My Amazon Kindle review

I love using my Amazon Kindle 2. Some recent Kindle reviews (by Jason Kottke, Steven Johnson, and the Wall Street Journal) caused me to reflect on the device.

In short, the Kindle is designed for stories: linear, fictional stories.

The big “next page” buttons make reading a novel enjoyable, while the slow 5-way navigation button makes non-linear reading inconvenient. I gave up reading a reference book on the Kindle when I found it more difficult to skip & skim than the paperback.

Reference books, short chunks of texts (e.g. blog posts, news summaries), and “streams” of data (e.g. news headlines) are Kindle’s weak point. While you can subscribe to newspapers and blogs, it’s a more clunky experience than using a computer. While reading is enjoyable on the Kindle (due to the hi-res screen and form factor), finding what you want to read is cumbersome.

I was surprised to discover the complexities of converting books from the print format to the Kindle format. It’s not as straight-forward as converting a CD to an MP3. Here are some of the rough edges I’ve found in the design of Kindle books:

  • No small caps in Kindle fonts. Some publisher’s display small caps as lowercase.
  • Tricky to align text and images. If the text references figure 1, that figure may be a few screens away.
  • Difficult to zoom in on images. Some charts & graphs are impenetrable at the default resolutions. Sometimes you can zoom in, but there’s no way to make the image larger than the screen and use the directional pad to scroll.

AFAIK, publishers are responsible for converting their books into the Kindle format. So some of the rough edges may be the publisher’s choice, not a limitation of the Kindle format.

So, Kindle’s current design is focused on linear, long-form reading. While there will always be a place for that, they’re missing out on short, non-linear text; i.e. hypertext.

The Kindle nods in the direction of hypertext, with an experimental web browser. But I wonder why it’s even included, since it’s such an inferior experience to the reading a book on the Kindle, and also inferior to surfing the web from a smartphone (there’s no color, and the navigation is clunky).

While the Kindle can succeed by just focusing on novels, improving non-linear navigation (e.g., by adding a touch screen), can make the device work will with both novels and hypertext.

← Previously: Late to merge | All posts | Next: The value of classic literature →