By Dan Frommer
March 23, 2009: 06:00 AM ET
(alleyinsider.com) — Amazon’s (AMZN) Kindle 2 e-book reader looks like a solid winner. It is, as usual, at the top of the company’s best-selling-electronics charts. And we’re starting to see them "in the wild" more often: It’s not as strange to see regular people using them on the train, in airports, and coffee shops.
Amazon was kind enough to let us borrow a Kindle 2 to test out. So here’s ten of our favorite and least favorite things about it.
5 Things We Love
It’s really good at what it’s designed for: Reading books that are mostly text. Its e-ink screen technology makes reading a book almost as effortless as reading a book that’s printed on paper. The slimmer new Kindle 2 design makes it easier to hold, carry, and turn pages. And the long battery life means you don’t have to worry about getting lost in a text without a charging cable.
It’s discreet! No one will ever know that you’re reading The Da Vinci Code, The Tipping Point, Infinite Jest, DOS For Dummies, or anything by Danielle Steele.
Kindle-optimized Web sites are on the way. Instapaper, which lets you save magazine articles, news stories, and blog posts to "read later" is one of our favorite Web sites and iPhone apps. Now founder Marco Arment is working on a version that’s tuned to the Kindle’s browser.
It’s super for traveling, with a few caveats. When I spent three months backpacking in Europe several summers ago, I brought too many books: A few thick editions of Lonely Planet and Let’s Go, a Rick Steves, novels for 8-hour train rides, Eurail timetable, and more. A Kindle 2 would swallow all of those into a much smaller, lighter package, plus it would be searchable. But: The Sprint (S) wireless features will not work outside the U.S., so make sure you get everything before you get on the plane. And while black-and-white maps are passable on the Kindle, color illustrations — e.g., subway maps — are often useless.
New books are cheaper on the Kindle than on paper. Makes up for the $360 you have to drop to get a Kindle in the first place. Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, for instance, costs $17 in hardcover at Amazon, but is $10 for the Kindle. The Host is $5 cheaper on the Kindle, too.
5 Things We Hate
Your book library starts from scratch. The iPod was great because you could fill it up with a big music library — ripped from CDs — for free. Now you have to buy everything over again, even paper books you’ve recently purchased from Amazon. We’d love to be able to fill our Kindle with at least some of the dead-tree books we’ve bought before.
The design is better than the first Kindle, but still not fully thought-through. The screen should be bigger and the keyboard smaller. There’s less space for text on the screen than even the smallest of paperbacks. Organizing your library needs to be better. And we’d still prefer a lighter background so there’s more contrast against the words.
It’s expensive and novel, so people have an incentive to steal it! Unlike a book, you can’t just leave it somewhere and wander away, assuming it’ll be there when you return. And you have to be careful with it — dropping a book is no problem, but dropping a Kindle could be an expensive mistake.
For something that only does one thing really well, it’s still pretty bulky. Especially with a cover. If you’re going to have to bring a bag with you, we’re more attracted to the idea of something like the Apple tablet we’ve seen rumors about, which could be a good e-book reader, but also offer much better Web and multimedia features than the Kindle. But maybe we’re thinking too much like gadget geeks and not enough like book readers here.
Old books double as living room decor. Kindle books don’t! Someday we’ll get over the idea of a well-kept bookshelf, the way we got over the idea of a well-kept CD rack. But it’ll take longer.
All in all, we’re pleased with the Kindle 2. As potential buyers, we’re hoping the price goes down soon, because we think it’s still too expensive. (Especially because we have to start our book libraries from scratch.) But we think Amazon is on the right path, and especially with new stuff like the iPhone Kindle app, is the clear leader in the nascent e-book industry.