The Kindle DX is not a rock star like its sibling, the Kindle 2. The DX is bigger, more expensive and can be tedious to use.
If you're a college student schlepping a half-dozen textbooks in a backpack and spending $1,000 a year on those books, you may welcome the DX. That's certainly one of Amazon.com's aims with its latest Kindle, which went on sale recently.
The company wants to get it into those backpacks and briefcases that students — as well as business people — carry. But at $489, the DX is still a pricey option. And it may not be the best one.
Its wee keyboard — keys resemble those tiny paper punch holes on exams meant for No. 2 pencils, not fingers — can drive you wild with frustration as you strain to see them and avoid hitting the wrong ones. The keyboard on the Kindle 2, with rounded keys, is much better.
The DX's dimensions — about a 1/3 inch thick, 10.4 inches high and 7.2 inches wide — make it a marvel for what it is, yet it's ungainly to deal with as an on-the-go device, especially with its lilliputian keyboard.
The 9.7-inch screen — compared to the smaller Kindle's 6.5-inch display — is excellent for reading, especially for newspapers and PDFs, the kinds of materials the DX is partially designed to serve.
Print publications such as The New York Times and Washington Post hope the DX is the kind of device that will help keep subscribers onboard. And it's certainly easy and fast to download a newspaper — or books — using the Kindle's wireless Internet connection.
Reading a newspaper on the DX takes some getting used to; it's a little more cumbersome having to go back and forth from stories, rather than accessing the same information on one or two Web pages with the click of a mouse.
Some newspaper publishers are reportedly working on their own e-reader devices. Better they should focus on the Web and mobile Web versions of their papers. While not everyone's reading news on their computers and phones, more people are. Almost all of us carry our phones with us all the time. That isn't likely to be the case with an 18.9-ounce device like the DX.
Amazon.com's Kindle e-reader software is available for the iPhone, for example, and will likely be coming out in versions for other smartphones and devices.
Terrific battery life
The DX does have a huge advantage over phones and laptops when it comes to battery life, the bane of modern electronics. No phone or netbook can even begin to compare with the DX, which can be left on for three or four days with Wi-Fi on and still have plenty of juice. That's impressive.
Book reading itself is better on the Kindle 2 ($359) which at 10.2 ounces has more of the portability one associates with a book likely to be tossed in a briefcase or bag.
Some fans of the original Kindle and its successor have tried the DX, but not found it to be quite the same experience. Susan Umpleby is one of them.
"My plan was to use the DX at home, and keep my K2 for carrying all over creation with me," she said on Amazon.com's Web site.
Umpleby said she likes the DX's capacity — it can hold up to 3,500 books, compared to 1,500 on the Kindle 2 — and the DX's "ability to rotate the screen is great. Gives you a closer look at things like maps and charts."
However, she wrote, the DX "is too big to hold comfortably. It's not really all that heavy, but it is top heavy and you feel a pull on your hands. And that pull is really evident if you try to use the keyboard while holding it — you practically have to lay the DX down flat, it becomes so difficult to type."
Umpleby, contacted for this story, said she said sent the DX back after a week. The device's "drawbacks outweighed its great screen, crisper text and ability to show pictures well." She said she does "look forward to future improvements in the DX and may buy it again in its next incarnation."
Taking the college test
One of the DX's biggest tests will come this fall, when six universities ask some students to test it out as a textbook replacement. Arizona State University, Case Western Reserve University, Pace University, Princeton, Reed College and the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia will participate in DX pilot studies.
Case Western has said it will study 40 students' use of the devices, how they effect the students' reading habits, note taking and knowledge retention.
Textbooks are not only weighty, they're expensive, of course. A 2005 report by the federal Government Accountability Office said the average annual costs for textbooks is $900 a year for students at four-year public colleges. The non-profit California Public Interest Research Group had a similar finding in its own survey that year.
Emily Rusch, CALPIRG state director, said digital textbooks "can be done in a way that gives students more power and more affordable options ... or they can be done in a way that could limit students' choices even more and do nothing to reduce the high costs."
The organization's concerns are that in addition to the cost of the DX, Amazon.com is not only the maker of the device, but also the channel through which textbooks will be delivered, without any equivalent competition.
"Over the long term, if we have more open textbook options for students, Kindle DX could be a great avenue for accessing those resources and fostering a competitive market that will ultimately benefit students' learning experiences and their wallets," Rusch said. "But we have to create that competitive market first."
There are other concerns, as well. The National Federation of the Blind and the American Council of the Blind filed suit last week against Arizona State University to prevent the school from testing the DX, saying it cannot be used by blind students, despite its text-to-speech technology that can read textbooks aloud.
"The menus of the device are not accessible to the blind, however, making it impossible for a blind user to purchase books from Amazon’s Kindle store, select a book to read, activate the text-to-speech feature and use the advanced reading functions available on the Kindle DX," the two groups said in a statement.