Barbara Krasnoff

Amazon introduces the Kindle 2 -- will it save "long form" reading?

February 09, 2009 10:09 AM EST

Amazon introduced its new Kindle 2 today with the usual overblown claims that any product vendor is bound to make. What has Amazon done, at least according to CEO Jeff Bezos? It's saved reading.

The new Kindle 2 brings a number of improvements to its predecessor: It's thinner at .36 of an inch; it's got an improved interface, including a 5-way controller; it's got (according to Bezos) improved battery life (5 days without charging); it has 2GB of storage, 1.7 GB available to the user; and it can now read to you, using a new text-to-speech feature. And all this for only $359. It will ship on February 24 (and hopefully, there will be enough units to match demand).Amazon.com's Kindle 2

According to Bezos, the Kindle will rescue "long form" reading from potential oblivion. At today's press conference introducing the Kindle, he said that Amazon has been working for years to "evolve the tools to bring the convenience of the modern era to long form reading."

To prove it, Amazon showed a video (one of the many embedded in their order page) in which a variety of happy Kindle 2 testers explained that the Kindle is "easier to read than regular old books" and "better than a book."

The press conference even included a guest star: writer Stephen King, who read a "scene" (as King put it) in which his POV character Wesley is converted by his students to the idea that books aren't just paper and ink but are ideas that can be as well or better received by a "book-reading gadget" -- the Kindle. (Apparently, the Kindle in the story -- titled "Ur" and coming to a Kindle near you -- will also access alternate worlds.)

It's hard -- especially if you're what used to be called a bookworm -- not to want to play with one of these devices. It is indeed attractive -- lightweight, very easy to read, and making available (for a fee, of course) selections from thousands of different books and magazines.

But it is also $359 -- before you start buying your books.

It will be interesting to see how well luxury items such as the Kindle do over the next few months -- and yes, in these days of cautious consumers and mass layoffs, something like the Kindle -- which does one thing very, very well, but cannot be considered a necessity by any means -- will do. Will addictive readers who have limited means consider this something worthy of breaking their budget? Or will some less expensive alternative finally make its way into the market?

Meanwhile, I've put in my name for a review loaner, just to see if I can be convinced. And to see if the Kindle -- and devices like it -- will indeed save reading. Assuming reading needs to be saved.

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