The Kindle 3 is the best e-reading device currently available; arguably, the iPad blows any single-purpose device out of the water, but that’s a topic for another article, and if you prefer and E-Ink screen to the iPad’s LCD, the Kindle 3 is far and away the best device you can get. It’s been thoughtfully redesigned with small but meaningful updates on the design and functionality of the Kindle 2, which, while they don’t amount to a big change in how the Kindle works or what it does, they do make the Kindle 3 easier and more fun to use.

The most noticeable improvement is the much sharper screen: it has a whiter tint than the screen on the Kindle 2, and the text is considerably crisper. It’s similar to the difference between the display on the iPhone 3Gs and the “Retina” display on the iPhone 4: even if you didn’t mind your old display, this new screen is so much better that it makes you think your old Kindle screen was comparatively grainy, so Amazon solved a problem you didn’t know you had.

Next, the Kindle 3 is a lot faster, than the Kindle 2. Page turns no longer have that little lag; they happen, if not almost instantly, in about the time it takes to turn an actual paper page. The new Kindle spends less time “thinking” in general, from opening and closing books, entering and moving around the Kindle store, to waking and sleeping. Again, the old Kindle wasn’t that slow, but this one is faster than any other e-reader out there.

Amazon also made a bunch of improvements to the body and physical mechanics of the device. First off, the Kindle is a good deal smaller--it’s somewhere between the length and width of a mass market and trade paperback, and about as thick as a pencil. It’s noticeably lighter, too. Best of all, the buttons are all much more satisfying to press. The page turn buttons--which are now smaller and mirrored on the left and right of the screen (no more big home button on the right side--it’s been moved down into the keyboard)--are nice and springy. You can actually blackberry-type on the keyboard, which is a huge improvement. Instead of the weird little joystick that’s on the Kindle 2, you’ve got an embedded directional control with a big “select” button in the middle which is perhaps a bit too sensitive. The new graphite body of the Kindle also has a satisfying, vaguely gripy back. The on/off slider is also now on the bottom of the device, which is confusing if you’re used to looking for it on the top, as on the Kindle 2.

The other cool thing Amazon’s come up with is a branded case with a built-in book light that slides out of the upper right corner. It’s powered by the Kindle’s rechargeable battery, so only turns on when the Kindle is in the case and switched on. The case costs a hefty $59, but it’s cool.

As far as the downsides, you are, of course, still locked into Amazon’s store, but that’s not going to change--Amazon, at its core, isn’t a hardware manufacturer, it’s a company that innovates retail. Neverminding it’s nice features, the Kindle is, finally, a portable gateway into Amazon’s store. The Kindle is also an E-Ink device, and all it does it display text; some users may be comforted by that limited functionality, others frustrated. Apple is likely to introduce a smaller iPad soon, which may push E-Ink, and dedicated readers, toward the background. We’ll see.

But this is the best E-Ink device you can get right now. The changes and updates, while very cool, might not, however, justify scrapping your Kindle 2 in exchange for a Kindle 3--they’re still pretty similar. Maybe wait for the Kindle 4, which is rumored to have a feature that will let you read books that, as of today, haven’t even been written.