Amazon Unveils Kindle 2
This morning, Amazon unveiled the Kindle 2, the successor to the electronic-book reader it debuted in December of 2007. The Seattle online retailer says this wireless-connected tablet -- selling for $359, shipping on Feb. 24 - -features a wide variety of upgrades over the first Kindle:
* The Kindle 2 is thinner, at .36 inches thick -- about a pencil's width.
* Its screen displays 16 shades of gray and, Amazon says, flips from page to page 20 percent faster (which would address one of my biggest complaints about the first model).
* The Kindle 2's battery should last 25 percent longer.
* It offers far more storage, with 1.4 gigabytes available versus just 180 megabytes on the first Kindle.
* It includes a five-way controller that directly selects items on the screen (on the first Kindle, you have to roll a jog-dial switch to move an indicator up or down in a thermometer-like column to the right of the screen). Better yet: "The page-turn buttons now flex inward to prevent any accidental page turns when picking up or handling Kindle."
* A text-to-speech feature can read a book aloud to you (though you can also buy Audible audiobooks, which feature human readers who will sound far better than the obviously synthesized voice you hear in Amazon's video demo).
* The Kindle 2 provides wireless access to Wikipedia, something you could once only get by playing around with an experimental Web-access feature.
Amazon now carries more than 230,000 titles for the Kindle (up from 90,000 at this device's debut), most selling at $9.99 each. It also stocks a far smaller inventory of newspapers (just 31 -- but have I mentioned what a great deal The Washington Post is at just $9.99 a month?) and magazines (a mere 22). You can also, of course, read any of the 27,000 pubic-domain books collected by the Gutenberg Project after converting them to the Kindle's proprietary format.
Those last two words constitute my biggest hangup with the whole e-book concept. The original Kindle already had substantial advantages over competing e-book readers from Sony and others -- most importantly, its ability to download titles on the go in a minute or so using Sprint's wireless-data service, included in the Kindle's price -- but all of those titles come wrapped up in "digital rights management" software that keeps you from treating a Kindle e-book like a physical book.
That, among other things, means that you can't loan a Kindle title to a friend, donate it to a charity or sell it at a used-book store. You can't even read it on anything but a Kindle (though Amazon's press release vaguely promises that "Kindle 2 will also sync with a range of mobile devices in the future"). How am I supposed to think that I "own" this e-book when so many of my traditional property rights have been deleted by this extra layer of software?
As I wrote when the first Kindle launched, those limits need not be a huge problem with some kinds of printed work -- textbooks foremost among them. But when Amazon has taken such a leading role in selling music as MP3 files without any DRM attached, it's unsettling to see this company push such a restrictive form of DRM in electronic books.
Are you willing to live with those limits for the convenience the Kindle 2 seems to offer? Or are there some titles you're willing to buy under these controls, while others are worth buying in print? Let's discuss this in the comments.
February 9, 2009; 12:00 PM ET
Categories: Digital culture , Gadgets
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