We believe Amazon's Kindle 2 has the best features and value for money, especially after the June price cut from $259 to $189. Consumer Reports agrees, running a story entitled "Kindle is Holiday ebook King after Sony and Nook Hit Snags." Amazon released the Kindle 2 in the US in February 2009, follow-up to the first Kindle, released in November 2007, which was an instant hit. For most people, if you say "eReader," they think Kindle.
The Kindle's e-paper itself must simply be seen to be believed. It is sharp in a way that computer screen are not, and the screen has no glare or backlight. You can read it in direct sunlight, even on a beach, in a way you simply cannot with a laptop or mobile phone display. It also does not get warm, so there are no unpleasant issues from a late night reading session. The Kindle 2 now boasts 16 shades of gray for more realistic images.
The new Kindle has further slimmed down to a mere 1/3 inch thick and 10.2 ounces, as thin as a pencil and lighter than the average paperback. We find the current design more ergonomic. There are many other function improvements which won't be evident unless you know about the problems with the first model--for instance, the turn page buttons on the side are replaced with ones that pivot inwards, so it is harder to accidentally hit next page grabbing the rim. There is a new 5-way joystick-like controller allowing you to easily select from menus--while this is no mouse, it is an improvement in pointer function. We're very excited about the basic web browser (which no other reader has) though it is best for simple, text-centric sites. Though it is a reader first and foremost, we like the idea of being able to check a map, look up a phone number, check Wikipedia, etc., without having to lug around a laptop.
The memory storage has been expanded from 256MB to to a whopping 2GB (1.4 GB of which is usable for storing user content, some 1,500+ average books). Of course, in actuality, few people will have this many ebooks, so the space will likely be taken up by music and such. One downside is the memory cannot be expanded via cards, unlike most readers. Battery life is a about week with wireless on, or easily twice as long with wireless turned off.
Unlike many e-readers, the Kindle 2 has a fully functional keyboard on the bottom. This is probably its most most divisive feature, with some wanting it to be all ebook display and less cluttered with buttons, and others appreciating the flexibility. You can argue that they should have put in a touchscreen and charged a bit more (like the Sony PRS-700), but personally we think adding a touchscreen means sacrificing readability, an eReader's main function. This will be an individual preference, probably the deciding one for most people on which reader to go with. At least the Kindle 2 is easy to type with, more so than screen buttons. You can add notations and save them, just like writing in the margins of a book or writing a sticky note.
If you like listening to music as you read, you can play mp3 or AAC files in the background, either via built-in stereo speakers, or through earphones. You can adjust the text size--particularly valuable for older readers or if your eyes are tired.
There is even access to experimental features like "read to me," in theory turning just about anything into an audiobook. You can choose male or female voices and vary speed. It can even read blogs, magazines, or your own personal documents. We have to admit it still sounds a bit "computery"--not like the 80s Stephen Hawking voice, but you do get that metallic edge. This will be very useful for reciting lists and recipes, or continuing a page-turner novel as you drive home, but we think it would be grating to listen to a whole novel. For that, you can also use Amazon's Audible.com service to access some 50,000 audiobooks to buy or rent.
Amazon has an ambitious aim with the Kindle, aiming to change the way we read printed material. Will it transform mainstream book reading habits in the next couple years?--probably not, but it has already made the jump mainstream after winning over the early adopters (mobile professionals, bibliophiles, and technophiles) in droves. This Kindle has scored well with the mobile professional crowd, especially for frequent fliers and commuters. And the two rounds of price drops and mainstream TV ad campaigns have certainly broadened its appeal.
Up until October 2009, the Kindle 2 was available only in the US, but it now is available internationally as well. The Kindle ships with a US-style plug and power supply capable of using 100V to 240V, so you simply need a plug adapter
in countries with different socket designs. A firmware update in November decreased the Kindle's battery usage and added native conversion of PDF documents, a welcome addition as many ebooks use this format.
