Let me first say: yes, there are already a lot of unboxing and impressions of Kindle 2.0 out there. But that isn’t stopping me from giving my own impressions as opposed to some wannabe journo at some blog with implied authority. I’m not saying or trying to infer their similar posts are lacking in any way, this is just my take.

When Kindle first came out, it was an interesting idea to me, but I wasn’t sold on what it had to offer at that point. There was also a part of me that liked (and still does) the notion of a physical book in my hand and lining my bookshelves, especially since I tend to re-read a lot of my books a few years apart. I’m an avid reader, and probably knock out a few hundred books a year, and space adds up. Adding to that, I also don’t believe in throwing books away, so I end up giving them away or donating them, which often times means I end up procrastinating in giving away or donating those books. So that was something I wasn’t quite sold on: the lack of physicality in a book. However, I knew that Kindle was something I wanted to try out, but just not with the first version.

In all that time since then, I have had no problem avoiding buying Kindle 1.0, I just felt that strongly that the initial offering was lacking, specifically in the form factor. Plus I have never seen another person using one, even now. Maybe if I had I would have gotten the itch more (consumerism rises again), but its worked out this way. So I have been waiting for the second revision of Kindle, Kindle 2.0, and that finally came when the box showed up at my door yesterday after I pre-ordered it a few weeks ago as soon as it was available on Amazon.

Coincidentally, a friend of mine got me a light box kit for Christmas this year (thanks, Jeff!), and I had a new unopened box with a gadget inside of it. The stars aligned, and here we all are with me doing an unboxing and babbling.

So first impressions? I really like it. Also, keep in mind I did not have Kindle 1.0, so I can’t make direct comparisons.

  1. Surprised that Amazon actually shipped something in the proper sized box. I’ve gotten memory cards in shoe-box sized boxes. This order was perfectly snug in the box, and included both a single slim box for the Kindle itself, and a single even smaller box for the Kindle 2.0 Leather Cover I also ordered (this thing is getting thrown into my messenger bag, with my laptop and d80, some chargers, etc. so it needs a way to survive).
  2. The battery was halfway charged already, and instructions bore me, so it was instantly turned on. Later I read that I should have plugged it in and then turned it on. Screw that, waste of time, and it didn’t break anything. I did find it slightly annoying to have to slide and hold the power button to start it (and the same to turn it off), but this isn’t so much as annoying as accepted at this point. Though it is odd, a quick slide puts it into sleep mode with a random author portrait displayed (and another quick slide wakes it back up), but in some ways I question why this just isn’t a simple toggle, not a slider that one has to hold to power up/down. Like I said, though, this is a paltry sticking point, and one that doesn’t alter my opinion of the device.
  3. The display is very crisp. It comes with a plastic cover on it that you have to remove, and it was pleasantly surprising to realize that the instructions I saw on the Kindle’s screen itself were not actually on that plastic cover as I had originally assumed at a glance, but were what the e-ink display had onscreen. It was a nice introduction to the first e-ink I’ve owned.
  4. Glad that the charger is a small form factor and, for the most part, standard. Amazon pretty much stuck their logo on everything they could find.
  5. Buttons are sturdy and the device feels solid. The metal backing is nice. The buttons are not easily pressed accidentally, as people have said about the original Kindle, but not so stiff as to be difficult to use.
  6. The device powered up quickly, and knew who I was, and what my Amazon account had in it. This was surprising, mainly because I hadn’t thought of it: it was configured for my account. If this was bought as a gift, I would have had to go through the registration process, but as it is I turned it on and it was connected to Amazon, my account on Amazon, and it was recommending me Kindle books based on my reading history. (This also made me realize I needed to clean up my Amazon recommendations, as I was getting books recommended to me that I would never read, based on books I had bought for others as gifts.)
  7. The first books I bought were Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson and The Art of War by Sun Tzu (both are books I have read multiple times). Downloaded in less than a minute. In many ways, it was just like reading a book. Reading it felt no different to me than reading a paperback, which is a subtle but key thing to note. Also, as a guy on my team pointed out, it’s nice to be able to hold the Kindle in one hand if you are (for example) reading in bed, moreso with paperbacks that are sometimes difficult to hold with one hand without your thumb and pinky covering chunks of the pages.
  8. I found that I sped up the default settings of the text-to-speech and also dropped the font size to as small as it could be, but that’s more just my personal preference. The speech is pretty solid, though it doesn’t quite carry the sarcastic tone some lines in Snow Crash deserve, but I also found that I preferred the female voice as it’s speech sounded a bit more clear. Whereas with the male voice I would pick up on the slight hiccups it would have with a pronunciation and that ultimately distracted me from what I was listening to. This was also exacerbated because I had speech on fast, and I ended up putting it back to the default speed which alleviated those hiccups, and it works great (though, to be fair, I am not an audio book person and won’t be using this feature that much I don’t think).
  9. You really would be surprised just how thin it is. When people asked to see it, I found I would end up unhooking it from the leather case so they could really get a sense of the weight and slim profile the device had. By the way, how Kindle 2.0 locks into the leather case is pretty cool. On the case there is a slider lock on the top, and a curved tang on the bottom; one has to rotate the Kindle onto the bottom tang and the move the slider down to fit into the top slot. The top slider then springs back, thus locking the case onto the device. Though I wonder if (over time) the two hooks will present as pressure points and either wear out the case, or (worse) wear out the slots on the Kindle itself. Not sure if Kindle 1.0 was the same in this regard, so it would be interesting to hear if any Kindle 1.0 owners noticed wear and tear like that.
  10. It’s cool to have a dictionary on the device. And it lets co-workers who want to take a look at a Kindle in-person look up the word “dick” in the dictionary and leave the results there for you to find…you know, as a surprise. Thanks, Scott.

