Monday, June 6, 2011

PDFS on the Nook Touch and the Kindle 3


I couldn't be here for most of the weekend, but am back and just saw a thread at Mobileread Forums about PDFs and how these are handled by the new NookTouch and the Kindle 3. Their message threads tend to be extremely informative and are often more technically focused than you'll see on most e-reader forums, but this one was just about which e-reader will handle PDFs better.  I've added my reply there and thought I'd include it here as well, while I catch up on other Kindle matters.
' From thuya1991
"Hi, everyone
I am just new to the e-reading community. I am thinking about buying below $200 e-reader with eink. Considering kindle but by reading all the threads here, I am so confused which one should I buy.

Reason to buy e-reader
- I have all of my books that I want to read in .pdf files (no need to access their stores or whatever)

  My other concern is that I could be able to copy my .pdf files to the e-reader and read it without buying them again."
[My reply]
1. ROTATION option
  The Kindle has a rotation option so you can read in Landscape mode, which makes most PDFs somewhat readable if they have special layouts, as the Landscape mode has more space and there is room to make the fonts larger and the margins are decreased as a Kindle feature for PDFs.

  For layouts in word, academic documents and for PDFs that are manuals or guides, the Landscape rotation mode is the difference between whether you can even read the document on a 6" screen or not.

  The Kindle 3 allows you to make the text darker, important because many PDFs are originally using color fonts for effect and these, and colors that are translated to B&W, can be almost too light to read -- in any case it can be very hard on the eyes.
  The Nook doesn't have this feature

  In my viewing of a Nook Touch the other night, the fonts are too gray for my eyes, w/o the kind of screen contrast I'm used to with the Kindle 3 and DX. The crispness is missing. (I was surprised as I had not read any reaction like mine in press reviews yet, but today I was told of two (Len Edgerly and Instapaper's Marco Arment) who had noted it.

    The Kindle Chronicles: nooktouch-pell
    Marco.Org: Nook Touch review

  However, anyone who's not used other Pearl screens probably won't notice any problem at all, and basically, the fonts are clear. Just not dark enough for me.

4. ZOOM IN - Yes, with Kindle, No, with Nook Touch
  The Nook Touch can't Zoom in on an image. Illustrations cannot be zoomed.

  With the Kindle, you can move the cursor to the center of the photograph, which gives you an option to click on it and zoom to full screen. On -higher- resolution images, this can be invaluable, especially for maps or diagrams.

  [ I should have added that Kindle PDFs have zoom-in boxes
    although I often find them awkward. ]

  Portrait mode will do fine with those, with either the Nook or the Kindle.

You can also see my Features comparison: Nook Touch and Kindle 3 '

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  1. You're right. Landscape makes a real difference reading PDFs that were formatted for 8.5x11 pages. It turns tiny but readable type into something much better. The only problem is that Kindle's don't remember that you want to see this particular document in landscape. Each time you display that document, you have to turn on landscape mode.

    Earlier today, I emailed Amazon a suggestion that Kindles remember a documents orientation like they already remember the last page viewed. If you'd like to second that suggestion or make one of your own, the email address is:

  2. Inkling, I will definitely second that suggestion, and thanks for reminding us of how to do that...

  3. I would third the suggestion and have made it at least a couple of times to kindle-feedback.

    I would just point out that the Nook 2 does support PDF reflow (in any but the 2 smallest text sizes). Some PDFs reflow reasonably well, enough to make it 'readable' where it would not be otherwise, and it is not an option that Kindle has at all, so that's a plus for N2. And Kindle can't read PDFs with Adobe DRM at all, so again, point to N2 (many technical books stocked by libraries are in Adobe DRM PDF).

    Sony has long had the best PDF support on small screen eink readers, but I've given up any hope that Amazon or anyone else will match Sony, or that Sony will drop their prices...

    A great video review/walkthrough of N2 can be found here:

  4. Tom, thanks for the video link. That reflow that he says works with some PDFs is a nice feature though he says that the device is still not a device for those wanting to read PDFs and he misses the Landscape mode. Sometimes you want to be able to see the original layout. I use the original in Landscape mode on the Kindle to check against any PDF I switch to MOBI (using Mobipocket Creator for the conversion) for reflowing text.

    It's clear that Amazon doesn't want to pay more to Adobe for its special licensings than it has to... with DRM or with special PDF features.

    In looking at the video, the first thing I noticed was the much darker font on the Kindle, which is next to the Nook Touch.

    See the-ebookreader-pics.jpg for a still from the youtube representative shot.

    And it over all looks pretty good because the lighting he uses is a saturated yellow (note his hands are a strong orange, and high contrast is a feature of the video focus but the text doesn't look dark like that in person.

