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KELLNER: Kindle DX hype soon to be tested

- The Washington Times - Monday, May 11, 2009

Amazon.com's new, larger — and more expensive — Kindle DX electronic book reader holds a lot of promise for those who've yet to commit to e-books. Whether it can deliver remains to be seen.

The good news is manifold, including "a large 9.7-inch electronic paper display, built-in PDF reader, auto-rotate capability, and storage for up to 3,500 books," as Amazon.com announced last week.

The display is 2.5 times larger than the 6-inch display on my Kindle 2; the book storage capacity is roughly 233 percent greater. Oh, yeah: The $489 price tag is about 136 percent of the Kindle 2's $359 price.

Overall, I should be happy, right?

I am, but I'm also worried. I wonder just how good this new version will be in performance. The Kindle 2 is an enjoyable electronic-book reader, but there are still some limitations. Will those limits increase with the new "DX" size?

Take the much-vaunted "PDF reader." This is important for many of the new customers Amazon.com is aiming to reach, such as college students. Some textbooks and other class materials may be available only in the Adobe Systems Inc. Acrobat Portable Document Format, PDF for short. Ditto for some electronic versions of daily newspapers, such as The Washington Times.

How easy will it be to get PDFs onto the new device? It could still be the e-mail-and-pray current mode, and/or a wired transfer from a desktop computer to the Kindle DX. That's in opposition to the one-click wireless download of Kindle-formatted books, newspapers and magazines.

Once I've got a PDF open, how easily can I move through it, and how easy will it be to annotate?

"The Kindle DX holds enormous potential to influence the way students learn," said Barbara R. Snyder, president of Case Western Reserve University, according to a statement released by Amazon.com. "We look forward to seeing how the device affects the participation of both students and faculty in the educational experience."

Well, if you can't underline a PDF textbook, or easily put notes in a Kindle-format textbook, then a student or their parents might be a tad peeved. After all, $489 isn't chicken feed.

The larger screen size is a big plus: We're getting close to "full page" size for Time magazine or something like it, and that's good. The Kindle "newspapers" that I've read — can digital "ink" really be called paper? — is formatted far differently from a print newspaper; this will likely continue in the "DX" version. Reading books, novels and the latest David McCullough history, for example, should be even better on the new, larger screen.

But, wait: This is a device for the Case Western students, and for academic types at Arizona State University, Princeton University, Reed College and the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia, where trial Kindle programs will be launched this fall. It's been ages, but I can recall a professor or two saying, "Open your textbooks to page 425." If they do that now, can I "jump" there in the Kindle DX? I can jump to "Location 11374" or something like that in Kindle-speak, but can I get to a specific page?

And it'll be interesting to see whether a Kindle DX user will, any time soon, be able to punch in a Bible reference — such as the ubiquitous John 3:16 — and have the Kindle-formatted Bible display that Scripture. Electronic Bibles have been good sellers in recent years; surely for nearly $500, the Kindle DX should be able to provide a similar experience. That Amazon.com hasn't addressed this question — at least in response to my queries — is at the very least puzzling.

The bottom line is a bit encouraging: more choices for electronic-book readers, more features, more capability and more storage. Now, if the product lives up to the hype, that'll be a pleasant surprise.

E-mail mkellner@washingtontimes.com.