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Amazon's new Kindle 2, please read me a story

February 9, 2009 |  9:03 am
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Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos shows off the Kindle 2 in New York. Credit: Mark Lennihan / Associated Press.

NEW YORK -- The Kindle 2 is sleeker and faster, stores more books and keeps a charge longer. Plus, there's an extra twist: It talks.

Amazon Chief Executive Jeff Bezos today unveiled the company's upgraded reading device, which ships Feb. 24. He promised that the newest iteration of the electronic book would further enhance the long-form reading experience.

"There are some things that can only be taught, only be understood, in a few hundred pages," Bezos told journalists crowded in a theater at a midtown library.

The e-book has drawn a cult following since it was introduced in November 2007. Retailing for $359, Kindle 2 is available for pre-order today.

The new version measures just 0.36 inches thick, the diameter of a pencil, and weighs a little more than 10 ounces.

"The Kindle is designed to disappear so that you can enter the author’s world," Bezos said, calling it "a seamless, integrated reading experience -- it’s not just a device."

He said the Kindle 2 screen provides more crispness, using 16 shades of gray instead of just four, and has 25% more battery life, allowing users to read up to two weeks on a single charge. The upgraded edition has seven times more storage space, holding more than 1,500 books, and faster page turns than its predecessor. A new navigation system allows for better note-taking and easier reading of newspapers.

But perhaps its most novel aspect is the text-to-speech feature, which enables Kindle users to ...

... listen to their material.

"Any book, blog, magazine, personal document could be read aloud to you," said Bezos, as he had a Kindle 2 read the opening lines of the Gettsyburg Address with crisp, staccato enunciation.

The second-generation reading device got a plug from author Stephen King, who took the stage to read an excerpt from "Ur," a novella he wrote at Amazon’s request for the launch of the new Kindle. In the story, a college English professor who is wedded to books finally tries out a Kindle, only to have the device open a portal to supernatural experiences. As Jacket Copy blogger Carolyn Kellogg wrote this morning, "For King, who's made a habit of writing more than his publishers can keep up with, these new venues provide a way of getting his writing out into the world instead of waiting until it's time for a new book."

“You’re going to like this gadget,” King told the audience. “But you’re going to like books, too. It isn’t as though the two things are in conflict with one another. They’re like peanut butter and chocolate –- when you put them together, you’ve got a whole new tasty treat.”

Bezos said an explosion of material now available on the Kindle -– 230,000 books and counting -- has made the device even more relevant. “Our vision is every book, ever printed, in any language, all available in less than 60 seconds,” he said. “We’re making progress.”

-- Matea Gold

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