Kindle 2: The Review

Kindle: Amazon’s 6″ Wireless Reading Device, $359.00

I’m living on a greatly tightened budget. I’ve cancelled satellite service, land phone service, pool cleaning, book and magazine subscriptions, and I’m buying all our food at Costco and Wal-Mart. So why, why did I just spend $359 a month ago for a new Amazon Kindle 2 – to replace the perfectly good, still working Kindle that I bought only a little under a year ago?

Because I love to read, I love books, and the Kindle 2 (now referred to as just the 6″ Kindle by Amazon) is the best book reader I’ve every encountered. That’s why.

LIke many others, I had some complaints about the original Kindle. Amazon listened to me and countless others, and they fixed (almost) everything that was wrong with the original Kindle. And, let me be clear, the original Kindle was a very good device (and still is, for that matter). The Kindle 2 literally fixes every single complaint I had with the original – with the exception of the screen size, which is the same as the first Kindle and is still too small.

Thin Is In – And Oh So Shapely!
The first thing I noticed when I removed the Kindle from its (very nice and very Apple-inspired) packaging was the thickness of this device. As in the lack of it. You may have seen some ads for the Kindle 2 that show it on edge next to pencil – and the pencil is noticeably thicker. Those pictures aren’t lying. The device is thinner than an iPhone 3G, thinner than any remote control I’ve got, thinner than any other electronic gadget of any kind that I currently own. It’s about the thickness of 30 sheets of paper.

And the thickness (er, thinness) of the device is constant. It doesn’t curve out anywhere or bulge up at any spot. The edges taper in somewhat, much like the edge of a MacBook Air do. All four corners are rounded identically, following the same gentle taper toward the edge. The overall effect feels very good in your hands. It just feels… right. The specs say it weighs 10 ounces. I haven’t verified that independently, but it feels about like holding a sheaf of paper.

The back of the Kindle 2 is smooth aluminum. There are tiny grills in the lower back for speakers, used for the audio book and music playback features (which I completely do not care about and never use). Even the holes in the speaker grills are carefully milled and feel good under your fingertips. And the smooth brushed metal doesn’t get slick as you hold it for a long about of time, as plastic usually does (think how a phone feels after you’ve been holding it for a long conversation).

Interface Reface
The Kindle 2 sports a revamped version of the Kindle interface to go along with the new physical design. The main outward aspect of this is getting rid of the “sparkle bar” and wheel that was the navigation system for the original Kindle. It’s been replaced with an easy-to-use four-way joystick type toggle. You just use the little joystick to point to the item you want, then push it in to select. Amazon refers to this as a “five-way control” because it’s up, down, right, left, and select. Anyone who has used a remote control for a Tivo, satellite, or cable box in the last 10 years will instantly know how to use the control. It also makes it possible to scroll right and left of text in order to bring up menu options.

Magazines and newspapers, two things that I absolutely love on the Kindle, are much, much easier to navigate with the Kindle 2. In fact, it’s so obvious now that I can’t believe Amazon didn’t do it like this to begin with. You get a straightforward table of contents, with sections from the magazine in question. Next to each section is the number of articles in each section. You can select the section’s name to go straight to the first article, or click on the number to see a detailed sub-table of contents for that section, with longer descriptions of each article.

Reading Newsweek and the New York Times on the Kindle is now much better than reading the print editions. Now I really wish every magazine was available on the Kindle! I’m still pushing hard for The Economist and Rolling Stone. Come on, publishers!

Nice little tweaks and additions are scattered throughout. For example, the little status bar at the bottom of every page now shows you what percentage of the way through a book you are. This helps a great deal to duplicate the feeling of “I’m half way through this book” that you get from a physical book.

Size Does Matter
Amazon fixed all but two thing I didn’t like about the original Kindle. I felt, and still feel, that the Kindle needs some sort of built-in reading light, or at least a custom-made “snap on” light that is low profile and fits neatly onto the device. And, I opined that what the Kindle really needed was a larger screen – I felt that it needed about a 9″ to 10″ diagonal screen, one that would let you read a book page at approximately the same size as the print edition. And magazine articles would also “feel” about the right length.

But when the Kindle 2 came out, I though, oh well. I’ll continue to just use a clip-on reading light, clamping it in ugly fashion to the top of the Kindle. And, it looks like they just couldn’t manage to get a larger screen, so I’ll just buy this one and —

Crap. The Kindle DX is Announced.
Well, damn. Only six weeks after I got my Kindle 2, Amazon announces the Kindle that I really want: The Kindle DX. Yup. A larger sceen, almost 10″ diagonally. The screen it should’ve been from the start. With auto rotation. And native reading of PDF files. Literally everything except a light.

I’ve watched all the videos for the Kindle DX I can find. I’ve seen the pictures. I’m salivating for its arrival. I pre-ordered one the day they were announced, even though they won’t be shipping this reading wonder until “summer” (which could mean anywhere from late June to late September, really).

I’ve read the criticisms lobbed Amazon’s way over the price point – the Kindle DX will be a whopping $489, and the Kindle 2 will remain at its current $359. For me, a Constant Reader, this price is worth it. I find it interesting to read the snarky comments on Engadget and Gizmodo trashing the device, with person after person saying they’ll never buy one until it has a color screen or blah blah blah. (An aside: Of what use would a color ebook reader be? Every book I’ve read consists of exactly two colors: white paper and black ink. And no, I’m not counting graphic novels / comic books. Those will always need to be in glossy print).

The Kindle Market
I get the Kindle. I really do. And I think anyone who reads a lot – people who list their hobby as “reading”, people who regularly buy lots of books – they will want a Kindle. As for anyone else? I can’t see why they’d ever want a device that is a dedicated book reader at all.

I’m reminded of a friend of mine, who was listening in on a conversation me and some other guys were having about an iPod. He volunteered that he didn’t have an iPod, and couldn’t understand why he’d want one. We all looked at him funny, and I said “Well, what do you listen to music on now”? He said, “I don’t even listen to music. I don’t like music, and I don’t own any CDs or records or anything”. And my answer was: “Then there is absolutely no reason at all for you to own an iPod”.

So, if your’e one of the many tech geeks out there who looks at the Kindle and says “Why? I already have an iPhone, I can read web pages on that”, or “Blech! It’s not in color. I can’t read graphic novels on it”, or “It has to display video and play music and accept a mouse and…” then I have to say: You’re not in the target market. You don’t need a Kindle, nor should you want one. And please go away and stop bothering me, OK?

But for those of us who Read. Read every night. Read all the time. Read magazines that consist of nothing but printed words, magazines where the only picture is the one on the cover or the occasional graph on the inside. Read the New York Times Book Review. Read works in translation. Read the classics, new and old. Read read read read… We need a Kindle. You need a Kindle. You want a Kindle.

You want to be able to buy a new book at 2 in the morning, have it instantly delivered to you in about a minute, and start reading immediately. You want to be able to highlight sections and save them for reference later. You to be able to get on a plane and bring a hundred books with you, on a device that weighs less than a pound.

So, if the above description fits you, and you don’t already have a Kindle, then go to Amazon now and order one. If you can afford it and if you can wait until “summer”, then I’d suggest waiting for the Kindle DX. But on the other hand… well, this economy ain’t gonna stimulate itself, y’know.

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