Why I love my Kindle Keyboard

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Earlier this month, Amazon released a collection of new Kindles. One of the new Kindles is the Kindle Paperwhite, a front-lit e-ink multi-touch Kindle with one of the crispest displays Amazon has yet released.

After reading the tech buzz surrounding this new Kindle (which doesn’t come out until October, so hasn’t yet been reviewed), I wanted one bad. It has all the elements of an amazing e-Reader: functional touchscreen, responsive page-turns, crisp text, a front-lit display that is not as sharp on the eyes as an LCD screen, and the best contrast for any e-ink screen on the market. Also, the price is right: it’s only $119. Sure, it’s not the cheapest Kindle, but it’s still affordable.

I was ready to pre-order and sell or give away my current Kindle, the Kindle Keyboard (or Kindle 3 as it was called when it was released). I ordered this Kindle when it came out in Fall 2010. Before this, I had owned the Kindle 2, and while I liked this Kindle, its screen did not have the pixel density and sharpness of the Kindle 3. It was also heavy and wasn’t receiving the same software updates as the Kindle 3, so I sold it on eBay and used the money to buy the new Kindle.

Immediately, I was impressed with my new Kindle’s beautiful screen. It was so sharp that when I opened it for the first time, I thought the start screen was a protective sticker, and I tried to peel it off before realizing it was the e-ink screen. At first glance, I didn’t see pixelation around the text; it looked like a printed page. As I began using it, I would notice some pixelation, but overall, reading on this Kindle was as close to reading on paper as I’d ever come. It was lighter, too, and easier for me to forget I was reading on a device. The pages turned quickly, and I was happy with my choice to upgrade. The Kindle Keyboard outperformed my expectations and made up for the shortcomings and annoyances I had developed with the Kindle 2.

I haven’t upgraded to any of the current e-ink Kindles because they just aren’t as useful or beautiful as my Kindle Keyboard. Yes, 2011 brought the Kindle Touch, a multi-touch Kindle with a faster page-turn rate and a lighter/smaller form factor. But from my tests with this Kindle, it didn’t live up to the hype. I’ve grown to love typing on my Kindle Keyboard, and since I love to take notes while reading, a keyboard seems like an important feature. The multi-touch keyboard isn’t as responsive as a multi-touch keyboard on a smartphone or tablet. This was a deal-breaker for me. I decided to hold on to my old Kindle, even though it was already a generation behind.

I also found the Kindle Keyboard’s screen to provide a much better reading experience. Initial reviews of the Kindle Touch suggested that because an extra layer was added to the screen for touch functionality, the text lost some sharpness. Text looked greyer than on the Kindle Keyboard and the standard $79 Kindle, according to these reports (which, by the way, was ruled out by me because it did not provide an easy way to type notes). Although this has been fixed with software updates, I grew to like the way the Kindle Keyboard felt in my hands and didn’t see the need to upgrade. I appreciated its simplicity and ease of use, and the battery life was still sufficient enough for my needs.

So I kept the Kindle Keyboard, waiting for an upgrade that mattered to me. The core functionality I sought out was screen contrast and resolution (the higher the better), usable touch that doesn’t compromise on readability, and a decent, built-in light. Also, high battery life, light and thin form factor, and decent software to handle reading a variety of publications, not just books.

It seems the Kindle Paperwhite is that device. I want to upgrade, but I keep going back to how much I love my Kindle Keyboard. Amazon still supports the Kindle Keyboard; in fact, it just updated the software, bringing even better screen resolution and updates to the new Kindle book formats.

Now that I’m considering an upgrade, I have to decide: is losing a great keyboard on a device that I’ve learned to love — and that, by the way, still gets software updates — worth gaining some incremental perks, such as touch capability and a well-designed front-light? Some days, I think gaining these new functions makes the upgrade worth it, but then I sit down and read a particularly engaging section of a book on my Kindle Keyboard and fall in love with the device all over again. It seems trite, but it’s true: I love my Kindle Keyboard because it provides the best reading experience.

Ultimately, what’s most important is the act of reading itself. Maybe it doesn’t matter which device I use. If the book is good enough, I’ll fall into it in the same way.

True, but I haven’t had this experience reading on my smartphone or Kindle Fire (which I don’t plan to upgrade, even though the new Fires look pretty cool). LCD screens don’t allow me to “fall in” to books because I’m distracted by apps and notifications. Reading on my Kindle 2, an e-ink Kindle, always felt artificial, although it was an OK experience while reading outdoors. I’ve tried Nooks and Sony readers and have felt the same way: something I can’t name is missing.

For now, the Kindle Keyboard has the best attributes for a perfect reading experience, and I’m not sure I want to give up on that. I have yet to decide, but I think I’ll wait it out and stick with my Kindle Keyboard, even though that Kindle Paperwhite looks awfully tempting.

I’d be interested to know what readers think. Do you have a reading device you’ve grown to like and don’t want to give up? Are you considering the Paperwhite or another device? Should I reconsider the Nook Glowlight or some other device I’ve dismissed? I’m curious to know more.

Kevin Eagan (@KevEagan) is a freelance editor and writer living in Central Florida. He edits book manuscripts and articles for local and national publications. Critical Margins is his place to share his interests. You can also follow him on Google+ or check out his professional website, KevinThomasEagan.com.