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Steve Jobs once famously dismissed Amazon’s original Kindle, bluntly saying, “People don’t read anymore.” Steve, we hate to say it, but we disagree. Despite the miracle of the iTunes Store, where pop-culture connoisseurs enjoy instant gratification for their junk food entertainment cravings, the literati persist. And they want instant gratification too.
Like its predecessor, the second-gen Kindle delivers an exquisitely iTunes-esque experience for hundreds of thousands of books. It’s fast and easy—just open the Kindle Store, find the book you want, click Buy Now, and read the first page in about a minute. It’s really that simple. The Kindle comes equipped with a Sprint-powered 3G connection to the Internet. There’s no monthly fee, and the service works wherever Sprint offers data connectivity. If you live in an area not covered by Sprint’s network, you can download books from Amazon and transfer them to the Kindle using an included USB cable.
The Kindle features an improved black-and-white e-Ink screen, perfect for reading text. E-Ink manipulates electrically charged black-and-white microcapsules suspended in a solution to display multiple shades of gray, and the technology has a few major advantages over backlit LCDs. First, it only draws power when the screen changes, which means that a single battery charge will last a very long time under typical use conditions. Our test unit would easily last through a week of nightly use and could hit two weeks if we turned off the wireless connection when we weren’t using it. E-Ink’s other advantage is that it remains visible in extremely bright light. We were able to read the Kindle at midday in the California desert, just like a paper-and-ink book. The 600x800 screen on the Kindle displays 16 shades of gray (the original used just two) and refreshes faster than the original Kindle.
The second-gen Kindle delivers instant-access to a massive library, but this time it comes in an Apple-sexy, ultrathin shell.
Amazon sells most best sellers and new releases for $9.99, and, in fact, most books for the Kindle currently sell for less than $10 (textbooks are more expensive). While the Kindle store boasts more than 275,000 titles, we found the selection to be spotty outside
the best-seller lists in many genres. Before you shell out $360 for a Kindle, you should make sure that your favorite author’s books are available by pointing your browser to www.amazon.com/kindlestore. The price differential between Kindle and paper versions is of bigger benefit if you frequently buy hardbacks or trade paperbacks—you’ll recoup the cost of the Kindle in 25 to 45 book purchases. Blog, newspaper, and magazines are also available for nominal monthly fees, usually ranging from $1 to $10 per month.
There are several experimental features included gratis with the Kindle: a basic Web browser, an MP3 player, and a text-to-speech app. The slow refresh rate doesn’t lend itself to Web browsing, and the MP3 player is something of a battery killer, but the text-to-speech app might attract audiobook aficionados. Unfortunately, the stilted, robotic voice is difficult to listen to for an extended length of time. The Kindle also syncs your last read position with the Kindle iPhone app—allowing you to read on one device, then switch to the other without missing a paragraph.
The overall experience with the Kindle is nigh-perfect, although it’s definitely more expensive than we’d like. Voracious readers will quickly recoup the purchase price on the money they save not buying paper books, however, and the convenience factor can’t be discounted. Wireless access to hundreds of thousands of books from Amazon’s store, plus thousands more titles in other supported formats (AZW, TXT, Audible, unprotected MOBI, and PRC) from other sites is ever so convenient. We still think that all eBook readers should offer native PDF support, but it’s a minor omission. At the end of the day, we’d much rather read Neal Stephenson’s 920-page opus Anathem on the 10.2-ounce Kindle than the 2.8-pound dead-tree edition.
The Kindle is a can't-miss gadget for voracious readers, but if you read fewer than 20 books a year, you're probably better off sticking with paper.
Great screen. Instant access to hundreds of thousands of books. Sexy small and light. Holds 1,500 books. No monthly fee.
Expensive. No direct PDF support. Needs a protective case.