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Amazon Kindle 2 Review: The Best eBook Reader?

By / March 10, 2009 / no comments

A couple weeks ago, Amazon released their new Kindle model: the Amazon Kindle 2. Now, for anyone living under a rock, the Amazon Kindle is an eBook reader. With all the hubbub about the Kindle, I thought it’s worth detouring from my usual fantasy musings to devote a bit of time to explore the possibilities presented by this device, writing a sort of review of the Kindle 2. “So what,” you say. “There have been eBook readers floating around for years.” True enough. But this newest crop of eBook readers are something different and, in my opinion, may change the reading and publishing landscapes forever. I’ve decided to write a (very) long post exploring the advantages of the Amazon Kindle and why I feel this is going to be the reading device of the future.

eBooks or Paper Books?
In general, e-Book readers have some substantial benefits over printed books — mainly the ability to carry almost an infinite amount of reading material in a single, book-sized device. However, up until the Amazon Kindle, concerns such as power usage, eye strain, and draconian DRM, and general lack of title availability prevented widespread adoption of eBooks as a viable alternative to printed books. But with the release of the Kindle last year, many of these barriers were blown away. For the first time, eBook readers were thrust into the public light in a big way. Yes, there have been a series of eBook readers over the past decade, but they’ve always been floating around in the periphery of public perception, veritable geek toys that only the most gadget-savvy would purchase. But this all changed last year when Amazon released their Kindle reading device. It was a match made in commercial heaven: the biggest book distributer in the world tying the knot with an eBook reader. And now for the first time in history, there’s real possibility of the eBook format replacing, or at least competing, with the good, old tree. The Amazon Kindle (and other e-Ink devices) goes a long way in addressing the concerns printed-book lovers have with adapting digital formats. Practically the only thing holding back the kindle from destroying the printed format completely is the price; at $359 bones it’s not exactly cheap.

The Difference is in the Details, Boy!
Let’s first take a look at the Amazon Kindle and see what makes this device so different than the old style, none-e-Ink devices.

All eBook readers, both the generation and new, claim to do one thing: allow people to read digital books. But, as the saying goes, the difference is in the details, and in this case, the difference between the old generation of eBook readers and the new generation is in the new e-Ink screens. Previous eBook readers used LCD technology. Indeed, Palms, pretty much every personal computing device (PocketPCs, Laptops, Ipods, etc) use some variation on LCD technology, which display images by projecting pixels onto a flat surface. There are of course different ways of getting those said pixels to the screen (thus different screen technologies), but in the end they all work the same way: rapidly refreshing pixels are displayed or projected onto a surface. E-ink eBook readers feature a new type of screen technology. Unlike pretty much ever other type of display device out there, e-Ink screens do not refresh — at least not until you flip the page. The displayed text is literally printed on the screen. Looking at the text or picture displayed on an e-Ink screen is exactly the same as looking at printed material – except the text originates from a digital source. If you read a book on the Amazon Kindle, it’s almost exactly like reading a printed book!

The New Generation of eBook Readers
This new e-Ink screen technology has some incredible benefits and go a long way into making eBook readers a viable alternative to printed books. Here’s why the Kindle trounces none e-Ink devices like the IPhone or PocketPC’s for book reading.

No Eye Strain

Yep, this is a big one. One of the greatest shortcomings of previous eBook readers – and any device that refreshes the screen such as an IPhone – is the associated eyestrain. IPhones may look good, but try reading a book on one and your eyes will threaten to fall out of their sockets after a couple hours. And let’s not even talk about reading an eBook on a desktop or laptop; my one and only experience permanently ruined my eyesight. By contrast, reading a book on the Kindle is pure pleasure, an experience that almost exactly mimics that of reading a printed book. In fact, the new Kindle 2 is incredibly thin, much smaller than a paperback novel. I find this makes holding the device much more comfortable; curling up into a comfortable position while holding a book has never been easier – something I find sometimes difficult to do with a paperback.

(Very) Power Efficient
Standard screens require constant power to keep displaying pixels. Turn off the juice, and the only color you see is black – and maybe the fingerprints left when you touched the screen with your greasy fingers after the pizza fest last night. E-ink devices such as the Amazon Kindle only use power to draw the text/image on the screen once (each page turn). Once the image is drawn (fractions of milliseconds), no more power is needed. This is a huge huge power savings. Instead of measuring battery life in hours, you have weeks between charges. My IPhone currently gets at most 7-8 hours of reading time before the batteries die – something I find incredibly annoying on 11 hour plane rides. The Kindle is a great for those long flights and long trips abroad.

Text to Voice
The Kindle 2 features a unique feature: it can read the books out loud. Now while this won’t compete with say professional audio books, it’s still not bad in a pinch. I’m sure with the IPhone you can probably find some program to replicate this feat, but this involves work finding and downloading said program. The Kindle 2 supports this feature right out the box. Sure, not everyone enjoys Stephen Hawking reading to you, but if you’re blind or very bored during long drives, you’ll take what you can get.

