Sunday, July 18, 2010

Kindle Android App Review

I downloaded the droid Kindle app to my Verizon LG Ally so that I could read books (Jane Smiley's latest novel, Private Life, and OffBeat Guides' Sao Paulo Travel Guide) while on vacation in Brazil and to test the program since we at Olin are beginning to invest more in e-books and in mobile computing. Here are my initial thoughts.

The app is great in terms of portability. Instead of carrying a number of paper books with me I can fit a bunch of titles (I certainly haven't found the limit yet) on my phone. I downloaded the books quickly and very easily before leaving the states (why I can't -- or won't -- do this in Brazil is a different story and concerns Verizon's own brand of money grubbing idiocy not the droid Kindle app, but more on that in a later post.)

Readability is good as well. The screen is backlit so reading on the plane and in bed has been fine, even outside in cloudy Sao Paulo. The text size can be adjusted, and the font (a comfortable serif style, which cannot be changed) is comparable to a printed book as well. The pages turn instantaneously with a convenient tap on the appropriate side of the screen. About 70 words fit on the screen (though this depends on the text size one selects) which is fine, although it means one turns a page far more often than would be the case in even a mass market paperback. This contributes to a somewhat disjointed reading experience (exacerbated by Jane Smiley's character strewn narrative.) The app automatically takes you to the last page viewed when you open the book again, which a great. So for vacation novels the app works well. I will certainly use it again.

The experience of using a travel guide is less happy. Here search and navigation through the text is very important and the app falls down badly. The table of contents consists of clickable links which is good, but there is no index and the text is not searchable a major drawback for this kind of reference. There is a reference in the app to search coming soon, so maybe this will change. There is also no ability to see any context (smaller images of the pages before or after your text, or some information about the chapter of the book for instance.) The only information you can see is a vague indication of how far, in percentages, you are into the title. One possible solution to this would be to set ones own bookmarks and the app does allow you to do this. However, you cannot edit these bookmarks and they are identified with an incomprehensible position location and some text from the page, not even the closest subtitle. Not very helpful. Finally, the app taunts the user with a function called , but no ability to actually write a note! Also you cannot change the size of images, so the map of the excellent Sao Paulo Metro system is utterly useless.

All of this means that that app does not meet the needs of researchers (even very relaxed vacationers) and certainly not of scholars or students, but works well for pleasure reading, which is in line with the results of a recent survey from the Chronicle.

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