Amazon's New Kindle DX Means Business

At first glance the new Kindle DX seems to be just an oversized version of's (AMZN) popular e-book reader. Except for its bigger scale—the 9.7-inch display is nearly three times the size of a standard Kindle screen—the DX looks very much like its smaller sibling and shares its virtues if you are just reading a book.

But a close look at the capabilities of the $489 DX shows it to be a powerful tool for business and education as well.

Other than size, there are just two major hardware changes. The next page/previous page buttons on the left side of the screen are gone, and Amazon added a motion sensor that automatically rotates the display image, sometimes a bit sluggishly, when you turn the device sideways. There are also some relatively small design changes, plus one new trick that really makes a difference: The big screen allows you to handle large-format documents, including ones you create, in very appealing ways.

PDF Files Without Conversion

That's not completely new. Both the original Kindle and the Kindle 2 can theoretically display user-created documents, including Microsoft Word (MSFT) and Acrobat (ABDE) PDF files. You send the file as an e-mail attachment to a special address associated with your Kindle. Amazon converts this to its own Kindle format and, at a charge of 15¢ per megabyte, sends it back wirelessly to your device. But in reality this conversion feature rarely works well in older Kindles. Complex formatting often gets damaged in transmission, and while PDFs usually retain their design features, the text often becomes too small to read.

Unlike the other Kindles, the DX can display PDF files without any conversion. Essentially, a PDF document appears on the Kindle screen exactly as it would on paper except, of course, for the loss of color. As long as the original text size is not too small, print will remain readable when the type is shrunk to fit on the Kindle screen. And while you can still send your own documents to yourself using the special e-mail address, you can also just connect the new Kindle to a computer with a USB cable and drag and drop the files you want from a PC; it's easy, and it's free.

I experimented with a variety of PDF documents and was very pleased with the results. In the toughest test, I loaded a PDF version of a mathematics textbook, and everything, including formulas, drawings, footnotes, and margin notes, rendered beautifully. The only real drawback is that links, such as listings in a table of contents in a PDF, won't work in the Kindle—a limitation of the underlying Adobe software. But you can work around this by using search to jump to the section you want.

The business potential of the DX is formidable. Consider a briefcase full of legal papers in a 19-oz. device that is silent, cool, and runs forever on a battery charge. The paperlike display is much easier on the eyes than a backlit laptop screen. And you hold a Kindle like a book, which is easier on your back and neck than hunching over a laptop. You could also load a Kindle with reams of technical documents or the piles of paper needed for a board meeting.

The DX also could do wonderful things for textbooks, especially at the college level, where, in most subjects, color is less important than in K-12 education. Budget-conscious students may be disappointed, though. I downloaded a statistics text—for $43.70. That's only $5 less than Amazon's price for a paperback version, and the Kindle edition can't be sold used.

Amazon doesn't have the large-format reader field to itself. A company called iRex sells a 10.2-in. reader for a stiff $859. And startup Plastic Logic plans to bring a very lightweight 14-in. reader to the market early next year. The office hasn't gone paperless yet, but Amazon and its competitors are bringing the day a lot closer.

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