The Kindle Advantage
Now the Amazon Kindle is not the only e-Ink kid on the block. There are other e-Ink readers out there. While the other eBook readers offer some compelling features, here’s why I think it’s still a better bet to place your money on the Kindle.

Connections Rule the World
The Kindle’s competition, the most notable being the Sony eReader and Bookean Cybook, compete very well in regards to the actual reading experience. Indeed, some of the competition’s features are even arguably better — but the Kindle has a big 1up in regards to the publishing connection — Amazon is the largest distributor of books in the world; the titles available on the Kindle store absolutely trounce the competition. Because of their size and importance in the publishing industry, Amazon has a lot of pull with publishers. You can bet that within a short period of time, ALL books available in printed format on Amazon will also be available in the Kindle format. Unfortunately, competing e-Ink readers will probably lack the sheer volume of title selections available on the Kindle bookstore. Sure, you can find ways to convert books to another format, but most people, especially non-techies, won’t bother. You can read Kindle books on your IPhone, but if you want to use other e-Ink readers to read Kindle books, you’ll have to go through a conversion process — a hassle.

Any Book, Any Time, Any Place
There’s also another little feature that practically ensures the Amazon Kindle will pretty much dominate the eBook market: the Kindle can download titles from the Kindle store wirelessly – all the user needs to do is click a couple buttons to painlessly download a new eBook to the device. Indeed, because the kindle can also tap into the cellular network for free to do so. Can you say “any new book, any place, any time?”

New Hardbacks, Cheap Cheap Cheap
Hardbacks are expensive! Anyone who wants that newly-released-must-read novel but can’t afford to pay the steep $30 price for the pleasure experiences is either forced to wait, haunt the local library, fighting with the other desperate library hordes for said book, or if they are really crafty, scope out the local Borders or Chapters and “ninja read” the book while sitting in a too-small chair, enduring the dagger stares from employees who know exactly what they’re up to. Fortunately, there’s another way: with the Amazon Kindle, all hardbacks are only 9.99 – almost the price of a paperback. This is a huge savings, and puts newly released novel in reach of practically everybody; you also get instant delivery of the book – no driving to the bookstore or dealing with mail strikes.

Textbooks For Cheap
One area you may find the Kindle quickly becoming dominant in is the textbook niche. Currently, students pay between 300-500 bucks a semester on textbooks. If publishers offer fair prices (10-30 bucks) for a digital version of the textbook (which may cost upwards of 100 bucks for the printed version), students will flock to the Kindle as a sort of must-have university item up there with a laptop. The publishers save on distribution costs (eBooks practically have no associated costs to reproduce and distribute) which should allow them to offer these reduced textbook prices. $350 is certainly much cheaper than buying a semester’s worth of printed textbooks. Then there is also the advantageous weight savings to consider. If you can put your entire semester set of books on the tiny Kindle instead of hauling around a thick backpack…well, you get the idea. In future versions of the Kindle (maybe a “textbook version”), students will probably be able to annotate text, add their own notes, look up definitions, etc. In short: the Kindle can revolutionize the textbook industry.

To Buy or Not to Buy, Now That is The Question…
So should buy the new Kindle 2 or wait until the dust settles a bit? The price is probably the biggest con here. $359 bucks for a dedicated reading device is pretty steep; you will find a good many people, especially in this economic climate, balking at that price. The Kindle 2 also lacks a backlight, which is a pretty important feature to have. The original Kindle was an eyesore – I don’t think I’ve seen an uglier computing device, the squat, square angles and ugly keypad certainly didn’t win any fashion awards. However, the Kindle 2 is a step in the right direction with an ultra thin, sleek look. I still think the keys are ugly and should be tossed in favor of a more minimalistic control scheme, but they work. However, the ability to purchase $9.99 hardbacks, buy and install eBooks virtually anywhere, and carry an unlimited library of books and periodicals makes the Kindle 2 a compelling device worth thinking about. I myself spent a lot of time weighing the pros and cons (I have an IPhone which I have been unhappily reading books on), but in the end I decided it was worth buying a Kindle. I’m an avid book reader and the ability to carry around an entire library of fantasy books was just too hard to resist. I personally find the Sony ebook reader the best ebook reader, but quite a few people prefer the Kindle 2.

Don’t believe me? Then check out some ebook reader website to see what other sites are saying about the Amazon Kindle devices.

UPDATE 2011

Note, the Kindle 2 has been updated to the Kindle 3.

About the author

Ben

Blog editor, admin and founder of BestFantasyBooks.comYou'll find me on the BestFantasyBook forums and spending my spare time reading fantasy books and writing lists for this site. In fact, I have no spare time -- running this site IS my spare time!

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