What wasn’t so hot, or what do I see lacking? Overall, not very much:

  1. The 5-way controller/rocker should be consistently usable across all types of views of pages. Plus using it to go through lists/menus is slower than I would like, you have to down, down, down, down, etc. And it jumps from link to link in pages of links (such as the Kindle Store). The bigger part of that is that using this as a navigation element could be smoother.
  2. I wish there was a way for me to skip to the bottom of the page (specifically when viewing a bunch of links, such as on the Amazon Store or a website) to more quickly get to links at the bottom of the page. Maybe there is and I just haven’t found it yet. This relates to the slower nature of the 5-way rocker.
  3. While a guy I work with was randomly messing around with it, he got an error when trying to turn on speech. Something along the lines of “an error occurred with the speech engine.” However, this did not kill the device, everything was still completely usable, and when we tried a second time right after that the text-to-speech worked just fine.
  4. I did experience a little oddity in downloading another book, in that it showed up in my Archive initially (not in the area where books normally appear, aka your home screen), and when I tried to open it it would just say “opening…” on the screen and do nothing. I had to go into the Menu to tell it to sync and check for updates, and then apparently that triggered Kindle to fully download the book. It was one slight hiccup, and again ultimately did not kill the device, so Kindle seems to have some good thinking to keep the device from getting into a bad state. All other downloads since then (either bought directly on my Kindle or sent to my Kindle from the Amazon site) have been flawless and shockingly quick.
  5. The first time I typed on Kindle 2.0 I thought it felt awkward, but as I used it I adjusted to it (within the space of a few minutes). Specifically it was the width of the keyboard and how far I had to extend my thumbs to reach the center of the keyboard (and I have big hands). I think this is also partly related to how I am accustomed to typing on the iPhone. Also, the buttons were a little stiff, and I found it hard to tell (in a tactile sense) when it registered a keypress. However, after a little use this all went away. I believe the keypress “stiffness” was intentional, as Kindle 1.0 seems to have been plagued by all kinds of accidental button/key presses.
  6. The SD slot is gone, in favor of 2gb of internal storage. I’d like to see SD added back in, and the internal storage still present as well. Though if it went all-SD I could get behind that too.
  7. Touch screen. Don’t has it. This is probably the biggest single thing that could undoubtedly and significantly plus up the device overall. I, and the guys on my team who messed around with it for a while, all initially had the urge to push the buttons on the screen when trying to search. Some of us actually did it a couple of times. We’re all heavy iPhone users, so there is that side to it, but I think it’s pretty clear that a touch screen would do good things. Again, I don’t find the lack of a touch screen kills my use of the device or diminishes what I like about it, this would just be a great addition (and one I wouldn’t expect for a while).

Overall I have to say I really like it so far. It’s a revolution in how we consume books and the written word, and I can easily see why some people call it an iPod for books. I’ve had it less than 24 hours at this point, and have probably messed around with it a total of 4-5 hours, though I am thinking I’ll revisit this post, or make an updated one, in a month after I’ve had some time to really get into Kindle and use it. But so far, I like it, and I would recommend it to those who are interested.