After spending a week with Amazon's $US360 Kindle 2, I'd like to say we were wrong about it not being a big step forward, but for better or worse, it's the same Kindle as before.
The annals of gadgetry are littered with revisions that just aren't meaningful, like the 3rd Gen iPod with its solid-state buttons, or the slimmer, lighter but substantially unchanged PSP-2000. But after waiting a year and change for Amazon to get serious about its Kindle platform—serious enough to keep the thing in stock—I was surprised at how banal the modifications were. Why didn't they just lower the price of the $US400 original to something like $US300 or $US250, and build more?
Let's recap the new stuff:
• Slimmer rounded aluminum-backed body
• Smaller inward-clicking buttons
• Text-to-speech book reading
• A cover that locks on
• A USB-based charger
• More memory and longer battery life
What's not there:
• SD card slot
• No rubber backing
• Sparkly cursor
Two Thanksgivings ago, I reviewed the first Kindle, calling it "lightweight, long-lasting, and easy-to-grip... in bed." The same holds true for this Kindle. In fact, everything I liked about that Kindle is still the same: an E-Ink screen that's easy on the eyes, fast EVDO downloads of books, super-long battery life (it really wasn't a problem before), plenty of storage for books, and a nice service for buying new books, magazines and otherwise-free blog subscriptions.
Some people love the Kindle for all of the reasons above, and I still think it's a marvelous product for a certain type of reader, a person who reads multiple books at once, and reads them in order, from page 1 to page 351, without skipping around.
Somewhere into my fourth or fifth book, I stopped reading Kindle 1, and the same basic issue hampered my enjoyment of literature in Kindle 2: You can't jump around. There's no way to read what actually counts as literature on a Kindle, because that takes the ability to leaf around, matching passages from different parts of the book, identifying key characters' surreptitious first appearances, etc. This is something the codex lets people do very well, and it's something no single-surface digital screen comes close to getting right, even when making it up partly with search, notes and bookmarks.
Amazon boasts 20% faster page turning on this new baby, but you can see in the video that page turning is still painfully slow, and would need to be 100 or 1000 times faster to mean anything. Going from Kindle 1 to Kindle 2, the experience stays the same—there are no new convenience features that actually help you read books more easily. The last one held several hundred books, this one holds well over 1000. The last one's battery lasted nearly a week, this one lasts over a week. Big deal.
In the video below, you can see the most annoying features of the Kindle 2:
• It's slow to wake from sleeping
• Page turning is slow and flashes inverted text every time
• The ridiculous computer voice with an Eastern European accent that is impossible to listen to for more than three paragraphs (at least you can stop and start it by pressing spacebar)
There's no video for the best features of the Kindle 2 because they're so apparent:
• The clear text on a non-flickering panel
• The compact size that can hold all the books you need
• The great battery life and internal storage for text-and-picture files
• The updated look meets even Jesus Diaz's strenuous requirements for aesthetic awesomeness
You may be reading this as a slam on Amazon and Kindle, but the fact is, I am a proponent of pushing forward with the ebook concept. I think it's still easier to read books on E-Ink screens than it is to read them on an iPhone's LCD, and while there's no perfect ebook reader, E-Ink and other electronic paper technologies do have an advantage in energy consumption.
Kindle remains by far the best dedicated ebook reader out there, and based on how often they sold out of original Kindles, Amazon will sell as many of these as they can make. I even think the soon-to-come ability to read Kindle content on phones will help Kindle sales rather than hurt them, because more affluent readers, finding more freedom to use their ebook purchases as they like, will want a Kindle as an option.
A mostly cosmetic upgrade, the Kindle 2 is just another step towards some revolution in reading that none of us, not even Amazon chief visionary Jeff Bezos, can yet see or understand. [Kindle 2 Product Page]