Hands-On: Amazon's Fourth-Gen Kindle Refresh

The Display: Lower Price, Lower Quality

There's no question that electronic ink technology is completely different from what you seen from an LCD monitor. However, the first stage of E Ink's electronic paper screen production is essentially the same. There's a matrix similar to what you'd find in a computer display, except that E Ink covers that with a layer of transparent microscopic capsules that contain viscous fluid, along with positively-charged white pigments and negatively-charged black pigments.

IPS Panel Under The MicroscopeIPS Panel Under The MicroscopeE-Ink Panel Under The MicroscopeE-Ink Panel Under The Microscope

For an e-book reader, the benefits of E Ink technology are obvious because image quality is independent of viewing angles and lighting conditions. It's truly like reading a pad of paper. Better yet, power is only consumed when the screen changes, like when you turn a page. That makes the battery life of an e-book reader nearly 100 times greater than that of an LCD-based tablet or mobile phone.

E-Ink Display - Turning A Page (Amazon Kindle)

Kindle Keyboard: TextKindle Keyboard: Text

Kindle (4th-gen) TextKindle (4th-gen) Text

According to its spec sheet, Amazon is using the same 6" E Ink 16-level gray scale display (600 x 800 pixel resolution at 167 PPI) on the third- and fourth-gen Kindles. After using the new silver Kindle for a few hours, though, it felt like I was reading text on an inferior screen.

Turning on our microscope, text on the fourth-generation Kindle appears more dithered around the borders. Meanwhile, text on the Kindle Keyboard is slightly sharper, and the black is a little darker (focus on the "y" and "o" in the pictures).

Deeper Black on Kindle KeyboardDeeper Black on Kindle Keyboard

We called up E Ink Corporation to ask if this was a batch-related issue, and was told that this is most likely due to Amazon choosing a particular grade of display panels. So, while the new Kindle comes at a lower price, the company is probably cutting its costs as well by using a slightly cheaper display.

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  • Nim Chimpsky
    "Amazon is claiming faster page turns... Overall, we don't see any change in performance." Maybe they were hoping for the placebo effect.
  • frost_fenix
    "But let's face it: tablet are still a luxury." Should read "tablets"
  • slicedtoad
    still using a 1st gen kindle. Kinda slow page turns and not the greatest contrast but it still reads better than a physical book (cause it's lighter).

    And e-readers shouldn't be compared to tablets, the only similarity is the physical form. e-readers allow you to read long books without straining your eyes anymore than with paper. Tablets on the other hand do a large number of things (of questionable usefulness) but reading anything more than a newspaper is hard on the eyes.
  • CorusMaximus
    Could you guys test them against large PDF files? As a grad student that is what I would be seeing quite a bit of.
  • acku
    CorusmaximusCould you guys test them against large PDF files? As a grad student that is what I would be seeing quite a bit of.You mean a page speed test with large PDFs?

    Sure, we can do that. Check back tomorrow.
    Andrew Ku
  • Saulot
    To the extent that I am interested in an e-reader, it is because I don't want to do my reading on an LCD. However, it is disappointing that Amazon seems to have cheapened the display quality on this model. Probably won't be a buy for me.
  • interfan7
    Well if Amazon claims in advertisements that it is the same 6" e-ink screen and we find out it is not, it damages Amazons' reputation in my opinion. Personaly I'm starting to feel disappointed and won't buy it.

    If TomsHardware is correct clients should know about it.
    If the touch versions cames with a screen in the same quality like the 3rd generation, then there is a chance I will buy it.

    They should have added $10-$15 for a unit and use a good panel.
  • tipoo
    20 more dollars for much easier typing/navigation and double the battery capacity. I'm not seeing the appeal in the lowest end one, the Touch seems to be the way to go.
  • Anonymous
    As a matter of argument the K3 refreshes EVERY page turn whereas the K4 comes defaulted to refresh after a few page turns. That can make a big difference between displayed screens even on the same K4. To test it where it is apples to apples, you need to install FW 4.0.1 on the K4 and set the page refresh to EVERY page. Otherwise your tests are skewed and totally meaningless.
  • dark_knight33
    Videos on the last page are kinda lame quality, particularly the ipad input lag. I'm not even sure what I'm supposed to be looking at there.

    As a Kin 3rd gen owner, I'm happy that my device is still superior, and don't feel a bit bad about the extra money spent on it. I don't know what the sweet spot price is they are trying to achieve, but $100 seems like more than a bargain for an e-reader. People that want to spend less money than that for a "book replacement", probably don't buy many books anyway. ;-)
  • Anonymous
    So did you only test these two devices? My guess is manufacturing differences.

    I have compared my Kindle 3 wifi to a more recent Kindle 3 3G/special offers. The 3G kindle had a darker screen with noticeably lower contrast. I also compared it to the new Kindle ($79 one) and the screen looked identical. The only difference was the new Kindle didn't black out the display on every page turn, so the page turns were less noticeable.

    My guess is they are using the same quality screen, you just got a good one on your K3 and a crappy one on your new Kindle.
  • hp79
    ackuSure, we can do that. Check back tomorrow.Cheers,Andrew KuTomsHardware.com

    Any updates on PDF usability? Thanks!

    I'm also a grad student, looking for a PDF display device. Not really interested in ebook or anything, but just the PDF.

    Also, how does the touch screen keyboard works? Is it responsive enough to be usable for searching wikipedia, or is it almost like pecking the keys one at a time? I'm wondering how useful the keyboard is. I'm trying to choose between $100 Kindle keyboard, $100 touch, and $80 non-touch.
  • bruin8uclap
    Lower quality screen!!?! I actually just received the 3rd gen Kindle, then - upon seeing the newer model Kindles - put in an order for the new 4th gen non-touch Kindle. Hence, I will be able have two versions of the Kindle for testing for a period of about two weeks. I really hope this won't be an issue for me because I don't need the keyboard and I am really digging the new Kindle's form factor.

    @acku: They didn't review the Touch Screen version. This hands-on covers only the non-touch.
  • bruin8uclap
    Whoops sorry, my earlier reply was to @hp79.
  • bounty
    "Overall, the differences are small, but the Kindle's real draw is its low $79 price tag. That's far more attractive than Barnes & Noble’s Nook at $139"

    So advertisement supported, non-touchscreen e-readers are comparable to regular, touchscreen e-readers now?
  • Anonymous
    I'm hoping Barnes and Noble will price the Nook Simple Touch to match the $99 Kindle Touch. I prefer the flexibility of ePub support. The nook doesn't seem as locked-down as the Kindle, though I trust Amazon to be around longer.
  • Anonymous
    @bounty: Of course. What's the point of an ereader, if not to read books?
  • jsc
    I had planned to buy a K3 in a couple of months. K4 hasn't caused me to change my mind.
  • lamorpa
    slicedtoad(cause it's lighter)

    I think you meant, "(cause: it's lighter)" The cause of the improved ease of handling is the lightness. I find the new Kindle easier to handle myself because it's lighter.
  • ikefu
    Got a Nook touch and won't be going back. I like to support my local bookstore still and can pop in to buy BN gift cards to load on my Nook account.

    All I have seen so far is that the Kindle Touch/Nook Touch are now equals. So that being the case, I'll pick the one that supports my local hometown economy.