Amazon Kindle DX 2.5.3

Just 4 days with 2.5.2 and my Kindle DX has been updated again – this time to 2.5.3. I can’t see any difference in the functionality and the browser still works. Maybe this will be the final release.

Kindle DX Update 2.5.3

Amazon Kindle DX 2.5.2 Update

It’s a bit of a mixed bag. I have to admit being disappointed by some of the updates and very surprised by some others. Let’s start with the biggest disappointment – PDF zooming and panning. I find the implementation to be clunky with the zoom options limited to 150%, 200%, 300% and actual size.

Kindle 2.5.2 PDF Zoom Options

While it is an improvement, I had hoped for something which fits to the screen and allows for smaller increments so that one can get rid of useless borders while retaining the larger zoom options if needed. On the Kindle DX, the “fit to screen” zoom level is about 50% – moving to 150% is a big jump – come on guys! In the image below, you can see the 150% selection box when zooming into a PDF fitted to the Kindle DX screen size. Panning, once zoomed in, can also be excruciatingly slow in some PDF documents, so the feature is of limited use. I still recommend trimming your PDFs before downloading them to the Kindle as described in one of my previous posts.

PDF Zoom Selection Box at 150%

The next feature I had been wanting is collections and thankfully this feature delivers – and given it’s simplicity, so it should. In the home screen, one can press the menu button and then select “Create New Collection” to basically create a folder. After creating the collection, simply move onto the document you want to place into the collection, move the joystick to the right and select “Add to Collection…” which gives you a list of your collections into which the document can be placed. Pretty simple. Additional features include sorting your home screen “By Collections” as well as the ability to rename and delete collections. Below is a screen shot of my much tidier home screen via the use of collections.

Documents Sorted into Collections

Here is a screen shot of the Kindle in my electronics collection.

Kindle 2.5.2 Collections

As expected, the “social networking” options do not work in Germany and presumably all owners of the Kindle outside of the US will have the same issue. The really big surprise, and I don’t know if this is a mistake which will be patched later, is the ability to use the built-in browser. In the previous version of the firmware, this was impossible for international users – now it works just fine. If you are an international user of the Kindle and have the 2.5.2 update, press the menu button in the home screen, select the option “Experimental” and the launch the browser. Happy surfing, but please be aware that you may be charged for it’s use. I haven’t been able to find any official comments on this topic yet.

Browser on International Kindle DX

Update: My Kindle DX is now running on 2.5.3.

Amazon Kindle v2.5 Software Update

In the immortal words of Professor Hubert J. Farnsworth, good news everyone! It looks like there is an imminent firmware update for the Kindle waiting in the wings – version 2.5. The exciting new features in this release seem to be collections for organizing books and documents into one or more groups or “collections”, PDF pan and zoom, improved clarity and more fonts. It will also apparently support some social network features such as facebook, twitter and shared “highlights” or interesting passages in books – ok, but I’m more interested in its book reading capabilities. In my opinion, this fixes almost all of the niggles with the device.

Update: My Kindle DX now runs with 2.5.2 – details here.

Editing PDF Files For The Kindle DX

In my previous post on the Kindle DX I mentioned two small issues with PDF files: PDF files with large borders and PDF files with restrictions. The Kindle DX automatically removes large borders from PDF files which makes the size of the text larger and easier to read. When, however, the border has something in it like a page number, the kindle does not remove the border as it contains something. An example of this is shown in the following screenshot.

Example PDF With Large Borders

The solution to this problem is to trim the unwanted borders and to do this I use an application for the Mac called PDFPen, which you can get here, from Smile on my mac. Not only can this application trim the borders from single pages or entire documents, but it can also merge PDF files or set the metadata in a PDF file so that the correct author is displayed in the Kindle’s home screen.

PDFPen Trimming a PDF

The second slight annoyance are PDF files with restrictions such as the inability to print or save the document. The problem is not being unable to print or save but the fact that the Kindle has problems with the metadata contained within these files. This means that the author name in not displayed or, in some rare cases, a collection of random symbols is displayed in its place. Annoying but not a big deal.

Why Are Netbooks Good for Nothing?

After my last post, I thought that I should maybe qualify the reasons why I think notebooks are good for nothing. This is, of course, just my personal opinion and your mileage may vary. Firstly, I’ll point out my reason for buying a netbook in the first place:

  • My Netbook Use Case (reason for buying): I purchased a PIXACE microcontroller which I wanted to build and program with my son as part of our exploration into the world of electronics. Not being very experienced in electronics, I didn’t like the idea of connecting my Mac Book Pro or iMac to a 30 euro device which could explode or short circuit something. Answer: a cheap netbook to program the device, view circuit diagrams and component layouts, occasionally edit documents, watch videos, look at pictures and maybe surf the web now again (which I shouldn’t be doing of course – see my Kindle DX post).

