My Kindle2 Review

OK, I’ve spent a total of 48 hours with the new Kindle, and here are my observations:

  • Definitely need to get some sort of sleeve or cover for it. I have visions of opening up my bag to find a broken screen and a grey goo situation.
  • Yes, it looks somebody ran over an iPod and flattened it out. That said, a flattened out iPod-like Kindle2 is preferable to the original Kindle model. It’s like Star Trek v. Star Trek: The Next Generation. Sleeker, better special effects.
    The post-cursor to the Kindle

    The post-cursor to the Kindle2: Tablets from TNG
  • And speaking of TNG, Will “The Ensign” Wheaton has a great little post about the whole speech-to-text debate. To recap, the Author’s Guild’s panties are all up in a bunch because Kindle upgrade now reads any text using speech-to-text software (not sure if IBM made the software but it’s pretty good) saying they are taking away the livelihood of people who make their living from audiobooks. Personally I feel this argument is so tired now (see horse-buggy manufacturers and telegraph operators) and so do some of the more forward-thinking authors like Neil Gaiman and Cory Doctorow. Anyhow, Will Wheaton asks “What if we’re wrong?” and does a side-by-side comparison reading of his own book, Sunken Treasure, and the Kindle2 auto-reader. It proves his point pretty well. I’m waiting for the time when authors are up in arms because the computer reads better than a human. Then again, Deep Blue didn’t kill chess’ popularity.
  • My daily interaction with the K2 is: as I’m in transit to the subway, I plug my iPhone earbuds into the jack and fumble around to get the reading started, stick it into my bag, and let it run. I like to keep the reading speed set to slow because otherwise it starts to skimp on the pauses between certain words, basically rendering the experience incomprehensible. (You’d think Amazon would fix the software so it didn’t read its parent company as “amazon point com”.) Also you have to jack the volume way up if you’re outside or in the subway unless you have some noise-cancelling headphones. So I would say if you’re listening to a novel the comprehension level will be sub-optimal, around 75-80%. It’s like when you’re reading a page and you realize you were just reading the words but not actually getting the meaning completely after a certain point and you just zone out. Like I’ve said before, reading is a delicate process.
  • Where I wish it’s more like an iPod is externalized controls over the reading such that I don’t have to turn the damn thing on in order to stop the reading of the text. This is a key user interaction principle that is often overlooked: don’t make your user look like an idiot. Or rather, enable your user to achieve effortless grace. I love the iPhone’s double-click functionality on the home button which brings up the volume and play/pause control on top of the screen lock, so you can pause or change the volume almost effortlessly and then go back to what you were doing before. It’s a subtle but incredibly powerful and thoughtful piece of user interaction design.
  • It is neat that the screen follows along with the reading of the text.
  • They added a USB 2.0 micro port — great, can’t use my old power supply, though that was a mistake anyways. This is what it should have been from the beginning. Much better.
  • The screen is still the same, but it uses the Epson Broadsheet controller which gives slightly faster refreshes by dividing the screen into 16 pixel sets and updating them in parallel. Still doesn’t solve the “black flash” problem though, which is more a function of the eInk technology itself.

Locations/Progress Indicator

pagination

“Locations”?

The “Locations” or Progress Indicator is pretty much the same (it now shows bookmarks and chapters etc). I know from designing the Redub Reader, that this is not an easy thing to design, what with users coming from a book which never really needed a “where am I?” indicator. The problem for eReaders is, if you can resize the text, how do you define what “page” number you’re on? I just don’t like the word-choice.

Home Screen

home screen

Yes, this is my second Kindle.

I like the redesigned home screen far better than the original. The thick black rule indicates which selection you’re on and the subtle dots show where you are in the progress of your book or article. I was puzzled at first by the two arrows to either side of the bar, but they turn out to be some common/useful functionality they moved up from the menu (which is always a chore to use). Left (on the 5-way controller) allows you to remove the item, and right brings up a whole screen of options for that selection, like description, go to the last page read, etc. It’s just a little cleaner and more usable.

Conclusion

All in all, I’d give the K2 a thumbs up. The pricepoint is still too high, but factoring in the on-board text-to-speech software (which I’m sure isn’t cheap) and the more elegant design, I’d give it a B.

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