Editors' note: Amazon announced on April 20, 2011, that a software update adding the ability to read e-books from participating local libraries will be added by the end of 2011.
Among leading e-book readers, a 6-inch screen--which approximates the size of a paperback book--is standard: it's what you'll find on the Amazon Kindle, the Barnes & Noble Nook, and at least one version of the Sony Reader. But for those who prefer the more spacious pages of a magazine or newspaper, that size can be a bit cramped. With that in mind, Amazon released the Kindle DX in the summer of 2009, supersizing the Kindle experience with a 9.7-inch e-ink screen.
With the subsequent arrival of the Apple iPad in April 2010, many tech pundits wrote off Amazon's similarly sized--and identically priced--Kindle DX as a nonviable product. But just a few months after Apple launched its much-hyped tablet, Amazon is making efforts to resuscitate the DX with a price cut to $379, a new graphite finish, and a screen that offers higher contrast and darker fonts. The device still has "free" integrated 3G wireless connectivity from AT&T, and aside from the new "high-contrast e-ink screen" doesn't add any additional hardware enhancements.
The Kindle DX boasts 4GB of internal memory. It's not expandable, but that space is enough for about 3,500 e-books. Should you ever run out of room (since you can also store images, PDFs, MP3 audio, and Audible audio books), you can delete your e-books with impunity and redownload them later as needed--Amazon keeps all of your e-book purchases readily available in an online "digital locker" tied to your account.
Though the Kindle is designed as a primary reading device, the e-books you purchase aren't trapped there. You can also download Kindle software apps for nearly all other major platforms (Windows PCs, Macs, BlackBerry phones, Android phones, iPads, and iPhones/iPod Touch devices) to access all of the same titles, syncing up between them where you left off with Amazon's WhisperSync feature. (Barnes & Noble's rival Nook reader also supports all of those devices.)
Notably, unlike the Nook and the iPad, the Kindle does not support the EPUB file format standard, so you can't use it to read loaner e-books from library, nor any of the myriad free titles available online from a variety of vendors such as Google Books. However, that issue is somewhat ameliorated by the fact that Amazon offers its own library of almost 2 million free, public-domain titles (mostly pre-1923, out-of-copyright titles), including a large range of classics by Mark Twain, Arthur Conan Doyle, H.G. Wells, Jane Austen, and the like.
In addition to hundreds of thousands of e-books, you can also subscribe to a good number of newspapers, magazines, and blogs, all of which are delivered wirelessly to the Kindle. The AT&T 3G wireless should cover most of the U.S., and it's completely free. It also will work in many countries overseas, but additional charges may apply. Unlike the new, smaller Kindles, there's no Wi-Fi option, but you can download content to your PC and side-load it to the Kindle via USB.
The Kindle has a built-in QWERTY keyboard for searching and notation; you can also tie the device to your Facebook and Twitter accounts, and share relevant passages among your social network. Anyone who's used an iPad or a modern smartphone will have an impulse to touch the screen, but, alas, that's not how the Kindle works. (That's probably for the best: Sony's attempt to add touch-screen functionality to its e-readers comes at the expense of screen clarity.) Instead, navigation is accomplished using the thumbstick and the page forward/back, menu, back, and home buttons along the screen's right border. It's definitely less intuitive than a touch screen, but most users will get the hang of it quickly enough.
The DX comes with a USB cable and AC charger, but no case--you'll almost certainly want to invest in the latter, but be sure to seek one out that maximizes protection while adding minimal weight.
Kindle DX vs. iPad
If you're considering the DX, chances are you've also considered the iPad, which has a 9.7-inch screen and starts at $500 for a Wi-Fi-only version. Obviously, in terms of functionality, the Kindle DX simply can't compete with the iPad, which not only allows you to read books using your e-reader app of choice, including the Kindle or Nook apps, but it supports video playback, true (albeit Flash-less) Web surfing on a color screen, and a variety of apps that let you do everything from play games, do e-mail, read comic books, and everything in between. The iPad is also a strong PDF viewer, and there are several apps available for viewing documents and other graphic images.
The main things the DX has going in its favor are its e-ink screen and superior battery life (up to 2 weeks with wireless off). Amazon says that the display's contrast has been improved by 50 percent over the previous Kindle DX, and though we didn't think the difference was like night and day, we did think the lettering looked darker and sharper overall. It offers 16 levels of grayscale, and the flat matte screen can be viewed in direct sunlight. That's opposed to the iPad, which has a reflective LCD screen. The iPad's touch screen is invariably smudged with fingerprints, too. Unlike the Kindle, it's backlit; that's a boon for some, but many others find reading a backlit LCD screen to be tiring on the eyes for the long haul.
On a more cosmetic level, we also liked the graphite-colored border, which helps to distinguish this Kindle from the older DX. (Unlike the new 6-inch Kindle, which is available in white or graphite versions, the DX is, for now, graphite only.)
The reality is that the Kindle DX is for a very specific user who wants a large-screen e-ink display that allows you to see more text on a single page or increase the font size and still have more than three words per line (at the third largest font size, which should be plenty large for most people, you get about six or seven words per line). Its size also makes it superior to other e-ink e-readers for viewing PDF files and image-heavy textbooks (however, the textbook market and adoption rate of students for the Kindle DX has not taken off as Amazon had hoped). Newspapers and magazines also are better suited to the larger screen, but the iPad's ability to display color and its zippier touch-screen interface give it a big advantage in this department.
The Kindle DX offers a rudimentary Web browser that Amazon lists as "experimental." That's a generous assessment: except for the most basic of text Web surfing, it's not terribly useful. This may change with a future firmware update (Amazon is adding a WebKit-based browser to the new, smaller Kindle that may be ported to the DX as well), but for now, anyone who needs a more robust tablet device to access the Web should stick with the iPad.
Another unimportant but often overlooked consideration is weight. The DX tips the scales at 18.9 ounces, whereas the iPad is 22 to 23 ounces (depending if you go with the Wi-Fi or 3G versions). Add a case (likely for both devices), and they'll be even a bit heavier. Now, both are quite light compared to a laptop, but they're comparable to the heft of a 350-page hardcover book (25 ounces). If you're holding them upright during a long reading session, they could begin to become tiresome, especially compared to a magazine, paperback, or 6-inch e-book reader.
Obviously, lowering the Kindle DX's price and improving its screen are something Amazon had to do to keep the DX relevant--and we're glad it did. With a price delta between it and the entry-level iPad now standing at $120, those considering a larger, dedicated e-reader might be tempted to opt for the DX. Still, its lack of versatility (no video, limited Web browser) and Amazon's price cut to its 6-inch Kindle ($139 for Wi-Fi, $189 for Wi-Fi plus 3G), hurt some of the DX's appeal and leave as niche product. But at least the new look, and improved pricing and screen contrast give it a better chance of survival in a post-iPad world.