kindle1 If you haven’t had a chance to see a Kindle yet, you really owe it to yourself to ask someone to show you theirs. You’ll see their eyes light up with the same look that iPhone owners get when they have a chance to show off their toys. I’m a book lover from way back, an old school type with a deep love for the feel and the look and the smell of books, but I can understand completely why my wife loves her Kindle.

The Kindle is Amazon’s device for reading books, of course. If this is a completely new idea to you, go look at it on Amazon, or read David Byrne’s concise description of his experience with the larger Kindle DX. Amazon is selling truckloads of them – it claimed yesterday that the Kindle is the #1 bestselling product across all product categories on Amazon, although it did not supply the actual sales numbers to put that in perspective.

The Kindle wirelessly downloads books, magazines, newspapers and personal documents to a high-resolution 6-inch electronic ink display. You’ll be surprised at first that the display is a bland gray, with no color, but when you read a book on it you quickly discover that the look was chosen to be comfortable on the eyes.  The Kindle’s wireless connection runs over AT&T’s data network so books can be downloaded anywhere, with no need to hunt for a wireless hot spot.

There are lots of cool tricks built into a Kindle – dictionary lookup of words, searching and bookmarking, and instant gratification since books can be purchased and received immediately without sitting at a computer. Prices for Kindle books are typically less than hardcover prices, usually $9.99.

You might not have thought about one of the features that make the Kindle so attractive to aging baby boomers (over 70% of Kindle users are over 40): the font size can be adjusted on the fly to whatever is easiest to read at the moment. With the push of a button, the letters get larger onscreen and the text flows to fit. That feature by itself makes it a wonderful alternative if you’re reaching for the reading glasses or holding books further and further away as your eyes get tired at the end of the day.

Last week Amazon released a firmware update, delivered automatically to Kindle 2 owners, that increases battery life by 85%, allowing the Kindle to be left for up to a week with the wireless running continuously before it will require a charge. Normally the wireless is turned off unless it’s necessary to buy a book, in which case the Kindle only needs to be charged every two weeks. Amazon also added some international support and improved the Kindle’s ability to display PDFs. More importantly, it dropped the price of the smaller Kindle recently to $260.

Not everyone will give up books. Some people are sensitive to the idea that Kindle books can’t be shared, or have trouble getting over the lack of something physical for the shelves after spending ten bucks. Some of you, though, should think about what it means to have all the books you need to take on vacation held in a single slim case – and what it means to have the words get bigger when your eyes need a break. You might want to have a Kindle on your Xmas list.


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