After Hours

Geek Gift Guide 2009: Kindle 2

If you need a gift with tech cred for someone who is a voracious reader then the Amazon Kindle 2 rocks. But there's also another scenario to consider.

If you need a gift with tech cred for someone who is a voracious reader then the Amazon Kindle 2 rocks. But there's also another scenario to consider.

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At the end of 2008, I realized something disturbing. I had not read a single book cover-to-cover during the entire year. I love to read, so that was pretty surprising, but there were a number of reasons for it. Between long hours at the day job and two young kids, I don't have a whole lot of extended stretches of time for reading.

The only long stretches I get are usually on airplane rides, and since I try to travel as light as possible I usually don't carry books with me on the road. Instead, I typically spend my flight time listening to audiobooks and podcasts. So, in one sense, I had still been consuming books. I was just listening to them instead of reading them.

When the second generation Amazon Kindle was released earlier this year and TechRepublic got one of the devices, I decided to give it an extended test run to see if it would change my reading habits. In my first six months with the device, I read four books. So the answer was a resounding, "yes," but there was one big surprise that will have repercussions for any geek who is interested in buying a Kindle for themselves or giving one as a gift this holiday season.

You can find all of our reviews of this year's best geek gifts on the Geek Gifts 2009 page.

Product features

  • Price: $259
  • Screen: 6" diagonal E ink display
  • Dimensions: 8"(h) x 5.3"(w) x 0.36"(d) inches
  • Weight: 10.2 ounces
  • Storage: 2GB (1.4GB useable), up to 1,500 books
  • Network: Whispernet 3G wireless with no fees and global roaming
  • Power: Micro-USB connector (USB 2.0) connects to computer or power adapter
  • Audio: 3.5mm stereo audio jack
  • Content formats: Kindle (AZW), TXT, Audible (AAX), MP3, unprotected MOBI, PRC natively; Through conversion (with a fee): PDF, HTML, DOC, JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP.
  • QWERTY keyboard (for making book notes and searching the store)
  • Text-to-Speech (on some titles)
  • Non-removable battery

What I like

The thing that made the biggest difference for me was the portability of the Kindle. It is thin and light and easy to stow in a small bag. To save back strain, I like to keep my briefcase as light as possible, since it's already weighed down with a laptop and other electronics accessories, so I don't like sticking books in there. However, since the Kindle is less than a pound and has a very small charger, it has a minimal impact on the weight of the bag.

The other killer feature for the Kindle is the wireless book store over the Whispernet, a free cellular Internet connection that allows you to browse for books and then purchase and download them over-the-air in a matter of minutes. I also really like that you can download a sample chapter from any of the books in the store in order to try-before-you-buy.

Other things I like:

  • The battery life is terrific. You can go several days without having to recharge.
  • Not having to pay for the wireless connection is a plus, although I suspect it's one of the things that drives up the price tag of the device.
  • International roaming is a great feature. Here's the coverage map.
  • The online library backup provides ease of mind. If you ever lose your Kindle or accidentally delete a book, there's a copy stored on the Amazon servers so you can re-download it.
  • The E Ink screen produces less eye strain than an LCD screen and it's easier to read in full sunlight.
  • The bookmarking and notes are nice, especially for work reading more than pleasure reading.

The other thing that I need to add about the Kindle is that my reading really sky-rocketed once I discovered the Kindle app for the iPhone / iPod Touch. Initially, when I heard about the Kindle app, I thought, "Why would I want to read a book on that little screen?"

However, I installed the app and tried it. At first I just started using it when I had a few moments to spare, such as waiting in line at a store or in the waiting room of the doctor's office, etc. Then I quickly realized that I was reading a lot more on the iPhone app than the Kindle itself. I didn't mind the small screen at all, and the fact that my phone is with me all the time made it really easy for me to read a few minutes here and there. I also stopped carrying the Kindle on the road and used the Kindle iPhone app while I was traveling.

What I don't like

There are a few big drawbacks to the Kindle. First, all of the books that you buy are currently locked into the Amazon ecosystem. You can only use them on a Kindle e-reader, a Kindle mobile app, or the new Kindle PC app. With lots of new e-readers from Sony, Barnes & Noble, Plastic Logic, and others about to hit the market in 2010, this will become even more of an issue as readers feel locked into Kindle because that's where all of their content is. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has said that Amazon will eventually split the e-reader and e-book businesses so that Amazon devices will handle multiple document formats and Amazon's e-books will be portable across different platforms and competing devices. However, we haven't seen that materialize yet.

Something else to keep in mind about the Kindle is that not all books are available as Kindle e-books. There are currently over 350,000 titles available, but once you start using the Kindle you'll inevitably run into times where a book that you'd really like to download to your Kindle for your next trip is not available as an e-book.

