Making the most of your Kindle

The Kindle 3 is a good bit of kit and dare I say it criminally underutilized by app makers and Amazon themselves. After only a week of use, I’m struck by how little they’ve done with such a great device.

Yes, it reads like a book. It does that very well indeed but why stop there. And sorry I don’t buy the ‘it wasn’t meant to do anything else’ excuse. If the Kindle is meant to replace the written word, then it needs to do it in all its forms. I should be able to read my magazines, comics, newspapers, do my crosswords, sudokus, draw a fat man at the bottom of each page and make him bounce by flicking through them really quick. Unfortunately the Kindle doesn’t do all these things that well at all.

I’m going to critique the online version of magazines & newspapers which for some reason people have taken to calling blogs. The main problem : Formatting. The Kindle is not entirely to blame for this one. Blogs and Magazine editors have been trying to fit their content onto increasingly wider screens while trying to stick to menu column column ads format which has been adopted by most of the internet for no reason at all. The front page of a blog can mean scrolling down several times to get to the end e.g. boingboing, engadget etc. while somewhere like google has a front page that’s just one page. How long this page is meant to be is anyone’s guess and the fact that we still haven’t decided on a length, three decades into web page designing, is just shameful. The kindle browser does you no favours. One of its most unfathomable properties is resetting the view settings on every page click. So once you’ve found your groove, sitting back and reading at 150% of landscape, you click next page and *poof* back to preset.

What about Comics? And by comics I do mean all types of the nasty stuff: graphic novels, funnies, web comics and whatever you doodled in the back of your notebook. The Kindle should be great at this, Manga is typically black & white and 16 levels of grey gives you a pretty nice image quality, you’d also hardly lose the humour in a desaturated webcomic though there might be an argument to be made for coloured graphic novels. So why doesn’t the kindle have a native comic format? Why does it not have a picture viewer that actually works as advertised? More questions.

Now the reason we can’t do Crosswords & SudokusĀ  is probably because of some hold up in setting up an app store to get developers to get all this done on the 3rd generation of this device.

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Useful advice starts here…

Anyway, enough whining. Now how to get things to get things up and running on your Kindle. Your first step should be to get Calibre to convert every format in the universe to something the kindle will read. I won’t stress how much you need to do this because I’m assuming you’re not stupid. Now get Briss. You don’t even need to know why, just do it.

Defer to my wisdom and acquire books in the following order of preference:

AZW - This is the Kindle’s proprietary format which means it’s got DRM and will be linked to your amazon account. Anything you buy off Amazon will come in this format. By all accounts it’s wonderful and you should take it home to meet your mother.

mobi - A supported format for some inexplicable reason. Text reflows well, fonts and line spacing, essentially every option is available when you have a mobi file.

 

Learn to love this icon

ePUB – This is an open format and is not supported by Kindle. You will find a lot of books in the epub format and you will convert them to mobi using Calibre (linked above), enjoy reading them and will live a fulfilling and joyous life.

 

Docs & txt – Only get these if there’s nothing else available. Docs aren’t the most reliable of formats and fonts often go haywire, no matter which compatibility you set it to. To screw up a text file would take an extraordinary amount of effort and thankfully nobody at Amazon was that dedicated. Conversion to mobi’s your best bet for these matters.

 

PDFs - While I’ve managed to wade through nearly a thousand pages of PDFs already, I wouldn’t call what the Kindle does to a PDF Support. It treats each page as an image but somehow still lets you move around in the text to get your thesauruses and dictionaries to do their job. it offers in the way of options preset zoom levels (150% 200% and 300%) with custom zooms conspicuously absent. In portrait, it won’t let you fit to width or reflow the document. In landscape it works like a dream, fitting to width and finally looking like how a document would look like. However, now you’re stuck with scrolling thrice to get one page done with which becomes annoying if you’re dealing with illustrations. Kindle claims to remove white margins from PDFs but I stuck with the vastly superior Briss (linked above) to handle that bit of business.

 

Images - I only tried putting PNG and JPEGs on the kindle and each of them worked as well as can be expected. You’ll find many comics in the CBR or CBZ format which are just renamed RAR and ZIP files. The Kindle will take ZIPs but not RARs so your CBRs have to be extracted and rezipped. The picture viewer shortcuts work on some random whim but the options to view the image itself more than make up for it. You can fit to screen, to width, have it in actual size or preset zoomed. Other than the lack of customization of default settings, I can’t really find anything wrong with image handling for the Kindle.

 

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