Amazon Kindle DX Graphite review

Just over a year ago, we reviewed Amazon's jumbo-sized Kindle, the Kindle DX. And just a few weeks ago, Amazon outed a new, $379 Graphite gray version of the DX. This time, it's got the new Pearl display from E Ink, which supposedly boasts a much higher contrast ratio and a faster page refresh rate over its predecessor. Other than that, you're looking at pretty much the same unit as before, and if you like a large e-reader, that's probably a good thing. Read on for our full impressions of the device.

Look and feel

Yes, the new Kindle DX, like its predecessor, feels rather giant in comparison to most readers. That said, in our several weeks with the device, we grew accustomed to its size pretty easily and found it to be a more enjoyable reading experience than with many smaller readers. If you think of it as the difference between reading a cozy, convenient paperback and a large, stately hardback edition, you'll about have the feel of the size and weight difference. The DX feels heavier than the Kindle 2 or the Nook but light in comparison to its overall size, and while you will inevitably hold this reader with both hands, we'll go on record as saying that's how we hold most books -- even small ones -- anyway.


Physically, not much has changed. The Kindle DX's new shell of gray is pretty appealing, and we definitely prefer it to the white housing of other Kindles. As an added bonus, it seems to boost the contrast ratio on the 9.7-inch screen quite a bit (more on the reading experience in a moment). Like the previous DX, the Graphite version is just about a third of an inch thick, weighs nearly 19 ounces (that's over double the Kindle 2), and stores 3,500 books -- just like the other Kindles. The DX's keyboard is unchanged from the original model and, in our opinions, still pretty abysmal. It is simply not very usable and delivers an awkward, uncomfortable typing experience. The unit is simply too wide, and the layout of the keys too cramped to get much done with it. That said, it's a minor complaint as we've never done a lot of typing with our readers anyways, so we'll be just as happy to never really use this keyboard anyway.

The other physical features -- the rocker and the three buttons (page turn arrows and Home) are exactly the same as on every recent Kindle. The brushed aluminum back feels nice in the hand, with a slight texture to it which makes gripping the device with one hand possible (if not totally comfortable).

Performance and reading experience

What's really important about this iteration of the Kindle DX is what's going on inside: or, more specifically, its new Pearl E Ink display that's purported to boast a 50 percent improved contrast ratio than its predecessor. While we don't have the previous generation DX, we do have the Kindle 2 to compare (in addition to the Nook and a first gen Kindle). The new DX has -- by a good margin -- the best contrast ratio of all those devices. This screen is downright crisp; in fact, it might be a bit too crisp for our tastes, mostly because we're so used to looking at cheaply printed books and less attractive E Ink displays. In that way, the DX is a big step forward: it achieves exactly what it claims.

The refresh rate on this big boy is improved, too -- but then, where could it have gone but up? E Ink refresh rates simply cannot compete with LCDs or physical books. Our own experience also found that the refresh rate of the Nook (with its latest software update) is now about on par with this new Kindle refresh rate, so it's fair to say that some of the competition is catching up. Regardless, with this unit, we felt enough latency in the refresh rate to be bothered by it, but e-reader enthusiasts or people who really need to travel with an arsenal or reading material are probably more than willing to let that slide in the face of the other advantages.

One problem that was evident in the first generation Kindle DX persists in this model: the orientation sensor is a bit nuts. While reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo in bed, almost any time we adjusted ourselves we found the sensor turning to landscape mode. Then again, when we wanted the sensor to kick in, it would do so only about 60 percent of the time, and again you'll see the effects of slow page refresh times of E Ink. Now, you can lock the orientation sensor and pretty much never encounter this issue again (we can't ever really imagine needing to read a text-based book with adjustable font sizes in landscape mode, after all), but it seemed worth mentioning given it goes unchanged since the previous version.

The battery on this thing is what we'd call decent -- it takes quite a while to get a full charge, and lasts about a week of regular use. Amazon says you'll squeeze two weeks out of it with the wireless off, and while we didn't put that to the test, we found the battery life was, as expected, far better with the wireless turned off. You're not going to get the same type of battery life you see out of smaller devices, but for one of this type, it's pretty solid.

Wrap up

Not a lot has changed here -- but Amazon's given a pretty decent upgrade to the DX, a large reader that was originally targeted at students. While there's surely a demographic out there for super-sized devices in general, we're not sure that students on-the-go are the ones for this device. As our previous review of the DX stated, for now at least, a laptop, highlighter, and text still win in most cases. That said, this new $379 DX is definitely an iterative improvement over the last one. If you're a current DX owner, you probably won't feel any need to upgrade, but if you've been thinking about buying one, these improvements might be enough to get you to finally bite.