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Kindle Fails to Light Fire to World of Text

By Charles Desrochers / Staff Writer

The online mega-store, Amazon.com, has released Kindle 2.0, a follow up to last year’s successful e-book reader of the same name.

Instead of letting buzz snowball to a climactic exhale like many other gadget’s ad campaigns, Amazon chose to release its new device merely months after its announcement.

Why did Amazon do this? One reason could be because they didn’t need the publicity, since the original Kindle was still on back order at the time of the Kindle 2.0’s announcement.

Much to the delight of those waiting for their Kindle 1.0, Amazon automatically updated their order to the newer device, making them the first to receive it. The new Kindle sports several new features but at this point most of them are labeled as “experimental.”

The feature that has attracted the most attention as of late is the Text-to-Speech feature. Unlike traditional audio books, the Kindle generates audio without a prerecorded narrator. The result isn’t the smoothest speech but does get the job done for listening to the New York Times on the commute to school or work.

The reading aspect of the device is good, not great. The standard of quality for these devices isn’t set high. Eyes don’t strain while looking at the screen and the matte finish deters most glairs. But the screen isn’t back, front or any kind of lit. The Kindle requires an outside source of light. But this is all intended to ease the reading so the result feels very natural.

Offering 13 shades of grey, the Kindle can accurately replicate most newspaper pictures. This statement sums up the Kindle 2.0 perfectly: It’s hard to imagine anyone who would get excited over 13 shades of grey, let alone pay $350. The device does have an online feature under its “experimental” category, which works great if you like the slow Internet.

Another “experiment” Amazon ventured was MP3 playing capability which seems pointless considering most people own an MP3 player or don’t plan on buying one. Amazon.com offers an extensive E-book library along with subscriptions to popular newspapers and magazines. Kindle’s wireless capabilities, now running on a 3G network that requires no Wi-Fi hotspots to update, sets it apart form other e-book readers like the Sony e-Reader.

The rate at which the Kindle changes pages isn’t very fast, but it’s supposed to simulate a book – take that fact with a grain of salt. Also the Kindle offers checkpoints in books and periodicals so a large amount of flipping isn’t necessary.

The buttons are simple, minimalist, offer a Qwerty keyboard and the whole thing is as thin as a pencil. Doesn’t it seem like every gadget is thriving to be as thin as a pencil these days? The best way to utilize the keyboard would have been to type full rich text files but the user is limited to only typing Post-it type notes in the digital pages.

So what does the customer get for $350? Well, that’s a tough question to answer and it depends on how much it’s used. Here in lies the main problem with the Kindle, and other e-book readers. In order to get your money’s worth the customer has to buy and house several books and periodical subscription at once. The Kindle 2.0 is a means to spend more money. The books are cheap with many costing around seven dollars and there is no shipping or sales tax attached to them.

But without the books the Kindle does nothing on its own. The customer’s are paying for the opportunity to pay money. You could buy the iPhone and pay $20 for a data plan and get everything the Kindle offers making it seem obsolete if one can put up with looking at an illuminated screen for an extended period of time.

The last complaint about the Kindle is that it seems to be marketed towards someone who has to buy books semi-annually and has to carry them around. College students fit into this demographic perfectly. Yet there are no college textbooks offered on Amazon’s digital library. Imagine carrying all your text books in one light, easy to read device that seldom needs charging.

I can’t recommend buying the Kindle 2.0 to anyone who reads less than two books a month. Newspapers, like the Washington Post, are much easier to read than their real life counterparts. This, and the possibility that Amazon.com will realize that there is a huge market for E-textbooks, would lead me to strongly recommend it. It’s a gamble though. If you honestly don’t have anything to do with your tax return, then buy the Kindle 2.0.