My dad was kind enough to buy my family a Kindle for the holidays last year....only Amazon had run out of Kindles and put us on a waitlist.  The ETA was March, 2009.  Somewhere in between, Amazon announced and begun shipping the new Kindle 2, so this is what they shipped us.  It arrived earlier this week and we picked it up yesterday.

Kindle 2

As we did not own the first generation Kindle, nor have I ever used one, I can't do a comparative review to the previous generation, or the Sony equivalent, or anything else.  Thus my review is the same wide-eyed wonder one would expect from someone who worked in a retail bookstore for five years and has boxes and crates full of books....in other words, wow.

The Kindle 2 is extremely well-thought out.  While it can connect to a computer for stuff, and obviously needs a way to charge, it is otherwise entirely self-contained.  They even put small speakers in for both "background music" playing of MP3s as well as an "experimental" text-to-speech feature (there's a headphone jack, too).  The device has built-in 3G wireless support, for what Amazon calls "WhisperNet" -- used to download your books/magazines/newspapers, documents you send to the device, and even for a rudimentary web browser.  It is configured and linked to your Amazon account (much like an iPhone and iTunes), so you get "one click" purchases, downloads, and recommendations.

My dad showed me his Kindle, and the display area of the 2nd generation device is, for whatever reason, slightly smaller.  Again, I can't make comparative statements, but I find the screen to be a reasonable reading size (especially after squinting at the text of several generations of mobile phones and iPods).  The Kindle 2 is pretty lightweight and super-thin...it will slide easily and unobtrusively into my laptop bag when traveling.  

The screen display uses ink rather than LCD, and as such, the power consumption is very low.  There's also the eerie feature that the Kindle puts an image on-screen when it goes to sleep (10 minutes of idle time)...a famous author or other literary sketch.  My instinct from years of computing usage is that that image must be churning battery, but they insist that it isn't.  The expected time between charges is about three days, and it charges off the same microUSB as my Blackberry Bold (so, hopefully, I don't have to start carrying yet another charger with me when traveling) a MicroUSB port.  Of course, that same microUSB can be used to transfer files between the device and the computer, if needed.

My dad explained the other main difference between Kindle 1 and Kindle 2 is the use of a joystick-like navigation control (Amazon calls it a "5-way") on the new version, where the first Kindle used a scroll wheel.  The 5-way is easy to work with, but it works slightly different than the tutorial claims.  For example, the Kindle has a built-in dictionary, and you simply need to highlight a word to look it up.  The instructions say to "use the 5-way to move the cursor" -- except that if you move the 5-way left or right, it moves to the previous or next chapter of what you are reading.  So the initial movement must be up/down (like the scroll wheel) and then you have 5-way control.

I think my biggest surprise is that the device does not require some kind of subscription in order to use the 3G network for downloads etc.  I guess Amazon is covering the cost of bandwidth in the price of books/newspapers/magazines that you purchase, and they do charge a "small fee" if you e-mail in a document to download to your device.  I would have expected there to be some kind of tollbooth somewhere, but maybe they realize that is untenable in a market that is used to paying one time for a license to read a physical book, period.

My only other complaint is apparently a "feature" of using ink to display...the screen flashes each time you turn the "page".  I find it a little distracting on initial use, but am pretty sure I'll get used to it.  There is no back light on the device, so you need a light source to read it (just like a book/magazine)...I'm sure this keeps power consumption low.  The itty-bitty book light rides again...

All in all, this is a pretty cool device and one I will look forward to using on long flights, on the deck in the summer, or watching my wife use to read herself to sleep.  Recommended and definitely a sense of where the future is going.

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