As we mentioned earlier this week, Amazon unveiled its new Kindle this morning in NYC. The Kindle DX ($489) features a large screen (9.7 inches measured diagonally) and it’s intended to make reading newspapers, college textbooks and PDFs a more user-friendly experience. Plenty of news outlets have provided coverage of the unveiling: Engadget, Gizmodo, Ars Technica, etc. And it’s mostly positive. But I’m left wondering if the Kindle DX addresses the major problem with Kindle 2 ($359). If you spend some time on Amazon’s Kindle discussion forum, you’ll see that one of the longest threads (so far containing 857 posts) is devoted to complaints about the Kindle’s light fonts and dark background — a bad combo, especially when you try to read it at night. (Others have kvetched about it here.) I bought the Kindle 2, and really loved it in many ways. But I couldn’t use it in lower light conditions. At night, the screen gets muddy, and the words don’t pop off of the page. And that’s a deal breaker for me. Meanwhile, with the same lighting, a traditional book reads perfectly well. The major problem with the Kindle gets down to this: Users can’t really customize the look & feel of the reading material. Yes, you can increase and decrease the size of the fonts. But you can’t make the fonts darker (unless you know how to hack the darn thing). Nor can you make the background lighter. This one-size-fits-all approach is what Gutenberg gave us in the 15th century. (Sorry, don’t mean to knock on Gutenberg.) It shouldn’t be what Amazon gives us for $359 in 2009. Could you imagine Apple serving this up? Hardly. And speaking of Apple, it may have its own e-book reader coming soon. According to PC Magazine, Apple may be rolling out the iPad ($699), which could be an e-book/internet reader and media player all rolled into one. For now, I’m waiting to see what Apple brings to market and hoping that Amazon finds religion. When they get the Kindle right, it will be great.
UPDATE: A year later, a new Kindle is out (see Wifi version here, and 3G wireless version here). The contrast is noticeably improved with this model. But, even better, Amazon now sells (separately) a case that has a built in retractable light. Taken together, you can now read the Kindle fairly well at night, under pretty much any light conditions. This Kindle I kept, and I’m a bigger fan than before.