Monday, May 18, 2009

Kindle DX PDFs MIGHT/Might NOT accept added-notes

UPDATED 5/18/09:  Amazon's public relations department replied today with an offer to get an official Amazon response to the questions discussed Friday (below), in connection with whether or not the Kindle DX will have highlighting and note-adding capabilities for PDFs, even if only for pages rather than paragraphs.

  The manual's illustration of the menu options on Page 66 for an PDF page implied (heavily) that these options would not be available for PDFs while there was no text actually stating this anywhere that I could find, and many prospective DX customers in the Amazon forums and some Kindle blogpages have wanted some definite word on this.

 I'd mentioned at the bottom of Friday's article below that, if the capabilities were not to be implemented for the DX, there are 3rd-party options to convert any non-digital rights-protected text-based PDF file to a MOBI/prc version readable on the Kindle DX (as is done for the K1/K2), which would then allow global Kindle searches plus highlighting and note-additions - while keeping the original PDF with its formatted layout as a reference.  Amazon should provide an option to do this conversion for DX customers who need that on specific PDFs.

  Note 1: The User's Guide states on page 44 that PDFs sent to a DX would be wirelessly delivered directly [rather than converted] for a fee.  We can transfer these via included USB cable though.
  On the Amazon Kindle help pages, they list e-mailed conversions of PDFs only for the first-generation Kindles, at this point.

  Note 2: Conversions from image-scanned PDFs (vs text-based PDFs) for text-searching won't work for ANY device unless using Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software to convert the squiggles to characters.

Here's the official Amazon statement I received today:
"A bookmark can be added in a PDF, but you cannot highlight, add a note, perform a lookup, or sync to last location.  A converted PDF can do all of the above."

That's exactly as implied in the 1st edition user's guide except that the official statement adds that a converted pdf [text-based] will allow these actions on the text.

 It'll make sense if they offer a conversion option as they do now.

  What Ryan, the technical person described being able to do (page-oriented notes) is possibly something that they're not comfortable implementing at this time.

End of Update 5/18/09

Originally posted Friday May 15, 2009
  Amazon customers in a couple of Amazon forums and on at least two blogs have brought needed attention to a passage in the currently distributed Kindle DX User's Guide "1st edition" which quite clearly implies that highlighting and note-adding are not options with PDFs.

 On page 66 of the DX User's Guide (1st edition), we see:

  "The options available while reading a PDF file are slightly different than when reading a book or a periodical on Kindle.  Options that are not available in PDF files are grayed out in the menu."

  Then the screen-shot of a PDF menu shows the "Add a Note or Highlight" options grayed out.

  Since then, forum and blog talk has included concern over the possible lack of a notation feature for PDFs.  Since PDFs are often used heavily by legal, medical, and academics these days, this is an important area for them.

I called Amazon to ask about this and got a very helpful representative ('P') who, though concerned, was reading from material after asking others about this.  After she took care of my other questions, I asked to speak to a technical person so I could ask, for clarification for others, why a note could not be appended to a separate file as is done now for regular files, as it shouldn't interfere with the PDF file.

Reaching representative 'K' who sounded very capable, I asked to speak with someone who has some technical knowledge of PDF files specifically; after the quick transfer, I was now talking to 'Ryan' who said he is with the technical team and gave me permission to quote him on what he was saying.  I confirmed with him my understanding of what he said.

Ryan said that a couple of them had discovered, while working with PDFs on the Kindle DX just a couple of days before the DX announcement, that although a PDF file is different from the regular text files and one cannot highlight a specific passage nor isolate words on a page, there were a couple of things you can do with PDFs on the DX:

1.  You can highlight a page though not just a part of a page, and
2.  You can add notes for the Page but not for specific text on the page.

The PDF pages on the DX are essentially functioning as images  He said you can highlight the 'image' which is the entire page and, as mentioned, you can add notes FOR the page (but not on it, of course).  Ryan said he had been able to do this himself and will take a look at the manual, as he had not seen page 66.

 This makes sense to me since I knew that any notes we make on regular Kindle documents are put into a secondary file associated with the main document (and also put into the "My Clippings" file). This apparently may hold true for PDFS for the Kindle DX.

Earlier the same day, 'P' who's not in the technical area, had read some material on this, after asking an associate about it, and said she found out we could highlight text that was not included in charts or illustrations or other images, but she added that no notes could be made.  That was an odd combo of capabilities and I then talked with Ryan.

