Amazon’s cheapest, most basic Kindle now has a light and a better screen, which makes it very nearly the new default ebook reader. The new Kindle 9 – which is, confusingly, one of the new 10th generation of Kindles alongside the fourth-generation Paperwhite and third-generation Oasis – looks very similar to the previous version.
The sides of the reader feel as though they have been softened slightly. It has been made 2mm narrower and 0.4mm thinner but 13g heavier than the previous version. The Kindle 9 is easy to hold for extended periods and feels fairly robust.
The contrast of the 6in e-ink screen has been improved, with the text displayed on a whiter background. It has the same density at 167 pixels per inch (ppi) as its predecessor, which makes it noticeably less crisp than the 300ppi Paperwhite, but perfectly easy to read even with fairly small font.
The big new addition for the Kindle 9 is an adjustable frontlight – the same technology that until recently was the differentiating factor of the more expensive Paperwhite. Now you can read the basic Kindle in the dark.
It has fewer LEDs down the side, but works just as well, going from completely off to maximum brightness in 24 increments. There’s no automatic brightness adjustment, as one might be used to on a phone, but adjusting the frontlight manually via the quick settings menu is trivial.
The Kindle also has an improved touchscreen, making accidental swipes and page turns slightly less likely. It’s still not as good as dedicated page-turn buttons, but works fine even for one-handed reading.
Screen: 6in e-paper (167ppi)
Dimensions: 160 x 113 x 8.7 mm
Connectivity: wifi, Bluetooth, microUSB
Battery life: rated for approximately 14 hours of reading
The Kindle 9 has wifi for syncing books, accessing the Kindle store and looking up information such as Wikipedia entries for unknown terms. It also has Bluetooth, designed for listening to audiobooks from Audible via wireless headphones or speakers. As with other Kindles, this works just fine, but the basic Kindle only comes with 4GB of storage – fine for text ebooks, but don’t expect to fit too many audiobooks on it at any one time.
Battery life is rated at 30 minutes of reading a day for four weeks with the light set to level 13 brightness and wireless off. I managed to get through two 270-page books between charges at various brightness levels and with wifi switched on occasionally to sync progress. Cranking up the brightness and leaving it hooked up to the internet all the time will reduce that quite a lot.
Charging the Kindle 9 takes four hours via a 5W USB charger, or just over three hours with something a bit more powerful. It has still got a microUSB port, not the newer USB-C port, which is a shame but not unexpected.
The Kindle software is the same version found on Amazon’s other e-readers, with choices that include all the useful X-Ray and dictionary look-up features, plenty of typefaces, font sizes and paragraph alignments. A new marked-as-read feature makes keeping track of your library a little easier, as does the ability to create collections of books.
The textured plastic back is fairly easy to mark, but hides those marks relatively well.
It’s still hard to list books by the author’s order, such as Ian Rankin’s numerous Rebus detective novels by chronology, as you might on a bookshelf.
A single button on the bottom turns the screen on and off, but you can set a pin to protect it.
The Kindle 9 is not water-resistant, and there’s a seam around the sides of the device in which dust can get stuck.
With the Kindle 9, Amazon has stripped away another reason to buy the more expensive Paperwhite. The frontlight makes the basic Kindle more versatile than ever, meaning you can read in pretty much any lighting condition. It doesn’t sound a lot, but that’s a big step up for the cheapest Kindle, because at their heart low-cost e-readers are about convenience.
The screen is noticeably less sharp than the 300ppi Paperwhite and Oasis, but the Kindle is no less readable, getting out of the way so you can enjoy your book. If you’re a frequent reader, the Paperwhite is still worth the step up in price.
If you’re an infrequent book reader who wants an e-reader, doesn’t want a luxury item and is not going to dunk the thing in a bath or pool, this is the Kindle for you.
Pros: higher contrast screen, easy to use and buy books, X-Ray, audiobooks, frontlight, good battery life, light and easy to handle
Cons: microUSB, no page-turn buttons, no automatic brightness adjustment, not water-resistant, only 4GB storage, no 4G option, more or less locked into Amazon’s ecosystem
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