      * I believe you’ll also lose your indexing, and your Kindle will have to do all that again

      Okay, that said. 🙂 Home-Menu-Settings-Menu-Reset to factory defaults

      That will do it…it may take a minute.

      I’m assuming your grandchild would not be on your same account for the next step. If they are, you could skip it.

      Deregister the Kindle from your account.


      You can also do that at


      Your grandchild (or someone in their family) will re-register to their account…either on the Kindle (Home-Settings-Register) or at that Manage Your Kindle page.

      That takes care of it as far as Amazon is concerned. When you say “legally transfer”, I suppose you could write up and have them sign a transfer of ownership paper, but I don’t think that’s necessary.

      Let me know if you have more questions about this.

  3. shuggie Says:

    Great post.

    I’d love a Fire but they’re not available in the UK. I can understand why – Amazon don’t have all the licensing for content in place yet (streaming’s not available either, though mp3 downloads are).

    What I don’t quite understand is why the Touch isn’t available here.

    The only new Kindle we get in the “Mindle” (great name).

    • bufocalvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, shuggie!

      The Touch has that “X-Ray” features, so I wonder if there are copyright clearances that might be necessary for that…

      Thanks for letting me know you like the “Mindle” name! I make up a lot of little neologisms like that….sometimes they catch on, sometimes they don’t. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen people use some of them with me without realizing I originated it. 🙂 It’s fun, but it also makes it easier…Amazon just calls the Mindle the Kindle…that’s confusing for people who had earlier models…especially when you are buying accessories.

  4. finrind Says:

    I think you didn’t emphasize that Kindle Touch family has less storage space than Kindle Keyboard: 3000 vs 3500, though they claim the same capacity in the specs (4Gb). May it indeed be the case that KT will store offline version of Wikipedia, as I heard somewhere yesterday? This reduced storage makes the choice much tougher for me, otherwise I’d be already preordering.

    Also, they are introducing 5Gb free backup for personal documents, but I think they say that this feature may not be fully supported for older devices.

    • bufocalvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, finrind!

      I did mention it, but I didn’t speculate on the Wikipedia part in the post….that’s going to speed up the “X-Ray” feature. If that includes pictures (or maybe audio and video), that could do it. I also don’t know if the touch interface might require a more complex operating system…but probably not that big.

      I’ll have to read through the announcement on the personal docs. I wrote about that recently…what the product page said was contradicting what the User’s Guide said. That’s in this post:


  5. Beth Says:

    I think the Fire is more like an Apple i-touch with a larger screen than an i-pad. Great for playing games, videos, music, e-mail, social sites…

  6. Harold Songhai Says:

    As always, your information is on time and very instructive. I plan to get one or more of the new Kindles in the near future. Currently, I’m a Kindle 2 owner and I’ve grown very fond of the keyboard. I use it daily for any number of functions including: writing notes, calendar entries, searches and especially for highlighting passages in books. I hope Amazon has something special up their sleeve to make these tasks user friendly on the new Kindles. I also use the text to speech feature regularly in the car. I hope TTS is available on the Fire and the WiFi/3G Kindle Touch.

    • bufocalvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Harold!

      Thanks for the kind words!

      The Touch will have text-to-speech, according to the product page.

      It may be easier to type notes on the Touch…we’ll have to see that virtual keyboard. I’m cuious about you using the keyboard to highlight passages…I do that with the 5-way.

      One thing I think they may introduce is voice notes, using the K3’s microphone. They could even do speech-to-text (you talk, it types), but that’s pretty resource intensive, I think. I’m not seeing a mention of a microphone on the Touch, but we don’t have enough information yet to know for sure.

  7. Morgan Says:

    I am a proud DX owner but Bufo it felt like someone punched me in the gut when I read “You could get a Kindle Fire, a Touch, and a Mindle for the same amount of money.”…. Sheeeeesh, I never thought about it like that before. -_- I’m going to forget I ever read that :-0

    Great post.

    • bufocalvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Morgan!

      Thanks for the kind words!

      Sorry about pointing that out…wait, pointing what out…nobody said anything…these aren’t the droids you’re looking for… 😉

  8. Tom Madsen Says:

    Hi Bufo,
    I don’t believe the new Kindle Touch 3g will allow you to go to the internet using 3g. I noticed they changed the wording, to say that you can use this ‘experimental’ option only when using wifi.

    • bufocalvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Tom!

      I saw that discussion, but not right away…spent a couple of hours going back through the forum last night. 🙂 I saw the concern and the reported response…sounds like things are okay there. 🙂

  9. Tom Madsen Says:

    I guess quite a few folks from the Kindle discussion group also noticed this and called Amazon CS about the discrepancy. They were told that 3g web browsing will be supported.

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