Editor’s Note: This preliminary review was written based on just a few hours of experience with the Kindle 2. A much more comprehensive review is available here: Amazon Kindle 2 Review
I want to start out by saying that I love books. I read all the time, whether it’s a novel, newspaper, or even the back of the orange juice carton at breakfast. I like sitting down on a Sunday morning with a favorite novel, I like going through used bookstores looking for books that have been passed over and I take comfort in big libraries with stacks upon stacks of stories. I like the feel of the paper, the rustling sound it makes as I flip through the pages and the musty smell of old books.
I mention this simply because I want the following statement to carry a certain amount of weight: given the choice, I would give every bit of that up to keep a device like the Amazon Kindle 2.
This is Amazon’s second go at tackling the e-reader market, and this time the playing field’s a good bit more crowded. There’s the Kindle 2, Sony’s third and fourth iterations of its Reader line, the iRex iLiad, and entries from Cybook, Foxit, and a handful of other companies, with more coming every day.
The heart of all of these devices is a technology known as e-ink or e-paper, depending on who you ask, and it’s designed to replicate the experience of reading the traditional printed word. Small particles of titanium dioxide are suspended in oil, and by selectively changing an electric field, an e-ink display can force these particles to migrate to the surface or back of the fluid. When at the surface, it appears light; when at the rear, the surface is dark.
Because of the way this works, e-paper displays are fundamentally incompatible with backlighting technologies, meaning that you can’t read them in the dark without the aid of, ironically enough, a regular book light. On the plus side, the lack of the backlight means your eyes don’t get fatigued nearly as quickly, like when using bright LCDs. Furthermore, the Kindle display is completely legible outdoors, even in very bright sun.
What sets the Kindle apart from the rest of the entrants in the burgeoning e-reader field is the addition of a cellular radio. Each Kindle is connected to what Amazon calls the Whispernet, a wireless connection to Amazon servers run over Sprint’s broadband EV-DO network. Amazon has worked very hard on this aspect of the device, and it shows. Each Kindle is tied to your Amazon account, and you can set it up to use 1-Click Shopping by having it save your credit card information. After that, if you want to buy a book, all you have to do is type it in on the device (which is why the Kindle readers have physical keyboards), click the purchase button, and wait. In about a minute, the book is downloaded and ready to read.
If you aren’t sure what kind of book you want, you can download the first two chapters of any book in the Kindle Store for free, which is an amazing value in and of itself. If you don’t want a book, you can subscribe to one of an ever-increasing number of magazines and newspapers, or even Internet blogs. The newspapers and magazines are updated every morning, and the blogs are updated several times throughout the day.
You can also browse the Internet at large, and Amazon makes a big deal of being able to browse Wikipedia wherever you want. The browser is basic but functional, and works well enough for text-rich sites like wikis, but falters a bit when it encounters graphically-heavy pages.
In terms of physicality, the Kindle 2 is slightly thinner than its predecessor, clocking in at a third of an inch. Whereas the original Kindle was slightly wedge-shaped, the new one is completely flat. Rounded edges give a more delicate feel to the unit, and buttons are placed within easy reach on either side, so the device can be used one-handed like a regular paperback book. The pneumatic LCD strip on the original Kindle has been replaced by a “5-way joystick” on the new model (up, down, left, right, in); the joystick is used to select books on the main page as well as navigate menus.
The Kindle 2 feels like a worthy addition at this stage, though not amazingly better than the first Kindle. I’ve only been using it for a few hours, and while it definitely isn’t perfect, it’s fun and easy to read on; the wireless connectivity is a nice touch.
Come back to Brighthand soon to find my full review, with more pictures and video.