Monday, February 9, 2009

Amazon announces new Kindle 2

The Kindle 2 was announced today by Amazon and the buzz is positive. I've been using my Kindle for nearly a year for pleasure reading and absolutely love it. I'm so happy using an e-reader that I'm working to liquidate my extensive paperback/hardback collection. Needless to say that the gadget geek in me couldn't wait to see how Amazon had improved upon one of my favorite devices.

Text-to-Speech
Audio books are great for times when you want use of your hands/eyes, but they're generally pretty expensive and relatively few books ever make it to audio. The new Kindle 2's text-to-speech feature makes any book into an audio book. Of course, the digital voice could never compare to Leonard Nimoy and, while it does an acceptable job, the inflections are often a bit off. Those shortcomings aside, it's an excellent new feature.

Battery Life
The original Kindle gets excellent battery life and rarely have I ever had to plug in while reading, however it's always nice being able to go untethered for an even longer period of time. Even more significant in my mind is the new ability to charge via USB. With my current Kindle, if I plug it into the computer to copy over books from my hard drive it operates off battery power. It has a special charger that must be used even while on a USB connection. The new Kindle 2 has no such limitation and will offer much more flexibility in keeping that extended battery juiced.

Form Factor
The Kindle 2's new design is a big selling point for me as the edges of the original Kindle are nearly covered with buttons. My biggest frustration has been accidental page turns. The new layout offers more button-free area for grip while the slimmer case keeps weight down. I also like the move to a five-way rocker instead of the roller. I often put my kindle in a zipper freezer bag for reading in harsh conditions (such as the hot tub) which makes the roller nearly unusable. I expect the five-way rocker will also make using the internal web browser much easier and more intuitive.

Storage
I have to mention the fact that they increased the internal storage, however I don't see this as a very big improvement since the Kindle has a memory card slot which allows the user to increase it's memory to whatever amount they need. I have a 16GB secure digital card that gives me enough space to carry more books than I'll read in ten years!

Speed
It only took me a few pages to get used to reading on the Kindle. I've never been bothered by the page turn "flicker", however others have told me that's a major reason why they decided against purchasing a Kindle. Those individuals should be happy to note that the Kindle 2 boasts faster page turns.

The Good
Beyond the features listed above, the Kindle 2 still boasts a web browser and free internet access. I think this is absolutely the most overlooked feature and one that would most likely tip the scales for anyone considering purchasing a Kindle. I can't count how many times I've been reading a book on my Kindle and popped open the browser to check my email, the weather, or just Google something.

The Bad
My biggest disappointment in the Kindle 2 is that it still doesn't offer native PDF support. Sure, you can email your PDF to an amazon email address and receive an e-book copy, however the conversion does not always go as planned and I've had difficulties getting larger PDFs to convert at all. Many school textbooks can only be found in PDF and contain an abnormally high number of pictures which makes the conversion even more awkward.

The original Kindle came with a binder-style cover. I didn't like the way that the cover would tend to come loose while reading so I only ever used it for protection when traveling. The new cover has a locking hinge to avoid this problem, so why would I include this in "The Bad"? The cover is not included and costs an additional $29.99.

Conclusion
I love my Kindle and have recommended them to fellow gadget geeks who enjoy reading. The Kindle 2 should perform just as well as the original and I would highly recommend it as well, however I'm not sure the improvements justify an upgrade unless you're likely to use the new text-to-speech feature or are willing to shell out $359 for a nicer form factor.

The Kindle 2 is available for pre-order from Amazon.com. Owners of the original Kindle will take first priority.

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