Based on my needs, here is what I found and I’ve added some additional general points:

  • Viewing technical document and circuit layouts. The screen is too small! As netbooks screens typically only have 600 vertical pixels (1024*600), there is not enough screen real-estate.
  • Editing documents. The keyboard is too small to do anything half way serious – maybe my hands are too large.
  • Surfing the internet. It’s too slow. It is painfully slow – flash is a painful experience.
  • Watching videos. It’s kind of ok, but 720p won’t work. The sound quality is, again, kind of ok.
  • iTunes. Too slow. The user experience is awful, don’t do it.
  • Viewing images. It’s too slow. This may be a little unfair as I use raw format exclusively on a 12.3 megapixel camera. I also loaded on some jpegs and that was just about bearable.
  • Using it as an electronics stunt partner (something that wouldn’t break my heart if it broke when everything goes terribly wrong). Would work really well but, because of the price and limited usefulness, one of the cheap laptops I mention in the previous posts is a much better option – please note that two of these options only cost 10 euros more than the netbook I tried.

I really have no idea why these things are so popular…

Netbooks Aren’t Good At Anything

When Steve Jobs said this about Netbooks during his iPad keynote, I was a little skeptical of his claim. However, having used one for a week, I can only say that it is absolutely true. The experience is downright awful. They are slow, the display is too small, the keyboard is too small and they are really really slow. This experience was made on a netbook with an Intel Atom 1.6GHz N270 processor and the Intel 945GSE chipset. It also had 1GB of RAM, a 160GB HDD and a 10.1″ LED display running Windows 7 Starter. So, unless you need a really slow and small laptop with a terrible user experience, do yourself a very big favor and buy a cheap laptop such as one of the following and install Ubuntu on it:

  1. Acer Extensa 5235-901G16N (279 euros from Amazon) – dual core Intel Celeron M900 at 2.2GHz, 15.6″ wide screen display, 1GB RAM, 160GB HDD, WLAN 802.11 b/g/n, 3xUSB  Intel GMA 4500M, DVD.
  2. Fujitsu Esprimo Mobile V6535 (279 euros from Amazon) – dual core Intel Celeron M900 at 2.2GHz, 15.6″ wide screen display, 1GB RAM, 160GB HDD, WLAN 802.11 b/g, 4xUSB  Intel GMA 4500M, DVD.
  3. Asus X5DIJ-SX155L (369 euros from Amazon) – dual core Intel T4300 at 2.1GHz, 15.6″ wide screen display, 2GB RAM, 320GB HDD, WLAN 802.11 b/g/n, 4 x USB, Intel GMA 4500M, DVD.

Amazon Kindle DX for Technical Documents, PDFs and Textbooks

One of my new year’s resolutions was to stop using Google Reader so much. The main reason for this is that I find myself spending (wasting) hours of my free time reading sound bites, headlines and trivialities without ever going any deeper. This observation goes for web surfing in general too. The alternative for me is the Amazon Kindle DX which I purchased for reading detailed and lengthy documents, papers, articles and textbooks (not novels).

Amazon Kindle DX

Having had the Kindle DX for around a week now, and being a Mac guy, I’m happy to report that I am not disappointed with my decision not to wait for the iPad. There are a number of reasons for this:

  1. The PDF support is very good – I have loaded about 30 PDFs onto the Kindle DX and they all work without any problems. However, some of them have large margins which make the text smaller in portrait mode. The Kindle DX has no zoom option, but rotating the display makes things a lot better.
  2. The build quality is very high. Nothing creaks or feels flimsy in the hand. It is very thin and isn’t too heavy. The buttons are well arranged and I don’t have any issues with the keyboard.
  3. The display is gorgeous. After using a very good 24″ S-IPS panel all day, the e-ink display for reading is a welcome relief and a real pleasure to use. In other words, it is very easy on your eyes. Text, diagrams and mathematical formulas are clear and sharp.
  4. It’s just an eBook reader, that’s it. This may seem like a disadvantage to some, but I thinks its great for a number of reasons. Firstly, I don’t get distracted by emails or surfing the web and secondly, the device is totally boring to my kids. Anyone who has kids and an iPhone will know what I mean.
  5. The Kindle store. After purchasing a couple of books, including 1 technical eBook, i have found the formatting and readability to be great. The kindle store has an extensive selection of books and is put together very well – the mobile network connection works flawlessly. For making purchases, my Amazon account details are stored on the device and Amazon set everything up automatically even before the device arrived.
  6. The wireless connection. As I’m using the Kindle DX in Europe, the wireless is roaming and web browsing is not allowed. However, it does support the online version of Wikipedia and the Kindle store. Signal strength is good and I have had no issues with it. Again, Amazon set everything up automatically before the device arrived.

Two slight niggles are: 1. PDF files with large borders and PDF files with restrictions. I will go into these two topics in a later post.