Another nice convenience: if you have multiple Kindles on a single account--or, more likely, if you're running Amazon's free Kindle App on your iPhone or iPod Touch--all of your content will be synced up. Stop reading a book on Page 116 on the DX, and when you pull it up on the iPhone, it'll resume at that point.
About those PDF documents: there's no explicit zoom feature, but switching into landscape (horizontal) mode crops the PDF and essentially enlarges a portion of it. One of the problems with the Kindle is that it doesn't appear to have the horsepower to properly zoom in and out of PDF files quickly, and thus this horizontal mode is Amazon's workaround. While it may not offer the most flexibility in terms of viewing options, it's not bad. One warning: in order to get quick, smooth transitions going from portrait to landscape mode, you have to hold the Kindle DX upright so the screen is facing you at a right-angle. Also, if you're not careful, you can end up tilting the device and accidentally switching viewing modes. If you have trouble with this, you can set the screen to stay in a fixed vertical or horizontal mode. And you can even choose to flip the screen so it's upside-down with the keyboard on top.
We promised more on the Web browser improvements and here it is: you can now switch from a basic mode to an advanced "desktop" mode that allows you to view the Web page as you would on your desktop (you switch into landscape mode to get a wider angle of view). You access this mode while using the browser and hitting the menu button, which reveals the desktop mode option.
As a test, we brought up the CNET home page, and after some lengthy load times and some funky graphical glitches, the page did indeed look more or less like a monochrome version of CNET's home page. (This model, like previous Kindles, doesn't offer Flash support and won't display video). In other words, yeah, it's improved, but it's not a huge improvement. Ultimately, the browser still does best with lighter-weight (read: fewer graphics) mobile versions of Web sites that are suitable for viewing on mobile phones. (For now, Amazon is saying that a firmware upgrade will not be available to Kindle 2 owners to add the new browser features or native PDF support).
Small gripes aside, we don't have any complaints about the feature updates and generally think they're a nice plus. Of course, some Kindle 2 owners aren't happy that Amazon didn't include them in their devices--especially when you consider the DX was launched relatively quickly after the Kindle 2--but such is the cruel reality of a consumer-electronics world in which later products tend to incorporate new features.
All that said, you now have a choice between two different Kindle models, and the big question is whether you should spend the extra dough on the DX or opt for a Kindle 2. In our humble assessment, the majority of buyers will--and probably should--favor the smaller device, the Kindle 2. Why? Well, we have some concerns over the DX being more of a two-handed e-reader; yes, you can hold it in one hand for a short time, but you really need to keep both hands on the device to support its weight. Meanwhile, the Kindle 2 is easier to hold for longer periods of time with just one hand.
The other factor to consider is that when it comes to periodical reading (newspapers and magazines), the advantage of having more text and images on the screen is a nice perk, but the reading experience isn't enhanced as much as you might think. One problem is that even with the larger screen, you don't feel like you're looking at a whole newspaper (or magazine). There's typically one story per page and you keep hitting the "next page" button to turn pages and get to the next story. Alternatively, you can go to a table of contents and pick from various sections or select from a list of articles within the section. Again, aside from the fact that you're seeing more text, the overall reading experience is similar on each device. (Note: At the time of this writing, there's continued talk of reduced subscription rates on certain newspapers such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Boston Globe, but Amazon has yet to offer details on the terms of those reduced rates and we only saw full-price rates advertised in the Kindle Store. For example, The New York Times currently charges $13.99 a month for its Kindle version, but its rate is allegedly supposed to drop to $9.99 with a longer-term subscription).
As for textbook reading, we can see how the Kindle DX would have a distinct advantage over the Kindle 2. Also, for seniors or other sight-challenged folks who want to jack up the font size to the maximum level, reading on the DX is a better experience, because you can get a reasonable amount of text on the page, and the maximum font size is even bigger on the DX than the Kindle 2. With the font set to the highest level on the Kindle 2, we counted 11 lines of text with about five words per sentence. By contrast, on the Kindle DX, we counted 19 lines of text and six or seven words per line. (Note to arthritis sufferers: because the Kindle DX is somewhat weighty, you'll probably want to prop it up on some sort of reading stand. You can also flip Amazon's Kindle DX cover around so it becomes an easel, but you'll have to read in landscape mode for it to work).
The native PDF support is a tough call. Yes, it's a plus and the Kindle 2 should really have it. Amazon does offer an "experimental" e-mail conversion service that will turn PDFs, as well as JPEG, GIF, PNG, and BMP images, into Amazon's proprietary AZW format. However, Amazon acknowledges that using this service doesn't always yield PDFs that display accurately. Bottom line: if you're planning on storing and viewing a lot of PDFs on your e-reader, the DX is the way to go if you want to stay in the Kindle family. (We wish the Kindles were more open and offered support for other formats such as EPUB files, but, for now, Amazon has chosen to keep its e-reader garden relatively closed.)
Up till now we've been talking about the Kindle DX without any regard to price, but obviously its high price tag is one of its biggest shortcomings, and that may limit its appeal in the early going. We do expect that Amazon will figure out a way to subsidize the cost of the device for the one audience it hopes to reach in large numbers: college students. But for the average consumer, $540 (if you include the cost of an optional protective cover, which we actually consider a must-have) is a lot to spend for an e-reader that can easily break if dropped.
That said, there's undoubtedly a certain segment of buyers out there who won't mind spending this kind of money on a large format e-reader that offers the core simple-to-use Kindle experience, plus a couple of new features. This reviewer would prefer to carry around the smaller and less expensive Kindle 2, but to some, bigger will always be better--price be damned.
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