First Look: Kindle DX: Bigger Will Be Better For Some

This story was written by Staci D. Kramer.
Updated below to correct misinformation about the cover. I now have three Kindles in the houseK1, K2 and the brand-new DX. The first two are my own, nifty little money-making machines for Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN) as I load them with newspapers, magazines, blogs and books, all paid for via the credit card linked to my account. I didn't feel a compelling urge to own a DX; the device that arrived today is a 10-day loaner from Amazon with a promotional $30 added to my account for review purposes. Do I feel compelled to buy one now that I've been using it for a few hours? Far too soon to tell but it's safe to say it's a very different experience from its older, but smaller siblings.

First take: people who want larger type and a Kindle will want to spend the extra money. Are there enough people like that out there to make a market? Probably not, but if Amazon and publishers learn how to capitalize on the size and expand the appeal, the market will grow. In order to be a hit, though, it will have to work for academia (a target market) and business. I'm still trying to get a feel for how it compares to the Plastic Logic e-reader I used briefly a few weeks ago but I'm quite certain this isn't for the crowd that thinks an iPhone or some other smartphone is the ideal e-reader.

Packaging: Less elaborate than K1 but with the same cutesy "Once upon a time" on the pull tab. I initially thought it came with the cover, but it turns out this was just for reviewers. The cover actually costs $50, which means I probably would gerry-rig something much the way I did with K2 to avoid the extra expense. Unlike the second-gen Kindle, the DX comes with a cover. (Black, with a little Amazon Kindle name plate in case someone isn't sure what they're stealing.) Including it or at least a discount for one would be a smart move, especially with a list price of $489 for this super-sized Kindle compared with $359 for the K2. The DX clicks into the cover, which appears to close magnetically.

The device: It's got the same sleek off-white-and-chrome look as the K2, which debuted in February. It's just a little thicker but that bigger screen needs a bigger chassis and the weight might be too much for people who don't like to hold a book with two hands. I wouldn't toss this one into my bag for daily use the way I do the K2 and it definitely wouldn't fit into my purse. (Well, most of them.) It's roughly the size of my Sony (NYSE: SNE) Vaio TT sub-notebook, although much lighter. For a different sense of scale, the two earlier Kindles turned on their sides match the length and are only slightly longer than the width.

The screen: Big9.7 inches of electric paper. It's crisp and the images in 16 shades of gray are as elegant as etchings. Publishers will have to learn how to take advantage. I opened the current Kindle edition of The New Yorker on the DX expecting to see a full-screen version of the cover. What I saw was only a half-inch wider and longer than the K2 version, with nearly three inches of white space below and nearly 1.5 inches of empty space on either side. If the text can fill the whole screen, why can't the cover? Some of the cartoons looked better in landscape.

Set up: Plug it in, turn it on if you're a current Kindle user or you ordered it yourself, and start. If it's a gift, you'll need a computer, but I was able to see my archived books, get what I now expect is the usual personalized "Welcome Staci" message. 

Auto-rotate: When it works, the ability to turn the Kindle and have the text move with it is a great addition. It offers portrait, lnadscape or it can flip to be read from either hand, I'd imagine it espeially will come in handy with textbooks.  But it took me a while to figure out that when text-to-read is enabled, the rotation doesn't work. At least, that's the way it's working for me. I also ran into significant lag time.

Keyboard: The QWERTY domed keys are narrow, very small (the smallest of the three) and the font on the keys appears smaller. No more separate number keys. I found it very difficult to "thumb" type; maybe it will be easier for someone with bigger hands but then they'll have a harder time using the keys. More after I use it for a bit.

Connectivity: On several occasions it took more than a minute for activity. Downloading an archived book went into a loop until I got so bored waiting for it to open I tried another task and went back to the home page to open the book. I've had some connectivity issues with the K2, something that rarely was an issue with the first-gen device.

By Staci D. Kramer