As our online video review of the Kindle 2 (at right) demonstrates, this second-generation version offers a number of subtle improvements over its predecessor. Those include faster page turns; the more prolonged period required to refresh the screen of the first Kindle was among my criticisms of that older version. Amazon has also improved the controls and the rendition of artwork, and the new Kindle is slimmer than the old one.
The most groundbreaking addition, though, is text-to-voice capability that allows the Kindle 2 to read to you; see my earlier blog for more on that feature, including controversy over whether it violates the intellectual-property rights of authors.
I do have quibbles with the new device, mostly to do with small touches it lacks but which seem feasible. At 6 inches in size, the screen is no bigger than that of the original Kindle. (Click on images at right for closer looks.) That likely helps the device conserve energy—extended battery life being another enhancement over the mark-one Kindle. However, a screen that runs to the edge of the controls, and so displays more text than the old Kindle, might have been worth some sacrifice in battery life—especially since that now runs to a more-than-ample 4 or 5 days, according to Amazon.
There's still a charge—of a dime, charged to your Amazon account—for every document you e-mail to the Kindle and want to receive wirelessly.
I wish the Kindle 2 came with some sort of carrying case. You can buy aftermarket ones, but the neoprene Belkin case I bought from Amazon fits loosely. Apparently also designed to accommodate the fatter Kindle 1, the case makes the gadget bulkier to transport than it needs to be. And it costs $24.99. Given the Kindle 2's $359 purchase price, couldn't Amazon have thrown in a slim-fitting sleeve to protect the cherished device?
That price tag of course may be the biggest downside to the Kindle, and one that ensures the device will remain a niche product for now. In fairness, avid readers may recoup some of that cost if they curtail buying books in hard-cover editions—often the only way to buy them—and instead buy new titles as Kindle e-books. Most new releases, including most New York Times best-sellers, cost $9.99 for the Kindle. That's typically at least $10 less than the price of buying them in hard-cover. And most older titles for the Kindle cost between $3 and $9.