At a glance, Kindle 2 looks better than predecessor

Here's the really quick read on Amazon's new electronic reader: The $359 Kindle 2 ought to make it easier to curl up with a good e-book.

Kindle 2, which starts shipping Feb. 24, certainly addresses speed and the other main problem I had with the first-generation Kindle, namely navigation.

The clumsy scroll wheel has been replaced by a five-way controller for moving the text around on the screen. Amazon says you'll especially appreciate this new controller while reading newspapers. We'll see.

The display is crisper. And pages appear to turn faster — 20% faster, Amazon says. Apparently, you'll no longer inadvertently flip pages as happens way too frequently with the buttons along the edges of the original Kindle. That always drove me nuts.

I also loathed the cheap cover on the first edition. Kindle 2 has a hinge to ensure that a cover won't slide off, though the latest generation doesn't even come with a cover. Amazon sells a $30 leather cover as an accessory. Others will be available from Cole Haan and Belkin.

With or without a cover, Kindle 2 is more attractive than its homely predecessor, though that's not saying much. At a svelte 0.36 inches, Kindle 2 is about half as thick as before and thinner than most smartphones.

The power charger is also smaller. What's more, you can charge the device using a micro USB cable. Amazon says the battery can last about two weeks off a single charge, a 25% improvement. Battery life on the first Kindle wasn't a major issue.

As before, you can shop for books directly from the wireless Kindle Store, using Amazon's Whispernet. It runs on Sprint's fast EV-DO network. I didn't get to download any books on the new device (I got to hold Kindle 2 only for a moment), but Amazon ensures it will work much the same, with books arriving in less than a minute.

With 2 gigabytes of internal memory, you can store more than 1,500 books. The original had 256 megabytes of internal storage (about 200 books). But the original also had an SD memory card slot. There's no such slot on Kindle 2.

I'm looking forward to trying out the new Whispersync wireless syncing feature. It lets you start reading on one Kindle and resume where you left off on another Kindle. Where it could get interesting is when Amazon will let you sync with a cellphone, something it says is in the works.

Kindle 2 also can read out loud, perhaps while you are cooking or riding in a car. Based on the small sample I heard, it's a good thing Amazon calls this an "experimental" feature. The voice is robotic and nowhere near the quality of a book recorded, say, on Amazon's own Audible service.

Of course, not all books have audio versions, and Kindle 2 can read aloud anything that is on the device, including your own documents. The page automatically turns when content is being read aloud, raising intriguing possibilities, perhaps, for children's books.

On first impression, Amazon appears to have made a good device better, if not dramatically so. But I'll reserve my verdict until I've had a chance to put a Kindle 2 to the test. By curling up with it.