Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Amazon's Kindle Tells Bedtime Stories

Having a hard time getting to sleep on that stressful road trip? How about a nice bedtime story? Got an all-day drive ahead of you? How about using the time productively by having some popular business books read to you? Sounds like a pitch for audio tapes, doesn't it? But, no. Tapes and even CDs are yesterday's news. What you want is downloaded content that is converted from text to speech and read from a gadget the size of a paperback book.

Actually, what you want is the new Amazon Kindle 2. It's the upgraded version of the popular Kindle reader that finally made downloadable books sensible. The new Kindle2 is a major upgrade that reduces the thickness of the device to about a third of an inch, reduces the weight to just over 10 ounces, adds 25% to battery life, increases storage to 1,500 books, speeds up page turns by 20%, expands the gray scale resolution from 4 to 16 levels and makes a great cup of coffee.

No, I'm just kidding about the coffee maker feature. That will have to wait for Kindle 3 or beyond. All of the other features are included in this release, along with a new read-to-me feature that converts text to speech and talks to you via internal speakers or plug-in headphones. You can choose a male or female voice, have him or her speed up or slow down, and have whatever content you've downloaded read to you at your convenience. Strap the Kindle 2 into the car seat next to you and you have a small but loquacious traveling companion.

Sure, you already read documents and Internet content on your computer. Perhaps you've even bought a netbook computer for travel. But the Kindle is completely different. It's still smaller than whatever computer you have. Plus it won't give you eyestrain the way a computer can because it has no backlight. It's the glare from the screen that limits the time you can read online. Kindle uses a new technology called electronic ink to provide excellent contrast for black text on a white background, even outdoors or in brightly lit environments. Obviously you can't read it in the dark, but you can't read a book in the dark either. So turn on that overhead light or open a window shade.

The other thing that makes Kindle unique among electronic reading gadgets is its Whispernet 3G broadband connection that runs on the Sprint cellular network. Whispernet is automatically engaged by the Kindle when you want to buy a book or download a newspaper or magazine. In about a minute you have your reading material stored in the machine. Did I mention that it holds up to 1,500 books in the 1.4 GB user memory? Why tote a couple of heavy hardbacks when you can carry an entire library with less weight? Truly amazing.

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