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Amazon Launches Next-Generation Kindle

New York — will begin shipping Kindle 2, the second generation of its 2-year-old electronic book reader, on Feb. 24.

Amazon said the updated device features improved ergonomics, navigation, display, storage capacity and battery life, while maintaining subscription-free wireless access to Sprint’s 3G data network and a $359 price point

What truly distinguishes it from the original Kindle, which debuted in November 2007, is a text-to-speech feature and the ability to synchronize with its predecessor. Going forward, Kindle 2 will also sync with a range of mobile devices that are believed to include cellphones, although Amazon wouldn’t elaborate on its plans.

As was widely rumored, the product was introduced this morning at The Morgan Library, here, by founder/CEO Jeff Bezos. He was joined onstage by author Stephen King, who read excerpts from “Ur,” his new novella that was released exclusively for Kindle.

The device itself has the same height, length and weight as its predecessor, but its width was cut in half to 0.36 inches, making it easier to hold. Other ergonomic improvements include a toggle, rather than the original scroll wheel, that permits navigation along horizontal, vertical and diagonal axis; repositioned control buttons, to avoid unintentional page turns; 2GB of internal storage vs. the original’s 256MB; and a 25 percent boost in battery life.

The screen remains a 6-inch, black-and-white electrophoretic display with a 600 by 800 pixel resolution, although it now boasts 16 shades of gray vs. four before, and pages now turn an average of 20 percent faster.

Kindle also continues to offer wireless access to Sprint’s nationwide 3G network via an onboard EV-DO/CDMA modem, although the new edition has been upgraded to EV-DO Rev. A.

The device’s text-to-speech feature converts printed words to spoken words, and turns the page automatically while the content is being read in a choice of a male or female voice.

Amazon began taking advanced orders today, with priority given to current Kindle customers. The first units are scheduled to ship on Feb. 24.

Customer back orders for the original Kindle, which had been out of stock for much of 2008, will be switched to the new model, effective today, Kindle VP Ian Freed told TWICE.