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Kindle 2 (2009) Review

This is a review of the Amazon Kindle 2, which was originally released in 2009. Recently, I’ve been using it to read though my backlog of books and wanted to get down my thoughts on the device.

Overall, it is a very usable e-reader. Once the books are on the device, it isn’t too difficult to read them. The real problem I’ve had with it is getting books onto it, and fighting through the arcane design decisions Amazon made.

Specs from Wikipedia:

OS 2.5.6
CPU Freescale 532 MHz, ARM-11 90 nm processor
Memory 32MB
Storage 2GB / 1.4 Usable
Battery 3.7V 1,530 mAh
Display 6-inch e-ink, 600 x 800, 167 PPI, 16-level grayscale
Input MicroUSB, 3.5mm headphone hack, keyboard
Connectivity Wi-Fi (BG), Bluetooth
Dimensions 203mm x 135mm x 9mm
Mass 290 g
Original Price $299

Externals #

The Body #

The body is formed out of plastic. It feels pretty solid, but tapping on the bezel or switching pages with a button press sounds a little hollow. It’s about 135mm wide and 203mm tall (236mm diagonal). It fits pretty well in my hand, if not a little heavy.

The front is a white plastic, with the Amazon kindle logo on the top bezel. The back is split into two parts, top 3cm vs bottom 17cm. The bottom part is also covered in a metallic coating, that makes it cool to the touch. This coating is also able to activate the touch screen on my Pixel 2, for what it’s worth. An Amazon kindle logo is located just below the border between the two parts of the back.

At the bottom of the back is the two speakers, and regulatory information.

Buttons #

All buttons are located on the front of the device, except for the power and volume buttons. To the left and right of the screen are two sets of buttons, each set having a smaller button placed over a larger button. The bottom of the button sets aligns with the bottom of the screen. The larger buttons both navigate to the next page. The smaller button on the left goes to the previous page, and the smaller button on the right navigates back to the home page. I like how the “next page” button is located on both sides, allowing the user to hold the device with either hand.

Underneath the screen is a keyboard, with a total of 45 buttons. It has the following characters: 0-9, A-Z, ., /, <DEL><ALT><SHIFT><SYM><Space><Enter>, and Font size. They work as a keyboard, but the buttons are rather small. Also, they don’t have a lot of feedback so it can be hard to tell whether you typed something, especially when paired with the limited refresh rate of the screen.

To the right of the keyboard is a set of navigation buttons. It has a 4 direction + press nib, a Menu button above and a Back button below. This nib is the primary way of navigating around the Kindle until you start reading.

On the right edge near the top are the volume buttons (up + down). Along the top, next to the headphone port, is the on-off switch, which is spring loaded. This is used to wake the device to and from sleep.

Screen #

Display 6-inch, 600 x 800, 167 PPI, 16-level grayscale

The screen is a 6-inch E-Ink display. Screen dimensions are 9cm x 12.1cm (15cm diagonal), taking up about 39% of the device’s face. The left and right bezel is 2.3cm bezel, top is 1.7cm. Pixel dimension is 600 x 800, 167PPi. The screen itself goes right up to the edge of the plastic, so there isn’t a ring of unusable whitespace around the edge.

The screen works find for text, and is able to support a variety of font sizes for your reading pleasure. Sadly, it isn’t quite high enough quality for images. I’ve tried reading manga on the device, but there just isn’t enough pixels to properly display things, especially when there’s smaller text. There’s also the whole issue of getting the manga on the device, but I’ll go more into that in the internals section.

Refreshing the screen while reading takes about .5-.9 seconds. Refresh goes from right to left, mimicking the turning of a page. A screen refresh while turning pages does the following:

  1. Toggle pixels to new on/off state (doesn’t change matching pixels)
  2. Toggle all pixels to opposite of original state (not new state)
  3. Toggle pixels to new on/off state for good

I believe it does it in this order to make sure that all the pixels switch to the next state correctly. This process makes sure that each pixel goes through an entire on/off cycle before settling on the new screen. Since it is an E-Ink reader, once the pixels are set it doesn’t require additional energy to keep them there, so power is only consumed by the screen.

When turning the page while reading, it will refresh the entire screen. While navigating around menus and such, it will usually only refresh pixels that are changing, not the entire screen.

Internals #

Oh, Amazon, the big A. They sure did a number on the device and really spent some effort locking it down. They really limit the ways in which you can interact with the device. In order to use much of the networking ability of the device, you must first register with your Amazon account. This also gives Amazon the ability to reach into your device and muck about. In a good example of literal Orwellian censorship, in 2009 Amazon remotely deleted certain copies of Animal Farm and Nineteen Eight-four directly from user’s devices. The publisher didn’t have the rights, but this also showed Amazons ability to directly manage files on the device without user approval.

