Review round-up: Amazon Kindle 2

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Amazon unveiled an update to its game-changing e-book reader Monday, and the company's touting the usual new-product buzzwords: slimmer, sleeker, faster, better – with one notable exception: the price is staying the same. We covered the new Kindle's press conference yesterday. Now that reviewers have had a chance to get their hands on one (even if only for a brief time after the event), here's a look at what they're saying.

The upgraded e-ink screen:

The new version displays more shades of grey than were previously possible, and Amazon has paired that with a set of updated fonts to make the text significantly crisper and easier to read. But it's the speed of the display that makes everything different. Amazon claims a 20 percent improvement in page flips, but it's clear that the operating system is very capable of redrawing only subsets of the screen – perhaps the software is smarter about that than it was previously, it's impossible to tell. In any case, the result is that anything done on the screen is very much faster—moving the cursor, selecting text, typing, menus, you name it. It's really hard to convey just how much more responsive the device feels. [via Ars Technica]

The new 'read to me' feature

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Text-to-speech is a nice touch, but it's still hard to get over that computer voice. We can see using this to hear a recipe or short news article, but we're not convinced it'll be enjoyable for a full novel. [via Engadget]

'Whispersync'

With Whispersync, one Kindle can automatically sync with another; that's not particularly earth-shattering right now unless you use two Kindles or want to transfer content from an older model, but Amazon has said that it "will also sync with a range of mobile devices in the future." A Kindle app for the iPhone, perhaps? Now that could be quite a plot twist. [via CNET]

An iPod for books?

If one device does become the iPod of books, it's likely to be the iPod itself. Last week, Google announced a version of its Book Search that's compatible with the iPhone and iPod touch and gives users access to more than 1.5 million public-domain books. And another application, Lexcycle's Stanza, has been downloaded at least 365,000 times, according to October reports.
And unlike most other mobile devices that have been populated with free content and applications from communities of developers, Kindle 2 makes a steep demand of new users: that they pay up for more. Says Citigroup analyst Mark Mahaney: "It's the gift that keeps on asking." [via BusinessWeek]

The last word

Before they address the needs of some hypothetical super weakling who has the aesthetic sense of [Apple designer] Jon Ive, the cerebral voracity of Rain Man and the vision of Mr. Magoo, Amazon must address the needs of very real readers who read only a few books and magazines at a time, who like to download classic non-copyrighted lit and work-related documents for free, and who like to leaf through pages randomly. This last thing is important, though it may be insurmountable: Airport-friendly page turners don't really require non-linear random-access reading, but everything smart from Harry Potter to Infinite Jest does, and that's one concern that the Kindle, or any ebook reader, still does not address well. [via Gizmodo]

For now, we still see the Kindle as an expensive toy for reading enthusiasts, frequent travelers, and gadget lovers -- and not yet a mainstream device. Today's improvements will make new Kindle buyers happier than they'd be with the old one. But they alone won't do much to dramatically drive adoption. [via Silicon Alley Insider]

It's quicker. The text-to-speech option is terrific. If you're in a car you can put on earphones. It is a little bit like a GPS voice – you know, the navigation in your car. But it's got a lot of kind of nice features. Also it doesn't slide out of the carrying case anymore. One of the things that interested me about it was, clearly the people who do this gadget listened to people when they bitched about what was wrong and they fixed most of it. [author Stephen King for USA Today]

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