Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Kindle 2.0. Two steps forward, one step back?

Kindle 2.0. Two steps forward, one step back?

As Tyler recently posted, Amazon has spilled the beans on the next version of Kindle. Now that we have all the specs, all that’s left to do is debate their merits relative to Kindle 1.0. In other words, is Kindle 2.0 really an upgrade?

A quick perusal of the official Kindle discussion forum at Amazon reveals a mixed reaction at best.

There’s no doubt that Amazon scored big with an improved display, a redesigned button layout, and longer battery life. The new Kindle’s “Read to me” feature is creating somewhat of a buzz too. But some of the improvements come at a cost that many current Kindle owners aren’t ready to pay – specifically the lack of an SD card slot and a user-replaceable battery.

It’s sure nice to be able to load some music onto an SD card and not worry about taking up valuable book space in the Kindle’s memory. And it’s comforting to know that when my battery finally loses capacity I can order a new one and swap it right out instead of shipping it back to Amazon or doing a warranty-voiding replacement job myself with household tools.

It’s probably safe to guess that squeezing the Kindle guts into a package thinner than the iPhone is what led to the elimination of those features. After all, the Kindle’s svelte new form factor is the first thing that Jeff Bezos touted at Amazon’s press conference in NY, so shrinkage must have been one of his main goals for version 2.

But I have to ask: Was anyone complaining about the original Kindle’s size? Since the Kindle’s rise in popularity I’ve heard a lot of reasons why people weren’t ready to pay big bucks for an e-book reader, none of which had anything to do with size (The biggest complaint – aside from a general reluctance to abandon print -- seems to be price, which Amazon didn’t touch). Why drop two features that most people liked in favor of one feature that no one is asking for?

There have also been complaints and numerous suggestions from Kindle owners regarding possible improvements and new features, but it seems few were addressed. Where are the folders? Where is the sharing? Where are the social features? Where is the wi-fi?

It’s as if Kindle 2 was designed in a vacuum.

Is Kindle 2 overall a better product than 1? The verdict among current Kindle owners is mixed, with this writer falling on the side of “No.” But it’s a tentative “No,” and only so much as to say I wouldn’t trade my original Kindle for one. Kindle 2 still looks like a great product, and when my original Kindle dies I’ll have no qualms about replacing it with version 2 (or whatever version happens to be out at the time). After all, at its heart it’s still a fantastic e-book reader wirelessly tied to the world’s biggest e-book seller.

But if I were still on the fence about buying a Kindle I’m not sure any of the new features would convince me to take the leap. If anything the new features versus the loss of current features is a wash.

Kindle owners, prospective buyers, fence-sitters -- tell us what YOU think. Which features do you like? Will you miss anything about version 1? Is 2.0 changing your mind about the Kindle and/or its future?

Paul Higginbotham

[Paul is the IT Director for an independent insurance agency in West Virginia. He has a master's degree in English literature and is an avid reader, Kindle lover, and aspiring writer. In what he calls his past life, Paul worked for 12+ years in radio broadcasting as a talk show host. Paul loves old time rock and roll but despises the song "Old Time Rock And Roll." Paul is author of the blog Destination Unknown.]

7 comments:

Yondalla said...

Okay...I'll bite. I waited for the Kindle 2 and I am happy I did.

When the Kindle 1 came out I almost bought it, except that I realized that none of the books I had bought in the last year (nearly all from university presses) were available on it. It was in August and September that I realized that about half the books that were available were. So I started saving. By they time I had enough money, it was post-Oprah and there were none to be had, and I had NOT saved enough to pay third party people for one.

So I waited.

I confess that when the photos came out my response was "ooo...cool."

I would have bought the old one if it had been available. I wouldn't have felt the need to upgrade if I had. Still, it looks slicker. I really think it will fit into my purse more easily.

I think that for some buyers that it has gone from "Star-Trek One" to "Ipodish cool" will make a difference.

I'm a little concerned about that joystick wearing out though.

Kevinpars said...

I think your comment about Amazon developing Kindle 2 in a vacuum was right on the mark. I have to agree with you that the features are a wash. I would have to see the new 16 scale screen to know how big an improvement it is, but I am still happy with my Kindle 1 for at least another year.

I wonder if the speed limitations of the Kindle are hardware based or if things like accessing the dictionary or searching could be faster with some code optimizations. And some kind of folders/sorting feature would be great. I guess I expected more from this press conference than what we got.

Eire said...

It’s sure nice to be able to load some music onto an SD card and not worry about taking up valuable book space in the Kindle’s memory. And it’s comforting to know that when my battery finally loses capacity I can order a new one and swap it right out instead of shipping it back to Amazon or doing a warranty-voiding replacement job myself with household tools.

These are huge points. Deal-breakers for me, especially the battery. Shipping it back to Amazon is a huge hassle and would mean you'd be w/out the kindle for awhile.

The only thing that makes kindle 2.0 an improvement is the read-to-me feature, which is potentially a huge deal (I'd like to try it out) but I'd prefer Bezos work on

1) protecting the unit from screen breakage,

2) increasing display area

3) and lowering the price.

Don't care about thickness, an entirely superfluous "show offy" thing.

Paul Higginbotham said...

@Yondalla: I hadn't thought about the wear and tear on the joystick. Good point.

@Kevinpars: From what I've heard the speed limit is due to hardware limitations. Apparently they've said that future software updates (if any) won't enhance speed.

@Eire: I think you're right about lowering the price. Even making it $50 cheaper would have been a news-maker. And the more hands they get a Kindle into the more e-books they're going to sell.

Michael Long said...

Personally, the idea that anyone would consistently use that abysmal keyboard for notetaking is absurd.

Amazon should have made dropped the keyboard and made a book READER more in line with the Sony readers. A smaller form factor would make the device a lot easier to pocket and carry around.

SquidgeyFlint said...

I think Yondalla nailed it in one:
"that it has gone from "Star-Trek One" to "Ipodish cool" will make a difference."

Thin is in.

And in the slick glossy glassy world of flick animation iPhones, form definitely has its place.

Alan Swartz said...

I really don't care about listening to music on my Kindle, I have a Samsung player the size of a flash drive for that.

As to the battery issue: I wonder what the life expectancy of the new batteries will be.

None of these things are deal breakers for me since I just ordered my Kindle 2 ;-)