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 Kindle 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) 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 better 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.
Essentially a premium version of the Paperwhite, the Voyage is lighter, has higher screen resolution, a light that adapts to the conditions and a few other features.
It's an impressive device, but at nearly twice the price of its sibling with only a few extra, non-essential features, it's hard to justify the additional cost.
The most expensive e-ink Kindle by far, the Oasis is also the lightest. It also has the longest battery life, courtesy of a special leather case that ships with the device, and the most number of front-mounted lights for reading in the dark. It has an unusual design, thicker on one side with an offset, almost-square 6" screen.
It's clearly Amazon's premium reading device, but the price and relative fragility puts it out of reach of all but the most e-book-devoted 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 only two screen sizes-- seven and eight inch -- in both "kids" and normal versions.
Although the 8" model is a little more expensive, there's not much in it, and you get more for your money. With a higher-resolution screen, battery battery life and performance, and more storage, it's the one to go for.
While none of the Kindle Fire models will win many awards for raw performance or quality, they're good, basic tablets that do several 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 Kindle Paperwhite (Wi-fi only) – 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 back-light make this the best dedicated e-reader on the market.
Read a full review of the Kindle Paperwhite for travelers here.
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.