Review of the Amazon Kindle 2

I bought the first Kindle the second it was available (and gave it a thorough review, naturally), but sold it to a fanatical Oprah watcher the moment I saw leaked pictures of the Kindle 2. I liked my Kindle, but I found I was still more likely to reach for paper books for several reasons:

  • The battery life was really bad, probably because I kept the wireless on all the time, but having to remember to activate it in order to receive daily content kind of defeated the purpose of the incognito "Whispernet."
  • The famously poorly designed buttons were very annoying. Amazon says they want the Kindle to disappear in your hands, but when you’re always worried about accidentally hitting the wrong button, it’s hard to relax and let your guard down.
  • It was slow. I didn’t mind the refresh rate of turning a page since you can get into a good rhythm, but otherwise navigating the device was cumbersome.
  • Most of the books I wanted to read weren’t available, and despite the Kindle’s versatile capabilities, it really is designed much more for books than magazines, newspapers, or anything that comes from the web or is accompanied by images.
  • The first book I read on the Kindle (1984 — George Bush and our impending economic situation inspired me to reread several such classics) was full of OCR mistakes — so much so that it was distracting. Fortunately, the more modern books I read didn’t have the same issue.
  • The case and the way it attached to the Kindle was just plain strange. The two often came apart, and the power and network switches in the back were obscured by the back of the cover. Very curious design.

But all that’s in the past. Here are my thoughts on the Kindle 2 so far:

  • The new form factor is a huge improvement. The action of the buttons has been reversed so they need to be pressed on the inside rather than on the outside which is where you tend to grasp the device. The metal back makes it feel more substantial, and the keyboard has been dramatically improved. It’s also thinner which is a bonus when traveling.
  • The 5-way button is a significant improvement over the LCD "gutter" of the old model. It allows for much more efficient navigation which will, in turn, make some of the great features of the Kindle (dictionary, notes, etc.) far more accessible.
  • It didn’t come with a case which bummed me out. I guess I should have realized that, but in my haste to purchase one before they sold out, I didn’t read about everything that comes in the box. The first Kindle came with a basic case (poor as it was), so I assumed the second one would have a case or a sleeve, too. But in a tribute to the iPod, the Kindle 2 comes with nothing but the device itself, and a cable. Cases and other accessories are additional revenue streams.
  • The Kindle 2 does away with the external network switch. The single power switch is on the top of the device (where it won’t be covered by your case or sleeve), and control of the network is now done through a software menu. Very smart change.
  • Despite some criticism I’ve seen online, the Kindle 2 is definitely faster than the first. It’s still e-ink, so it’s not instantaneous, but there’s a noticeable improvement over the first version.
  • All my books from my first Kindle experience were waiting for me on my Kindle 2. I just had to select them from the archive section, and they immediately downloaded for free. This is an important reminder that, like the iPhone, the Kindle isn’t a standalone device. It’s part of an ecosystem which is clearly greater than the sum of its parts.
  • I haven’t been able to put the battery through its paces yet, but it’s supposed to be 25% better. I don’t think I’ll have any battery problems this time, though, because I don’t think I’m going to buy any subscriptions which means I won’t have to leave the wireless on. I’m so accustomed to reading the news on my phone or in a feed reader now that I think I’ll use the Kindle exclusively for books.
  • Amazon still charges to email documents to yourself ($0.10 each), and to aggregate blogs (about $1.99 each). I understand why Amazon does this (the cost of the wireless connection is paid for every time you buy a book, but not when you wirelessly transfer documents or aggregate blogs), but I just can’t imagine doing this when you can easily connect your Kindle via USB (on Mac and Windows), and there are so many better ways to read blogs. But just because these features don’t appeal to me doesn’t mean they aren’t useful to others, so I officially reserve judgment.

Other features of the Kindle 2 that I haven’t mentioned yet:

  • More storage. The Kindle 2 will hold over 1,500 books.
  • A new text-to-speech feature allows the Kindle to read to you. I wasn’t expecting much out of this feature, but it actually works surprisingly well. The voice and the flow are quite natural.
  • Better selection. Amazon claims there are over 240,000 books available now. I did a quick search for the next four or five books I intend to read, and they were all available which already puts me off to a better start than with the first Kindle.

Overall, I’ve been very happy with my upgrade thus far, and would recommend the Kindle 2 both to original Kindle owners, and to anyone who thought the first Kindle wasn’t ready for prime time yet. I think this time, I’m going to stick with it — at least until I see leaked photos of the Kindle 3.