Kindle 2: It will be huge…
SUMMARY: Amazon has made amazing progress with version 2 of its Kindle eBook reader. While it still has some shortcomings, Amazon has fixed many of the issues with version 1 of the device. The new Kindle is sleek and thin – and so well-designed and manufactured it’s clear Amazon has taken a leaf out of Apple’s book. Incredibly – to anyone who struggled with the clunkiness of the original Kindle – it now looks and feels like a larger iPod. As a device for reading books, and buying them from Amazon, this will be a real winner. I predict sales will skyrocket. Kindle 2 leaves other eInk-based devices like readers from Sony and iRex in the dust, and will be the breakthrough device in establishing the eBook market.
PROS: There are so many it’s hard to list them all. It’s not a mere update, but a transformation. Lighter, sleeker, thinner. Better-quality graphics with more layers of gray. Integral battery (no more problems with the back falling off). Page-turn buttons re-designed so no inadvertent page turns. Wireless capability much improved. Holds more books.
CONS: Pages still flash when turned. Text-to-speech may be acceptable for visually-impaired people who have no other way of reading, but it’s still too robotic, lacks inflection and is not acceptable as a substitute for reading the text yourself. Still too easy to inadvertently press keys on the keyboard and put it into unwanted search while reading. Seems to be a problem with the Windows driver if you want to synch with your PC.
The first really impressive thing about Amazon’s Kindle 2 was that it arrived exactly when it was promised. I ordered mine several weeks ago, when Amazon was giving a ship date of February 24, and preferential treatment for Kindle 1 owners. Sure enough, on February 24 I received email that it had shipped, and UPS delivered it two days later.
The whole experience with Kindle 2 has been impressive so far. The box it came in was small, sturdy and looked like Amazon’s geared up to ship millions of these things. I ordered a cover to protect it, and that came in the same shipment.
I tore open the box. Now, I’ve been around a long time, I’m not easily impressed. But when I took this sleek, iPod-like device out, I remember I actually said “Wow!”. It’s much thinner than the original, has a metal back like the iPod, feels smooth, sleek, well-designed. It just feels good to hold – unlike K1.
K1 came with two cords, a power cord and a USB cable. K2 comes with one – the power cord comes apart to also serve as the USB cable.
The page-turn buttons on K1 were more like paddles than buttons. You just knew, as soon as you picked it up, you’d end up turning pages when you didn’t want to. Gone. New page turn buttons are smaller and work by depressing the inside of the button, so you won’t turn pages by mistake.
I couldn’t wait to get started, so instead of waiting for the device to fully charge I got cracking on getting the 60 or so books I bought for K1 onto it. And that’s when I hit a problem – and a solution using the improved wireless capability of K2.
I was never able to get wireless connectivity at my home with K1 (I live in the sticks). So I bought my books by downloading them from Amazon onto my laptop and synching from there.
I’d de-registered my old Kindle, and just to be on the safe side I downloaded all the books again from my Amazon archive, this time registered to my K2 device.
I plugged in the USB. Windows Vista detected the Kindle, installed the drivers – and then it happened. Windows Explorer hung when K2 was plugged in. I tried re-installing the drivers, all kinds of stuff. This is the only device I’ve ever plugged in which completely kills Windows Explorer, every time. I guess Amazon stil has work to do on the Vista drivers.
Looked like I was stuck. But when I unplugged the USB cable from K2, lo and behold! – it had a strong 3G wireless connection and started downloading a new book I’d just bought (it comes with wireless on by default). I went back to my Amazon archive on the Web and went through all my books, changing “Download to PC” to “Download to Kindle”, and it worked. Within 15 minutes I had all 60 of my books back – even in the sticks.
A word of caution, though – K2 with wireless on just eats battery charge. Turn it on only when you need it, and turn it off again immediately you’re done, and you should never have to worry about battery life. K1 was the same.
I’d bought the leather case. The K1 case was a joke – the device kept falling out of it. But K2’s had an ingenious new system of metal catches which keep it secure.
Reading was much easier with the new page turns. It took me a couple of minutes to get the hang of the new navigation joystick, but it works just fine and only when it’s wanted.
The keyboard still annoys me. I keep hitting a key (usually “1”) by mistake and putting K2 into search. It only takes up a small area at the bottom of the page but it’s annoying.
Page turns still flash XOR which is distracting. But I had a long flight yesterday, and read two books without ever having to think about battery charge. That was something K1 had already got right.
I tried the text-to-speech capability. Sorry, Amazon, it just doesn’t cut it for me. Too robotic, wrong inflections, reads to me a lot slower than I can read to myself. I wouldn’t even like to use it in the car. However, I’m guessing it’s quite acceptable for visually-impaired people.
When you’re reading a novel, you NEED those inflections. It might work for a user manual, though.
I don’t want to be to picky here. Contextually-inflected human speech from text is a hard, hard problem – one which I’m guessing even a supercomputer might have problems with, far less a pocket-sized device. But this is nothing like a dealbreaker for those of us who just want to be able to read.
I used my original Kindle a lot. You learned to live with its shortcomings – and there were many. But K2 feels like Amazon took all the negative customer feedback and fixed almost everything.
Fixing a lot of small things adds up to a lot. K2 is really a great device.
Everyone’s been speculating about when we’d see “The iPod of eBooks“. Well, this is it.
And the new thinner, sleeker Kindle ought to be easier to slip inside a Ziplock baggie for reading in the bath…