Amazon Adds Touchscreen to Entry Level Kindle Reader

Amazon modernizes its entry-level Kindle with a touchscreen interface while keeping it priced below $100. Amazon

Remember when E Ink readers were the darlings of the gadget world? I even remember attending one Consumer Electronics Show that was flooded with e-readers.

Still, that was then and this is now. With tablets usurping black-and-white readers as the mid-size device du jour, is there still room for a gadget that’s more decidedly old school?

Amazon believes that the answer is yes, as it refreshes its entry-level Kindle e-reader. First released in 2014, Amazon's entry-level Kindle has fewer bells and whistles than its higher-priced cousins, the Kindle Voyage and Kindle Paperwhite, as well as the Auro H2O from competitor Kobo.

What the basic Kindle lacks in style, however, it tries to make up with more substance in the form of price. Here’s a rundown of key features for folks looking to compare readers.

Display: The screen is the focal point for every reader, making it a good starting point for any critique. Unlike the Kindle Fire HD and HDX 8.9 tablets, the base Kindle e-reader uses Amazon’s Pearl E Ink technology on a glare-free screen with 16 levels of grayscale to mimic the look of paper reading. Like the Paperwhite and Voyage, the 2014 Kindle also goes for Amazon’s de facto 6-inch display size. Size is about the only similarity, however, as the entry-level Kindle’s screen sports some key differences from its two family members.

With a resolution of 167 pixels per inch, the base Kindle is not as sharp as the 212 ppi Paperwhite or the 300 ppi Voyage. Readability is still fine but the difference is noticeable, especially against Amazon’s top-of-the-line Voyage.

Unlike Amazon’s two other 6-inch e-readers, the base Kindle also does not have a built-in backlight. This means it works well as a reader during the day but will require a secondary light source such as a lamp during evenings or in low-light indoor situations.

One new feature for the base Kindle is the addition of touchscreen functionality for its screen. Touchscreen controls only used to be available for more premium models such as the Paperwhite but now comes standard on the base model as well. On the flip side, folks who prefer using physical button controls will be disappointed as those are no longer an option.

Dimensions and capacity: The base Kindle is 6.7 inches tall and 4.7 inches wide, making it slightly bigger overall than the Paperwhite and the Voyage. It’s also the thickest of the three at 0.4 inches. At 6.7 ounces, it’s the second lightest of the aforementioned Amazon readers, with only the Voyage being lighter. The device also can store thousands of e-books, thanks to 4 gigabytes worth of built-in memory. That might seem piddly compared to tablet capacities these days but since e-readers primarily focus on e-books, you don’t have the same demands for video and other large media. Cloud storage is also free for Amazon content.

Ecosystem: The display usually gets most of the attention in e-reader comparisons but some would argue that ecosystem may be even more important. As with other Kindle readers, this device is locked into Amazon’s Kindle store, which is either good or bad depending on your preferences. If you’re a more free-spirited person who likes the option to easily sideload content and share among your various devices, Amazon’s proprietary e-reader format might leave a bad taste in your mouth. If you don’t care about openness, however, then Amazon has an excellent e-book store that’s well curated, as well as the ability to read content on computers and tablets via the Kindle app.

Other features: The entry-level Kindle features Wi-Fi connectivity with free connectivity at AT&T hotspots, but does not come with 3G like the Paperwhite and the Voyage. Battery life also lasts weeks depending on use and charging takes about 4 hours. Upcoming features include family sharing, enhanced search and Word Wise to help kids better understand difficult books via definitions and hints.

The biggest differentiator between the base Kindle and other Amazon e-readers, however, is price. The device, which was already affordable to start with, received a price drop and now starts out with ads at $59.99 compared to $99.99 and $199.99 for the Paperwhite and Voyage respectively. Like the two other devices, ad-free versions also are available for $20 more.

Jason Hidalgo is Lifewire’s Portable Electronics expert. Yes, he is easily amused. Follow him on Twitter @jasonhidalgo and be amused, too. For more articles on Amazon's various readers, check out our All You Need to Know About the Kindle feature.