February 9, 2009, 12:00 AM

Amazon unveils a thinner, lighter, faster Kindle 2 that reads aloud

Kindle 2, the new version of Amazon’s wireless electronic reading device, rolled out today and features access to 230,000 books. The pencil-thin case is lighter than the original, with faster page turns and longer battery life.

Amazon Inc. fired up Kindle 2 today. The company is taking orders for the new version of Amazon’s wireless electronic reading device, which features access to over 230,000 books. The pencil-thin case is lighter than the original, with faster page turns and longer battery life-and it can read text aloud.

Still priced at $359, Kindle 2 is a bit over one-third of an inch thick and weighs 10.2 ounces. Amazon says it’s lighter than a typical paperback, and new buttons make it easy to turn the page from any holding position. A new controller enables more precise note-taking and highlighting, both up and down and side to side in lines of text, says Amazon, No. 1 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide.

“Kindle 2 is everything customers tell us they love about the original Kindle, only thinner, faster, crisper, with longer battery life, and capable of holding hundreds more books. If you want, Kindle 2 will even read to you--something new we added that a book could never do,” says Jeff Bezos, Amazon.com founder and CEO. “While we’re excited about Kindle 2, we know that great hardware is useless without vast selection. That’s why the Kindle Store offers customers over 230,000 books.” Amazon is taking orders now for the Kindle 2, which will ship on Feb. 24.

Amazon has not broken out Kindle sales since its introduction in 2007, but CitiGroup Global Markets analyst Mark Mahaney reported last week that 2008 sales for the original Kindle could have reached 500,000 units. Mahaney projected Kindle device, content and accessory sales totaled $153 million in 2008, and will reach $429 million in 2009 and $1.2 billion in 2010. Estimates are based on projecting unit sales of 500,000, 1 million and 3.5 million, respectively, for the three years. Mahaney used past iPod sales numbers and Kindle pricing to determine his estimates.

Mahaney also raised the possibility of reduced per-unit pricing for the second generation Kindle, perhaps closer to $300. Amazon didn’t lower the price of the updated version, but Mahaney expects price reductions will come.

The Kindle 2’s upgraded six-inch display provides 16 shades of gray compared with four shades in the original Kindle, resulting in sharper text, images and photos, Amazon says. The new display enables pages to turn an average of 20% faster than the original Kindle, the company says.

Kindle 2 can hold more than 1,500 books in its 2 GB memory, compared with 200 with the original Kindle. And Amazon automatically backs up a copy of every Kindle book purchased so customers can wirelessly access titles in their library at any time.

In addition, the battery has a 25% longer life so that Kindle 2 customers can read for four to five days on one charge with wireless on and for more than two weeks with wireless internet connection turned off, Amazon says. The device also includes the New Oxford American Dictionary and lists of some of its 250,000 word definitions appear at the bottom of the page.

Amazon also is experimenting with an audio feature called “Text-to-Speech” that converts words on a page to spoken words so customers can read or listen. Male or female voices will read any Kindle product, including books, newspapers, magazines and blogs.

Current New York Times bestsellers and new releases typically cost $9.99 for download to the electronic book reader. Monthly Kindle newspaper subscriptions are $5.99 to $14.99 per month, and Kindle magazines are $1.25 to $3.49 per month. More than 1,200 blogs are available on Kindle 2, up from 250 when the original launched. Wireless delivery of blogs starts at 99 cents each per month and includes a free two-week trial.

Larry Maye, liquidations manager at Amazon.com, is speaking at the Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition, June 15-18 in Boston, in a session titled Merchandise returns-managing in tough times.

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