hands on with the kindle 2

February 25, 2009

Yesterday, brown trucks across the country began delivering the streamlined Kindle 2 to delighted readers and gadget freaks. I got my hands on one late yesterday and have had some time to play with it. As an owner of the previous Kindle, I had a number of immediate impressions. First off, let me say that the packaging is beautiful as these unboxing photos at Engadget reveal. But…on to the Kindle 2:

Look and feel

It’s hard not to be impressed by how thin the Kindle is…it looks as good in person as it does in the photos. But you know what? It is almost too sleek and smooth — the rounded edges and sleek back make it difficult to feel like you have a firm hold on it. (And when something costs $360, you want to have a firm hold on it!) But, like the first Kindle, it will probably just take a little time with it to find the most comfortable way to hold it while reading.

One other early impression of the look and feel…on the original Kindle, there was less white plastic around the edge of the screen and it was broken up more. On the Kindle 2, there is so much white that it distracts me. Because the background on the screen isn’t a true white, it creates a noticeable contrast with the plastic. Perhaps I’m just used to seeing something different, and the white plastic will disappear in time.


The four way clickable navigation button is a true improvement. I tend to underline a lot and transfer the notes into Yojimbo. With the original Kindle, I could only highlight by line, but the new model allows you to begin and end an underline on specific words. That will make for cleaner notes. The four way navigation also allows a little more flexibility on the home screen as pushing to the right or left brings up some options on what you can do with the highlighted title (delete, etc.).

One other practical advantage…the navigation is quieter. I read in bed before sleep, often while my wife sleeps next to me. The click on the original navigation scroll wheel was loud! I winced with each press. Pressing the new navigation button is much quieter.


The screen offers more improvement than I anticipated. Side by side, the text is crisper, but it’s not significant enough that a switch from reading a Kindle 2 to a Kindle would feel like a significant downgrade. The space between the lines of text has been decreased. I tend to read with the type at the second smallest size. The characters are the same size on both screens, but the Kindle 2 has two more lines of text on it, which means less page turns.

Above is an image of the two screens side by side. (The Kindle 2 is on the left.) You can see the difference, especially in the clouds, between the 16 shades of grey vs. 4 shades. A nice touch on book covers is that they now extend to the edge of the screen on Kindle 2. The layout of the screen when reading is cleaned up some…my favorite addition is the % of the book I have read in the bottom left.

The page turns feel faster, but that might be a placebo effect because Amazon said it’s faster. With the same book in the same location, there was at best a slight difference between page turning speed. (It also feels faster when rapidly flipping through pages, but again…placebo effect?)

Text to Speech

I was a skeptic of the highly touted text to speech feature. I still am. After trying it, I don’t think I would use it. I have a hard enough time staying engaged while listening to professionals read books at increased speed. I appreciated that even Jeff Bezos was honest enough to poke fun at the computerized voice on The Daily Show.


The Kindle 2 is a true upgrade from the original. Many of the features are subtle improvements that add up to a better reading experience. If you went backward from a Kindle 2 to an original, you would probably miss them.

But if all you know is the original, they are improvements you can get along fine without. If you are thinking about getting a Kindle, I still think you can’t go wrong with buying a used original Kindle and saving $100 or so.

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