Amazon updated the Kindle on Monday, increasing the battery life and adding more storage. It held firm on the current $359 price, a potential risk considering the economic climate.

The first Kindle, released before the 2007 holiday season, has been considered a consumer hit even though Amazon has yet to detail how many devices it has sold.
The Kindle 2 will start shipping on Feb. 24. (Amazon Chief Exec Jeff Bezos is holding the new model during a New York press event, photo courtesy of the AP.) The current Kindle has been sold out since November. That's when talk show queen Oprah Winfrey called the Kindle her favorite gadget and apparently set off a sales spike Amazon had not anticipated.

Here's what's new:

--The design is slimmer. Like Apple's MacBook Air, it looks like you could lose it among a pile of paper.
--Storage is seven times greater, according to Amazon. It will hold more than 1,500 books.
--Battery life is 25 percent better.
--Pages turn quicker. I'm sure this will help, but I thought it was fine before.
--The Kindle talks.

Yes, the coolest feature may be that the Kindle 2 includes a "text-to-speech" feature. Readers can alternate between being read to or reading the book. That's very cool and clearly a step-up from the current audio book approach.

How much of a boost Oprah gave the Kindle is hard to pin down, since Amazon will not say how many Kindles have sold. Hence, it's probable Amazon wasn't planning on producing new Kindles for the holiday season, thinking its stock would last and it could start building the second version.

According to a Wall Street Journal report, Citigroup analyst Mark Mahaney estimates that 500,000 Kindles have been sold to date. He bases that figure on data from Sprint Nextel Corp., which runs the wireless network the Kindle uses to download books.
Through the Kindle's wireless connection, books are sent directly to the device. They appear moments after they are ordered.

I haven't held the new Kindle yet but I think I'll like it, as I'm a fan of the original. I was surprised, actually, since I'm a book reader who loves the textural experience of reading as much as the content. The Kindle doesn't deter me from reading physical books, but it's a great alternative if you read several books at once or travel extensively and don't want to schlep more than one title.

Amazon has said Kindle owners buy 1.6 electronic books to every traditional book they purchase.

The nice thing about reading on the Kindle is the screen. Text can be enlarged and viewed even when direct sunlight hits the screen. The downside is that there is no backlight on the Kindle, meaning you need to read with a light on. We'll see if Amazon addressed this problem in the new Kindle.

Another drawback: The Kindle is still pricey, which is one reason Amazon has clearly limited supply. Not only must buyers spend $359 on a device (down from the original $399), owners must also purchase electronic versions of the books.

These typically cost less than paperbacks but new releases are not discounted as steeply as one would imagine since there are no printing, shipping or delivery costs to an e-book. Amazon says best sellers and new releases are often priced at $10.

Competitors include Sony's e-reading device, priced at $299, but also Google.
Last week, Google made more than 1.5 million book titles available for free download, including getting them onto mobile devices. These are books already in the public domain.
Personally, I'm fine with reading news stories and the occasional magazine piece on a product like the iPhone, but it's not comfortable for a novel.

That's what has made the first Kindle a fine device - it does a great job replicating the reading experience.