Posted by: jonkatz | January 18, 2010

Kindle DX and e-book readers

A few months ago I bought a Kindle DX, but after the initial excitement I find I have barely used it. Partly this is because I still have a preference for paper — in particular, I find myself flipping around a lot when reading papers and the Kindle, at least, did not handle this well. But I also quickly became disappointed with the Kindle itself. My dream was to load a library of research papers (and monographs, etc.) onto the device, and then have ready access to them whenever I needed to look something up. But, amazingly, the Kindle has no support for directories meaning that if you load too many papers you have to navigate through screen after screen to get to the one you want. (A few months ago, Amazon announced a plan to eventually support directories but I haven’t heard anything since.) In addition to this, I just didn’t find the Kindle very convenient to use: the delay when “turning pages” was noticeable, and I found the buttons clunky. (I’m not the only one.) Finally, the contrast for pdfs is lower (thus harder to read) than the contrast for native Kindle content. In particular, I found it hard to read in the dim light on an airplane — one of the exact times I would want to use it.

I expect, with time, all these issues will be fixed. Perhaps they have been fixed already — can anyone recommend an e-book reader specifically to be used for reading research papers in pdf?



  1. Not having directories is ridiculous. There was a caricature where an ancient inventor invents the wheel but he also makes pre-versions having the shape of a square, pentagon, hexagon, etc. just to sell them before the circular one and earn much more money. I think this is same for Kindles. I mean how difficult can it be to support directories, right? It is not even a tiny device…

  2. I’m going to have a close look at the new Asus reader when it comes out at the end of the year.

  3. I would add support for easy annotation as a must-have.

    My dream application for Kindle-like devices is reviewing work. I have 20 (or 53 as for SODA) papers to read. Printing all of them is a waste of papers, but reading them all on a conventional laptop is tiresome. Both these media, however, allow me to easily make lots of notes as I read, which I eventually can incorporate into a report.

    A *good* tablet might be a substitute, but my Toshiba Portege 3500 and my wife’s more recent Lenovo X60 were such disappointments that I don’t feel like spending the money on partially-developed technology…

  4. Maybe we should wait for the apple tablet? The rumors say that its supposed to be an e-book reader as well.

  5. What is this, MS-DOS 1.0?

  6. As an alternative to e-readers? I use my tablet PC to read papers on PDF. Tablets have been getting pretty portable, and I like being able to flick the pdf up and down with my stylus – it feels very interactive, like the real thing almost.

  7. What about the iRex DR1000? Has anyone tried it? It’s marketed to professionals and not the home eBook consumer so it’s less well known. However, it does seem to have everything we want. In particular, it is much more responsive than the Kindle, and more importantly, you can add HANDWRITTEN notes to the pdf file directly on the device. So, you can edit papers, add comments to papers you’re reviewing, just like you would on real paper. Having said this, I’d like to hear from someone whose actually used it (the online reviews seem good).

  8. I always WAIT until the best version comes out.
    Of any product. I am a lastblocker!
    (A firstblocker is someone wants to be
    the first on his block to get the latest do-dad.
    The lastblocker is the opposite.)

    Based on Jon’s experiences this may serve me
    Is kindle the equivalent of the beta-max?

  9. Actually, I looked some more and the reviews are really mixed.

  10. @gasarch:

    For what it’s worth, I don’t think the Kindle is bad for reading novels or newspapers. It just doesn’t work well for research papers.

  11. Can you clarify why the contrast is lower on PDFs? My wife has the smaller one, and I’m not sure she can even view PDFs on it or not, but I see no reason why PDFs should have poor contrast? As for navigation,directories and note entry, it is horrible. I can’t believe this is the second iteration. Since there is now some competition in the nook, I’m hoping we will see innovation all around.

  12. The pdf contrast is probably lower because the characters are not displayed natively in “Kindle” format. However, unlike Jon, I’m not too bothered with the contrast. I also purchsaed a clip-on light, so if it’s too dark I just use that. My main problem with it is the time it takes to go back and forth, and the fact that I can’t take notes.

  13. Thank you for the review. I have been thinking about getting a Kindle to use for research papers just like you describe. Nice to know that it doesn’t work very well for that.
    Actually I have been reading a few reviews of the Kindle before I saw this post. Strangely none of them mention the directory problem.

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