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Wednesday, March 04, 2009, 06:00 am PT (09:00 am ET)

In-depth review: Kindle 2, the Apple TV of books


The ebook catalog

Over the past year, Amazon has done more to improve the state of e-readers than simply improving its hardware. There have been significant advancements on the content side, too. A year ago, Amazon boasted 94,000 titles; today it offers 240,000 books for the Kindle.

The original eight newspapers offered last year have expanded to 31, 24 of which are from the US. The eight magazines available a year ago have expanded to 24, including "The New Yorker." The 310 different blogs offered last year have swelled to 1315. Of course, most blogs don't translate well to the Kindle's screen. And who wants to pay a couple dollars a month to access blog entries that are freely available on the web?

There are also libraries of free public domain books that can be read on Kindle, including those offered by Mobipocket, which Amazon also owns. Mobipocket's selection of paid e-books do not work on the Kindle however (nor do Amazon's Kindle titles work on platforms supported by Mobipocket's incompatible e-book format). The serviceable integrated Amazon Store isn't difficult to navigate, although it is hampered somewhat by the slow E Ink screen. The included wireless service, which works nearly anywhere Sprint's 3G EVDO service is available, makes obtaining content easy, although it takes a second or two to load pages in the store.

Kindle 2.5: the same content on your phone

In introducing the new Kindle 2, Amazon also announced plans to open its Kindle content for consumption through the devices users already have: mobile phones. The company hasn't revealed all the details yet, but just today introduced a new application will let iPhone and iPod touch owners access the same array of Kindle ebook content on their Apple device.

It will be interesting to see how consumers react: will they embrace e-books that come in a form they can consume without resorting to buy another $360 device to carry around, will they use the Kindle together with their smartphone to create a sync-able ecosystem of e-book readers to fit their needs of the moment, will they prefer the more book-like Kindle, or will they simply continue to ignore digital books and stick with paper?

The jury is still out, but that question is likely to be answered rather decisively within the next year.

The wrap

Kindle 2 strengthens Amazon's efforts to resuscitate ebooks and significantly improves upon its earlier hardware. While it's no iPod of books (perhaps its the "Apple TV of books" that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos should start referring to as his "hobby"), it might tempt an increasing share of avid readers to invest in a convenient and fast way to obtain and read material without the weight and wait of paper volumes.

If Amazon can triple its sales this year, it will at least achieve parity with Apple TV, establishing Amazon with a decent foothold in the e-reader market, which seems to be about as difficult to crack into as the digital video TV set top box.

Even with modest success, Amazon should begin to realize significant savings from digital delivery as it also helps green up its operations by doing away with unnecessary physical packaging and delivery in the publishing business in the same manner iTunes has for music and video. That's good news for the planet even if Kindle 2 doesn't ever achieve blockbuster sales.

Rating: 3 of 5

3 Stars


Pros

  • Dramatically improved form and finish

  • Better screen refresh and enhanced display

  • Navigation improved

  • Long battery life

  • Decent, expanding selection of content


Cons

  • Very slow E Ink display makes browsing clumsy and slow

  • Size is not really pocketable

  • Web, blogs, and reference material ill suited to e-reader technology

  • Lower price is still fairly high, particularly compared to a netbook


Where to buy

Amazon.com Kindle 2: $359