    Then see his video still for the comparison of the NookTouch with the Sony at:


    The Nook is so light vs the Sony.

    In both pics regardless of lighting choices, the Nook Touch comes out looking less contrasty next to another device.

  5. I can't conclude much from the video. In the NT v Sony picture, for example, the sony is a 5" screen with a higher dot pitch, so it is going to be crisper, and they are displaying with different typefaces and line spacings, further muddling a comparison.

    NT offers 6 typefaces, in 7 sizes, some will be lighter than others, and 'different strokes for different folks' is definitely the philosophy behind offering so many (Sony has only 1 typeface in 5 sizes, I believe). Having more choices is certainly more marketable, and I believe prudent since everyone has different preferences at different times.

    Amazon already licenses Adobe RMSDK for PDF rendering on Kindle. They would just need to build more features on top of that as Sony has done. So for example, they could add PDF reflow, add on the fly cropping, '2 column' autozoom, or support for PDF 'hyperlinks', etc. There would be some development and support costs, but that's it. Even to read Adobe DRM PDF should be possible without further licensing, just more development and again, support. But none of that would necessarily sell more Kindles or ebooks, it is effort that could be deployed to other things, etc., and in the end, heavy PDF consumers will never be satisfied with a small screen device (nor should they be).

  6. Tom,
    In my report on visiting B&N and trying the Nook Touch, I think I mentioned I tried every font and size.

    It doesn't get darker.

    Amazon margins are already not what its stockholders want, and the last quarter they lost $ due to less than expected profitability despite more gross income.

    So they're not likely to be opting to pay Adobe more than they have to...

    B&N very far from you? I'm lucky. Am a member and it's only about 10 blocks from where I live.

  7. "B&N very far from you? I'm lucky. Am a member and it's only about 10 blocks from where I live."

    Unfortunately , there are no B&N stores here in the Netherlands (or anywere else in Europe , I think) .

    But , luckily , close to where I live there is a bookshop "what could possibly be the most beautiful bookshop of all time."
    The quote comes from this article in the Guardian :

    It's even called "A Book Store Made in Heaven" :

    Much more pictures of the 'Selexyz Dominicanen' bookshop :

  8. Apparently Nook 2 DOES have a web browser, but it is hidden. You have to type an url in search to launch it. Presumably books with links that link to web pages can launch it also. see:

  9. Tom,
    B&N says on their own site 'x' for web browser in a chart where 'x' means 'none'... And I guess we see why it's hidden. It's barely functioning.

    A comment I just saw:

    "I've played with the browser some on my Nook STR - while you can browse ok (seems buggy to me, but does work), I've not been able to enter text into anything but log-in (username and password) fields. Anything else and the browser closes and throws you back to whatever you were on before you used the search to pull up the browser."

    It's based on Android 2.x so it should have one?

    I can't imagine doing anything app'y on e-Ink.
    Slow, angry birds? I have not downloaded the Angry Birds app for my NookColor. I'm distracted enough.

    Thanks for this.

  10. Tom,
    Note that several on Mobileread think it's an "artifact" of the Android 2.x system - a default web browser.

    It seems to stall for most and people are saying it's "hidden" because it's so buggy.

    On my NookColor, I left WEB area and went to books area and searched on '' and it took me to Google.

    It's likely part of Android.

    I'm convinced that most Kindle owners don't know (none of my friends with Kindles do) that Menu option "Article Mode" is available once you've selected a web article from a list or from a newspaper layout of them. Article Mode reads like Readability or Instapaper or SendToReader.

    It's funny to see people try to figure out how to do workarounds on the Nook's half-functioning browser. I think the e-Ink can't keep up with the underlying Android mechanisms for the basic default browser and they hid it for that reason.

    B&N termed it 'Simple' for practical reasons.

    And yet people say how much 'better' it is than the Kindle's. Well, it could be if it worked, understanding input and not closing the browser abruptly on the slightest hiccup.

    I do wonder how on-fire the press would be if B&N offered a free working 3G web browser as Amazon does. Not to mention internationally as Amazon does (well, in 60 countries out of the 100+).

    The new Nook's touch screen though, is, as I said, nigh perfect. Wish my NookColor's touch screen was so naturally responsive without being oversensitive.

  11. AthenaAtDelphi,
    B&N is U.S. only.

    NICE bookshop you have there !

  12. Hi Andrys - Just bought the Simple Touch Nook a couple days ago and I have to disagree with you on PDFs.

    First off - I owned both sizes of Kindle 2 and found PDFs generally too painful to use, even on the DX. That was part of the reason I sold both of them off - for novels they were really great (slightly better than Nook IMO) but for everything else (which is most of my reading) they were cumbersome to use). I have never tried a Kindle 3 so perhaps PDFs are dramatically easier to read than Kindle 2.

