Kindle DX: Looks Good, Works Fine, Costs Too Much
The Kindle DX, which shipped June 10, is the latest iteration of Amazon’s family of black & white digital reading devices to be released. And since I reviewed the original device in 2007; as well its redesigned upgrade, the Kindle 2, in March of this year; here’s my review of the DX.
If you read myreview
of the Kindle 2, there’s really not a lot more to say. The Kindle DX is essentially a bigger (9.7” screen), enhanced version of the Kindle 2 (6” screen) with a larger 3gb harddrive that will hold up to 3,500 books as opposed to the Kindle 2, which is said to hold about 1,500. Naturally the price is higher as well, $489 for the Kindle DX and $359 for the Kindle 2. All of the other stuff—sleek minimalist design, 24/7 wireless connectivity; the ability to buy any of more than 300,000 Kindle editions at any time day or night; including newspapers, blogs and magazines—is pretty much the same.Ultimately the Kindle DX is all about size. It’s bigger, although not necessarily better, but its increased size offers some important advantages in display. The DX’s larger screen is a major improvement over the original Kindle’s notoriously poor display of photographs, illustrations and graphic material in general. The Kindle 2 introduced the 16-tone grayscale which has given photos and other graphic material more visual weight and volume. The DX’s larger format simply enhances the grayscale by allowing the images to be displayed larger. The Kindle DX has also added a jazzy landscaping mode—flip the decide on its side and the image will shift and adjust to horizontal display. Indeed both the larger display and the iPhone-like image rotation appear to be part of Amazon’s attempt to pitch the device as the next gen reader for newspapers and textbooks, an initiative the company announced when it launched the device in early May.
Titles download quickly (except for comics or photo works which take significantly longer); and while paging is a bit clunky—the screen blackout when a page turns is annoying but not a big deal—the Kindle reading experience is mostly pleasant and efficient. However, while image and graphical display on both the Kindle2 and the Kindle DX is much improved, it remains to be seen if that alone makes the device worth the price. Yes, photographs are much improved, although far from great. Photographs and graphics displayed during the debut press conference
back in May were often crisp and eye-popping. However, my experience with graphic works purchased and downloaded to the Kindle DX device—newspapers and magazine photos, graphic novels and comics and jpeg photographs downloaded to the device—ranged from okay to better but still unimpressive. Photos from the New York Times and Newsweek had visual weight and depth but are not crisp at all.In fact photos still look veiled, dim and soft even though they are much clearer than on the original Kindle. Comics have the same problems. (Apparently during BookExpo America, Amazon was meeting with a number of comics publishers to discuss enhancements to the device for comics display). The graphic novel adaptation of James Patterson’s Maximum Ride looks mostly better on the Kindle DX because it can now be displayed at a larger size. Comics displayed on the improved Kindle 2 looked dim and small and were hard to read and the device’s zoom feature didn’t really help much. Comics are now much easier to read on the Kindle DX but they still seem dim and veiled by the screen’s grey cast. They are also often marred by ugly moray patterns over the work’s grey tones. Indeed the Kindle’s much-hailed e-ink screen has an overall greyness to it that makes everything look a bit dull. And while Amazon hypes the e-ink screen for its ability to be read in bright sunlight just like paper, it also has another paper-like quality—unlike backlit screens the e-ink screen is very difficult to read in lowlight or dimlight situations. Color photographs displayed in b&w on the screen were much the same—better than the original Kindle but not impressive in a world of relatively cheap mobile computing devices with high resolution screens that can display full color documents.
Amazon has also redesigned the keyboard as well as the keys, creating a new and awkward layout and key-shape that is hardly an improvement. The device’s keys—oddly stretched into a pill capsule-like shape—are laid out to conform to the space leftover from the screen rather than to any sense of keyboarding efficiency. And while the keyboard works just fine, it’s virtually impossible to key with any speed, comfort or confidence because of the way the keys are spaced. Indeed it’s virtually impossible to key at all unless the device is resting on the edge of something.
The Kindle is a popular device—it’s easy to use, works like a charm, looks good and, to the ongoing chagrin of book publishers, has set a popular standard for e-book pricing with its $9.99 price point for Kindle editions. The Kindle DX will likely also attract a following. But once again, can a black & white reading device survive over the longterm in a market that includes full-featured miniature computers and handheld mobile devices that sell for much less and have more uses? I suppose we’ll soon find out. The Kindle DX works just fine, but really, $489?
by Calvin Reid