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Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

February 9, 2009 at 2:46 PM

Hands-on with Amazon’s Kindle 2.0: Nice, but I miss the big flaps

NEW YORK — I may be the only technology journalist who thinks so, but I miss the big airplane-flap style buttons on Kindle 1.0.

They’re gone, replaced by sleek buttons that blend right into the smoother, sexier and more modern-looking Kindle 2.0.

Kindle 1.0 was quirky and took a little getting used to, but pretty soon it felt natural — even fun — to turn pages by slapping, bumping or flicking the huge flap controls.

I haven’t had enough time with the Kindle 2.0 to really analyze the device, but the relatively small buttons stood out after a few brief minutes playing with the device at Amazon.com’s launch event today. They’re still relatively big buttons, but now they’re approaching the size of shift key rather than a space bar.

Following a presentation by Jeff Bezos, a handful of Kindles were put out on tables in the lobby of the Morgan Library for journalists, publishers and others in the crowd to ogle and fondle. Here’s a snapshot I took of the scene, with a Kindle 1.0 on the right and a 2.0 on the left:

The device feels more dense and less plastic than Kindle 1.0, thanks in part to its Apple-esque brushed metal back.

Flipping through a few pages, I felt as if I had to aim my fingers more precisely than before. The buttons also felt a little stiffer, but the device was brand-new. Kindle users may feel less like a book geek at the coffee shop or on the bus now that the device looks more like a super-sized iPod.

Perhaps the smaller, tighter buttons are a good thing — the Kindle 1.0’s flaps had a loose feel that made me wonder how they’d hold up to years of hard use. They were also easy to accidentally brush and change pages.

Although Kindle 2.0 has a better screen, I couldn’t tell with a quick look, cheek to jowl with a crowd of reporters.

The new mini-joystick/toggle control gives you a lot more navigational control than the funky scroll wheel it replaces, and nobody is going to miss the confusing temperature-gauge-style progress indicator on 1.0, but the toggle will take some getting used to before it feels natural. (A touchscreen wouldn’t work, Bezos said, because it would diminish readability too much.)

Again, Kindle 1.0 took a little time before it started to feel booklike. It’s undoubtedly an improvement, but we’ll have to see whether Amazon was able to make the device more stylish, powerful, simple and usable all at the same time.

Comments | More in | Topics: Amazon.com, Digital media, Gadgets & products

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