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Review: Amazon Kindle Basic (K4)

Amazon decided to cut their competition off at the knees when they released the K4.

This is their budget model, and it offers most of the familiar Kindle experience at a significantly reduced price. But that low price also costs you a number of features, and the K4 might not be for everyone.

They had to; otherwise they couldn’t sell it for $109.


  • Lowest priced E Ink ebook reader
  • Menu, dictionary, and on screen keyboard support in 5 languages
  • thin and light
  • solid build


  • No audio support
  • Incomplete Support for Kindle Active Content
  • No keyboard means you have to type with the D-pad (awkward)


There’s not much to say about the K4.  It’s a gray rectangle made as thin as possible. There are a pair of page turn buttons on either side of the 6″ screen, and 4 buttons plus a D-pad below it. On the bottom edge is the USB port, and power button. If you like, you can think of this ereader as the K3 after Amazon took a hacksaw to it. The K4 has the usual 6″ Pearl E-ink screen and it also has Wifi and 1.2GB of storage. But that’s about the limits of its specs. Amazon left out the speakers, headphone jack, and the keyboard.

TBH, I’m having trouble describing this ereader because it really is a cut down version if the K3. It’s nicely balanced, and while I had thought the position of the D-pad would be a problem, it isn’t.  All in all, the K4 is well proportioned. But I can say the page turn buttons are a little small and close to the edge. They can be difficult to click.


What do you know about the K3 (Kindle keyboard)? I ask because so far as I can tell the K4 behaves exactly the same and uses exactly the same menus, web browser, and so on. If you’ve used the K3 extensively then you have a pretty good idea what it’s like to use the K4.


The K4 offers the same reading features of the K3 and earlier models, but you’re not going to want to use them all. Once again, the missing keyboard makes its absence felt.

The K4 offers 8 font sizes and 3 font faces, as well as the same options for setting the number of words per line and line spacing.  It has the same annotation options (highlight, notes, bookmarks), only instead of typing notes on a physical keyboard you’ll need to use the D-pad to navigate around the onscreen KB. You can also search for a word either in the dictionary, Wikipedia, or Google. The K4 can also show you the popular highlights and let you share excerpts via Twitter or Facebook. But before you can share you’ll need to crosslink your accounts.

Highlights are about as easy as before, but bookmarks and notes are not. I’m used to the keyboard shortcut for bookmarks, and typing a note requires using the D-pad and the onscreen keyboard. That’s just more effort than its worth most of the time.

But the K4 was intended to be a basic ereader. If you need notes then the feature will cost you extra.


Like the reading app, PDF support is the same as on the K3 and before. It has 5 zoom levels (actual size, 1.5x, 2x, 3x, and fit-to-width). You can rotate the screen and view a PDF in landscape mode but there is no reflow mode.

Assuming you’re zoomed in, you can scroll around the page with the D-pad and then turn the page with the buttons. Notes and highlights work, but the notes face the same problem as before.

I’d say that the PDF ability is as good as before. Of curse I didn’t like it before, so I’m biased.

Apps &  Games

Like the K5, which I just reviewed, the K4 doesn’t support all the Kindle Active Content. It’s not clear why some apps aren’t supported but my guess is that the missing keyboard and touchscreen mean that the K4 doesn’t have the needed input abilities.

But again, this is a budget ebook reader. If you want to use apps then you can always get the more expensive K3 or K5.

And it’s easy to check for compatible apps before you buy them. As you can see from the screenshot at right, Amazon tracks the compatibility for you.

 Web Browser

So far as I can tell it is the same web browser as on the previous models. It comes with 5 zoom settings (actual size, fit to width, 1.5x, 2x, 3x). It has a landscape mode so you can see a wider view of a page, and an article mode which lets you read just the text without the formatting, ads, or extraneous content. You can set bookmarks and enter URLs, but again the lack of a keyboard makes this hard to do.

I can understand why Amazon included a web browser (it was already developed), but browsing the web will never be one of the more pleasant activities on the K4. It’s doable, but I quickly got bored with using the D-pad and the on-screen keyboard to enter URLs. It’s more work than it was worth.

If you do want to use the browser a lot, you should set all the sites you regularly visit as bookmarks. Then it won’t be quite such a hassle to navigate to them.


If you don’t mind the fact that few features come with the low price, then this is the Kindle for you. I actually like mine. There’s a lot of time where all I want to do is read but not do bookmarks, notes, or anything beyond turning the page. This ereader is more than enough for the task.


  • 6″ Pearl E-ink screen (800×600)
  • Wifi (n)
  • Language support: English (US and UK), German, French, Spanish, Italian, and Brazilian Portuguese
  • 1.2GB Flash storage
  • Supported formats: AZW, TXT, PDF, MOBI, PRC
  • Dimensions: 6.5″ x 4.5″ x 0.34″
  • Weight: 5.98 ounces

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Tony Cole December 5, 2011 um 5:53 am

I agree with everything you said about this basic ereader, but I have one strong objection to it. I have found that if it is in a cover, and one is in bed lying on one’s side, it is a real stretch to get to the buittons to change pages, and as you mentioned, they are very small, and the angle you need to push them is not easy in that situation.
This has annoyed me no end whenever I find myself readng it in bed… Much happier with my Sony or almost any of the other ereaders I have lying around the place for that particular form of reading.

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