Luckily, there is a jailbreak available which helps open up much of the functionality of the device: https://wiki.mobileread.com/wiki/Kindle_Hacks_Information The jailbreak process isn’t too complicated, and just takes an afternoon. Once the device is freed, you can install a variety of add-ons to enhance the device. This includes adding support for more file and audio filetypes, alternate font packs, and fancy things like USB Networking and a terminal emulator.

My favorite change to make was updating the screen savers. When the device is in sleep mode, it will display an image so something is on the screen. The device comes built in with a good number, but I had a few issues with the images they chose. A few of them advertise amazon services, which infuriates me the most, but some of the other images just aren’t the best for the e-ink screen. They usually have a lot of shading and poor dithering, which just doesn’t show up well with the e-ink. Once jail broken, it’s easy to add your own photos. I used XnViewMP batch convert ability to scale pictures to 600x900 and convert to grayscale. When preparing images, be sure to keep in mind the ability of the e-ink to display shading. This kindle has 16 different shades, but the original only had 4 (like the Gameboy!).

Accepted file formats is another limiting factor of the device. Only the following formats are accepted: MOBI/PRC, TXT, TPZ, AZW, HTML and PDF (Firmware > 2.2). It is also able to play audio AAX files. One filetype conspicuously missing is EPUB. It is thought that is was left out because of it’s lack of DRM, which re-iterates where Amazon’s priorities are. But hey, that’s why jailbreaks exist. I found this website useful to prepare books for loading pre-jailbreak: https://convertio.co/epub-mobi/

It’s not all doom and gloom though. There are some very useful tools available to the reader. My favorite is the highlight tool, which allows you to highlight words and passages. The user is also able to take notes easily by navigating to a location on the page and typing. Both the notes and the highlights are stored in a single separate file, storing the book title, location, date, and passage/note.

I also like the dictionary lookup. By hovering over a word with the cursor, the dictionary definition for it will appear at the bottom of the screen (replacing the progress bar). Mine only has an english dictionary, but I’m sure other languages were/are available.

Do these features warrant adding an entire keyboard to the device? Eh. It’s useful for when you need to use it, but 99% of the time I’m just reading, making the keyboard kinda wasted. Amazon probably thought the same, as we can see from the smaller keyboard on 3rd generation devices, and no keyboard at all on the 4th-gen. Instead, they moved to a touch screen (and built-in ads unless you paid more 😡).

Conclusion #

The device I have originally came out in 2009, so it’s been 12 years and it’s still chugging along. I can’t find any dead pixels, and the battery life is still great. I’m not sure exactly how well the battery compares to how it was at launch, but as it is now I only need to charge maybe once a week, reading about 2-3 hours a day. In any case, it’s not difficult to purchase a new battery online and replace it yourself.

It’s very usable as an e-reader, once it’s opened up a little. While it’s not great for comics or manga, books read just fine. The lack of a backlight might be important for some, but I feel that it makes reading feel closer to an actual book, requiring you to be near a light source.

I also find that books I read on in sort of blend together, since they are all displayed the same way. My brain doesn’t have the physical book differences to inform itself, so sometimes I get confused about who’s in what book, but that just means I need to pay more attention.

The screen is a little small, and even with a smaller font size doesn’t fit a whole lot on the screen. The keyboard also takes up a lot of real estate on the device, and it’s value depends on how often the reader is taking notes and such. I wish it had a slide-out keyboard instead, similar to older phones from the 2000s era. It would likely have made the device thicker, but it would give you more screen space while also preserving the ability to type. Newer Kindles and e-readers in general have moved to touch screens, so the keyboard is just on the screen, but then you run into issues with how interactive the device feels because of the screen refresh rate.

Because these devices are “old”, they are easy to find on sites like ebay for cheap. You can easily pickup this or other Kindle models on ebay for less than $50. Even if it isn’t jail broken, you can still convert any e-books you have to the .mobi format and quickly throw them on the device. If you’re looking for books or things to read, here are some good places to look:

  • Library Genesis: https://libgen.is
  • Sci-hub: https://sci-hub.st
  • Project Gutenberg: https://www.gutenberg.org
  • Internet Archive: https://archive.org/details/books

And a short list of things I’ve read on the device:

  • The Expanse: Leviathon Wakes - James S. A. Corey
  • The Big Sleep - Raymond Chandler
  • Centauri Device - John H. Harrison
  • The Dream Life of Sukhanov - Olga Grushin
  • The Forever War - Joe Haldeman
  • Ringworld Series - Larry Niven
  • Sirius - Olaf Stapledon
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