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Amazon Kindle 2
The concept of ebooks isn't new to Indians and readers have been available as software applications on mobile phones and even portable media players for a while now. Even the iPhone has a kindle application and a brilliant Stanza ebook reader that's free and easily available on the App Store. But it's only now that we have an officially distributed hardware ebook reader in the market - the Amazon Kindle 2.
The tablet shaped look of the Kindle 2 is very easy on the eyes, with simple shades of white and gray being used in the whole design. The 6-inch screen itself uses 16 shades of gray, which is pretty good for rendering grayscale images, newspaper quality photos and even the occasional art you may encounter in your novels.
The button layout seems intuitive, though it bothers me no end that why is the Previous page button only located on the left of the tablet. It's just not functional enough for single handed use. The keypad at the bottom looks classy but each keypress is a bit hard, which makes typing on it a chore. Luckily, you'll rarely ever need to use the keypad if your only interest is reading one book after another.
Unlike any other ebook reader you may have used in handheld devices, the Kindle 2 uses an e-ink paper technology for its display. The advantage here is that the reader doesn't require any battery power to keep a sustained display on the screen. The only time it does use the battery is when it needs to re-draw the image (or text) displayed.
The lack of a backlight gives the Kindle 2 the same disadvantages as a regular paper book; or maybe a bit more. While the overall presentation of ebooks on the Kindle is done pretty well, with friendly typography and excellent line and character spacing, the gray-tone of the screen is noticeably dull, even when compared to a regular book. Not having a backlight (or frontlight) on an electronic book reader works out as a real bummer, since you're solely dependent on external sources of illumination.
Reading a book on the Kindle did seem a bit weird at first, especially when the whole screen blacks-out before re-drawing text on it. Turning pages on a regular book is a lot smoother, and while you may take just about the same time to turn the page, the paper book does have the edge here. That said there's one advantage that the Kindle 2 has, that paper books can't compete with — the size. With 2GB storage space you can literally have thousands of books on your Kindle at any given point of time. A collection big enough to fill up a Kindle would rival most commercial libraries.
Plus the ability to play your favorite music from the stereo speakers located behind the device is a good addition. Of course you should not consider the Kindle as an MP3 player, but playing a good melody at the background while reading a book does have its own charm. There's also a possibility of using the audio player to listen to audio books.
Since the Amazon Kindle 2 doesn't have an official distribution channel in India, the only way to purchase it is to buy it online at $259 USD. You also have to put into consideration that Kindle format ebooks tend to be more expensive than the subsidized book prices at your local book store. As large as the book library may be at the Kindle store, it does miss some key Indian authors and also some international favorites like Dan Brown. The Kindle 2 is a lot of fun, it just isn't India ready yet.