When I mentioned to Ryan that customer service had said that notes for PDFs were not possible, he said that customer service was in another area and it takes time for information to get to everyone.

I called back to try to ask him one more question but they have no way of getting you back to the same person.  Only P was recorded in the log as talking with me.  The next person I talked with ('S') went to Engineering, he said, who told him, "No highlighting, No notes." They're the ones who should know, but ...

I asked S to check with a manager, as would-be buyers need a clear idea of what can and can't be done, and his last relayed message to me was given by the customer service manager rather than by the technical support manager.

  Ryan had at least tried it out on a PDF and he could, more or less, highlight the page (which changed shades as he did) and successfully add notes for a page.

  A big feature of PDFs is that pages are defined very strictly and reliably for most output, so Ryan's experience with it as a page-based operation makes sense.

  He added that, for the same reasons, the PDFs are not searchable for text when searching the entire Kindle, though you can search within a PDF for text.

  It seems somewhat likely (being optimistic here) that there are older notes saying things can't be done on a PDF (which would explain the conflict between the user's guide info and Ryan's experience) and that later work with pdfs resulted in more encouraging information.

  In the meantime, I wasn't able to get any specific person who might be responsible for being an authoritative voice on features of the DX.  The referral was always to the basic Customer Service number.  I have one more dept to ask about this but am reporting what I've found, as it is somewhat encouraging.

It could be that the DX capabilities are evolving as we head into the summer.

Side note:  Princeton University, part of the upcoming study, intends to scan material in Optical Character Recognition form to produce flowable text that's searchable and to allow easy annotations.

Side note 2:  It's occurred to me that when someone wants to add highlighting and notes to a PDF document, they can convert it to a MOBI/prc file via Kindle's auto-conversion (but in the case of a DX target, Amazon will probably not convert the file) or choose one of several (free) methods to easily convert one for that purpose.

Customer service note: I want to add that P had to handle several other questions from me and she was really very patient and said she would follow up on a couple of areas. Customer Service was easy to get on the phone and patient about questions and the time it took.

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  1. Why wouldn't Amazon allow PDF conversions for the DX?

  2. Hi, Brent -

    It's not a matter of allowing...

    I had read a short paragraph somewhere which mentioned that a user could just get a pdf onto their DX by using the email to Kindle address.

    So, from that I wondered if they planned to use it just in place of a usb transfer for the many who don't do that or would also offer an option to do a conversion. We might want to bring that up in advance.

  3. Regarding highlighting and adding a note to PDFs, what do they mean by a "converted PDF can do all the above?" So, if I have an un-DRMed PDF, I won't be able to highlight or add notes to passages until I send it to Amazon for conversion?

    P.S. You have the most informative Kindle blog on the web. Thanks!

  4. Pigweed, thanks for your generous words.

    Yes, a straight PDF will show DX users the PDF as it was intended to be seen (no small plus when on a nicely large screen that can be rotated for an even wider display).

    However, as of the time I got official word from Amazon, there is no way to highlight or add notes to PDFs. (In my view this could change later.)

    But you can also convert a copy of the PDF to a .mobi or .prc file (using MobiPocket Creator (pc) or Stanza (mac). With Calibre, images are often lost.
    That could then be kept on the Kindle as the copy which could be searched, highlighted and notated.

    Amazon hasn't replied to me about whether they will get something in place for DX owners that will convert a PDF file to MOBI/prc -- as they are planning to send the PDF straight through to DX's since the DX can read them.

    But I expected they'll have a way of doing it.

    I hope that's clearer?

  5. Thanks for your informative blog! One question I had involves software upgrades for the Kindle. People seem to assume (probably based on devices like the iPod, PS3, etc.) that the Kindle can handle automatic software updates pushed down from Amazon. However, has anybody ever confirmed this? No doubt there will be software upgrades, but they could just load these on new Kindles only (thereby, also encouraging people to buy a new Kindle). Any thoughts? Thanks.

  6. Anonymous,

    Appreciate your nice words and am glad it's useful.

    We get firmware updates on the Kindle 2 (and when it was still being sold, the Kindle 1).

    Every few months or sometimes sooner. They distribute them over several days. And we can also choose to download and manually install the file and then run it.

    They never tell us what the new revision does but some inspect the files and can clue us in as to what it might be. Usually it's done automatically when Whispernet is on but some don't get it for a week or so even (I'm one of them) so we just install them ourselves.

