Hands-on with the new $75 Kindle: small, light, easy to read, and cheapSo, which of the three new Kindles—the full-color Fire, the touchscreen Kindle Touch, or the non-touch Kindle with the bargain-basement $79 price tag—do you find most enticing?

Personally, I’m voting for the $79 Kindle, which marks the smallest, lightest, and cheapest Kindle yet—so cheap, in fact, that I went ahead and bought one.

Anyway, the UPS truck dropped off my new Kindle just a few hours ago, and I wasted no time in tearing open the cardboard packaging to give it a quick test drive. My first impressions, after the jump!

I’m consistently surprised by how small and light the Kindle feels in person, and this latest model is no exception. Indeed, the $79 Kindle is so light (about six ounces) and small (just 6.5 by 4.5 by 0.34 inches) that it feels almost like a phony display model, complete with a sticker on the six-inch screen that simulates the look of the display.

Hands-on with the new $75 Kindle: small, light, easy to read, and cheap

Nope, that's not a sticker.

But here’s the thing: the sticker on the screen isn’t a sticker. It’s the actual Kindle display, which flickers and morphs into the Kindle logo the moment you press the Power button. Neat.

After watching a progress bar for a minute or two, the Kindle prompted me to pick a language, which I did by nudging the five-way “mouse” below the screen.

Hands-on with the new $75 Kindle: small, light, easy to read, and cheap

Selecting a default language for the Kindle.

Next, it’s time to connect to my Wi-Fi router, which involves keying in my Wi-Fi password. Now, one reason that the new Kindle is so small is that it jettisons the full QWERTY keypad on its predecessors—meaning you must “type” your passcode, search terms, book titles, and any other words using an on-screen keyboard. Yes, it’s more time-consuming than using a physical keyboard; if you ask me, though, it’s a fair trade for a smaller Kindle.

Hands-on with the new $75 Kindle: small, light, easy to read, and cheap

The Kindle's on-screen keyboard, which you navigate using a five-way navigation key.

Once the Kindle connected to my Wi-Fi network, it loaded my settings, accessed my Amazon account, and presto—ready to go, complete with a personalized “welcome” letter and a link to all my saved Kindle books.

I went ahead and downloaded one of my favorite purchased Kindle books (“The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test,” by the great Tom Wolfe) and opened it—and yes, the book flipped open to the exact page where I’d left off on my iPad.

Hands-on with the new $75 Kindle: small, light, easy to read, and cheap

Easy to read, even in the sun.

Anyone who already owns a Kindle (or the Barnes & Noble Nook, which uses the same “E Ink” display technology as the Kindle) already knows how crisp book pages look on the Kindle screen, even under direct sunlight. If you haven’t seen a Kindle yet, you might think you’re looking at a decal—that is, until you press the page-turn buttons on either side of the Kindle’s thin shell.

For comparison’s sake, I put the Kindle and my iPad side-by-side on my window sill, and you can see Kindle’s screen performs in the sun—and how the iPad’s backlit LCD display immediately goes dim. Clearly, the Kindle is the e-reader you want at the pool. (Just don’t get it wet.)

Hands-on with the new $75 Kindle: small, light, easy to read, and cheap

Good luck reading Kindle books on the iPad by the pool.

The $79 price tag for the Kindle comes with a catch: it’s the ad-supported “With Special Offers” version, which flashes a small advertisement at the bottom of the main menu screen; you’ll also see advertisements decorating the display when the Kindle is turned off. That said, you’ll never see ads while you’re deep in a book, and personally, the unobtrusive advertisements don’t seem bothersome at all. (An ad-free version of the Kindle goes for $99.)

Hands-on with the new $75 Kindle: small, light, easy to read, and cheap

Advertisements on the Kindle: not too annoying.

What are the main difference between the $79 Kindle and the $99 Kindle Touch? Well, the Touch has a touchscreen, of course, although it’s worth remembering that the one button you’ll press most on your Kindle—touch or no touch—is the “next page” button.

Amazon's new Kindles: What you need to know

The $99 Kindle Touch.

The Kindle Touch also boasts two months of battery life, versus one for the non-touch Kindle, not to mention twice the storage of the $79 Kindle, good for 3,000 saved books rather than … well, a “mere” 1,400. And if you’re willing to pay a $50 premium, you can get a 3G version of the Kindle Touch that can connect to the Internet without a Wi-Fi signal.

A downside to the Touch (which I’ve yet to handle in person), however, is that it weighs a good ounce and half more than the six-ounce, non-touch Kindle.

There’s also the competing, touchscreen Barnes & Noble Nook to consider, which is about the same size and weight as the Kindle Touch—but at $139, it’s also $39 pricier.

New Barnes & Noble Nook one-ups Kindle with touch-sensitive e-ink display

The touchscreen Barnes & Noble Nook.

And what about the $199 Kindle Fire, the new seven-inch Kindle with the color screen and the videos? Yes, it looks nice (and I’ve pre-ordered one, by the way), but it has the same type of LCD display as the iPad or an Android tablet—meaning good luck reading books in the sun.

Amazon's new Kindles: What you need to know

The color Kindle Fire.

So much for my first impressions; I’ll have more in-depth thoughts once I’ve spent more than a few hours with my new Kindle.

In the meantime, have any questions about this thing? If so, post ’em below and I’ll get back to you.

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