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Why the Kindle is the Greatest Gadget of the 21st Century

It's time for the boss to choose what he thinks should be crowned Greatest Gadget of the 21st Century -- Jason Jenkins, editor of CNET UK, makes the case for the Amazon Kindle ebook reader.

In the past decade, we've seen gadgets that subsume others, products that are devilishly shiny and widgets that are superbly simple to use. But there's only one that feels like the work of magic -- the Amazon Kindle.

It's the E-Ink display that makes it magical. E-Ink is a wondrous invention that's different to almost all others in that it requires no power to display an image, just to change it. The effect is that the Kindle looks like it's working even when it's turned off. Pure voodoo.

Think of it as a modern day Etch-a-Sketch -- every time you turn the page of a book, the screen is shaken clean and the image re-drawn from scratch. This means the Kindle has an incredibly long-lasting battery, whose charge is expressed in weeks rather than hours. In an age when phones struggle to last a day, that's seriously impressive stuff.

The first time I saw an ebook reader with this sort of screen, I pawed at its edges, trying to peel off the marketing sticker I was convinced was simulating the image. But I was looking at the real image, I quickly realised. That feeling of amazement hasn't left me years later. If anything, it has become stronger as I spend more and more time peering at computer and phone displays with backlights.

That's the other major advantage of E-Ink. Its lack of backlight means you can easily see the image outdoors in bright sunlight, something you can't say of pretty much every other portable product. It's also much easier on the eyes, meaning my Kindle is the gadget I choose to use when I want peace, the kind I could never dream of attaining with anything else I own.

You could argue that E-Ink displays are used in loads of e-readers, and you'd be right. But the Kindle is the best of the lot. It was and is the only e-reader with a phone inside, so you can buy and download ebooks directly and seamlessly from the Amazon store without going anywhere near a computer. It's simplicity bordering on genius. None of its rivals can touch its online shop -- just look at the hash WH Smith and Samsung have made of theirs.

Initially only available in the US, when the time came to launch it to the rest of the world, Amazon could have done what every other electronics company would have done and taken years to painstakingly negotiate a data deal with a different phone network in every country, releasing it in each territory as they went.

But that would have taken too long, so Amazon said "Screw it" and launched an international Kindle that worked everywhere and piggy-backed AT&T's American network. The risk of incurring ruinous data roaming costs must have been huge, but that one bold step catapulted the Kindle into book-reading hearts across the globe.

That decision took real guts and is reason alone to vote for the Kindle as the Greatest Gadget of the 21st Century. That and its magical feel. And cheapness. Guts, magic, cheap -- case made. Now go vote for the gadget that is helping the nation re-connect with books once again.