Connecting: Any eBook reader must be judged on the basis of its access to actual ebooks, not just its capabilities. On this front, no other reader even comes close, as Kindle links directly to over 400,000 books from Amazon's own catalog, and you can download a full book in under a minute. The Kindle Store includes all the latest popular fare (101 of 112 books currently found on the New York Times bestseller list), though the back catalog of course has more gaps. Still they're adding new books all the time (we count an average of 10,000+ per month thus far). Unlike some of the other players in the eBook reader business, who may be small or just dabbling with eReaders (and might not stick in the market), Amazon clearly see its future, decades out, in digital book distribution.
And best of all, Kindle is the only reader that has a built in mobile 3G EVDO modem--essentially a global high speed cellular internet signal with no charge for use. This of course is not present everywhere, and in some rural locations it falls back on a slower 1xRTT signal, and in some remote locations has no signal at all. With this capability, almost wherever you are in the US, you can go right to Amazon's online store and download a new book in under 60 seconds. And all new Kindles have global coverage (100+ countries), though you should check Amazon's partner network cellular maps to verify coverage.
Again, there are no wireless charges or monthly fees, yet you also have access to Wikipedia and a dictionary built in. Just highlight any word, and you get the definition. As mentioned the basic web browser also allows you to view basic web pages, and for many of those who have access to text based email readers, you can even check your email on the go. We know it is no smartphone, but unlike an iPhone, you're not paying $40+ per month for the privilege of mobile internet. We've certainly used ours more than once on the road to do other simple Google queries, check a map, etc. You can also manage your personal documents; you can email a document (like a Microsoft Word file) from your PC to your Kindle for 10 cents per document. Or, you can connect it to a computer via USB cable and transfer as many documents as desired for free.
There are other advantages to Kindle downloads, for instance, you can try the first chapter of any book for free and decide if you want to download the rest. We find this allows you to browse and try different genres than you might normally experience, as you can do so risk free.
Like Apple's successful iTunes (and let's face it, Amazon is trying to make an "iTunes for books"), any titles you purchase from Amazon can be re-downloaded to your Kindle at any time, on the off chance you manage to fill it up and need to delete items to make space. Speaking of Apple, if you own an iPhone, you can download the Kindle for iPhone app and share your Kindle ebooks--even keeping your reading location and picking up where you left off when you switch devices. There is also free Kindle software for PC, Blackberry, and a Mac version is in development.
Amazon does not publicize it well, but of course the Kindle can read all manner of free (or cheap) ebooks available on many sites without needing to purchase them through the Kindle Store. We love the Amazon store interface, but we do recommend readers take a look at other sources for ebooks, particularly for classics in the public domain. Of course, you'll often have to email them to your Kindle, but this isn't too onerous. Another thing Amazon wasn't too good at was footnotes; they are a bit difficult to access.
Accessories: If you are traveling with the Kindle you simply must get a cover for it (the standard leather one
to the right is $30)--throwing it in a suitcase, briefcase, or pocketbook is simply a recipe for damaging the screen. There are even studier M-Edge leather covers
which flip back to form a "bookstand" for the same price ($30--one is displayed in the margin).
Unfortunately, the charger that ships with the Kindle does take a lengthy 4 hours to attain a full charge (this is par for the course for other readers though--you can also charge from a computer via included USB 2.0 cable). If you're in a hurry, there are third party chargers which will charge a Kindle 2 or DX from the wall
($24--including international adapter plugs useful if you travel) or car
($20) --well worth the extra. You can also get other accessories like a snap on reading light
Price: The Kindle 2 originally sold for $359 at its February 2009 launch, but this was cut to $299 in July, the $259 in October 2009, and was most recenty slashed to $189 in June 2010. Amazon provides free two-day shipping for most customers as well as a one-year warranty.
If you're buying the Kindle from outside the US, you'll actually make your purchase from the US Amazon site, priced at the current exchange rate--around £125 or €150 for comparison.