Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Kindle DX and the PDF implementation chosen

Kindlezen's Steve Bain has a very thoughtful, well-researched, and thorough report on the strange choices made in Amazon's implementation of native Adobe PDF support for the Kindle DX.

He opens with the thought that " overall impression is very positive" and that this is a critique of the PDF interface rather than the unit itself.  It's an understandably tough critique, considering the DX's target audience.

I'd written earlier (May 15) on the contradictory replies I received from Amazon's Kindle Support department when Kindle-2 owners discovered that the Kindle DX User's Guide implied, via menu illustrations of a PDF document in use, that there would be no highlighting or notes capability with PDFs.  It's not spelled out via text that this is so.  A technical representative explained to me that he was able to highlight pages and add a note to a page, though these could not be done for subsections of pages.  However, as explained in that earlier report, official Amazon word came on the 18th that only a converted PDF (to MOBI text format) would allow users to highlight and add notes to PDFs.

It's been noted that the small Sony PRS-700 does allow users the highlighting and note-taking capabilities for text-based PDFs although the unit has its own drawbacks.  Therefore many surmise, rightly or wrongly, that the lack of these features is more due to the type of Adobe licensing involved.

Since then, Amazon has not, as of today, offered a mechanism by which PDFs could be converted by them for the Kindle DX as is currently done automatically for PDFs sent to Kindles 1 and 2  (because it's necessary in those cases just to read them), though I had asked them to consider offering this option to avoid problems upon release because of the expressed concerns in the forums back then.

  Searches are doable in text-based PDFs but not of course in books that are created only from pages scanned as images.  More troubling, as Bain describes, is the lack of Adobe support for working-links from the Table of Contents (possibly because licensing was for a restricted feature set).  Bain describes several workarounds and the difficulties with them.

 He points out, as forum Kindle DX users also have noted, that dictionary look-ups and Text-to-Speech are also not available for PDFs.

  As a result, Bain and users on the forums are of course asking that the firmware be updated to correct most of these problems, as the DX is marketed to students for textbook and study use and to business professionals and academics who need to work with many PDFs.  That one cannot 'work with' the PDFs then but only view them is a rather serious drawback for much of Amazon's stated target market.

  Bain describes physical interface problems he and others have noted, which you can read on his site.

However, most Kindle users who want the Kindle mainly for books and periodicals and are interested only in viewing PDFs that do retain the original layout of pages, rather than in working with them, won't be particularly affected.  Exception: the lack of active links in the Table of Contents.  Amazon needs to take care of this; Adobe provides that support if it's part of the licensing purchased. [Update from original 9:00pm post added the last sentence.]

  Some photos of scientific PDFs put on the Kindle DX by Kindleboards member 'Lynn' show a unit that does have accurate multi-format layout and remarkable clarity for PDFs when original sources are not in very small print.

  While there is awkwardness in the auto-rotation to landscape mode (and some slowness under certain circumstances) in that the top portion of the page is shown and then the bottom portion is reached by using the NextPage bar -- making columnar reading that requires PrevPage bar to get to the next column -- one can see the material about 1.5 times larger that way.  (Pan and zoom aren't possible with PDFs on the DX's screen, which while large is still smaller than an 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper, nor is it possible to increase the size of the fonts.)

  Lynn finds it less trying than scrolling around on the laptop though.  She has 400 journal articles placed on her DX already, to avoid using the laptop for them.

As a result of mulling the pros and cons of this device the last week, and because I won't be working with PDFs but only viewing them and using them for various electronics manuals, educational PDFs and a lot of sheet music, I've decided to get one for myself.
  Various photos links I've collected here and the photos linked to above helped.  There are even sheet music examples there.  Page turning will be a lot easier. :-)

  But business professionals and academics interested in the PDF capabilities for their work needs should be aware of what Bain has described at Kindlezen before they make their decisions.  And Amazon should provide the usual conversions for those wanting to use the usual Kindle tools on this type of document while working on the firmware changes to make this a real tool for academics and business professionals.

Update 3:47 PM: Clarified that lack of highlighting and notes involves only PDFs. Below are ways to Share this post if you'd like others to see it.
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