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Maximum PC Staff Apr 17, 2009

Amazon Kindle 2

At A Glance

Anathem

Great screen for reading; tiny size; hundreds of thousands of books instantly available.

Da Vinci Code

Too expensive; screen is black and white; proprietary book format.

Normally, we lead off reviews with the relevant speeds and feeds, but in the case of an eBook reader, like the Kindle, that’s not necessary. The Kindle 2 is about the same thickness as this magazine and the size of a trade paperback, but packs enough internal memory to hold an incredible number of books—between 1,000 and 2,000, depending on the length of the books. But that doesn’t really matter. What matters is that the Kindle 2 is a great way to read and purchase books.

The star of the Kindle’s show is its improved black and white, six-inch E-Ink screen. E-Ink replaces backlit LCDs with millions of tiny black and white capsules suspended in a clear fluid. The white capsules are positively charged, while the black caps have the opposite charge. By changing the electric field in different parts of the screen, the E-Ink is able to display 16 shades of gray, without a backlight. This effectively eliminates eyestrain as a problem, even during epic reading sessions. The use of E-Ink also greatly improves the device’s battery life—we got roughly a week of use out of a single battery charge, with wireless on. By disabling the wireless functionality, we were able to double that battery life. The downside to E-Ink is that it’s currently only available in black and white, which limits the Kindle to text-heavy books, magazines, and blogs. Sorry Italian Vogue fans.

Our second-favorite thing about the Kindle 2 is its wireless connection to Amazon’s Kindle store. By pairing the hardware with a no-monthly-charge cellular data connection, the Kindle effectively puts Amazon’s entire library of digital books just a few clicks away, anywhere that Sprint has a wireless data network. Find a book, read the sample chapter, and if you like it, you can download the complete contents in about a minute. If you aren’t in a covered area, you can download books using a computer, then transfer them to the Kindle using the included USB cable.

We’re still concerned that your purchases on the Kindle are tied to Amazon’s proprietary file format; however, the addition of a free Kindle app for the iPhone adds another option for viewing content should your Kindle die after the warranty expires. Even better, books for the Kindle are automatically synced to the spot you left off at if you have the client on your iPhone. While Amazon wouldn’t confirm any plans, we expect that there will be similar apps for additional smartphones and similar devices in the future.

The new Kindle repositions and shrinks the next-page buttons and the faster refresh on the new E-Ink obviates the need for the LCD cursor on the first device. At $350, it’s still an expensive update for spendthrift bookworms, although speed readers could quickly recoup the cost by purchasing cheap, subsidized books from Amazon . The Kindle 2 isn’t a required upgrade for original Kindle users, but the new slimmer formfactor and faster screen make it the most compelling eBook reader we’ve tested.

THE VERDICT

Amazon Kindle 2

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