Jeremy D Brooks

Kindle 3 WiFi Review

by on Aug.29, 2010, under Reading

**updated 10/12/10 with landscape pic at bottom**

I got my Kindle 3 on Friday. I like it.

A standard ebook (native Amazon format) page.

As you may know, it doesn’t use backlighting like a computer screen or TV. The benefit is that it looks like a physical media like a book (because it basically is) and can be read in bright light. The downside is that you need good light to read, just like a physical print.

Considering that, even, the backplane (the “paper” underneath the “ink”) is darker than I expected, although the text is still pretty crisp and easy to read.

Navigation is a bit clunky, but that’s mostly a result of the fact that you’re not dealing with a PC-style display with a quick refresh and complex, aesthetic interface. Remember surfing the web around 1992, where everything was text and navigation was very cut and dry and basic? It’s like that. Here’s a better analogy: It reminds me of the navigation on a late 90s Palm Pilot: no frills, just text and click-click scrolling through options and delayed reactions to commands.

A single-sided PDF page on the K3

But, again, that’s because of the limitations of e-ink. If you don’t want an LCD, you pay in speed and aesthetics. And it’s really not that bad.

Page turns are slow, but still much faster than the Nook I played with last winter. Again, it’s e-ink.

It’s very small, somewhere between the size of a paperback study guide for Coriolanus my daughter got at Shakespeare camp last year, and a pamphlet called Ethical Guidelines for Nevada Politicians (although the latter contains only formatting guidelines for a shakedown letter and a yummy recipe for a gin fizz).

I tried it out with a few different formats, and learned something valuable: it doesn’t do well with static-sized documents. Which, if you’re considering your future as an ebook author, is critical.

It looks great for the native Amazon azw format (an implementation of .mobi, I believe). The text is clean, graphics, although grayscale, look fine and much sharper than older Kindles. The text–here is the important part–is interpreted, not just displayed. What that means is that the Kindle works like a web browser: it reads the text in an ebook and displays it based on the environmental variables set by the user: what size font, which font (standard, sans serif, etc), landscape/portrait, etc. The page is drawn dynamically according to those settings–which means that if on page seven you refer to “the diagram on page twenty five”, there is a good chance that said diagram does not, in fact, appear on page twenty five. It appears wherever it gets pushed based on the number of characters per page and the layout you’ve chosen.

A double-sided PDF. Publishers, don't do this. Ever.

Good part of that schema: no scrolling to read, adjustable font sizes for different readers. Bad part: you can’t refer to specific pages; also, if you use a generic mobi creator like Smashwords, you can’t create a table of contents with page numbers (mobi does support it, but it takes some work that Smashwords’ parsing engine does not support).

The K3 doesn’t fare so well with PDFs, which sucks because I have a ton of them and intended to finally get some of them read on my new toy. The problem is that the text is not parsable like a .mobi file–the Kindle treats the PDF essentially like an image, and in order to get a full PDF page on one Kindle page, the font is very small for a standard magazine/journal format. Very small. You can zoom in, but that means scrolling side to side and up and down to read which, because of the delay in drawing pages with e-ink, is not a good option. It’s distracting and basically unusable.

Landscape doesn't help. Still has to scroll vertically, which makes it worse.

Even worse: I have a couple of PDFs where the publisher chose to lay it out with two pages side by side on one PDF screen. These magazines are not just hard to read, but pretty much unusable on a Kindle. They’ll probably get deleted from my hard drive before I ever read them.

The lessons here: the Kindle seems to be a pretty good device for text, but, if you’re a publisher or author, you really need to consider a parsable ebook format like .mobi or epub to make it friendly for your readers. That blows your layout and graphics out (especially for magazines), but the alternative is bypassing e-ink readers and focusing on the smaller-but-growing iPad market. Or ignoring your ebook readers entirely and missing out on that market. Or limiting yourself to people who are willing to read PDFs on their PC–a small and shrinking market, I would argue.

(Note: click through the images for larger views)

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6 Comments for this entry

  • robert

    I’d think an extra bonus would be to read manuscripts on. So I wouldn’t have to print out 300 copies of a novel for my wife to read. I could just upload it onto the Kindle as a PDF and she could take notes from that.

  • jeremy

    That’s one thing I’m looking forward to. Takes me half a cartridge to print a 300 page ms. Have to jack up the font size before capturing to pdf, though.

  • robert

    I wonder if there’s an easy way to make it into a mobi file. I know editors and agents have started using e-readers a lot. It’s gotta be possible.

  • jeremy

    I’ve been experimenting with a couple of apps for doing mobi and epub, one is called Sigil and one is Calibre. Seem to be pretty easy. Calibre takes HTML files and converts to ebook format, Sigil is for more advanced edits like chapter breaks.

  • Katey

    This is all really important info–I have a crap ton of pdf books and would’ve been pissed if I’d bought this without knowing. But as is I’m still considering it, because it sounds like it’s otherwise pretty much what I’m looking for.

    Thanks for this, Jeremy!

  • jeremy

    Honestly, I was a little bummed…they’re still readable, just equivalent to maybe an 8 point font (for single sided. Double? Forget it…worthless. I have two copies of Arkham Tales that I’ll probably never read).

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