As expected, (NASDAQ:AMZN) introduced its new Kindle this morning. Kindle 2 won't be available for another two weeks, but there are plenty of reasons to warm up to the new e-book reader.

Version 2.0 retains most of the popular features of the original Kindle, which Oprah Winfrey gushed about four months ago. It still relies on Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) 3G connectivity to deliver books without the need for a Wi-Fi hotspot. Purchased books still get zapped into the reader in less than 60 seconds. It's also sticking to the same $359 price point.

But alongside those familiar features, there are also plenty of welcome enhancements:

  • The new model is more compact than the original. It's as thin as a magazine and weighs less than a paperback.
  • With two gigabytes of storage, it offers improved capacity of roughly 1,500 titles (vs. 200 for the previous model).
  • Its display screen is improved, now offering 16 shades of gray (versus four) so images appear sharper.
  • Battery life is now 25% longer.
  • A "text-to-speech" feature allows the Kindle to read aloud any book, magazine, blog, or newspaper.

That last point is huge. Style freaks may love the ergonomic enhancements, but I think the "read-to-me" option will really push the Kindle into the mainstream.

I'm not saying that we're all audiobook junkies who hate physical reading. I also realize that speech synthesizers are a joke compared to rich human voices. However, the real sticking point with many potential Kindle owners is that they don't always have a lot of time to read. A Kindle may work for mass-transit commuters on the bus, trains, or subways, but what about the majority of us who actually drive, bike, or walk to work? We can't afford to stare at a screen.

There's a reason why Sirius XM Radio (NASDAQ:SIRI) has roughly 19 million subscribers. It's no surprise to see more cars adding audio jacks for Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPods. Even Cracker Barrel (NASDAQ:CBRL) stocks audiobooks at its general stores. In short, drivers love audio. So while the new Kindle's "read-to-me" feature may be experimental, I think it'll prove a major selling point.

It remains to be seen whether Kindle's first wave of early adopters will take to the updated model. Amazon isn't offering rebates or trade-ins -- just allowing original owners a first crack at getting the new Kindles if they order in the next two days.

Either way, Amazon has raised the bar here. Rivals like Sony (NYSE:SNE), which may have taken advantage of the Kindle outage that began in mid-November to nab holiday market share, will have a real juggernaut to tackle later this month.

The Kindle is now better, with a wider library of available titles, and Winfrey-approved to boot. In short, I think its debut marks another exciting chapter for Amazon.

Other page-turners in the Kindle saga:

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Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has been shopping online for about as long as has been in business. He owns a Kindle, but he does not own shares in any of the companies in this story, save for Cracker Barrel. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has an irresistibly shiny disclosure policy.