Kindle's Feeling Reviewers' Love
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Call it Kindle Love, Part 2.
As Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) ships the second version of its popular e-reader Kindle, the reviews flowing in so far are waxing warm and fuzzy about device enhancements -- even though they are nearly silent on price.
Take today's review by New York Times technology writer David Pogue. He described the second generation device as more feature upgrade than product revamp.
"Kindle 1.1 would be more like it; the changes are fairly minor," wrote Pogue of the Kindle 2. "Fortunately, they're exactly what was needed to turn a very good reader into an even better one."
The original Kindle arrived in November 2007 at a cost of $399. Amazon reduced the price to $359 last year. The latest Kindle officially debuted Feb. 9 at a New York launch event.
While most Kindle reviewers make slight mention of Kindle's $359 price tag, one publication delved deeper into the cost.
USA Today tech columnist Edward Baig branded it pricey.
"The second edition of Amazon's looks better, reads better and addresses the first Kindle's (metaphorically speaking) torn pages," wrote Baig. "Still, most of the improvements are marginal enough that owners of the original Kindle ought not feel compelled to upgrade, especially at a pricey $359."
Baig concluded: "The book on Kindle 2 is mostly positive. If only it were a bit less expensive."
On the Daily Show with Jon Stewart last night Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos addressed Kindle's price point. He told the audience that Amazon would lower it if technology costs allowed that option, repeating what he's said before on the topic.
Amazon told InternetNews.com it has no plans to adjust the price.
"We believe that $359 is a great value to our customers when you consider all the advance technology inside Kindle, and the fact that there is no long term wireless contract," a spokesperson said.
Pogue's review noted that users would have to buy more than a handful of Amazon's $10 e-books to recoup the cost.
CBS Early Show's Natali Del Conte acknowledged the Kindle is "pricey" but said it is worth the cost.
"If you average it out, you're going to be saving money on books, because buying the books online is less expensive (than doing so conventionally) and you purchase the device only once," she said.
A book download for the Kindle cost $9.99, newspapers range from $5.99 to $14.99 monthly, and some blog services start at 99 cents. Magazine subscriptions start at $1.25 a month. Amazon has grown the number of titles supported on the Kindle, from 125,000 last May to 230,000 as of the new Kindle launch. The e-tailer declined to state shipment or sales figures of the new product, which lets users download e-books for free over Sprint's EV-DO wireless network.
Still, while the cost of downloading a book is cheaper than buying one brand new, consumers are pulling way back on spending. According to a recent survey from ChangeWave Research, three out of five consumers, 64 percent, expect to spend less over the next 90 days.
On the other hand, Amazon.com couldn't keep enough of the first Kindles in stock, and reviewers are raving about the e-book reader, while keeping their gripes about how some features perform to a minimum.
USA Today's Baig, despite his price gripe, is enamored with the Kindle's display technology, which Amazon.com improved, making it appear even more like ink on a page.
Kindle Talking Points
However he, along with a few other reviewers, was less than thrilled by Kindle's 2 newest and most controversial feature: a text-to-voice option powered by Nuance technology.
A writer's advocacy group, the Authors Guild, contends the feature creates a new literature format that should fall under copyright rules now protecting e-book and audiobook formats. It is advising members to ask Amazon.com to disable the feature in light of murky copyright issues with text-to-voice recording of e-books.
Baig's review implies the feature may be overplayed as useful or innovative. "I don't expect a lot of people to use it. The computerized voice is no substitute for an audio book read by an actor," he wrote.
The Times' Pogue noted that the read-to-me feature is void of emotional speech. "They read Hemingway the same way they read Stephen Colbert," Pogue wrote of the audio voice options.
BusinessWeek's Stephen H. Wildstrom, who writes the magazine's Technology & You column, nearly skipped over the feature in his review.
"Kindle can even read text to you -- though no one will confuse its synthesized voice with that of an audio book," wrote Wildstrom.
"The combination of the new hardware and its superior book-buying experience puts the Kindle 2 miles ahead of its only real rival, the $300 Sony reader," Wildstrom wrote.
He likes the smaller buttons and their adjusted placement, which can help avoid inadvertent avoid page turning.
Wildstrom just wishes Kindle was easier to read in poorly-lit environments such as a subway. "It's not great for reading in dim light yet," he noted.
And just in case Amazon.com thinks it's got the e-book reader winner of all time on its hands, Pogue helped put that notion to rest. "Silicon Valley is littered with the corpses of e-book reader projects."