    As you know, the Nook has a PDF reflow feature. For reading text-heavy documents like a book or manual, I consider reflow to be far more important than all the other PDF features you outlined as advantages for the Kindle. I occasionally buy e-books as PDFs and have manuals as well. I find them easy to read on the Nook, as well as the iPod touch. The original formatting is obliterated, but what I care most about is the text, which is easy to read.

    Unfortunately Nook's PDF reflow doesn't work for every PDF, and for one book it did bizarre things with font size and line spacing. I can still read it, but I'd rather not have mega fonts or no space between lines.

    Overall, though, I'll take a reflow capability that works most of the time over all the other Amazon PDF features you mentioned, given the text-heavy nature of most of my PDFs.

    My guess is that Amazon will roll out this PDF reflow some day. Until they do, the Simple Touch works better for me as an e-reader.

    I also prefer the smaller, lighter, pocket-able size, but that's another issue. Amazon is bound to come out with a keyboard-less reader at some point so this advantage is temporary.

  13. Joe,
    How can you "disagree" with me re the PDFs comparison when I was comparing Nook2 PDFs with Kindle *3* which is so different from the Kindle 2 and which you haven't used.

    I'm so used to the Kindle 3 that I find the Kindle 2 irritating because it's so much lighter in font, which then is a rather big thing when I'm using PDFs, where I can make the fonts darker with the Kindle 3.

    As far as txt reflow, sure, that's good if you don't care to see the original layout with illustrations. My PDFs are mainly guides and manuals, and even screenplays, so layout's important.

    In that case, I do keep the original PDF as-is so I can check it for what was intended (AND I ZOOM it AND put it into Landscape, both of which can't be done with the Nook Touch, good for diagrams, illustrations), but then I use MobiPocket or I send the PDF to Kindle via Amazon servers with "Convert" in the subject line, to get the Kindle-format version which of course reflows the text but this will sometimes not be in the best way but much more often it's fine, and I use this method often.

    Someone at Calibre made a statement that MobiPocket does a better job of converting from PDF to Kindle Mobi, and I've found that is true.

    As you say, you really can't see the differences available with the Kindle 3, which was the basis of my blog entry. Not the Kindle 2.

    That you're happy with the Nook Touch is great (and I think most are), but this 'disagree' thing is strange to me with a comparison that makes no sense since you haven't seen that model, especially when it comes to the topic, which is PDFs.

    Also, I'm a keyboard person and I can work faster (more reliably so I don't have to keep tapping on spaces in the screen to see where I can insert a correction for an easily mis-typed virtual-keyboard character, and I like to use typing mode for email which is kind of painful on my NookColor's keyboard (oversensitive) but better on the Nook Touch. But some of us will prefer even a slow, clunky physical keyboard while others will really love that it's not there -- most of the latter say they don't type in much. I do.

    It's funny how the little things get to you. With the Kindle 3's truly clunky keyboard I can do non-destructive back spaces, really good for corrections. On the NC, I can't so I have to keep tapping to find the insert point and then I get it wrong a lot and have to zoom it to enlarge it to find the space :-) But I love the NookColor for many other things and the screen resolution blows me away daily. It's quite addictive for web'g and color magazines, both of which allow easy pinch-expand zooms.

    As aesthetics go, I've not said this because it's a personal reaction. I thought the Nook 1 was beautiful and it had a better screen contrast than the Kindle 2 -- what kept me from buying it was the awkward, many-layers deep menu system to do the simplest thing and the fact that the remote control of the e-ink window's typing was slow). But it was a beautiful design and I almost bought one just to have a direct ePub reader.

    The Nook Touch is really clunky looking to me and that alone would have been okay. The GRAY font is so like my Kindle 2's which I can no longer use because of the Kindle 3's clarity that spoiled me and that less contrast was the main and quick reason I had no impulse at all to get the Nook Touch after seeing and trying it all. I kept thinking something was wrong but it's turned out it's designed that way.

    Maybe the touchscreen methodology demands settings that don't allow proper contrast of foreground text. I'll want to see if Amazon can deal with that when they do their touchscreen (supposedly in the Fall, per David Carnoy).

    Thanks for letting us know how the Nook Touch works for you though, relative to your Kindle 2.
    The touch-capability for selection is a very welcome feature.

  14. Thanks for your long reply, Andrys. I should have written a more graceful first sentence, making it clear that my PDF experiences with the Kindle 2 are not directly comparable to your experience with the Kindle 3. Kindle 2 did have zoom and rotation, so it didn't occur to me that PDFs on the Kindle 3 would be so different than the Kindle 2.

