Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Kindle 2.0 is Now Here Kindle 2 is now here. See what the most popular tech blogs are saying:
Kindle: Amazon's Wireless Reading DeviceAmazon Kindle Reviews
Gizmodo's Amazon Kindle 2 Review Matrix
By matt buchanan

You don't wanna wear out your eyes reading superlong Kindle 2 reviews before you get one, right? Well here's our review matrix for quick, easy-on-the-eyes digestion of reviews from tech's biggest names.

We've got reviews here from the NYT's David Pogue (no musical, sadly), Wired's Steven Levy and USA Today's Ed Baig. Mr. Mossberg is MIA, probably waiting until the regular run of his column tomorrow. Update: Fixed a quote accidentally swapped between Pogue and Levy.

There's Jon Stewart's take on it, as an alternative. [Wired, NYT, USA Today]

Kindle 2 Hands On hands on and screen shots
Kindle 2 unboxing and hands-on
by Joshua Topolsky

We've already gotten a chance to play with the Kindle 2, but there's nothing like getting one delivered to your door and cracking it open. As with the first version, Amazon has done a masterful job with presentation and packaging. We're going to be delivering a full review of the device in just a bit, but for now, feast your eyes on the galleries below!

Added a few pics of the case it comes with after the break! product review
Kindle 2 Brings Books Closer to e-Nirvana
Reviewed by Steven Levy

The most notable feature of the Kindle 2 ('s long-awaited update to its groundbreaking but somewhat flawed electronic reading device) is that it's possible to pick it up and not turn the page. This sounds like faint praise, but anyone using the original Kindle quickly found the oversized buttons covering both sides of the device made grasping it a delicate, stressful task -- kind of like picking up a sea urchin. Anything less than perfect finger placement would lose your place.

Not so with the Kindle 2, which fixes that problem and a host of others through thoughtful, businesslike improvements and innovations.

Are the improvements big enough for the Kindle 2 to spark an iPod effect, causing bookstores to shutter, forests to grow unchecked and the tomes on our shelves to disappear, replaced by plants and bobble-head dolls? Not any time soon.

The evolution toward e-reading devices as the dominant means of reading books will be a drawn-out and complicated affair. It will require screen technology with inexpensive, high-resolution color, multitouch and flexible displays. These are all features that the Kindle, as well as competitors like the Sony eReader, are still waiting for. A mass-market solution will also involve pricing that acknowledges how much cheaper it is to distribute books digitally; currently Amazon sells e-books for about half the price of their hardcover equivalents. But for now, the Kindle 2 is the closest thing to this magic formula.

The Kindle 2's page-turning buttons are smaller and more smartly situated than the first version's. It's harder to press them by mistake. In fact, by requiring you to depress them with authority, they're a little too hard to press -- it would be nice if the reader could adjust the action a little. But overall, it's a problem solved.

closeup of Kindle 2 buttons

The strengths of the device are the same. The dense, readable display and paperback size allow readers to sink into an author's world just as they do with a physical tome. But this "book" is augmented by digital technology, allowing you to store hundreds of manuscripts, search through them, and look up words in an onboard dictionary, on the web or through Wikipedia. It also has a free wireless connection to the Amazon Kindle store -- now hawking 230,000 books (as well as magazines and newspapers).

The day after I got the new Kindle I boarded an airplane and before the doors closed, browsed the store and purchased Thomas Perry's thriller Runner. The book uploaded within 30 seconds and I was absorbed in it for the entire five-hour plus transcontinental ride. When I finished, the 10-ounce device had a shelf-full of books and magazines -- as well as a manuscript of an article in progress -- waiting for me.

I could have done that with the original. But while Kindle 1.0 won a substantial following, it had many of the problems you'd expect from a novice player in consumer electronics. Amazon has clearly been hard at work addressing the difficulties, and has succeeded to the point where some early buyers will be kicking themselves for premature adoption.

