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Initial reactions to my Kindle 2

The Kindle 2 still has growing up to do, but this iteration is still a convenient way to read when on the go. It offers a qualitatively different experience from reading on a laptop or a phone.

Toward the end of last year, I more or less decided that I wanted to get myself a Kindle, but I wanted to hold off for the next generation. So when Amazon announced the Kindle 2 in February, I put my order in right away.

David Carnoy/CNET

I've now had it for a few days and have had a chance to play around with it a fair bit. Here are some early thoughts.

Yes, it's expensive. $359--and typically add to that at least $29 for a case. Although there are many free books available (more on this in a bit), and new releases are generally cheaper on the Kindle than in hardcover, it's a good bet that you're not going to save enough on book purchases to come close to paying for the device--especially if you buy a lot of books used (as I do) or get them from the library. This is a premium-price convenience device.

It's the convenience that the Kindle 2 offers that convinced me to buy one. I travel a lot, and the idea of having a library in the form factor of a single paperback is immensely appealing to me. Frankly, I probably would not have purchased a Kindle, if I didn't spend so much time traveling by air with as little luggage as I can get away with.

Plenty of others, including CNET Reviews' David Carnoy, have reviewed the device itself, and I agree with what seems to be the general consensus: the Kindle 2 is easy on the eyes, and the controls seem to work reasonably well.

For reading books, it is a qualitatively different experience from reading on a laptop or a phone. It's not that you can't read on those other devices--in fact, I do it all the time--but the Kindle's e-paper display and long battery life make it far better suited for reading books.

That said, I do believe that we're still in a relatively early stage of this device's evolution. There may or may not be any truth to these specific rumors from Fast Company. (After all, we heard various inaccurate Kindle 2 "leaks" and predictions throughout much of last year.)

However, it seems reasonable to assume that future versions of the Kindle and its competitors will move toward a size that's closer to an 8.5-inch by 11-inch notebook, a touch screen, and color, as the technology and its associated costs improve.

Partly as a consequence of its current form factor, it's best to think of the Kindle as a device that really is primarily for reading mostly text books. When it comes to magazines and newspapers--which you can subscribe to and have delivered wirelessly--there are some pretty consistent threads in the Amazon comments regarding subjects like omitted charts and graphics, missing stories, poor photo reproduction, and so forth. Given that the subscriptions aren't exactly inexpensive--The New York Times' is $13.99 per month--they seem of questionable value.

If you're into classics, the supply of books available for free on the Kindle is impressive. The magic year is 1923, though some later works are in the public domain for a variety of reasons or otherwise made available as free e-books. Good sources include Manybooks and Getfreebooks. I intend to catch up on some Victorian novels and some exploration books that I've missed. However, I suspect that I--like others--will read more of this sort of material in principle than in practice.

If you feel that my take is damning with faint praise, that's not my intention, though I may be reacting a bit to the widespread professions of wildly enthusiastic love for today's Kindle. To me, it's all a bit excessive, given that the pricey device we buy today clearly has some evolving to do and will undoubtedly seem antiquated in just two or three years.

However, even today's iteration lets you easily carry around an essentially limitless supply of reading material. And if you're like me, spending a lot of time traveling, that's a real value.