I have been a Kindle user for its last three incarnations: I bought a K2 to replace my Sony reader because I wanted to use the text to speech feature and I wanted support for multilingual dictionaries, then when my visiting aunt expressed interest, I sold it to her bought the K3. I was happy with it, and when the K4 came out, I was only mildly tempted—until this same dear aunt visited again and told the sordid tale of a husband who stole the K3 out from under her, registered it to his own account and left her reader-less once again. So, with the excuse that she wanted another one, I set the K3 aside so it would be ready for her January visit, and ordered myself a sleek little K4.
BETTER FORM, LESSER FEATURES
I had been on the fence about upgrading. I had been coveting the form factor adorableness of my boyfriend’s Kobo Touch, but as an upgrade option, the K4 loses some features over its predecessor: lesser memory, no keyboard and no text to speech function. On consideration, I was prepared to live with these deficiencies. Firstly, I never exploited the full storage potential of the K3 anyway since its processor was not robust enough to handle as many books as it could store. My experience was that basic operation slowed to a crawl after about 500 books, no matter how much space was left. The keyboard was not an issue as I rarely used it except to search or to make collections; I also found that it was the one aesthetic issue that bugged me some—my boyfriend’s keyboard-less Kobo looked much less like a ‘computer’ to me than my Kindle did! And as for text to speech, I admit I have fallen out of using it. Now that ebooks seem to be so riddled with typos, I find I prefer to see the text so I can mark errors as I spot them and correct them later in Sigil.
So, with these small concerns dispensed with, how does the K4 stack up?
FAST, SMOOTH OPERATION
The faster processor speed was very noticeable. I added many books and navigation, menu selection and other operations were quite sprightly and did not slow down even as I stuffed still more books onto the thing. I did find the virtual keyboard took some getting used to, but I really only used it to make collections so its clunkiness did not detract from the experience.
The lack of the keyboard did create some extra menu steps though. For example, if you scroll over to a link and stop, you’ll have to press the scroll button, upon which you’ll get a choice of buttons to follow the link or to create a note. You must choose a button and press again. Previously, you would just click once to follow the link, or else press buttons on the keyboard to immediately type a note. The lack of the keyboard necessitates this extra clarification.
DICTIONARY OPTIONS—ENHANCED, BUT BUGGY
A neat feature of the new Kindle is its ability to recognize dictionaries for multiple languages at once. In the past, if I wanted to read in French and use a dictionary, I had to manually switch over to my French dictionary under the menu feature and then manually switch it back when I wanted to read in English again. Now, I can set a dictionary for each language and the Kindle will recognize each one automatically without a menu switch. So, when I read in English and stop on a word, I’ll get a definition from my English dictionary, and when I read in French and stop on a word, I’ll get a definition from the French one.
I found it easy to set the book’s language in Calibre (most of my French books come from website text or hand-made epub conversions, so they were all side-loaded). But setting the dictionaries up proved trickier. The Kindle 4 came pre-loaded with several dictionaries and these all worked as expected—for instance, it recognized the pre-loaded French dictionary as a French dictionary and let me set that as the default for reading French books. However, I did have a French-English translation dictionary (which I had purchased from Amazon) that it would not recognize as being French. I even tried loading a non-DRMd version into Calibre and changing the language, then side-loading it back onto the Kindle, and it still kept listing it as a choice in the English preferences.
My French is good enough now that I can manage with the all-French one it’s given me, but I did purchase this other one from Amazon themselves and it is my preferred dictionary choice, so it irks me that I can’t seem to get it working. I appreciate that Amazon is trying to make these settings be seamless and automatic, but a manual override should be available for times like this! If the Kindle can recognize that it’s a dictionary in the first place, as it seems to be, I should be able to assign that dictionary to whatever language preference I wish.
And finally, on the subject of multilingual reading, I found that I had difficulties with books which contained more than one language. It seems that the Kindle can only recognize one language per book. I have a new Jules Verne omnibus I purchased from Delphi Classics which is about half and half—if there was an out of copyright English translation, the English text was used, but if there was not, the work was included in its original French. I was able to get dictionary lookups just fine in the English sections, but when I tried to look something up in the French parts, I got nothing. Since I read in French primarily to improve my language skills, I was dismayed to have this learning tool be unusable for me in a book that had so much content! This strikes me as a 1.0 limitation—I think that as the Kindle software evolves, its ability to handle multi-language texts will improve.
OVERALL VERDICT: A-
So, overall, it was not a clean sweep. Some features were lost—you’ll have to decide for yourself if their absence is a deal-breaker. Some features improved, but then again the ability to seamlessly perform dictionary lookups in more than one language is a fairly niche feature. I do appreciate the faster speed and brisker operation, but the few times I did need the keyboard, I did find its operation a little clumsy. And the dictionary support has some nice improvements, but some noticeable limitations for the kind of reading I do.
I’m happy with the upgrade though. The faster processor was a huge boon for me—the greater capacity of the Kindle Keyboard always felt wasted to me since I could never fully use it. And the whole thing just feels brisker, sprightlier, more modern. It feels more like a book and less like a machine. I know I will enjoy reading on it as much as I did on my other Kindles!