The Kindle DX: Bigger, but With a Lot of Footnotes
By DAVID POGUE
The New York Times Circuits, July 2, 2009
From a reviewer's perspective, the Amazon Kindle is one of the weirdest, most polarizing gadgets ever to come down the pike. I mean, people who love it, love it. People who don't get it, *really* don't get it.
If you weren't thrilled by the regular Kindle, then the new, supersized Kindle DX isn't going to change your mind.
The Kindle is, of course, the world's most popular electronic book reader. As a wise man once wrote: "A couple of factors made the Kindle a modest hit when it debuted in November 2007. First, it incorporated a screen made by E-Ink that looks amazingly close to ink on paper. Unlike a laptop or an iPhone, the screen is not illuminated, so there's no glare, no eyestrain -- and no battery consumption. You use power only when you actually turn the page, causing millions of black particles to realign.
"The other Kindle breakthrough was its wireless connection. Thanks to Sprint's cellular Internet service, the Kindle is always online: indoors, outdoors, miles from the nearest Wi-Fi hot spot. This sort of service costs $60 a month for laptops, but Amazon pays the Kindle's wireless bill, in hopes that you'll buy e-books spontaneously."
(All right, it wasn't some wise man; *I* wrote all that.)
A new Kindle came in February, called the Kindle 2, featuring a few small enhancements: "The new, square plastic joystick is homely and stiff, but it gets the job done. Turning pages on the Kindle is a tad faster now. The screen shows 16 shades of gray now, not four, so photos look sharper; you can also zoom in and rotate them.
"The Kindle will also read aloud to you through its tiny stereo speakers or headphone jack, and even turn the pages as it goes. The Kindle's male and female voices are very good, but nobody will mistake them for the voices of humans, let alone the professionals who record audiobooks.
"The Kindle catalog is bigger, too; 230,000 books are available [UPDATE: now 300,000]. New York Times bestsellers are $10 each, which is less than the hardcover editions. Older books run $3 to $6. That said, Amazon is still a long way from its 'any book, any time' goal...You can have any of 30 newspapers, including this one, wirelessly beamed to your Kindle each morning ($10 to $14 a month) -- minus ads, comics and crosswords. Magazines (22 so far, $1.50 to $3 monthly) and blogs ($2 a month) can arrive automatically, too. Finally, you can send Word, text, PDF and JPEG documents to the Kindle using its private e-mail address for 10 cents each. Or transfer them over a USB cable for nothing."
The Kindle DX is pretty much the same thing--just bigger. It's about 8 by 10.5 inches (the regular Kindle is 5.3 by 8), with a screen that's 9.7 inches diagonal (versus 6), about the size of a paperback book. (The DX also weighs twice as much.)
The larger screen size was developed in anticipation of what could be e-books' killer apps: textbooks and newspapers. All those graphics, diagrams and formatting elements will do a heck of a lot better on this decently sized screen. But even regular books and documents are more pleasant to read on the DX, since you can read over twice as much before you have to turn the page.
There are a couple of other tiny enhancements. For example, there's a tilt sensor inside, like the iPhone's, so when you rotate the DX 90 degrees, the text of your book rotates, too, creating a widescreen effect.
In fact, you can even turn the thing upside-down, and the text dutifully flips to remain upright. On the DX, the Next Page button is on the right side only (on the regular Kindle, there's one on each margin). That's a bummer for lefties and even righties who like to read as they walk along, carrying the Kindle in the left hand and hitting Next Page with their thumbs. Now, turning the DX upside-down is the only way to put Next Page near your left thumb (although, of course, now all the button names are upside-down, too).
I'm a little baffled by the auto-rotate feature, actually. As any reading expert can tell you, reading is much more comfortable and efficient when the columns are narrow--that's why newspapers use columns. So making the text, and your eye, slog across the entire landscape-orientation, double-wide screen is certainly not an improvement.
The rotating feature must be intended to handle PDF documents, which the DX now opens without your having to convert them. Since you can't zoom into or scroll PDFs, rotating 90 degrees is the only way you have to magnify them, if only slightly. But in that infrequent case, a menu option or button would have done the trick. As it is now, the text flops 90 degrees accidentally far too easily--as you set the Kindle down on something, for example.
The DX also holds more books than the regular Kindle: 3,500 instead of 1,500. That oughta do it.
The other element is the price: $490. Yikes. Once the e-textbook era dawns, those long-suffering student vertebrae might find that a bargain. But in the meantime, well, jeez. You can get a 37-inch LCD hi-def TV for that kind of money.
So--like I say: polarizing. The Kindle DX offers a wildly successful, immersive, satisfying, portable reading experience. There are, however, an awful lot of footnotes.
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