People starting getting their Kindle 2s yesterday, and the first media reviews ran yesterday too, so I'm hardly the first to report in, but I did get to spend an afternoon with the little machine a little while ago, and here are my first impressions, for what they're worth. (And you should be reminded that they may or may not be worth much to you, since I am, after all, employed by the people who make the Kindle, although I haven't had anything to do with its development. And further disclosure: I'm am at best a medium-adopter, and I don't yet have a Kindle of my own. For now, I'm sticking to the old pulped-wood books--even if that means throwing 15 or so--including all 1,000 pages ofThe Kindly Ones!--in my bag for a week's vacation, like I did last week.) For some other early views, check out David Pogue in the New York Times ("The Kindle: Good Before, Better Now"), John Biggs on CrunchGear ("10 Reasons to buy a Kindle 2 ... and 10 reasons not to": I love reason 7 on the second list: "Flight attendants will tell you to turn it off on take off and landing. You can't explain that it's epaper and uses no current. You just can't. It's like explaining heaven to bears."), and, to really get an inside look, iFixit, where they got out their little screwdrivers and took the whole thing apart.
When I took the first Kindle home for a test run a little over a year ago, before it was announced to the world, it was a mystery: the first time Amazon had made a product of our own, and an experiment in a field--the e-book reader--that had been coming for so long that it was starting to seem like it might never get here. When I tried out the Kindle 2 (for an afternoon in a conference room this time), it was a different story. The Kindle has caught on, even, I think, beyond the expectations of the people who made it, and the question is no longer whether people will ever read e-books, but how will they read them. Using the first Kindle was almost a philosophical moment (what is it like to read a book on a machine?). Using the second (unless you've never tried the first!) is more practical (hmm--what's new this time?).
So what is new?
- The first thing you'll notice about the new Kindle is that it's slim and smooth. The first thing everyone remarked on about the first Kindle was its chunky, angular body, which looked a little like someone had gotten careless with a cheese slicer. The Kindle 2 is 0.36" thick, half the thickness of Kindle 1 (at its chunkiest), and has curves and tapers where Kindle 1 had lines and angles. As CrunchGear says, it could actually slice cheese itself. (The weight's about the same: the Kindle may have slimmed down, but it's all muscle now.)
- The first thing you may have noticed after you picked up the old Kindle was--oops--you turned the page by mistake. The Next Page and Back Page buttons, designed to make turning pages easy, made it so easy that it was hard not to turn them, until you learned how to hold the device. The new buttons are in roughly the same places on the sides of the Kindle 2, but they are designed so you have to press the inside of the buttons, not the edges, so you're not likely to do so by mistake.
- The new Kindle has replaced the old little scroll wheel that moved you up and down the links on a page with a "5-way button" (four directions and pressing it to click). There's a sacrifice in speed (the old wheel could move pretty fast) for the advantage of two dimensions (you can move both up and down and across now), which, for one thing, makes it a lot easier to select text for making notes or looking up.
- The menu button is now on the side, rather than something you have to click on the screen, which is a nice plus.
- The eInk screen is the same size as before, with a slight improvement in clarity thanks to a more detailed grayscale.
- Inside the Kindle, there are two big changes. One you might expect, spoiled as were are by the bounty of Moore's law (although it's still impressive): the old Kindle could hold "over 200 books," while the new one can pack in "over 1,500" (which is starting to sound like an actual library). Either books have gotten smaller, or the Kindle's memory has gotten bigger.
- The other big inside change could be a game-changer for some people--I'm curious to see whether it turns out to be. There's a new "Text-to-Speech" feature that can read every book (and blog and newspaper and magazine) on your Kindle on the fly. Switch it on, and it will start reading from whatever page you're on--kind of like if the lady on your GPS could tell you how to get to Staten Island and readNetherland to you as you drove. How does it sound? Not bad--it's a lot more fluent than you might expect--but not perfect. The pronunciation of individual words and the pauses for commas and periods are surprisingly smooth for the most part, but nevertheless, rather than the plummy British tones of, say, Jim Dale, there's still a strong, recognizable accent from somewhere around the moon Triton. Whether you'd get used to that or driven crazy over time, I'm not sure, but the hands-free potential for reading your books any way you please is very high. (And just like the adjustable font size, you can set the voice to read as a woman or a man, and to read more slowly or quickly than the normal speed (or as I came to call those settings, on Quaaludes or amphetamines)).
- But what may be the biggest change between this year and last is available to Kindle 1 owners to the number of books on the Kindle has more than doubled, from around 100,000 at launch a year ago to over 240,000 (and growing) now. An ebook reader is only as good as the ebooks you can read. Not everything I searched for was there, but with over 90% of the New York Times bestsellers available, the gap between what you want to read on the Kindle and what you can read is narrowing every day.
Those are the main differences I could see between K1 and K2, but the biggest difference is still between K and what came before. There were I think four elements to what made Kindle work well from the beginning: the quiet, no-glare eInk screen (which it shares with some other e-readers), the storage (which lets you take a year's worth of reading wherever you go), the selection (see above), and the constant (and free!) wireless connection (which lets you zip a book to your machine in about 15 seconds from almost anywhere in the country). Those are the real game-changers, and they are the things, elegant new package and audio capabilities aside, that will still wow someone who's never picked up a Kindle before. --Tom
P.S. What did I read this time? Last time I ordered Orhan Pamuk'sMy Name Is Red. This time, having read so much about Donald E. Westlake, and especially his alter ego Richard Stark, after his death in December, I decided to order one of his recent Richard Stark/Parker novels, Nobody Runs Forever. Needless to say, Kindle fans and Parker fans, I had the book in 15 seconds, and about 15 seconds later Parker had killed his first man, a stranger at an underworld poker game who, it turned out, was wearing a wire.