In spite of its larger size, the Amazon Kindle DX ($US489 as of October 29, 2009) comes off as a surprisingly lean and elegant contender in the current e-book reader steeplechase. This enlarged version of the Kindle has a number of appealing features - including strong PDF support - along with a few missteps.
The shift to a larger-screen Kindle makes sense. Dominating the front is its 9.7-inch,16-grayscale E Ink display. The device measures 10.4 by 7.2 by 0.38 inches and weighs 18.9 ounces. Like the Kindle 2, the Kindle DX has a keyboard, but it's awkward to type on. In my hands-on examination of the device, I came to appreciate many aspects of its design. Still, some roadblocks ahead could impede its widespread adoption. The most problematic of these are the reader's price ($US489, more than some full-featured laptops cost), and the fact that early newspapers available for the Kindle DX lack the visual design and appeal of physical newspapers.
The Kindle DX's design was strongly influenced by that of Amazon Kindle 2: It has a white finish, a keyboard at the bottom, and navigation keys and a five-way joystick at the right (unlike the other navigation buttons on the Kindle DX, the five-way joystick and its associated Menu and Back buttons are similar in size to those on the Kindle 2). Gone are the left-hand navigation keys--a conscious design choice, according to Amazon. When you flip the unit upside-down, the screen automatically inverts itself and the navigation buttons respond appropriately, reflecting the new orientation. (Of course, the printed wording on the buttons remains inverted. Perhaps a future Kindle will solve that issue with invisible capacitive touch buttons that appear as needed, depending on the orientation.)
Like the Kindle 2, the Kindle DX has a minimalist design. The only port on the bottom is the unit's Micro-USB 2.0 connection. The reader charges via Micro-USB, but the charging cable detaches from the outlet plug, so you can plug it into your PC's USB port for data transfers as well. Direct-to-Kindle data transfers are more important with the Kindle DX, due to the PDF reader in the new device: PDFs of large, image-heavy documents can eat up 10MB, 20MB, or more. Since Amazon now charges 15 cents per megabyte for data you e-mail to yourself over the Kindle's Whispernet service, fees could add up quickly if you're an avid viewer of PDFs.
The top of the Kindle DX houses a power slider switch and a 3.5mm headphone jack. Like the Kindle 2, the Kindle DX has text-to-speech reading capabilities for handling content whose producers permit it. But whereas the Kindle 2 has a monaural speaker, the Kindle DX has built-in stereo speakers.
One major Kindle DX enhancement is the ability to reorient content. The accelerometer inside can adjust to display all content horizontally or vertically, or even at a full 180-degree rotation. This ability renders left-side navigation buttons unnecessary, and it's great if you're left-handed--or even if you just want the freedom to vary how you hold the e-book reader. And unlike the iPhone, the Kindle DX lets you turn off the autorotation (and anyone who has tried to read an iPhone at an angle while in bed knows how aggravating autorotation can be).
The other big enhancement--mentioned earlier--is the Kindle DX's native PDF reader, enabling Amazon to target the professional market, where financial documents, reports, marketing flyers, and even PowerPoint presentations are commonly published as PDFs.
Of course, the Kindle DX also opens wide opportunities for textbooks and such highly formatted books as cookbooks and profusely illustrated books). In addition, newspaper and magazine publishers will have the opportunity to deliver targeted, customized content that takes advantage of this platform.
At $US489, the Kindle DX will make consumers think hard before buying one. But it is also a very capable device that can benefit from a broadened scope. The more multipurpose Kindles can become without detracting from or minimizing their primary mission as electronic readers, the better-positioned they will be going forward.
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