Kindle 2: The real-world review

The Kindle 2 has only been available for about two weeks, and already it's been snap-reviewed by countless websites, with many reviewers playing with it for just a few minutes. I wanted to dig deeper into this much-talked-about device, reading with it constantly since it shipped. After handing over $359 to Amazon and taking the time to devour a 550-page novel on the Kindle 2, I can safely say I have a feeling for what it's like to use it in the real world.

Here in my house, there's a pack of voracious readers, none of whom have ever used a Kindle before. This multi-gadget household is also the ideal place to test the Kindle 2's Whispersync wireless feature, which lets owners read e-books across multiple devices (start on the Kindle, finish on your iPhone). So what's the Kindle 2 really like, and more importantly, is it worth the sticker price? DVICE's full Kindle 2 review after the Continue jump.

Prologue

Our first impression: The Kindle 2 is a lot smaller than it looks in the pictures, and it's wafer-thin. It appears to be about the size of a paperback book, and everybody here admired its smooth, iPod-like design.

After wowing us with its looks, the Kindle 2 impressed us even more with how easy it was to get books. This ease and speed of acquisition turned out to be useful from the first few minutes we unpacked the Kindle 2 — a call from our neighborhood book club notified us of this month's selection, and we had just a few days to buy the book and read it. We needed a book, and we needed it now.

Thankfully, the Kindle 2 arrived with our Amazon account info already in its memory, so there was no arduous setup process. And with the Kindle 2's free wireless connection, searching for the book with the Kindle's appropriately sized and placed keyboard — and immediately ordering it — put the novel in front of our eyes in about 50 seconds. Bam! We had the 550-page e-book in hand.


Getting a Read

After navigating to the book's first page by selecting its title with the five-way joystick (up, down, left, right, push in to select), we noticed the default type size was slightly small for our eyes, but it was immediately obvious how to enlarge it. We were impressed with the contrast of the gray screen, with the text standing out just enough. It's so clear, in fact, that I'd say it doesn't require as much light as a paper book does.

Turning pages is even easier than a regular book, the effort reduced to a mere push one of the big buttons on either side. We only wish there were a page-turn button directly under the screen, too, with a forward and reverse toggle (see the graphic below). Aside from that, it was easy to get used to the controls within a minute or two.

kindle2_keyscloseup.pngKindle Advantages

One great feature: setting multiple bookmarks, a big plus when multiple readers are plowing through the same book. We were also highly impressed with Whispersync, letting some of us read the book on Kindle for iPhone, while others read it on the Kindle 2. All of the bookmarks and notes transferred over intact. Brilliant!

We enjoyed bookmarking certain phrases and writing pithy comments to each other as footnotes, which the next reader would stumble upon as the book electronically unfolds. Other things the Kindle 2 does better than books: you can search your book like you would Google, there's a scale that shows how much you've read of the current book, and, of course, the ability to store 1,500 books on board.


Kindle Hits & Misses

Amazon touts the increased battery life and faster page-turning capability of this newest Kindle, and in our use both were just good enough. The batteries lasted longer than three days with lots of serious reading, and a whole lot longer than that (probably about 4 weeks, I'd estimate) with the wireless feature turned off.

The pages turn at about the same speed you can turn a page in a regular book, but while the page is turning, there's a distracting black flash. It ever-so-slightly takes you out of the reading experience, reminding you you're reading on a gadget. But we got used to that after just a few pages. But that text-to-speech capability? It's an obnoxious robot reading to you — we couldn't stand to listen to it for more than a few seconds. Unless you're blind, you'll want to avoid it.


Final Chapter

The Kindle 2 succeeds at its mission: making itself virtually disappear, letting you forget it's there while you immerse yourself in your own imagination, which is the exquisite joy of reading a good book. It's equally adept at reading instantly available e-newspapers, magazines and blogs, well, except for those so-so black-and-white pictures.

Sure, we all wish that $359 price were more like $75, but we read so many books around here, we're thinking the price of the Kindle 2 might pay for itself after about, oh, 50 books (the Amazon e-books cost about $8 less than their hardcover counterparts). Will it stay here, or do we want our money back? We know a gadget is a hit when we're practically fighting over who gets to use it next. Even at its steep price, the Kindle 2 is a keeper.



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