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Tuesday focus: Gadgets Inc. is releasing a slimmer version of its Kindle electronic reading device, but it still costs $359 – making it unclear how mainstream even an improved Kindle can be during a brutal recession.

Rather than lowering the price, Amazon touted several upgrades to the e-book reader and a novella from Stephen King that will be available exclusively for the device. The new Kindle is expected to begin shipping Feb. 24, with owners of the first Kindle at the front of the line if they want to upgrade.

Amazon CEO and founder Jeff Bezos said there was no way to lower the price given the upgraded components in the Kindle 2, which is a bit more than one-third of an inch thick – about half the thickness of the first Kindle.

Its 6-inch screen can display 16 shades of gray, compared with the previous Kindle’s four shades. It will be able to read text aloud from two small speakers on the back, and it can store 1,500 books instead of 200.

The new Kindle is slightly taller, but like the old version, it weighs about 10 ounces. It downloads books – the catalog has 230,000 titles – and newspaper stories and blog posts over Sprint Nextel Corp.’s wireless network.

Amazon recently said it would make Kindle e-books available on other kinds of devices, including cell phones, as rival Google Inc. is doing.

Amazon hopes to make Kindle enticing through exclusive content, beginning with King’s novella, called “Ur,” which incorporates the device into the story.

Out of the box: Stores could soon run out of the federally subsidized converter boxes that let an older TV set receive new digital signals, the Consumer Electronics Association has warned.

Manufacturers stopped making the boxes in early January, expecting demand would peak around Feb. 17, when TV stations were slated to turn off their analog signals. However, Congress last week voted to extend the deadline to June 12.

As talk of a delay grew last month, manufacturers restarted their converter-box assembly lines, said Michael Petricone, senior vice president of government affairs for the consumer electronics group. But it will take time for the boxes to reach stores.

The trade association estimates U.S. retailers have 3 million to 6 million boxes on hand.

“The worst case is that there are only 3 million boxes,” Petricone said. “Retailers would then run out of inventory by the end of February.”

Associated Press

Tags: gadgets