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Kindle 2: 'better than a book'?

By / February 9, 2009

The new Kindle 2 electronic reader is shown at an Amazon.com news conference Monday.

Mark Lennihan/AP

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Amazon's PR folks must have loved this particular user testimonial. During the company's big unveiling of the second-generation Kindle e-book reader on Monday, CEO Jeff Bezos played a series of reviews from customers who bought the original Kindle and then got a sneak peak at the updated version.

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"It's better than a book," said one.

While there's plenty of room to debate that line, the device reboot no doubt improves on the first Kindle in several ways.

The new reader is 25 percent thinner, now 0.36 inches (the iPhone is 0.48 inches). While taller, it weighs slightly less than the original. It quadruples the shades of gray from four to 16, allowing for better pictures and crisper text. Digital "pages" turn 20 percent faster than before. Battery life jumped by 25 percent, which Amazon claims will allow the device to run for two weeks on a single charge.

Beyond simple percentages, the Kindle 2 comes with a 250,000-word dictionary that allows readers to look up terms in mid-sentence.

The tablet-shaped device will also read books to you. This text-to-speech function sounds a little robotic. But it will turn the pages while it reads aloud, letting commuters read during breakfast, listen in the car, and then easily pick it up again to read during their lunch breaks.

With free 3G wireless service, the Kindle 2 can download new books in six second, Mr. Bezos says. These e-books have been a growth business for Amazon. According to the company, 10 percent of Amazon's e-book sales are now for or through the Kindle.

Amazon's booming e-library will soon include The New Yorker, Gizmodo, and Stephen King up-coming novella "Ur." Mr. King's latest will be exclusive to the Kindle, at least for now.

The device's price tag has not changed: $359. Shipments begin Feb. 24. But if current Kindle owners order the new one in the next 24 hours, they can hop the line and receive theirs first. As ZDNet chief Larry Dignat put it: "Translation: Amazon will still have a line and hasn’t figured out its manufacturing issue."

Now that the press conference is over, reporters get the afternoon to play with the Kindle 2. We'll update you on their impressions when they come in.

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