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The Amazon Kindle as a Mobile Convergence Device

I write a lot about portable media players -- "MP3 players" for music and now video -- and how they are converging with mobile phones and smartphones, combining media and communications and Internet access and organizer features.

But there's another kind of portable media that's discounted in this shopping list -- plain old text. And between e-mail and the Web browser on our PDA phones, we're actually doing a lot of reading on our devices, even though that's not the focus of their design.

Meanwhile, Amazon and Sony have been working on a different category of device, e-book readers that are also on the convergence track, with better displays, audio playback, photos, and wireless connectivity.

The 3rd generation Sony Reader Digital Book, PRS-700, announced October 2008, has a 6 inch touch-screen display, is 0.4 inches thin (5 1/9 x 6 7/9 x 13/32 in.), and weighs 10 ounces, for $399 (see SonyStyle.com and press release). It can display eBooks, personal documents (Word, PDF) and music (MP3 and AAC). And it takes memory stick cards for additional storage.

The Amazon Kindle 2, just announced and due out this month for $249, includes broadband wireless though Sprint at no extra monthly charge. You no longer have to download and sync books though a PC, instead you can purchase and download directly to your device, with delivery in one minute for instant gratification. Even better, you can explore and preview books by downloading the first chapters for free.

The new version 2 device is about half as thin as the previous version, at just over 1/3 of an inch (8 x 5.3 x 0.36 in.), and weighs 10.2 ounces. It adds more storage, to hold over 1,500 books (but not memory card expansion), and runs for up to 4 days with wireless on, or up to 2 weeks with wireless off.

The 6 inch display (not touch screen) is 600 x 800, 167 ppi, and is upgraded from 4 to 16 levels of gray for clearer text, plus crisper images. You can download some 230,000 books directly from Amazon, as well as U.S. and international newspapers, magazines, and blogs. The Kindle 2 even adds a new "experimental" Text-to-Speech option to read books and other material out load.

But this is not just an e-reader. You can sync Audible recorded books via a PC, transfer and convert personal documents via an online service (Word, PDF), play MP3 music, and display image files.

And with the broadband wireless connection, the Kindle also has a web browser, albeit best used for simple, text-centric Web sites.

So the e-book reader is becoming a convergence device too. As a media player, the monochrome screen is obviously not suitable for fast-motion video. But with better e-mail support this could be an interesting competitor to netbooks (see previous post), although the increased data bandwidth would demand some kind of monthly service cost. Heck, just add a microphone and it could be a phone too!

See my Portable Media Players Gallery for more on portable players.

Find the Amazon Kindle 2 on Amazon.com

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