Thursday, July 29, 2010

Amazon announces the new Kindle

I will admit that I was rather unexcited at rumors that a new 6" Kindle would be shipping in August. The Graphite DX had just shipped without introducing any new features beyond its undeniably improved screen. I was prepared for the worst: the new Kindle would likewise have the same form factor and firmware, with only the 'graphite' color and improved screen to recommend it. Ho, hum. Let 'em try to sell me a new Kindle!

Given this attitude, I was completely unprepared to resist pre-ordering a new Kindle 5 minutes after reading about it (it took me that long only because I had to boot up my computer)! As it happens, the improved screen is just one of the improvements, and does not even outrank some of the others in my estimation. 

I've separated the hardware and software improvements, as the latter could potentially pertain to K2 and DX owners via a software update and are worth noting for that reason.

Hardware improvements:
  • 50% better contrast 
  • 21% smaller body, 15% lighter, retains same 6 inch reading area
  • joystick replaced by more ergonomic array of buttons
  • storage is doubled
  • up to one month of battery life
  • quieter page turn buttons
  • improved keyboard operation
  • Next/Previous buttons on both sides for full ambidexterity
  • numeric keys are gone, but apparently DX-like entry is possible (ALT+a top row letter) as well as from SYM table
  • built-in Wi-Fi, free access at AT&T hotspots
  • hinge system can power a reading light integrated into the cover
  • a built in microphone (to be enabled by a future firmware update)
Software improvements:
  • proprietary waveform/font technology for faster page turns and sharper letterforms
  • improved PDF reader with dictionary lookup, notes and highlights, ability to adjust contrast, and support for password-protected PDFs
  • new WebKit-based browser should be faster and easier to navigate, includes 'article mode', zoom options, improved navigation 
  • Voice Guide to assist menu navigation
  • select from among two serif typefaces (Caecilia and a condensed Caecilia) and a sans serif
  • Expanded script support for text display: Cyrillic, Chinese (Simplified and Traditional), Korean, Japanese. Finally!
  • Lowest price yet! ($139 for the Wi-Fi only model)
  • the 'header'/status auto-hides after the first page viewed! more screen real estate. MENU key reveals it temporarily.
  • Oxford English Dictionary has been added (for a total of 2)
  • progress indicator for downloads
  • no-fee downloads when Wi-Fi is used
  • Kindle access to Audible audiobooks in Kindle store (using Amazon or a linked Audible account), downloadable over Wi-Fi
It's really a fantastic upgrade, and will keep me Kindling kontentedly for the foreseeable future. Given this round of font enhancements, surely the font-hackers can declare victory and go back to reading books instead of hacking the fonts now?

I purchased the Wi-Fi only model and will use the $50 saved on a cover with built in reading light. There is no 3G coverage where I live, I have Wi-Fi at home and at most of the places I travel to regularly. In addition, I'm planning to get a Droid X, which (for a fee) will let you share its 3G connection with up to 5 registered Wi-Fi devices. Since I already wanted that capability for connecting my laptop to the internet, the Kindle can come along for no additional charge.

Regular readers will understand that I always have critical things to say as well. This is no exception!

What is still missing:
  • support for PDF reflow (useful with properly tagged PDFs) and PDF links (for navigating Table of Contents, etc.)
  • apart from the additional script support, no internationalization features (non-English menus, keyboard entry, dictionaries)
  • no automatic orientation detection like the DX (I'd pay maybe $5 more for this)
  • no support for directly navigating the NCX TOC (identical to ePub TOC) text, as opposed to the HTML-based TOC that is usually inline with the text (as in print editions). Currently books that have one of these just use it to enable efficient chapter to chapter navigation, and display of marks in the progress indicator to show distribution of chapters. But the Kindle Previewer application allows direct navigation of the NCX TOC, which can have more than one level to improve navigation efficiency. I'd like to see a feature added that would pop up the NCX TOC (say by ALT+T), it would highlight the chapter/section you are currently in, and allow you to navigate directly to another chapter without having to jump to the HTML TOC and navigate that (very inefficiently I might add).
  • no support for library borrowing. Given Kindle's dominant market share, which is likely to only increase as a result of the new Kindle, it is time for Amazon, Overdrive, and library professionals to work together to add support for Amazon DRM and formats to library systems and to Kindle software. I believe MOBIPocket DRM is supported in some libraries, so it shouldn't be that hard to add at least Amazon MOBI DRM to the mix. Amazon could add Adobe DRM unilaterally to enable this, but they won't, probably because of licensing fees and the complexity of having to support more than one DRM scheme, when one is already too many. In any case it is not Amazon's job to provide content to library patrons, that's the library's job (along with the system developers and content aggregators who serve them).
  • a better way to navigate to document hyperlinks (for endnotes, chapter navigation, web addresses, etc.). As it is, you have to stumble over all the non-hyperlink text by nudging the joystick (or whatever it is called now) around. I'd like to see a mode (ALT+joystick? ALT+enter?) to navigate directly to the hyperlinks on a page. Even if I'm the only one who would know about this feature and use it...
  • no support for Adobe DRM and therefore no ability to read books from non-Amazon ebook retailers that use Adobe DRM (B&N, Borders, Sony). As long as Amazon's selection and pricing remains as good or better, I don't much care about this. One can always use any of a number of devices (PC, Mac, Blackberry, Android, iPhone etc.) for such material. I'd rather see DRM go away completely (the subject of a future blog article).
  • pan/zoom of ebook images. on a 6" device, you can't get sufficient zoom to read many maps and charts, even if the image resolution is sufficient to show the detail.
  • STILL no built in ability for custom screensaver images? Or maybe it was not worth of inclusion in the press release. I think I did read somewhere that the latest Kindle software updates were successfully overlaying screensaver hacks, which might be good enough.
It would be nice if some of the software improvements - especially the font enhancements - trickle back to earlier models in the form of firmware updates. Why not?

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