Since I also reviewed the original Kindle, I'm afraid this review may sound like I copied my old one (Nov. 29, 2007). The Kindle 2, Amazon's upgrade of its original wireless handheld reading device, is an improvement in pretty much every way over the first one—which actually worked quite well. The Kindle 2 has all of the features that made Kindle 1 such a hot device for digital reading—title selection, pricing and wireless downloads over a 24/7 cellphone network. In the new version, the hardware and the device's functionality have been either overhauled or tweaked effectively in one way or another.
Of course, the Kindle's ability to allow consumers to buy and download a book wirelessly at any time remains oh-so-cool and easy. Amazon brags that it has more than 240,000 titles available for the Kindle, up from the original 90,000 at launch, plus magazines and newspapers. The $9.99 pricetag for most titles remains generally enticing, and you can sample everything. Downloads are quick, and the device is also great for reading blogs, newspapers and periodicals. And it's not surprising that the Kindle 2's text-to-speech function is so controversial—the computer-generated but naturalistic voice (which can be male or female, your choice) is cool and useful. The device can also play MP3 audiobooks and music files, but large files are better loaded on the device via USB cable than wirelessly, unless you've got time on your hands.
Most importantly, the physical device has been redesigned—it's much sleeker and thinner. While it's still clamshell white—likely to transform quickly into dingy grey—Amazon's designers have turned its clunky polygonal shape into a tech fashion-piece more akin to the Sony Reader's stylish minimalist form. Amazon's designers addressed the original Kindle's annoying and inadvertent page turning by shrinking and repositioning the page-turning buttons and leaving some space to grasp. Happily, you can now grab the device, read, handle it and use the keyboard fairly easily without accidentally activating something. Buttons and switches have been upgraded—page buttons are super flush with very short strokes. The power button is now a slide-switch (pull it one way to power up—it automatically slides back into place) and the wireless function is now controlled through an on-screen menu rather than a switch. (One quibble: you have to hold the power button in place for quite a while to turn it off.)
The device's navigation has been overhauled and the awkward cursor/screen menu arrangement transformed. The narrow navigation screen that ran parallel the length of the device is gone, and navigation is now done through the main screen; the odd-shaped number and QWERTY keys have been redesigned into a more standard format and the all-important Home key has been repositioned for more effective use. All good stuff.
While the Kindle's e-ink screen is clear and easily readable, it's still dim and grey—it's like traveling back in time to the grey backgrounds of the 1990s Web. But the screen has been noticeably improved and now features a 16-tone grayscale. Photos, while still dim and fuzzy, look much better. There's a zoom feature for photos and graphic works (there are a few comics and graphic novels available for the Kindle), although comics images are hard to read and take a visual beating on the device. And download time for something like the manga adaptation of James Patterson's Maximum Ride series is appreciably longer than the usual 60-second download for plain text.
All said, many of the problems in the first Kindle have been corrected in the Kindle 2, and it looks slick to boot. Although the price, $359, hasn't dropped, my original complaint (“Bezos will have to rethink the price”) about the “high” cost now seems just flat-out wrong—Amazon can barely keep the things in stock. Amazon's Kindle 2 is a cooler and even easier-to-use upgrade of the Kindle 1. And while I'm still not convinced that it's the last word in wireless digital reading—can you say iPhone or iPod Touch, for which Amazon, in fact, introduced a Kindle app last week?—the Kindle 2 is nevertheless a very impressive digital reading device that will continue to attract new users.