The most dramatic changes are in the physical design. Abandoning the quirky shape of the original, which was meant to evoke the form of a real book, the designers boiled down the shape to a pencil-thin (.36-inch) slab, which feels completely natural in hand. Though you can buy an "official" $30 leather cover (it has special hooks that keep the device in place, something that was missing in the original), I found it most comfortable to read bareback. But if you're into playing it safe, I'd recommend one of the third-party neoprene cases available on

The screen is the same size as Kindle 1.0 -- a legible 6-inch monochrome e-ink display that requires an external light source to view -- just like a paperback. But version 2.0 displays images in 16 grayscale shades, far better than the previous version's pathetic four. Though the Kindle is definitely not the ideal device to show off pictures of the family vacations, this quality bump makes the difference between getting the impact of a chart or photo in a book, rather than having pictures look like fifth-generation Xerox copies (as they did in the original).

Kindle 2 in hand

Another giant step is the replacement of the original's awkward cursor-control wheel with a simple five-way button that you tilt in the direction you want to cursor to move, or press to select an item. It works so well you wonder why the Amazonians didn't think of it first. Those of us spoiled by multitouch still wish that the Kindle had a hands-on display so we could turn virtual pages with the swiping gesture that the gadget gods intended.

One of the weakest aspects of the original Kindle was an abysmal interface for reading newspapers: it required painstaking back-and-forthing to get a grasp of contents. This new software still isn't perfect -- again, a touchscreen would help -- but it now provides a logical path for navigating the Times and other publications.

The Kindle 2 is zippier, with pages turning 20 percent faster (yes, you can tell the difference). It has more memory (2 gigabytes, enough for storing more than 1500 books onboard). And it flaunts a more powerful built-in battery: Amazon claims that the Kindle lasts four to five days with the wireless on (I got 4.5 days in my first test) and up to two weeks with it off. After a week of limited wireless, my meter is around 50 percent. Amazon also says that after 500 charges, it will hold 80 percent of its original juice. That means that most users won't have to replace the battery (a $60 procedure) for about a decade or so.

One feature in the new Kindle I couldn't test, because Amazon furnished me with a single test unit, is a new feature that allows you to synch your reading among other Kindles and other mobile devices that Amazon may support. This means you could read 50 pages of Revolutionary Road, shut the device off, and when you open the Kindle application on your phone later, it will start you on page 50. Read 10 pages between appointments, and when you revisit your Kindle, you'll start on page 60. The logical partner for this scheme, of course, is the iPhone, and it would be a disappointment if a match weren't made in the app store.

This Kindle 2 has generated some controversy with its experimental "read to me" function that transforms any book into an audio book. I found the text-to-speech implementation perfectly listenable, with only a slight electronic accent (the computer-generated reader apparently is a distant cousin of the Lost in Space robot). The feature would be even better if the built-in speakers weren't on the back of the device, muffling the sound if you place it screen up on a flat surface. But if you can sync the Kindle 2 into your car radio, you can catch up with your reading while you commute. Not so enthusiastic is the Author's Guild, which claims that the feature might lessen the value of members' audio rights.

But text-to-speech works just as well with your own content -- you can upload Word files into your Kindle for a dime apiece.

closeup of screen text on Kindle 2

The new Kindle is currently priced same as the old one, $360. Considering that it's an engine for buying books directly from one supplier -- -- that seems too high. On the other hand, it's hard to fault Amazon for what it charges when it can't fulfill demand at the current price. Also consider that the books you buy from Amazon are limited by digital rights management rules imposed by the publishers. You may invest thousands of dollars over the years in a library that your friends can't access and your heirs can't sell to second-hand dealers.

Looking over the horizon, it's clear that Amazon's biggest competitor in selling digital books will be Google, whose recent agreement with publishers and authors will make it a virtually exclusive seller for millions of books in copyright but not in print. But right now at least, the Google and Amazon formats aren't compatible: I was unsuccessful in getting a PDF of a public domain book downloaded from Google to appear in readable form on my Kindle.

Overall, the Kindle 2 addresses the key problems with the original, boosts performance and points to some interesting directions. Now we're a little bit further down the road toward e-book Nirvana.

WIRED The best e-reading system on the market. Welcome improvements to aesthetics, more functional industrial design, better graphics and longer battery life. Sleeker than the original: A third of an inch thick and 10 ounces.

TIRED Quite expensive. Book content shackled with DRM. Interface is improved, sure, but it could be even better.

Photos: Jonathan Snyder /

* Memory: 2 GB
* Screen Size: 6-inches
o Style: E-Book Readers
o Capacity: 1 GB to 4 GB
o Screen Size: 4.1 in to 6.0 in
o Manufacturer:
o Price: $360
Release Date: February 23, 2009


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