Kindle 2: not quite ready for prime time

The Kindle 2 is a very nifty device that leaves its competition eating dust, but it has so many near misses that I’m forced to conclude that the Kindle is really more like a badly organized Blackberry that desperately needs more finished applications.

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The Kindle 2 is a very nifty device that leaves its competition eating dust, but it has so many near misses that I’m forced to conclude that the Kindle is really more like a badly organized Blackberry that desperately needs more finished applications.

By Jeff Bairstow

I have assiduously avoided buying a Kindle, Amazon’s much-ballyhooed electronic book offering. I figured that the initial product would probably be little better than a prototype. And so it was and Amazon labored again and so the Kindle 2 eventually came to pass. But, after several days of puzzled pecking and frustrated page-flipping with the new Kindle 2, in my view, this model still has a ways to go before it will replace the little pile of paperback books at this writer’s bedside.

But, please don’t get me wrong. The Kindle 2 is a very nifty device that leaves its competition—largely Sony’s PRS505 Digital Book Reader—eating dust. But the Kindle 2 has so many near misses that I’m forced to conclude that the Kindle is really more like a badly organized Blackberry that desperately needs more finished applications. In the area of “woulda, coulda bin a contendah,” consider these few items.

First of all, why couldn’t the Kindle 2 offer a color display as an option? The current E-ink display certainly renders elegant gray-scale text and drawings with ease and offers more than enough contrast for reading under normal indoor lighting conditions. Nonetheless, I suspect that the Cambridge, MA, company has some advanced color displays in the works. In the meantime, Amazon’s business strategy appears to be one of incremental development to achieve market leadership, so color displays may have to wait a turn or two.

And while I’m on the subject of displays, how about offering a touch-screen display? The current navigational aid is a tiny “joystick” that moves in five discontinuous directions. A small trackball and a production touch screen would work wonders for the directionally challenged user, such as yours truly.

Amazon’s Kindle 2 allows you to search for a specific book—the company says that more than a quarter of a million digitized books are available for avid readers to search out, select, and read at their leisure. Once selected, the entire electronic book can be downloaded in less than a minute. The process is quite efficient and generally works well. Readers can download a short selection from the book before committing to the purchase price as an automatic credit-card charge. The first Kindle had 256MB of memory—the new one has 2GB of storage—enough to store about 1500 books, a pretty decent library by anyone’s standards.

You may also subscribe to a variety of mostly mediocre blogs and several national and international magazines and newspapers. But, caveat emptor! The Kindle’s limited menu choices make it very easy to sign up for a free trial subscription to a newspaper but the meter starts running without warning at the end of the trial period and there is no easy way to cancel the subscription other than by calling Amazon’s customer service department.

And the subscriptions themselves are not quite as comprehensive as they might seem at first sight. Most of the magazines and newspapers produce special editions for download to a Kindle. Not only is the text truncated but photos and graphics that appear in the paper versions do not appear in the Kindle versions. You get the impression that the KIndle still has quite a way to go before it will have an effect on the marketplace comparable to the Apple iPhoto.

Finally, why doesn’t Amazon add a cell phone to the Kindle? All that’s needed is a Bluetooth adapter and an earpiece and you’re off—”Look, ma, no hands!”

Oh, and did I mention price? The Kindle 2 costs $359 plus a leather cover for another $30. So a leather-coated Kindle plus a single solitary book will set you back four C-notes. I’m sure that sends Amazon’s Jeff Bezos off to the bank, singing all the way!

But, enough already. Kindle-schmindle—with a little help from its customers, Amazon will shortly have a winner on its hands.

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Jeffrey Bairstow
Contributing Editor
inmyview@yahoo.com

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