Editors' note: Amazon announced on April 20, 2011, that a software update adding the ability to read e-books from participating local libraries will be added by the end of 2011.
Among leading e-book readers, a 6-inch screen--which approximates the size of a paperback book--is standard: it's what you'll find on the Amazon Kindle, the Barnes & Noble Nook, and at least one version of the Sony Reader. But for those who prefer the more spacious pages of a magazine or newspaper, that size can be a bit cramped. With that in mind, Amazon released the Kindle DX in the summer of 2009, supersizing the Kindle experience with a 9.7-inch e-ink screen.
With the subsequent arrival of the Apple iPad in April 2010, many tech pundits wrote off Amazon's similarly sized--and identically priced--Kindle DX as a nonviable product. But just a few months after Apple launched its much-hyped tablet, Amazon is making efforts to resuscitate the DX with a price cut to $379, a new graphite finish, and a screen that offers higher contrast and darker fonts. The device still has "free" integrated 3G wireless connectivity from AT&T, and aside from the new "high-contrast e-ink screen" doesn't add any additional hardware enhancements.
The Kindle DX boasts 4GB of internal memory. It's not expandable, but that space is enough for about 3,500 e-books. Should you ever run out of room (since you can also store images, PDFs, MP3 audio, and Audible audio books), you can delete your e-books with impunity and redownload them later as needed--Amazon keeps all of your e-book purchases readily available in an online "digital locker" tied to your account.
Though the Kindle is designed as a primary reading device, the e-books you purchase aren't trapped there. You can also download Kindle software apps for nearly all other major platforms (Windows PCs, Macs, BlackBerry phones, Android phones, iPads, and iPhones/iPod Touch devices) to access all of the same titles, syncing up between them where you left off with Amazon's WhisperSync feature. (Barnes & Noble's rival Nook reader also supports all of those devices.)
Notably, unlike the Nook and the iPad, the Kindle does not support the EPUB file format standard, so you can't use it to read loaner e-books from library, nor any of the myriad free titles available online from a variety of vendors such as Google Books. However, that issue is somewhat ameliorated by the fact that Amazon offers its own library of almost 2 million free, public-domain titles (mostly pre-1923, out-of-copyright titles), including a large range of classics by Mark Twain, Arthur Conan Doyle, H.G. Wells, Jane Austen, and the like.
In addition to hundreds of thousands of e-books, you can also subscribe to a good number of newspapers, magazines, and blogs, all of which are delivered wirelessly to the Kindle. The AT&T 3G wireless should cover most of the U.S., and it's completely free. It also will work in many countries overseas, but additional charges may apply. Unlike the new, smaller Kindles, there's no Wi-Fi option, but you can download content to your PC and side-load it to the Kindle via USB.
The Kindle has a built-in QWERTY keyboard for searching and notation; you can also tie the device to your Facebook and Twitter accounts, and share relevant passages among your social network. Anyone who's used an iPad or a modern smartphone will have an impulse to touch the screen, but, alas, that's not how the Kindle works. (That's probably for the best: Sony's attempt to add touch-screen functionality to its e-readers comes at the expense of screen clarity.) Instead, navigation is accomplished using the thumbstick and the page forward/back, menu, back, and home buttons along the screen's right border. It's definitely less intuitive than a touch screen, but most users will get the hang of it quickly enough.