Why Kindle 2 is the Goldilocks of E-Book Readers
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it makes book-buying frictionless. In Wednesday’s press event introducing the Kindle DX in New York, Bezos revealed the startling fact that for books with electronic Kindle editions, digital unit sales amount to 35 percent of print sales. In other words, if Amazon sells 1,000 copies of a print book, it will sell 350 copies of the Kindle version. I’d argue that the wireless feature alone accounts for most of this success. That said, it was something Amazon couldn’t afford to leave out if it wanted the Kindle to appeal to the same consumers now accustomed to downloading songs, videos, and applications instantly to their iPhones and other mobile devices.
I won’t review every other feature of the Kindle 2 here, but I do want to mention just three of the lesser-known functions that have made me even happier with my purchase.
Clippings. Thanks to Web-based tools like Evernote and Instapaper, I have become an inveterate clipper of articles or passages that I find on the Web and want to remember for later. It’s easy to do the same thing on the Kindle 2, by manually marking the beginning and the end of a passage in a book, then saving it to the device’s clippings file. If you’re reading a newspaper or magazine article, the Kindle provides a helpful menu item that copies the entire article into the clippings file. The next time you connect the Kindle to your PC using the provided USB cable, you can copy the clippings file to your desktop, and if you want to save the clips to Evernote or some other tool, you can just cut and paste from this file. What would be even better, of course, would be the ability to send clips straight to Evernote using Whispernet. But not even the iPhone has this function yet.
Personal document transfers. When you get a Kindle 2, you also get an e-mail address like firstname.lastname@example.org. You can use the address to e-mail documents to your Kindle via Amazon’s servers, which will reformat them to display correctly on the device. I’ve tested this for Word, PDF, and JPEG files and it works great. Amazon says it also works for GIF, PNG, BMP, and ZIP files.
The company recently increased the price of these transfers slightly—they used to be $0.10 per e-mail, and now they’re $0.15 per megabyte, rounded up to the nearest megabyte. But that’s still a pretty negligible amount. And you have to remember that Amazon charges nothing for all other Whispernet traffic. (Just try asking AT&T or Verizon Wireless to reduce your data plan bill to zero.)
Beyond just sending yourself documents, the fact that your Kindle has a unique e-mail address means you can program Web-based services to send mounds of free content to your device, where you can read it at your leisure. My favorites so far are Instapaper (for clipping long Web pages such as magazine articles) and Kindlefeeder (for sending any RSS feed to your Kindle).
And here’s a sneaky trick: for works that are in the public domain, you can make your own perfectly legal e-books. I did this last weekend after discovering that Amazon doesn’t yet sell any Kindle editions of poetry by William Carlos Williams. (In fact, the Kindle store is pretty short on poetry in general.) So I tracked down a few websites that have published Williams’ poems, copied and pasted them into a Word file, and e-mailed it to my Kindle.
Image viewing. Over the USB connection, you can create a pictures folder and copy photos from your computer onto your Kindle. The Kindle 2′s screen, thanks to those upgraded electronics, can show 16 levels of gray, meaning it creates pretty good black-and-white renditions of almost any picture. See the photo above for an illustration. You probably won’t find yourself using the Kindle to show off pictures of your kids or pets to your friends, the way you might with your iPhone, but it’s still a nice feature to have.
The Kindle 2 has many other nifty features, such as a built-in dictionary, a rudimentary Web browser that lets you search Wikipedia and other sites and even send e-mail, and a text-to-speech engine—which makes any book into an audio book, and consequently became the subject of a ludicrous dispute between Amazon and the Author’s Guild. (This is the same group of know-nothing dinosaurs who tried to stop Google from scanning out-of-print library books and making them searchable—but more on that in a future column.) Amazon hasn’t acted on some of my other suggestions about how to soup up the Kindle platform—by experimenting with subscription-based book clubs or book bundles, for example, and by giving potential buyers a chance to try out the device at bricks-and-mortar retail stores. But I have a feeling they’re not finished innovating.