By Dusty Overby
on 5.12.09

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Unless this is your first foray onto the information superhighway (remember when people used to say that?), I seriously doubt that I need to explain to you just what the Kindle is. For the purposes of this article, I’m also going to assume that you’ve heard of a little outfit called Amazon. I recently got the chance to spend a few weeks umbilically attached to the online megastore’s second edition eReader, the Kindle 2. I’ll spare you the suspense; it was bliss.

Sure, I’ll give you the technical lowdown, but I consider the Kindle 2’s quantifiable descriptors the lesser side of its personality. Its real joy and utility come from the experience that it delivers. Suffice it to say, there’s good reason that demand for the Kindle never seems to wane. Hit the jump get my detailed impressions.

amazon-kindle-2-dusty-bookshelf-verticalIt took Amazon a little over a year to release the Kindle 2, following the overwhelming success of their initial eReader offering. The second edition packs the following internal improvements over the original:

  • 20% Faster Page Turns
  • Now Holds Over 1500 Books (7x More Than v1)
  • 25% Longer Battery Life (2+ Weeks Possible)
  • Text-To-Speech Feature Added

From a functionality standpoint, Amazon did well to heed feedback from Kindle 1 adopters. They made several subtle (and not so subtle changes) to the form factor and layout that greatly increased the unit’s usability. We didn’t have an original Kindle at our disposal for comparison photography, but the good folks at Macworld have a great series detailing the differences.

You’ll note that, for starters, the unit is now symmetrical. This was an aesthetic gripe for me the first time around, and I surmise it may have been a bit biased against lefties, as well. The keyboard is now a standard QWERTY design, with the keys being responsive and very pressable. The inclusion of a 5-way joystick has greatly streamlined menu navigation and, though it’s a tick sluggish, the interface is far more responsive than that of it’s predecessor. It’s extremely simple to toggle between six text sizes, to insert highlights or bookmarks, and to view word definitions; the Kindle 2 even includes (rudimentary) web, Wikipedia, and email interfaces. Finally, the unit is thinner and the screen is sharper. Both are big pluses in my book.

To sum up its physical prowess, the Kindle 2 is a well-designed and constructed man-toy gadget. From it’s milky facade to its polished backside, this beauty feels quality through and through. [Side Note: If the standard white finish ain't your thing, ColorWare can set you up with the custom treatment.] It holds plenty of content and is easy to use. Unlike many of my other devices, Kindle’s battery seems nigh undrainable. The Kindle 2 certainly gets my “Does What It’s Made To Do” seal of approval. However, that’s only part of the story.

The Kindle allows me to read in bed, free of the fear that I could fall asleep and be crushed by some monster tome like Harry Potter

The Kindle 2 isn’t the only eReader on the market, and its success likely ensures that it will only face increasing competition in the future. Whereas would-be dethroners could potentially ape Amazon’s technical features, only the Kindle offers proprietary integration and philosophical assets that stand to keep it ahead of the pack for the foreseeable future.

For one, I consider the Kindle’s integration with Amazon to be among its strongest traits. Over 275,000 books from the Amazon catalog are currently available to be read via Kindle, and the list is growing steadily. Amazon’s behind-the-scenes Whispernet technology is supposed to transfer your purchases to your device in about a minute, but in my experience, the delivery was near-instantaneous. Shopping for books directly from the Kindle is just as simple and adds in a great instant gratification factor.

Additionally, the option to pull down the latest daily or weekly issues of various newspapers and magazines is a huge plus. I love the idea of selecting between several excellent metropolitan papers, at a price far better than their home delivery rates, and on a device far less cumbersome than a fat wad of newsprint. Newspaper and magazine readers stand to be even better served by the upcoming, large-format Kindle DX.

I have heard people speak of the important experiential link between the act of reading and of holding a bound book. I’m was an English Lit major, and I certainly do not discount the importance of this. However, I don’t feel the reading on the Kindle 2 diminishes the experience at all. In fact, I find the net effect to be quite and enhancement. For me, the screen was quite visible, providing ample contrast with little glare. Unlike my time spent at the computer, no special glasses are needed.

Even better, I’m completely smitten with the ability to tote several books and magazines with me as I travel or commute, without needing a separate carry-on just to haul them. Similarly, the Kindle allows me to read in bed, free of the fear that I could fall asleep and be crushed by some monster tome like Harry Potter or Atlas Shrugged (which needs to be available for Kindle).

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Lastly, I’ll mention the feature by which I was most pleasantly surprised. Before using it, I figured that the “Read to Me” text-to-speech feature of the Kindle was little more than a useless gimmick. I stand corrected, as I actually found it very useful and one of the better selling points for the way that I use the Kindle. I really enjoy the ability to continue my “reading” as I drive to and from the office. The text-to-speech is not exactly like having a book on tape, as part of the appeal of those is the voice acting of the narrator, but the Kindle’s voice processing is certainly passable for comprehension of the material.

…for readers, the Kindle is nothing short of revolutionary

From the time I first laid eyes on the Kindle (and now its successor), I knew that it was going to be a very lustable item. The insatiable demand for the eReader has proven that I’m not the only one to feel that way. The big question for me has always been, “is it worth the price of admission?” Your cash is hard earned and, considering you’ll be paying for the content you download as well, the Kindle 2 isn’t exactly cheap. Having now spent some time evaluating the quality of the hardware and the experience that it offers, I actually think that an investment in a Kindle is money well spent.

If all you care about is having the latest and greatest gear, skip it and buy a watch. On the other hand, for readers, the Kindle is nothing short of revolutionary. There’s no reason that it shouldn’t do for the written word exactly what the iPod has done for music. The Kindle 2 certainly made a believer out of me.

Cost: $359

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