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YOUR TECH: Kindle 2 in sync with iPhone

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 25, 2009

After a month with my Kindle 2, the e-book reader from Amazon.com, I'm still happy with the purchase. It's not perfect, but it has offered a few pleasant surprises. Moreover, Amazon is making things interesting by offering an iPhone application that lets you read Kindle books - but not magazines or newspapers. The application is free, and I'm told you don't need to own a Kindle to use the iPhone app. The Kindle books, of course, still must be purchased.

I glommed onto the iPhone reader, and, yes, Amazon's computers will transfer your book list to the device; a click will download the actual e-books. It appears that putting about half a dozen Kindle e-books on the iPhone has taken up about 257 megabytes of storage space, which isn't that great an amount. Paging through these is a left/right swipe of a finger, and while the type size isn't adjustable, it's large enough to be read comfortably on the iPhone screen.

What's innovative and, well, "neat" about this application is that it will keep things in sync with your Kindle. If you get to page X in "Madame Bovary" on the iPhone, a tap on the screen will send that info to the Kindle, letting you pick up that device and turn to the right spot. The reverse also is true, for books residing on both devices.

This is, to say the least, very clever on Amazon's part. With the content available on the iPhone, users of both devices can advance their reading yet remain synchronized. The convenience factor is good. The iPhone app, however, won't let you highlight a passage, which is a distinct limitation. (I'll confess to not checking whether Kindle-originated highlights moved over to the iPhone version.)

Also limiting here is the lack of readability for newspapers, blogs and magazines, which you can do on the Kindle. I suspect copyright restrictions, technical issues and the fact that you can get an app to read, say, the New York Times, on the iPhone for free, has limited the appeal of those functions.

On the Kindle, however, reading a newspaper is an interesting experience, far better than I had anticipated. The paging is the same sort of arrangement as for books: A simple "next page" or "previous page" helps you negotiate your way through a story. Even at the largest of the six Kindle type sizes, stories read quickly, and it's not a bother to hit that "next page" button.

In newspapers where photos illustrate a story, the 16-gray-scale display is fine. As mentioned before, yes, I'd prefer color, but I can live with the limitation for now. You can buy newspapers quite literally "on the fly" - I bought and downloaded three in a couple of minutes - and there's no muss or fuss. Instead of gobs of dead trees and ink to smear, I had it all digitally and neatly.

No, I'm not sure how you'd do a crossword puzzle on the Kindle. Sorry.

One of the nicer surprises of recent Kindle experimenting is a gift from Crossway Bibles of Wheaton, Ill., publishers of the English Standard Version of Scripture, which has taken off in recent years as a translation favored by evangelicals and others. The ESV, as the Bible translation is known, is a free download on Kindle, and while it's not the "study Bible" version, nor is the searching quite where I'd like it to be, it's a great advance - and you can't beat the price. (I didn't transfer this book to the iPhone; I have a separate application there for Scripture reading.)

So am I happy with the Kindle and the world to which it bids readers? More or less. I wish there were more books. A quarter-million or so is a lot, until you come across that one or those two books that aren't available for the platform. The pricing is OK, and I'm happy to see some older books at prices below $9.99 - sometimes well below, as in free or under a buck.

We're slouching toward a digital future with this stuff, and it appears there's little to stop it.

• E-mail mkellner@washington times.com.