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Tech Report - Kindle 2

By Barry Myers

It took Amazon, with its original Kindle launched in November 2007, to bring the oft-hyped e-book anywhere near mainstream adoption. Before literally running out of Kindles in November 2008, Amazon had sold an estimated 300,000. That’s not a particularly big number, but it’s not a bad start either. Now we have Kindle 2 and folks are pretty excited.

If you read Bill Camarada’s excellent article on e-books a while back, then you pretty much get the idea behind e-readers: they allow you to tote around one gadget about the size of a paperback that will hold hundreds of books, blogs, magazines, and other “printed” material. E-readers are built to do one thing and they do it pretty well.

Kindle 2 is a much slicker looking device than its predecessor, borrowing liberally from the iPod aesthetic in terms of its design. Unlike the original, which was a touch bulky, Kindle 2 weighs-in at only 10.2 ounces – less than a typical paperback – and is only 1/3 of an inch thick – less than most magazines.

The new Kindle directly addresses two big complaints that users had with the original: A new five-way joystick replaces the old slider, enabling much more precise on-screen navigation, and the original's screen-long "Next Page" bar flippers have been replaced by smaller, more sensitive bars that avoid accidental page turns. With the five-way controller, you can quickly flip between articles in magazines and newspapers and even clip and save entire articles for later reading with a single click.

Amazon has also improved on the Kindle’s already excellent screen. Utilizing the latest in electronic-ink display technology, Kindle2 provides a crisp black-and-white 6" screen with the same appearance and readability as printed paper. Sharp and natural with no glare or backlight, the Kindle 2 is nothing like staring into a computer screen.

The Kindle 2 screen reflects light like ordinary paper and uses no backlighting, eliminating the glare associated with other electronic displays. As a result, Kindle can be read as easily in bright sunlight as in your living room. The screen now has 16 shades of gray instead of just six, so images and photos are sharper and clearer than ever.

The odd split keyboard on the old Kindle has also been replaced by a more typical and better looking QWERTY keyboard layout. The device’s storage has been boosted from 180MB to a robust 2GB that can hold over 1,500 books. The battery in the Kindle 2 lasts 25% longer than before and pages turn 20% faster. (Slow page turning was a major complaint from users of the original.)

But the most exciting new thing about the Kindle 2 is the Read-to-Me feature. With its new Text-to-Speech software, Kindle can read every book, blog, magazine, and newspaper out loud. You can switch back and forth between reading and listening without losing your spot. Pages automatically turn while the content is being read, so you can listen hands-free. You can speed up or slow down the reading speed, and even choose a male or female voice.

Like the original, Kindle 2 operates over the Sprint’s 3G wireless network, meaning you never need to hook it up to a computer to retrieve content. Simply visit the official Kindle store via the device itself and order away until your heart’s content. At the Kindle store, digital versions of bestsellers sell for only $9.99. Wirelessly downloading content takes only minutes and is free since Amazon has built the cost of connecting to the Sprint network into the one-time purchase price.

The official Kindle store offers over 230,000 books, including 103 of 110 books currently found on the New York Times Best Seller list. Amazon even lets you download and read first chapters for free. The Kindle store also offers many of the top magazines and newspapers, as well as hundreds of the leading blogs across a wide variety of topics.

Some rabid fans of the original Kindle are upset about Kindle 2’s lack of an SD card and removable battery – Kindle 2 can be charged through a wall outlet or via a USB hookup to a computer – but these changes helped allow for the much slimmed down form. And the increased onboard storage should make up for the loss of the SD card capability.

The Kindle 2 is due to ship February 24 and will cost $359, the same price as the original Kindle.

Even with increased competition, faster innovation, and lower prices over time, it’s hard to imagine the Kindle 2 doing for literature what the iPod has done for music; curling up with a real book or spreading around the Sunday newspaper are habits that are just too hard to break. But there’s no doubt that e-readers are here to stay and, with the Kindle 2, Amazon’s pride and joy remains best in class by far.

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