When Amazon released the original Kindle at the end of 2007, the e-book market was still in its infancy, and there were a lot of mistakes made with the original design. It’s oddly angular shell made it unpleasant to look at, and the ridiculously awkward placement of the next/previous page buttons along the entire side of the frame were irritating at the best of times. I didn’t see the need to abandon my physical connection of books and start over with a device which I may or may not enjoy reading with.
Then came the Amazon Kindle 2 just over a year ago… It’s a huge improvement over the original model and addresses the host of issues that arose with the Kindle 1. When the Kindle 2 International version came along in the last quarter of 2009, it made an extremely tempting offer, so I finally gave in and decided to see if I could get along with the e-book market!
The Amazon Kindle 2 sports a much needed make-over when compared to the original model, with a large rectangular frame and curved edges. It’s incredibly thin and lightweight, making it extremely comfortable to hold for long periods of time when reading. On the top of the device you’ll find the on/off slider next to the 3.5mm headphone jack, with a USB port underneath.
There’s also a volume control on the right side of the shell. The next and previous page buttons have been resized to the middle of each side and made stiffer so it’s more difficult to accidentally hit them when reading. I’ve spent quite a bit of time with the Kindle already and have never accidentally gone to the next or previous page, so the design is much more effective in this way. The menu and back buttons are now underneath the page controls on the right hand side of the Kindle along with a 5 way rocker, allowing you to easily browse through menus and select whatever you want.
One of the many questions I was asked when I ordered the Kindle was why I didn’t simply wait for the iPad to arrive in a few weeks time – after all, Apple have given it a great e-book application, and the Kindle application will be available for iPad too. My answer was simple: the e-ink display. If you’ve ever tried to read an e-book on a laptop, you’ll know that it can put a strain on your eyes, and cause some discomfort when reading for a prolonged period of time. The iPad ships with an LED display similar to other conventional displays, where as the Kindle ships with an e-ink display. Rather than projecting light like a conventional display, an e-ink display simply reflects light like a book would, making it much more comfortable for many to read.
Of course the screen has its drawbacks too, namely the refresh rate, which may take some getting used to for some users. The screen’s refresh rate has been improved over the original model, and a page turn takes just a fraction of a second. You’ll notice through the refresh rate if you’re quickly going down a menu or navigating a cursor in a document, but it doesn’t affect your reading content.
Another main advantage to having an e-ink display that doesn’t project light is its fantastic battery life. Where the battery on a device such as the iPad or tablet PC may last for a few hours, the Kindle’s battery can last for weeks at a time depending on how much you read and whether you use other features such as text to speech. I personally keep the wireless connection turned off unless I want to browse the Kindle store and buy a book, and have no need for the text to speech or MP3 playing features.
In the time I’ve had my Kindle, I haven’t had to recharge it once, in fact I’ve already read a book, browsed the online store for some new titles and downloaded content, with my battery life remaining at around 70%. This is a huge benefit over other portable devices with battery life struggling to cope longer than a day at a time, and one I’m glad to have – most people could go on holiday with a library of books and not have to recharge the Kindle more than once. Amazon does suggest, however, that you don’t let the battery run completely flat before recharging it. The battery is calibrated in such a way that partial charging or usage doesn’t affect the longevity of the battery, in fact if you charge it to 50% twice, it will only count as a single charge cycle.
One in rather peculiar item on the original Kindle was the strange keyboard that it had below the screen. Not only did it look terrible with all the keys slanted each and every way, but it was horrible to use. This is an area that has been modified on the Kindle 2, with a more traditional keypad of round buttons. It’s still undoubtedly the most awkward keyboard I’ve ever used, but it’s still an improvement over the catastrophically designed original. Although I only use it when searching for books, (after all, the Kindle is an e-book reader, not a dedicated portable browser) it could still be improved in future models!
The software on the Amazon Kindle 2 is very menu driven, with options presented to the user based on where they activate the menu from. If you go into the menu from the home screen, you’re given various choices that allow you to activate wireless, shop in the Kindle store and search for items amongst other things. The browsing experience on the store is surprisingly quick and painless for the most part, allowing you to quickly browse a vast library of books. It is, of course, linked to your Amazon account so you can easily purchase items with one click that are immediately downloaded to your device. Content delivery on the Kindle couldn’t be much better at this moment in time, and I found it to be not only easy to use, but quick in delivery too.
The search function gives you more choices than one can shake a stick at, with a universal search screen allowing you to search through your books (after all, you can have over 1000 books on this thing!), the built in dictionary, Wikipedia, Google and the Kindle store. Unfortunately, if you’re in the UK you won’t be able to access any of the web content such as Wikipedia and Google because of restrictions by network providers.
This has been one of my main frustrations with the device, as the option’s clearly there to do it, but Amazon couldn’t reach an agreement with the network provider serving the Kindle’s data. Saying that, the web browsing feature isn’t one I’d relish using purely because of the navigational and input difficulties with the rocker and keyboard, that and I’d normally have my Nexus One mobile phone with me for quick browsing anyway. Although, they’d still be nice features to have though, so I hope that a future update will bring this full functionality to those of us on this side of the pond!
So what about the main function of the Kindle? Well, reading books on it is a great experience, and extremely easy. The in-book menu allows you to skip to a specific location when reading, and remembers where you were last up to before you put your Kindle to sleep. Of course the Kindle 2 has limitations – you wouldn’t use it to read a book with lots of art in it, but it certainly excels in offering a pain free way to read a regular book easily and without hassle.
One of my favourite features of the Kindle 2 is the utilisation of the built in dictionary, which will provide a definition of any word you’re reading if you simply locate the cursor next to it unobtrusively at the bottom of the display. If you want a more detailed definition, you can hit the return key on the keyboard to be taken to the full screen dictionary.
Another great feature of the Kindle 2 which is undoubtedly indispensable to many is the ability to change the size of the text on the screen. Depending on your preference, you can resize text with 6 sizes available. In addition to this, you can choose how many words you want on a line, which is a nice feature for some. A new addition to the Kindle 2 is the introduction of the text to speech feature, which has been a cause for debate following an accusation from the Author’s Guild that it infringes on copyright by effectively offering you an audio book. I personally believe this to be the most ridiculous accusation I’ve heard in a long time – the so called ‘audio book’ infringement is an irritating computerised voice that in no way resembles that of an audio book. It’s certainly a feature I wouldn’t use by choice, but it’s good that it’s there for those people who require that kind of accessibility feature.
The Amazon Kindle 2, and the e-book market in general, certainly has an extremely bright future ahead of it. Amazon have made a good job of correcting the multitude of errors they made with the original model, and the Kindle 2 is an extremely capable e-book reader.
The only thing stopping the growth of the market at the moment is that not all books are available in e-book format yet, either because of time or the choice of the publisher – after all, if the e-book market really takes off, will there be a need for any publishers at all? If people could publish books straight to the Kindle Store, it would not only reduce costs of production, but the cost of books as a result.
Hopefully we’ll see even more content on the store in the coming months, because the e-book market is ready to take off with the Kindle 2 and with people also wanting to buy the Amazon Kindle DX in favour of other options such as the Apple iPad.