    When the Kindle 2 was released Kindle 1 was updated to be able to zoom in on photos in articles and they'd automatically go into landscape mode if that's they're more wide than high. They also made it easier for us to delete files.

    So, there's a little hope there.

    - Andrys

  7. I received my DX today and it seems pretty clear that there is no ability to create notes or to highlight when reading pdfs. This is actually a rather big deal for me, and I'm not sure if I would have purchased the device if I had known this ahead of time. The DX is well made, but there are other devices on the market that seem more conducive to annotations, which is very important with textbooks.

    It is a bit odd that they would leave out such a feature considering the market they are trying to reach with the device is the market most likely to want to make annotations.

  8. Anonymous,
    I agree, as you can see from my early attempt to get this clarified with them because of what I knew would be unhappiness by the very people they're targeting with the DX. But I was unable to even get them at all interested in the fact it would be a big problem for Amazon's customers and Amazon itself except to at least give me the official stance.

    That was after they were aware that the technical guy had said it was possible, but only by-page rather than the usual by-paragraph. That would definitely be a help. I hope they haven't taken it out on him that he said this. A very bright guy who is enthusiastic about the device.

    In the meantime they may be working on it. In the meantime, if you're sorry about your purchase, remember that you have *up to* 30 days to decide whether you still want it and if not, for any reason at all, they will accept a return and if it's in good shape, not damaged, they give full refunds.

    This is unusual and very good policy and they are confident about the unit's appeal but now they need to look really hard at what the limitations are for the very customers they were hoping would find the DX appealing.

    Good luck, and don't feel trapped by your decision. You still have time to return it if you want.

    - Andrys

  9. Trilla
    Just received my DX just to find the PDFs are not for highlighting or note adding. dissapointed. considered returning it.

  10. anonymous or Trilla (?)
    As you can see, I warned about that in this article in mid-May . If you expect to highlight or add notes much, on PDFs, then, yes, I'd return it before the 30-day trial period is up, as they'll refund the money as long as the DX is in good shape and you still have the boxing materials.

    On the other hand, if you find out you enjoy it enough for other reasons, then consider doing a conversion of a copy of the PDF to MOBI/*.prc format for an extra copy, as you can highlight or annotate on those while using the original PDF just for viewing to see it in correct layout.

    Some people use mobipocket creator to do that (free) or if you've a Mac, then Stanza or Calibre (also free).

  11. Hi Andrys, my name is Luiz. I´m from Brazil and just ordered a Kindle 6. I was reading the start guide and saw this same question. I´m a doctorate student and highlights and notes are crucial to me! Please, could you just confirm: in case I send the PDF file to amazon to convert it or use these other conversion options I will be totally able to highlight and add notes to PDF documents, right? Is this possible to 2 Kindles or only the DX one? Best!

  12. Luiz,
    Yes, you would keep the original PDF on your Kindle and use the Rotation capability with Aa-font key to read in landscape.

    Then you'd send a copy to [you] to get a free conversion sent to your regular email that you use for correspondence with Amazon. BUT be SURE to put "Convert" in the Subject field of your email, so the servers know you want a conversion.

    And then you can use the USB cable to move it into your Kindle's "documents" folder.

    It'll be seen as a personal document.

    The Amazon Kindle-compatible file you get back won't be laid out in the way that it is in the original, of course, but all the Kindle features will be active.

    Dictionary, text-to-speech, search with multiple results on one page, highlighting, notes.

    And if you prefer you can use MobiPocket Creator to convert it yourself but the other is faster :-)

    Congratulations! I'm pretty sure you'll enjoy the Kindle.

    Take care.

  13. Hi Andrys, any update on this issue? I have a kindle 3, (kindle keyboard), that was able to add notes to pdf. Then I decided to buy the kindle DX today, only to find out that it runs on the same software as kindle 2, and I can not add notes to pdf.

    1. Anonymous,
      I wish! In my blog article on February xx, on the differences between the Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet, I said this, as one who really loves the DX for PDFs (the 6" devices just are too hard to read) :

      "If only Amazon treated its Kindle DX customers as well with a software update for the simple PDF enhancements given the same "Pearl" e-Ink screen of the Kindle 3.  A software update is long past due on the expensive Kindle DX's and it's the one area in which Kindle Customer Service has fallen down."

      I realize they're working overtime on the competitive market in smaller e-readers and tablets. but it's just Time they provide customers a software upgrade for the DX.

      I wish I had better news, but I'm still hoping.

      Are you enjoying it otherwise, I hope? Did you get the graphite one?


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