The other problem is the price. $259 is a lot to spend on a single-function device like an e-reader. These devices really feel like they should cost around $100 or less.

Geek bottom line

If you are looking for a gift that has tech credentials and the recipient is an avid reader, the Kindle 2 can be an awesome choice. The ability to have a whole library of books in a thin electronic reader is very appealing. Plus, you can decide you want to read a new book and purchase and download it within minutes. The reading experience on the E Ink screen is also very good. It won't satisfy those who love the smell and feel of paper books, but everyone else will be thankful not to have to mess with big paper tomes.

The one thing to consider is that if this gift is for someone who is more of a casual reader and is also a music and media lover, then it might make more sense to get an iPod Touch. You can get the 8GB version for $199, plus a $25 Amazon gift certificate for buying e-books for the Kindle app and a $25 iTunes gift certificate for buying music, videos, and apps. At that point, you'll still come out at $249, $10 cheaper than the Kindle 2 itself.

The one thing you can't do on the iPod Touch Kindle app that you can only do on the Kindle 2 device is read electronic versions of newspapers, like The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. If the gift is for someone who would also enjoy reading the daily newspaper electronically (automatically delivered every morning) then the Kindle 2 device is a stronger choice.

Geek Gift score (out of 5)

  • Fun factor: 4
  • Geek factor: 4
  • Value: 3
  • Overall: 4

About

Jason Hiner is Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He writes about the people, products, and ideas changing how we live and work in the 21st century. He's co-author of the upcoming book, Follow the Geeks (bit.ly/ftgeeks).

9 comments
BillGates_z
BillGates_z

Another piece of over-hyped crap.WAYYYY too expensive and limited to a single service, sounds like a cell phone to me. How about FREE, just like a phone, since you're locked into a single provider.

DadsPad
DadsPad

No, I am not, but let me elaborate. I do not carry a brief case or back pack. I work in a cubicle and go home after. While computers are big part of my life, I just don't carry one everywhere. However, I do read a lot of books. A Kindle is not convenient to me. I like the idea of an electronic device to load a lot of books and use it. But a $250 Kindle to read a $7.99 paper back does not make economic sense. Paperback novels used to be called Pocket Books.. because, well, they fit in you pocket. Now the iPod is of smaller size, but, again, I don't want to spend $200 on something to replace a $7.99 novel. I don't want to pay for internet service when all I want to do is read. Besides at lunch and at home, I like to take reading material at the doctors, dentist or anyother place I might be waiting for a long time. The prices must come down to well under $100 and be more convenient before it will replace books.

lensdoc
lensdoc

Yes! In India, I did not think it was possible to have one, but now that there are networks that support it, it is possible. But who is going to change their network carrier, ISP and other things which have taken years to get to a level where we are happy in India now,in exchange for something we are not sure will work. There are many other ways to read light- weight.A host of e- readers are on their way. I, personally, would wait, before spending 250 dollars for the Kindle2. We still do not know what copyright controls, area controls etc., will come into play in real usage. Maybe I am Indian, get things the hard way. but it does not hurt to look at the elephant through the eyes of all the five blind men!

Willie11
Willie11

I have wanted one for a long time. I would like one like the Sony Reader Daily Edition (PRS-900BC) or the Touch (PRS-600SC) because I can read books I borrow from my local library and because I can use a stylus to make notes in the books I read. Having a wireless connection is OK but I can use my computer to download books. What is more important is being able to read books from a lot of sources, in a lot of different formats. I sure wish they would finally figure out the DRM thing and make it work. Sony is on the right track with their devices, now if they just had Amazon's eBook collection we might be on to something. Guess I'll just wait and see what 2010 brings.

ddannenbrink
ddannenbrink

We PDF a lot of things here and my boss has taken to dragging and dropping pdf'd documents, spreadsheets and even email to the Kindle 2, by literally the hundreds and reading them on his frequent cross country flights. He loves it.

dhood
dhood

Amazon is in the business to sell books. They should give the reader free to spur ebook sales. The Kindle is specific to Amazon's ebook business. The difference in price between hardcopy books and ebooks are not that much. I would by ebooks if the reader was free.

JamesRL
JamesRL

I have a work laptop, a home desktop for gaming, a home netbook for my son to take to school, and a portable DVD player. I like books, and I am patient enough to wait till they go on sale, go to paperback or get remaindered. So books don't cost me much, and I like the fact I don't need a device to read them. James

jck
jck

It's just too limited, and offers no possible choice of better products if they exist. I got my mother a fully functional 14"ish notebook last year for $300, and she can get online books from any source using a published format. Buying into a kindle just seems kind of...er...faddish?

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