- The Amazon Kindle is the most popular e-book reader in the world, but its interface has remained largely unchanged for almost five years now.
- While the Kindle is great for reading books, using it can be a bit difficult to use for beginners because of the slightly laggy touch interface (a result of the e-ink display).
- The new Kindle update cleans up the interface, making it easier to use and even seems to make the user experience a little smoother.
When it comes to e-book readers, Amazon’s Kindle is pretty much the boss. Other brands have tried their luck at coming out with e-ink devices that let you read books on them, but none of them have been able to match the Kindle. But just because it is the most popular e-book reader around does not mean that the Kindle is perfect.
Amazon’s e-book reader has an interface that can be very irritating to those not used to it. The fact that the touch experience on e-book readers is not the smoothest can make it challenging for people used to the faster response on smartphones and tablets to get used to them. And well, when that slightly iffy touch experience is added to an interface that is still rooted in a five-year-old interface, the pleasure of reading does get severely diluted.
Things, however, seem to be changing on the UI front, with Amazon having come out with the first significant overhaul of the Kindle’s interface in almost half a decade. We downloaded the update on our Kindle Oasis (available for most Kindles released after 2015). After about a week, we must confess that it considerably changes the e-book reading experience.
A cleaner interface
The first thing you notice about using the Kindle after the update is just how much cleaner the interface is. The Home screen features covers of books you are reading or that Amazon suggests you read. That’s it. There is a search box (oh so phone-like) on the top with a shopping icon next to it, allowing you to choose to search your device or the online book store. There is also an unobtrusive three-dot menu next to it, more on which later.
On the base, you have two tabs for Home and Library (the books you have on your Kindle), and between them is the cover of the book you are currently reading, so you can reach it with a single tap at any stage. It is clean and uncluttered and very different from the previous UI, where you had a navigation bar on top on the Home screen (with a link to Goodreads of all things at one stage).
There’s now a swipe down option
Perhaps the most significant change in the UI is the fact that you can now swipe down from the top (the first time we have seen a gesture in the UI apart from the flip to page turn in reading mode) from any location – whether from within a book or on a book page or on Home – to access basic options like Airplane mode, Dark mode, Sync, screen brightness, and warmth. There is also a link to All Settings for those who want to do more. And it is when you are using this feature, you also notice that the actual touch interface on the Kindle has improved (more on which later).
There is now a three-dot menu on the top right corner of the Kindle, tapping on which gives you some of the options that were previously on the top bar of the old UI – access to your reading lists, the Web browser, Settings and well, Goodreads. Oh, and interestingly, the Web browser on the Kindle (yes, it has one) no longer is called “Experimental.” However, it seems as limited as ever (no support for animations or video and best used for reading, like the device on which it exists).
Reading is easier too
This brings us to the matter of reading books. Once again, Amazon has uncluttered the experience. The swipe down options are there, of course, and tapping near the top of the page gets you a very minimalistic menu that has icons on it in a corner, letting you change fonts and layouts and tweak the information you can see on the interface (progress in the book, time and so on), go to a specific location in a book, add bookmarks and of course, search in general. We would have icons to mark highlights and notes. You can access those options by pressing on the text on the Kindle, but having icons indicating their existence would have helped (it is a bit like Macro mode on the iPhone 13 Pro – you do not realize it exists until you see it).
There is also a three-dot menu on the top right corner here, but it is different from the one on the Home and Library screens. This one lets you do things like access Notes and Highlights, access the Vocabulary Builder (yes, there is one), go to Settings, share content on social media and even disable the touchscreen (yes, you can). In general, the UI is more in the background, letting you focus on reading, which is the main purpose of the Kindle anyway.
Touch seems more responsive, and now you know your Kindle model
Some of the old functionality remains in place – you can long-press on a word to get information on it or press and drag to highlight passages and add notes – but the touch experience on the Kindle seems to have actually improved. No, it is still nowhere near what you would get on your regular smartphone, but it is much better than a few weeks ago when you typed some words on the virtual keyboard and then waited for them to appear on display. By Kindle standards, we would call this snappy.
And well, you finally know which Kindle you are using after this update. That might sound a little odd, but after the update, you actually see the Kindle Model and its generation in the Device Info section, which was not available earlier. Talk about getting a sense of identity.
In all, Amazon seems to have given the Kindle UI a good scrub and got rid of some of the cobwebs out there. No, we are not saying it is perfect, but it is the first UI change ever since the Kindle went touchscreen that makes the e-book reader easier to use. Of course, we would love a more decisive shakeup at some stage, and yes, we still do not know why Alexa is missing from the Kindle, but all said and done, while work remains to be done, this is still a welcome step forward.
(To update your Kindle, go to Settings and Device options. You will find updates under Advanced Options there. The update’s rollout is scheduled over a few months, so do not get too anxious if your device has not got it yet. If it is eligible, it will.)