Tyler Barth

iOS developer and UX Designer

Kindle 4 vs Kindle Touch

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I’ve never owned an e-ink reader, though I’ve wanted to for a long time. Every few years I check the E-book reader matrix to see what the state of the art is. In the past I might have been an early adopter, but the expense and performance of early systems wasn’t enough to convince me to try them. Until now I was able to make do with the Kindle app on my first generation iPad, and of course physical books.

But finally, the price of the Kindle was so low that I decided to take the plunge. Touch sounds like a great idea, but according to trusted internet authorities the touch implementation was clunky. Combined with a review which poked my nostalgia button by describing the Kindle 4 as something out of Star Trek because of how lightweight it was, my decision was sealed and I ordered the Kindle 4.

Talk about first world problems, but I immediately had buyers remorse upon receiving my Kindle 4. It feels like a great product, but some of the things that were so easy to do with the iPad app were difficult using the Kindle 4’s buttons. I ordered a Kindle Touch and decided to compare the two.


You should read this if:

  • You’ve decided on a Kindle, for whatever reason (you’re tied in to Amazon, you like Amazon’s selection, whatever)
  • You’re trying to decide between the Kindle Touch and the Kindle 4

Briefly, I’ll give my justification for those two requirements.

I’m using Amazon because I’m already used to buying books on Amazon, and they have support across all platforms. I can’t see a compelling reason to use iBooks or Nook or some other platform when Amazon seems like the most reliable and seems to have the best selection. Amazon is king, and they’re the one I most expect to be around in ten years. When we’re talking about DRM’ed eBooks, that matters.

I’ve been impressed with their iPad app, and I even read a few whole novels on my iPad when I was unable to buy them because I was overseas. The iPad reading experience was surprisingly good, but I’ve still sought a dedicated device using e-ink because it is better on the eyes and better for reading lengthy text.

I would choose the Touch or 4 over the Kindle Keyboard because I don’t think any ebook readers are good for taking notes, and I think the keyboard is just extra weight and and a waste of space for something I’m reading on only. I’ve also only looked at the wi-fi ones because I don’t see any reason to get the 3G, and I travel overseas where I don’t even think the 3G works anyway.


After receiving the Kindle Touch, I immediately noticed two shortcomings. First, looking up definitions for words is a hastle. Second, viewing footnotes is a pain.

I was used to very easily looking up definitions on the Kindle app for iPad. I’m still learning new words all of the time, and if I’m reading a challenging book I often want to see definitions. On the iPad, it was a matter of holding your finger over the word for a second, and then seeing a definition appear at the bottom of the screen. The Kindle Touch isn’t much faster than the Kindle 4 for looking up definitions, but it is easier. Just put your finger on the word and the definition will pop up. I don’t like that it pops up. The popup has to be closed manually, and I would prefer if the definition just shows up in the same way as the Kindle 4 or the iPad, but the ease of use of touching the word is a huge advantage over the flurry of button presses to navigate to the correct line and word on the Kindle 4. It’s not that difficult, but the additional hassle quickly makes you more reluctant to look up definitions.

Footnotes are implemented differently in different eBooks. Some publishers do a terrible job and don’t embed links for the footnote numbers. In this case, the Kindle 4 or Touch are both equally handicapped. However, if the publishers do a better job and make each footnote a link to a footnote section, then the Touch works much better. You just put your finger over the footnote, and it jumps back to the appropriate section. To go back, you bring up the menu and press the back button. Using the touch screen to perform this operation is a little troublesome because of the delay, and I think it could still stand to be improved in terms of usability. Nonetheless, the situation is an improvement over the Kindle 4, where in the same manner as the definitions you must select the footnote using the jog switch.


My only reservations with the Touch are that it feels very much like a first generation product. Whereas the Kindle 4 is a beautiful, stripped down and perfected fourth generation minimalist e-ink reader, the Kindle Touch is an awkward first revision. They wanted to go all out with the touch capability, but I still think the physical page turning buttons are a necessity on an e-reader. They crammed in a bunch of additional features (double battery life, music player, text to speech) which I don’t think are necessary in an e-reader. The bezel is deeper to make room for the touch sensing, which makes it feel less polished. The result is something which is noticeably heavier and feels clunkier to navigate.

My ideal Kindle would strip out as many of the extraneous features that the Touch offers in order to become more like the Kindle 4 (lightweight, physical buttons for page turning), but keeping the touch screen for definitions and footnotes. I’m hoping this is what Amazon does for their second generation Kindle Touch.

So, in summation, I think that if you would potentially read a nonfiction book or a book with a lot of footnotes, or if you are the kind who often looks up word definitions, then the Kindle Touch, despite its flaws, will serve you better.

If you are just reading novels and rarely look up words, the Kindle 4 will work fine, and, because it weighs less and is more polished, will feel more like the future.