    Kindle 3 has the better contrast display, and the PDF darkness controls you describe. But these would not have solved my core issue, which was that the type was too small for my eyes, even when in landscape for some documents. Zoom in and then you have to scroll from side to side when reading each sentence. The DX barely worked in landscape, but there's still the two pages per page issue (you first see the upper 3/5 of the page, then the lower 3/5). I never did go through Kindle's PDF reformatting service - I suppose I should have given it a try. But honestly I want to be able to just open the book and start reading, not go through conversions, zooms, rotations, darkening, etc. These devices are supposed to make reading easy, right?

    The Simple Touch is not without issues, that's for sure. I'll probably be doing a detailed review on my site after I’ve had more time with it. Here's a few issues not too many reviewers have mentioned:

    1) touch is heat based. So if your fingers are cold or the temperature of the Nook is warm because you're in a warm room, then the screen is much less responsive. Annoyingly so.

    2) There is effectively only 240MB of memory available for anything you put on the Simple Touch that doesn't come from the Barnes and Noble Store. 1GB is for system, 3/4 GB for B&N purchased books. You'll have to buy and use an SD card to overcome this limitation.

    3) The new nook has lots of little annoying bugs and interface issues. No single one of them is a deal killer, but at least with the first OS version on this device, the device is nowhere near as polished as a Kindle or an iPod touch.

    4) Sideloading content on the Nook is cumbersome – you can’t just click on a link to download something like you can on a Kindle. For example, with feedbooks, you have to go to the site and download the book on your computer. Then you copy it to the Nook via USB cable. The process of putting it onto a “shelf” is then cumbersome, and occasionally the Nook seems to mess up the title, saying just the author name or something like “layout 1.” Getting feedbook books onto a Kindle was just a single click by comparison (either from an index file, or from suggested titles at the end of a book).

    All that being said, when it comes down to actually reading a book, I prefer the Nook form factor. I know that’s a matter of taste. Though the onscreen keyboard works well, I can understand why a heavy keyboarder like yourself would prefer a Kindle-like keyboard.

    I’m glad to see there’s healthy competition with many choices that are good and getting better.

  15. Absolutely, Joe.
    Amazon would not be improving the Kindle quickly (and sometimes not so quickly) if not pushed by B&N and Kobo's. Sony prices itself out of the market or removes key features when pricing not-competitively but I like their devices.

    The main thing about the K3 over the K2 is the inherent basic default font clarity. So comparisons can't be made using the K2.

    Your particular problem with PDFs was true with the big DX also, so you really need the text reflow even on the larger screen. Our difference is I want the original layout because there are reasons for it but I also really like being able to also have a copy in text-reflowed Kindle format.

    Very-complex scientific type pdf's of course won't be so good with either device's solutions.

    But judging from your reaction to seeing PDFs reflowed, you probably would have liked most conversions of non-complex PDFs by Mobipocket (but not so much Calibre for PDFs to Mobi).

    The Sony reflows text and I've read unhappiness over that too. The 6" screen is just a prob for PDFs and what counts is what works for each of us and, clearly, non-original layout is best for you. And this is important.

    With touch, my NookColor -- when it's warm (usually), if a finger so much as hovers over a link it activates it, which can be maddening. For that reason always clean off any oil residue from the screen even if you can't see prints. It affects the sensitivity - either over- or under.

    Nook is really known for its initial bugs which are sort of amazingly many. For B&N, it's been more important to grab market share by just getting it out early, and their strategy works. It makes me appreciate more how well the Kindles tend to work (except for that non-lighted Kindle cover!)

    Takes forever for B&N to do NEEDED basic software upgrades -- like annotations not even being FOUND, you had to plod through until you came TO an annotation to find it with Nook 1, and they fixed it after over a year.

    But the NookColor and NookTouch are way better designed for actual reading functioning than the Nook 1 -- must be a different design team altogether.

    I think most of these readers are fun to read on. I really enjoyed my Kindle 2 before I realized the K3 was so much easier on the eyes when reading. The key was that all e-Ink ones are easier than reading on a back-lit screen for, it seems, most of us who read long-form things like books, rather than short articles.

    Sideloading: Even though it's necessary on the Nook for web-downloads, I tend to USB my devices to the computer, establishing each as a separate drive and then download'g a web book direct to the device that way.

    NookColor, latest models, are partitioned separately so you have only 1 gig for personal stuff - as they were running out of space for apps and they now reserve that. The added memory card slot is a great feature although it can add bugs as it did for K1 and Nook 1 and sometimes NookColor because B&N programmers neglected to establish adequate priority to showing personal docs, which they just corrected or improved after 1/2 year.

    The NT is cute, light, easy to carry and hold, and usually the touch screen responds well. It is much easier than my NookColor to use, by the way!

    Glad you got one you really enjoy.


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