During my last trip, my Kindle suffered an unfortunate death at the hands of an overstuffed bag. Apparently, that pocket on the front of a carry-on bag is not a good place to put easily bent electronics if the bag itself is stuffed to the brim with clothes and other knickknacks picked up during the journey.

Long story short, I’ve spent the past month pondering whether or not I really needed to replace my Kindle. After all, I have the Kindle app on every screen in my home. After realizing that my eyes can’t take very much reading, the decision was made to replace the $79 Kindle. I decided this time to try the Kindle Touch, one of the newest Kindle models introduced late last year.

To my surprise, the extra $20 investment gives you a lot more than just a touch screen. In addition to being an easily read E Ink display, I began seeing the Kindle OS for what it really is: an operating system.

Here are five of my favorite features found on the Kindle Touch, and why they changed the way I think about the inexpensive e-book reader.

X-Ray

Five Cool Features of the Kindle TouchNot every book has an index, but for anyone interested in learning more about a specific item, place, or person in a piece of literature, X-Ray has to be the best feature yet. When you see a proper noun used in the book, such as a character’s name, you can find out exactly when and where that noun is used throughout the book.

To test this feature, I did a quick X-Ray of Hunger Games. As you can see in the image, Peeta is a constant theme throughout the book while a minor character like Portia appears near the beginning and at the very end.

If I were doing a book report on Hunger Games, I would be able to quickly select a character’s name and read each sentence they were mentioned in, and even jump to the page for full context.

It’s one of those things I wish I had when I was in school. It would have made reports so much easier.

Free Books

Five Cool Features of the Kindle TouchDid you know that Kindle device owners get to borrow free e-books, including some bestsellers? Not only that, but you can lend your books to friends and family, if the publisher permits it.

The program is called the Amazon Kindle Lending Library, and you’ll notice a book qualifies by seeing a bit red $0.00 followed by a message indicating Prime members can borrow it for free. All you need to do to loan the book (as an Amazon Prime subscriber) is search for it in your Kindle and hit the Borrow for Free button.

Oh, and this deal doesn’t just exist for old books that no one reads. This is how I got the Hunger Games series.

If you loan a book that you own to a friend, you won’t be able to read it yourself for the duration of the 14-day loan. That means book clubs can’t take advantage of the service by buying one copy for the group, but it does allow you to let someone read a book that you enjoyed without them having to drop the cash for their own copy. It’s free to borrow for 14 days.

As one of the old-school holdouts that wishes you could still loan someone a PC game or movie without having to deal with DRM, this is an improvement over the trend we’re seeing in other media markets.

Oh, and you can borrow books from a public library using your Kindle, as well.

Touch Screen

The screen itself is a pretty compelling feature. Not only does it not have a coating that makes things more difficult to see (a common problem with touch screens) but the screen itself is extremely responsive and capable of being used with or without gloves.

Capacitive touch screens rely on conductive surfaces such as a finger tip to accurately interpret touch. Traditional resistive touch screens could be used with gloves, but had a lot of give and depended on a separation between the content and the actual surface in order to function properly.

The Kindle Touch uses optics to translate touch into commands. This allows you to use just about any surface to switch pages, even with a very light touch. You can also pinch and pull to zoom in and out of a document, a feature not common among touch e-readers.

I’ve personally found the method of page turning to be remarkably fast and intuitive, even compared to previous push button versions of the device. Accessing the menu and on-screen keyboard is also fairly easy, knowing where on the screen to tap is the only learning curve.

After a few minutes, it became hard not to think of the Kindle as I did the iPad. The software is fluid and snappy.

Text to Speech

This isn’t exactly a new feature of the Kindle family, but it is one that can come in handy if you need to go somewhere and don’t want to put that book down quite yet. you can throw your Kindle in the car and let it read to you on your way to work.

The female voice sounds a lot like Siri, and is easy enough to understand. Folks using a case will probably want to opt for either headphones or speakers as the internal speaker can be easily muffled by a case.

Make no mistake, this feature is no replacement for actual audiobooks, which you can play on the Kindle Touch as well. MP3s are also supported, making it a pretty versatile little device, especially for folks that love to read and don’t need all the bells and whistles of the Kindle Fire or an iPad.

Battery Life

Tired of your tablet dying in under 10 hours? Imagine having a device with a built-in (admittedly limited) browser and instant access to books with a battery life of about two months. I’ve been blown away time and time again by just how long the battery can last in a Kindle, even one in regular use. In a pinch, you can use it for browser-based email and news with some degree of efficiency.

While I do take the iPad with me on trips and extended time out of the office, the Kindle is by far the most reliable. I wouldn’t always trust the iPad or Kindle Fire on a long plane trip, but I would certainly trust the Kindle Touch without having to pack a charger for the return trip.

The touch doesn’t actually take away from the battery life. In fact, if you compare the one month estimated life on the $79 Kindle to the Kindle Touch, the benefit of going with the Kindle touch is obvious.

Final Thoughts

The Kindle isn’t for everyone. It’s a device made especially for readers, and wouldn’t be a good tablet replacement, despite its capabilities.

Despite being dyslexic, the Kindle Touch makes it easy for me to read things that I just can’t see on a traditional screen. It enables me to travel with PDFs and other useful documents without having to tote around a laptop or external drive of any kind. X-Ray makes it easier to find the information I’m looking for, allowing me to spend more time enjoying my reading experience and less time worrying about things like battery life.

If you’re thinking about picking up a Kindle, stop by your local electronics store and give theĀ Kindle Touch a try. The screen is incredibly responsive and the true usefulness of the Kindle OS seems to present itself on a touch screen.