Amazon Kindle 2

by PocketGoddess on March 15, 2009

This article isn’t a straightforward review of the latest Kindle, but rather a collection of my impressions. There are plenty of regular reviews out there on the web already, but I believe that my viewpoint is somewhat unique in that I’ve used both versions of the Kindle and also have several years of ebook experience on a variety of devices, including Palm OS and PPC/Windows Mobile handhelds, as well as the iPod Touch. It isn’t just the hardware, but the overall user experience that is important, and many articles overlook the little details that are necessary to make the best purchase decision.
I’ve had the latest version of the Kindle (or “K2″) for just over two weeks now, and the first thing I have to say is that it is a vast improvement over the original device. The most important change for me is in the overall form factor. The K2 is much thinner, somewhat lighter, and much more comfortable to hold than the original. The edges are rounded, so there aren’t any sharp corners to poke your hand when you’re holding it for long periods of time, and since it is of uniform thickness and shape it isn’t so ungainly or “off-kilter” as the original either.
The screen is definitely better than the one found on the first generation Kindle, and the screensaver images are more detailed and attractive. It seems though that the contrast on the K2 isn’t as good as on the original version, and while the text is certainly readable (and my aging eyes appreciate the multiple text size choices) it wasn’t as crisp and sharp as I expected. I’ve read some anecdotal reports that suggest other folks aren’t too happy with the contrast on the K2, and it could be that something simply needs to be “tweaked” on the firmware. Only time will tell if that is the case, or if there is a physical problem with the hardware.
One problem I noted with the screen is that it is subject to glare, especially from florescent lighting. The text is still readable, but at times I suffered from more eyestrain that I ever have while reading ebooks on my iPod Touch. Part of that could be that I prefer to read white text on a black background, but I found that the K2 was much more pleasant to read outdoors in natural light than in my office. Sometimes I would have to angle the K2 just so to get the most comfortable viewing angle.
The keyboard is much improved, since the keys are now straight, without that annoying gap in the middle. The five way button is definitely an improvement over the old scroll wheel, though I wish in both cases that navigation was faster. It’s still frustrating to try to make a selection at the bottom of the page, or maybe my expectations are too high in this regard. Sometimes I have to wait for the cursor to “catch up” to where I’m heading, and I have to remind myself that the K2 doesn’t have a heavy-duty processor like my laptop.
I really like the fact that I can get capsule dictionary definitions quickly, since they pop up almost instantly when you place the cursor next to a particlar word. The new navigation method also offers much more precise control when highlighting a selection of text, which is a nice touch.
The text-to-speech feature is one of the most intriguing new features, and after testing it I can say that it works pretty well, but it won’t necessarily give true audiobooks a run for their money, at least in this generation. I found the computer voice to be accurate, and it rises and falls appropriately when it comes across a comma or a question mark. However, it doesn’t have anything like the natural inflection of a human reading the same text, and I found it to be more of a novelty than a feature I would actually use on a regular basis.
The wireless capabilities really surprised me. The Whispernet signal wasn’t too strong at my house, but it worked fine. The real shocker was at my office, which is located in the basement of a relatively old building. No one can get mobile phone coverage there (unless they’re willing to stand on a chair and hold their phone right up at the ceiling) so I was very surprised to find that the K2 had a strong signal and worked flawlessly.

Desired Improvements

There are several things I would like to see in a future version of the Kindle.
1) The ability to group my books by genre, and by read/unread status. Due to my great love of fantasy and science fiction, and the rather enlightened attitude of Baen to ebooks, whose Mobipocket versions work flawlessly with the Amazon Kindle, the K2 almost instantly had more than 350 titles stored in its onboard memory. Since only ten book titles are visible at once on the home screen, it can take quite a while to find exactly what I want to read–especially since most of the ebooks in my Baen library don’t show author attributions.
Considering how many books Amazon is encouraging folks to store on their Kindles, it seems almost criminal not to do something to improve the organization of that content. Yes, I can search, but that gets old really quick, especially if you want to find something fast.
2) Make My Clippings available online (at Amazon.com?) instead of forcing me to connect the Kindle to my computer and locate/transfer the appropriate text file.

Conclusions

The K2 is a nice upgrade from the original Kindle, but I’m not sure that it’s worth the cost for existing Kindle owners. The same can also be said of iPhone/iPod Touch owners, thanks to the release of the free Kindle application on the Apple App Store. It works flawlessly, and even syncs to the last place read in your book, which is great if you have a Kindle and find yourself reading when you get stuck in line at the grocery store.
Since I’ve been using Bookshelf and the eReader applications on my iPod Touch for several months now, I’m used to reading books on a very small screen, and I appreciate the fact that I don’t need a book light to do any nocturnal reading on my Touch. I’m thrilled to have any kind of access to Kindle books on my Touch, and while the application isn’t very fully-featured and I will miss the dictionary and clipping functions, it’s hard to cost-justify keeping the K2 beyond the thirty day trial period.
All in all, I found the K2 to be a delightful device, much improved over the original model, and I firmly believe that avid readers who are ready to take the plunge into the digital realm should take a closer look.

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