Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Kindle 2? Meh.

Last week, Amazon.com introduced the Kindle 2, the latest version of its eBook reader. I won't bore you with product details--you can get them by Googling "Kindle 2." Suffice it to say that the Kindle 2 is great for reading simple books with text, but not a lot more. Graphics? They're okay if they work with 16 shades of gray. Color? Forget about it. Animation? Double forget about it. Video? What is this strange thing called "video," Mr. Sarnoff?

If the Kindle 2 cost $199 or less, I could argue that it's a decent bargain for a dedicated eBook reader, but it's $359. For less than that, I can buy a netbook from Acer, ASUS, Dell, HP, Lenovo and others that can display eBooks, plus browse the Internet, get and send email, play videos and run applications such as Microsoft Office and OpenOffice, in a package under 3 pounds in weight. In other words, it can do the job of an eBook reader plus an entry-level notebook. So, why would I buy a Kindle 2?

If that doesn't convince you, consider the iPhone. You can buy it for $199, it has multiple eBook readers available for free or at a very low price, plus it allows to you make phone calls, get and send email, browse the Internet, and run thousands of other applications. It displays color, handles video and animation just fine, and fits in your pocket. So, why would I buy a Kindle 2?

Amazon and its defenders argue that the performance of the Kindle 2's display in bright sunlight and its battery life are both critical factors. They are, but they don't outweigh all of the other deficits of the Kindle 2 and similar eBook readers. If I'm not sitting on the beach, a backlit display will work better than the Kindle 2's reflective electrophoretic display. If I can charge the device at least once a day, the Kindle 2's multi-day battery life isn't necessary.

For these reasons, I think that the Kindle 2 will, like other hardware eBook readers, be bracketed between smartphones and netbooks--not functional enough to compete with either of them, and without sufficient unique features to justify carrying both a smartphone and Kindle 2, or both a Kindle 2 and a netbook.
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