When Amazon released the first Kindle back in 2007, it sold out in less than six hours. It has remained popular ever since, and is the most popular e-reader brand on the market–according to one survey, around forty percent of people who read e-books own one.
Smaller and lighter than a single paperback, yet able to hold thousands of books, Kindles are particularly appealing for travelers looking to reduce the amount of weight they carry.
With the variety of different models available, though, comes a little confusion as to which is best.
E-ink or Tablet
As far as technology is concerned there are two different types of Kindle, with big differences between them.
The e-ink models (the basic Kindle, Paperwhite, Voyage, and Oasis) are dedicated e-readers, useful for little more than reading. They are light and relatively inexpensive, with exceptional battery life (up to eight weeks, at half an hour’s use per day). The screen type means reduced eye strain when reading for long periods, and much better visibility in direct sunlight.
The Fire range is based around Android tablet computers, albeit heavily customized and with a few Amazon-specific features, and can be used for almost anything you’d usually do on a computer: email, web browsing, games, and more. The battery will only last around a day, however, and the backlit LCD screen performs best indoors.
The base model (simply called the Kindle) is available in either black or white, and costs as little as $79 for a version that shows adverts on the screensaver.
It’s functional rather than fancy, with the lowest screen resolution and nothing in the way of extra features. It'll get the job done if you don't spend much time curled up with a good book, but if you're a regular reader, it's worth buying something better.
If you can spend just a little more, you'll get a much-improved device.
The Paperwhite comes with several features that set it ahead of the basic version. The most useful for travelers by far is the adjustable inbuilt light. Ideal for reading in dark environments such as shared accommodation or overnight bus and plane rides, the light is a reason to choose the Paperwhite by itself.
Beyond that, however, it has a higher resolution, faster page turns, twice the storage (4 GB), and a better e-ink screen. The Paperwhite also has a slightly less-awful web browser than the basic Kindle, although you’d be unlikely to use either if you had a choice.
There are two versions of the Paperwhite, with or without 3G. Unlike the old Keyboard 3G model, it’s not possible to freely browse the Internet using the cellular connection–only Wikipedia and Amazon itself can be accessed.
As a result, unless you’re planning to be away from a Wi-Fi connection for an extended period and really need to download new books during that time, the 3G version probably isn't worth the extra money. Save your cash to spend on margaritas or a few good novels instead.
In some ways a premium version of the Paperwhite, the Voyage sets itself apart in a few different ways.
It's around an ounce lighter, and the built-in light automatically adapts itself to the ambient conditions.
One nice feature is the ability to turn pages backward and forward just by applying extra pressure to the bezel around the sides of the screen. Since that's where you're holding the device anyway, it means there's no need to even move your finger, making for a more immersive reading experience.
Available only in black, it's an impressive device. At nearly twice the price of its sibling with only a few extra, non-essential features, however, it's hard to justify the additional cost.
The most expensive e-ink Kindle by far, the Oasis is also the largest. Amazon refreshed this model with a 7" screen in late 2017, and it feels noticeably bigger than the six-inch display on other models.
Just like the Voyage, the light automatically adjusts to the conditions, but it has even more LEDs (12 instead of six). Despite the larger screen, the device weighs less than the Paperwhite, and has clearly been designed for one-handed use. It's thicker on one side and tapers to just 0.13" on the other.
Support for Amazon's Audible audiobook service is built in, and as a result, the Oasis includes more storage (either 8GB or 32GB).
Easily the most useful aspect for travelers, however, is the IPX8 rating for water resistance. Designed to survive for up to an hour in six feet of fresh water, it's the first Kindle you can really feel safe using around the pool.
It's clearly Amazon's premium reading device and has features you won't find anywhere else, but the larger size and high price (more than triple the base model) make it a niche product for most travelers.
Kindle Fire HD 8
For those looking for an inexpensive, multi-purpose travel device that’s integrated into Amazon’s e-book marketplace, the Fire HD 8 is a good place to start.
Amazon is endlessly-tweaking its Fire tablet range, and has simplified it in recent times. For now at least, there are three screen sizes, seven, eight, and ten-inch, with the smaller two devices coming in both "kids" and normal versions.
The 8" model offers quite a bit more than the model below it, without costing a great deal extra. With a higher-resolution screen, better battery life and performance, and more storage, it's the one to go for.
While none of the Fire models will win many awards for raw performance or quality, they're good, basic tablets that do many things reasonably well.
Which Is Best for Travel?
For most people, the question of which Kindle is best to travel with depends on two questions:
- what other electronics are you taking on your trip?
- how much time is likely to be spent reading?
If you’re taking a smartphone, laptop, or other general-purpose device with you as well, the best choice is the Wi-Fi-only version of the Kindle Paperwhite, especially if you’re planning to do a lot of reading outdoors or in dark environments. The reduced screen glare, extended battery life, and inbuilt backlight make this the best dedicated e-reader on the market.
If you’re not intending to read a lot, or are leaving all the other gadgets at home but would still like a way to stay in touch and entertain yourself on long journeys, consider the Kindle Fire HD 8 instead.
It’s not as good as a dedicated device for spending hours under a coconut tree with the latest John Grisham novel, but it does several things–including being an e-reader–well enough for many travelers, at a very competitive price. If you're trying to keep weight and cost down, and don't want to travel with several expensive devices, it's well worth checking out.