Best tech gift for under $100

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With Christmas around the corner, we are all looking for presents for our techie friends and family. While I enjoyed playing with the Kindle Fire from Amazon, the best techie gift for this year is the $79 Amazon e-ink Kindle. This new entry into the Amazon Kindle family is a winner!

At $79, Amazon Kindle is cheap enough to purchase for anyone.

The Amazon Kindle is finally priced right to explore the world of E ink for those of us who have been holding back on this new world of reading.

While I always thought the Amazon Kindle was an interesting device, the original $300 price point was just too high. Slowly, the price came down. However, it was still too expensive to make the jump to a device I wasn’t sure I would regularly use. And I have read plenty of books on handheld electronic devices. I have read e-books since the Palm Pilot TX, and currently read on the iPhone. One of the best features of these devices is the backlit display. Being able to read in bed without turning on the light and disturbing your partner, is a great feature.

I have tried reading on the iPad, but it is just too big. The iPad is not comfortable or light enough for long reading sessions. There is no good way to hold it.  You can hold the $79 Amazon Kindle with just 2 fingers. Try to do that with the iPad. Frankly, the only time I read on the iPad is when reading books with illustrations to my kids.

The price dropped to $79 finally allowed me to jump on the bandwagon and see what all the fuss was about.

E-ink is excellent! I have heard people extol the values of E ink for several years:

  • Less eye fatigue,
  • Easier reading,
  • And a near paper like experience.

Plus, you can read in direct sunlight. Frankly, I never expect to be sitting at the beach, or beside a pool reading the Kindle. However, the feature is there. I was concerned about the complaints about E ink from the 1st generation of Amazon Kindles. Specifically, the slow refresh between pages. I have heard people suggest pressing the “next page” button a few lines before the end of the page, just so that by the time you reach the end, the new page would begin loading.

Fortunately, the current generation of the ink screens is quite snappy. While there is still a screen flash (where the screen, reverses from white to black) while loading a new page, the process is very quick and does not disturb your reading.

Also the contrast is excellent!  You are no longer reading on a green and gray, or a grey and darker shade of gray screen. With a good light source, reading on the Kindle really is a pleasure. You feel like you are reading from paper. It is just that sharp!

The downside is that reading in anything less than full light is considerably more difficult. You can still read a book in low light more easily than you can read an Amazon Kindle. So, you will need a light source: either a lamp, a book light, or a window behind you for the best experience.

Thin, light and pocketable with terrific battery life.

It really is amazing to have something thinner than a small notepad display super crisp text. It is hard to believe that the Amazon Kindle is a real device and not just a prop from a science fiction movie. At 5.8 ounces (my measurement), the Amazon Kindle feels like nothing at all. Throw it into your bag and it hardly adds any weight.

And since E ink only uses power when changing the screen, you can ignore the Kindle for weeks and and when you come back, still have a charged device and get right back to reading.

While the $79 Amazon Kindle has half the battery life of the Kindle Touch (1 month versus 2 months) I find the difference unimportant in day-to-day life.

Why not pay the extra $20 to get the touch Kindle?

Certainly, the touch Kindle will make any tasks which require use of the keyboard easier. Including:

  • Entering Wi-Fi passwords
  • Entering notes
  • Searching for books

Also, highlighting text is easier on the Touch. Entering text with the four-way direction button on the bottom of the Kindle is not optimal. Fortunately, after you have your Wi-Fi passwords input, you probably will not be doing very much data entry on any Kindle device (except for maybe the Kindle Fire). Even when you are searching for books in the Amazon bookstore on your Kindle device, Amazon begins to provide you with possible search results for every key that you enter. The result is that you rarely have to enter an entire book title to find the book you are looking for.

Also, a number of reviewers have complained about the Kindle touch for various reasons including accidental page turns and not recognizing touches. For me, I know I will be using the basic Kindle just for reading. I will not be doing very much text entry. In the 3 weeks that I have used the Kindle, I have not missed a physical keyboard.

How about highlighting on the $79 no-keyboard Kindle? While highlighting is easiest on a device like an iPhone or iPad running Kindle software, it is not much more difficult on the bare-bones $79 Kindle. You use the four-way controller to select the beginning word, press the center button to highlight, then use the four-way controller to select the ending word. This may sound like a number of steps. But, in practice, it is very simple.

Will I miss the sound jack on the Kindle? I don’t think so. The Kindle Touch has a headphone jack for playing back Audible audio books. Unless I am going on vacation and only taking one electronic device (which isn’t going to be my cell phone), I am just not going to be listening to audio books on my Kindle. I simply find that downloading, and controlling audio book playback is better on a smart phone. And if I am going away on a trip, I am much more likely to bring my cell phone–so I will have audio books with me anyway. The bigger question, is whether I will also remember to take the Kindle along with me. Here again, having the smallest, lightest device will play an important role in that decision.

Don’t the ads on the Kindle get in the way? Ads appear while the device is in sleep mode and in a bottom banner on the home screen. The sleep mode ads are actually pretty neat. I like seeing what’s on my Kindle screen when I pick it up. I know that sounds weird, and I usually hate ads. But, on the Kindle, this doesn’t bother me. Plus, I have gotten some good deals like free Audible books and $5 off coupons on Amazon purchases through this. As for the bottom banner ad on the home screen, it is unobtrusive. And like ads on websites, you soon stop seeing it. So, it is worth the price break to get the “ad supported” Kindle.

How about the lack of built-in 3G connectivity on the $79 Kindle? It has never been a problem for me to download a book at home or at the office. I never feel that I am missing out by not having a constant connection on my Kindle. Yes, there is the experimental browser which only works if there is an internet connection. However, 1) if I really want to look something up, I will use my smartphone; and 2) more and more places have wi-fi anyway (from coffee shops, to my kids’ roller rink). If I was a total road warrior, away from home 40 weeks out of 52, it might be more of an issue. However, even then wi-fi is just a Starbucks or McDonalds away.

How about the weight of the Kindles? The Kindle Touch with its built-in speaker, headphone jack, and larger battery, makes for a slightly larger and heavier device. It is not so much that the Kindle touch feels uncomfortable in your hand. However, if you are looking for the lightest, thinnest, most knock-about, throw-in-your-bag-and-forget-about-it-until-you-have-5-minutes-to-read device, go for the entry-level $79 Kindle!

What’s your recommendation for a under $100 gift for the techie in your life?