So, somehow, I missed the fact that Amazon was going to announce the Kindle 2 today.
(Did we know that Amazon was going to announce the Kindle 2 today? I looked for Kindle 2 rumors on a whim about a week or so ago, and everyone agreed it was imminent, but I don't recall a date anywhere.)
Let me start by saying that I have owned both the first generation Sony Reader (the 500) and the upgraded 505. I don't own the third generation, touch screen, backlit 700 -- and after the firmware upgrade to the 505 that gave additional font sizes, I don't really see the 700 as a compelling upgrade. Judging from the unit I played with in Borders, the back light, even when it's not on, decreases the contrast of the display -- and if my batteries are going to run out, I'd rather it be the user-replaceable book light batteries than the Reader's internal battery.
Let me also say that I've always been a voracious reader -- and a voracious re-reader. There are novels, as well as a select few fan fiction stories I've found on the Internet, that I've read at least 10 or more times. One of the most challenging things for me as a teacher is that I rarely have the mental wherewithal to read in the evenings.
So having the Reader, which I can keep in my purse to grab a few pages here or there -- not to mention bringing weeks' worth of reading material on trips for less than a pound -- has been a real boom. It's been as transformative to my life and how I enjoy reading as the iPod was to how I enjoyed music.
The Kindle 1 would never have won any design contests, at least in my opinion (though I'm willing to admit that perhaps I'm biased towards the first device I own -- and am perhaps corrupted by the Apple minimalist design philosophy) while the Reader -- especially the 505 -- has always been slick and sleek.
But the things that kept me looking for Kindle 2 rumors, the things that had me wondering if, somehow, I could scare up some tax refund money, were two simple things: (1) you can buy books on the fly, using Sprint's EVDO network; and (2) Amazon's Kindle store has a number of older, classic Star Trek books (before Paramount moved in, took editorial control, and basically said that nothing was allowed to change by the end of a novel) that I really, really like and would really, really like to purchase legitimately.
Of course, they are available on the Internet for those of a mind to find them, but I try to be honest in my dealings.
(Remember that thing above when I said I'm a voracious re-reader? If you counted only Spock's World, Q-In-Law, Dwellers in the Crucible, The Vulcan Academy Murders, Doctor's Orders, The IDIC Epidemic, The Entropy Effect, Uhura's Song, The Romulan Way, and Vendetta, I would imagine that would account for something like 150 novel readings in my life time. The bolded ones alone probably account for 50. Also, pardon me for not linking, but that's a lot, and Google is your friend.)
So when I checked Twitter tonight and found Molly Wood tweeting about a Kindle 2 review, I was...flummoxed.
The Kindle 2 sounds like an incremental upgrade, at least from the CNet review I read, but that's rather what I expected. As you can tell from the generation numbers, the second generation (505) of the Reader was a "mere" +5 from the original 500, while the vastly redesigned 700 warranted a +200.
In other words, think software updates. Way, way back, long ago, upgrading from Netscape 3.3 to 3.4 was a very minor change, while Netscape 4 became something totally different.
If I'm remembering correctly, the actual readable screen size of the Reader and Kindle are the same, but the large plastic casing around the Kindle makes it seem smaller to me. Perhaps that would change if I could actually play with one for a few minutes, but one of the disadvantages of Amazon being an Internet-only operation -- as useful as it is in most situations -- is that there are no brick and mortar stores like the Sony Style or Borders stores where I've seen the Reader.
I like the fact that the buttons have been rearranged slightly, but I don't like that the Kindle 2 has no expansion slot.
(That said, my Sony Reader will play mp3s as well, and I've never loaded a one -- I would never want to drain my reader's battery by listening to music (that's why I have an iPod and a 9V battery pack for it) and I've never come close to filling up either its internal memory or the 1GB SD card I added to it, and the Kindle comes with 2 GB.)
The Read to Me feature is awesome, though. I've used my own computer's text-to-speech capabilities to make "audiobooks" of certain things but it would be nifty to have a device that could read something to me on the fly -- especially DRMd books, which are exceedingly difficult to make work on my computer.
I'm ambivalent about the keyboard. When I had a Rocket ebook reader (yes, I've been an ebook early adopter for years), it had a pen and limited handwriting recognition, and I did occasionally look up words in the dictionary (sward, for instance, is one I remember getting the gist of from the context but wanting to know for certain). But I can't really say I've missed it on my Reader. Obviously, it's necessary for browsing for books on the fly, but I think it adds to my impression -- again, probably psychological and almost certainly false -- that the Kindle's screen is smaller than the Sony Reader's.
The photos here show that the Kindle is nice and thin, and I like the styling on the back -- which makes me wonder if the people designing the front and back ever talked to each other. I'm not sure I can articulate what I don't like about the front...and I might not feel that way if I'd ever seen a real one...who knows?
Six text sizes is nice, but a recent firmware update to the 505 increased the options for that as well, so that's not as compelling a feature as it used to be.
According to this review, the Kindle 2 now reads .doc and .pdf files -- I'll have to investigate more to see if it's natively (and, if so, how you get them on the device -- see below) as about 2/3 of my content is non-DRMed .rtf files such as my own stories, stories I've downloaded off the Internet, and so on. If that's the case, that's a major deletion the "minus" column in my mental comparison scale for the Kindle.
Finally, we hit one last thing.
The Sony Reader does not work with a Mac natively. There are 3rd party options, but they do not work with the Reader's DRM, which means that I can't purchase a book from Sony and put it on my Reader unless I boot into Windows -- and, if you've been reading my tweets, you'd see that my latest attempt to do so is not going so well.
So, there again, until I someday upgrade my laptop -- to, say, one of the nifty new unibody Macbooks -- and then install Windows, I don't buy or add books to my Reader as nearly as often as I would like, and am completely unable to do so, say, on a long trip.
So where does that leave me?
Unfortunately, back where I began. I'm slightly tilting more towards the Kindle side of the equation -- because, usability issues aside, I feel more secure in Amazon's support for Kindle long-term (because its business is so huge and diversified, it can afford to support a niche market product like the Kindle, where I'm not sure how long Sony would be able to do so), and because Amazon actually carries a lot of books that I would buy, that are not available from Sony's store.
Huge draws: Read to Me (text-to-speech) and WhisperNet (on-the-go buying).
Minor draws: Long term, it might be safer to buy proprietary-formatted, DRMed books from Amazon than from Sony.
Drawbacks: Clunky design (though Kindle 2 is a step in the right direction), already have a Sony Reader (is switching worth it).
Now, if I won the lottery, this would all be a moot point -- I'd just buy a bigger purse and have one of each. :-)