Smartphone e-Reader App Reviews: Kindle by Amazon

by Joel Friedlander on May 31, 2011 · 16 comments

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In the first reviews in this series I looked at:

  • Stanza, the versatile e-book reader app owned by Amazon.
  • Google Books, the stripped-down e-reader from Google.

Today I’ll look at the Kindle App for iOs devices since this is the app that runs on the iPhone. Although I don’t own an Adroid device, Amazon has a remarkable Android emulator that will show what books look like on an Android smartphone. The app is pretty much the same in function from what I could tell, so this review should cover both platforms.

Also keep in mind that the same app has different functionality on the larger iPad. It includes a much better bookshelf display and niceties like page headers. Other than that, the versions seem to offer about the same level of control.

A Popular Platform

The Kindle device has been wildly popular and continues to be the most widely used dedicated e-reader. Kindle owners convert quickly to the ease, convenience and portability of the Kindle, and the ability of its eInk screen to display just as well in sunlight. I’ve seen estimates that as many as 70% of all e-books sold are through the Kindle store.

But the spread of Kindle books is due somewhat to Amazon’s tremendous outreach in distribution. That reach is extends beyond the plastic Kindle reader in the Kindle reader apps, available for many platforms.

These apps are a real convenience for Kindle owners, since they offer seamless synchronization between devices. If you leave off reading your book on page 112, for instance, when you open any other Kindle app or Kindle reader, you’ll be at page 112 automatically.

Here’s a tour through the capabilities of the Kindle app, running on the iPhone 4.

  • Reading Screen—This is a pretty typical e-reader screen. Here it’s set for black on white, although you have two other pre-programmed choices: sepia and white on black. You’ll see the sepia in the other screenshots in this article.

    Kindle for iPhone

    Click to enlarge

  • Control Screen—As usual, tapping the center of the screen brings up the control screen. Here you’ll have access to almost all the controls for the e-reader software. Unfortunately, there aren’t many. You can choose from 5 different text sizes, and from the three screen colors I mentioned earlier. Other icons will allow you to bookmark the page or visit other bookmarks or annotations within the book. Oh, you can control the screen brightness also. That’s it. No typeface choices, no custom backgrounds, no hyphenation or justification controls. That means that the Kindle app actually gives you less control of the reading enviornment than even Google Books, which allows you to select from a small group of typefaces and to change the line spacing among other things.

    Kindle-control screen

    Control Screen -- Click to enlarge

  • Kindle Store—One thing you get with the leading e-book reader is a mature store experience. The mobile view you access from within the app is clean and pretty easy to use. This is by far the easiest mobile bookstore for search and purchase. And you probably already have an account, don’t you?

    Kindle-mobile store

    Kindle Store--Click to enlarge

  • Bookshelf screen—Kindle gives you a clean straightforward listing screen. It includes little dots under the titles so you can see about how far you’ve read, and the display can be sorted by Title, Author or Recency, which is handy.

    Kindle bookshelf

    Kindle bookshelf--Click to enlarge

  • App Extras—Kindle app has some excellent functions for readers. For instance, you can highlight passages in the text, which then become locations that you can find with the Find command. Pressing a selected word for a moment pops up a context menu with buttons to append a note or highlight the word. At the bottom of the screen is a definition, and the “full definition” link drops you into the New Oxford English Dictionary, and you also have choices to search the term in Google or Wikipedia. Very handy.

    Kindle-Highlight

    Highlight & definition--Click to enlarge

    You can also append notes, and then view those notes in context without having to leave the reading screen. These notes also become Find targets. The app pops up a typing screen for your note entry.

    Kindle Notes

    Notes--Click to enlarge

    Just touching the icon generated by creating a note pops up a window with your note. This is very helpful for research and annotation, and it’s a real time-saver to not have to leave this screen to access your notes.

    Kindle notes 2

    Notes in context--Click to enlarge

Reviews of the Kindle App in the iTunes App store show the large base of Kindle readers and their devotion. Over 1700 reviews on the current version rate the app at an average of 3.5 stars, with over 700 five-star reviews. All versions together have stimulated over 130,000 reviews, mostly favorable.

The Kindle App for smartphones is a capable and basic e-reader. It has excellent tools in its annotation features and links to search functions. It has probably the best mobile e-bookstore, with over 900,000 titles available (Amazon’s figure).

It’s too bad there is so little control given to the user, and the controls that we do have are severely limited. While polished and reliable, the Kindle app could stand quite a bit of improvement in the flexibility department. Including the ability to switch fonts (unless there’s some other way to do it) or enable justification, or allow more variety in the reading environment would all be welcome additions to the great core functionality already built in.

Next up: Apple’s iBooks, Barnes & Noble Nook, and Kobo, not necessarily in that order.

Are you a Kindle fan? Know some tricks with the Kindle app you can pass along? I’d love to hear about it, so leave a comment.

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    { 15 comments… read them below or add one }

    LZS August 27, 2011 at 5:08 pm

    I have found the lack of user controls that you mention for this app to be a real problem. It has driven me back to iBooks and Stanza. Why shouldn’t I be able to control hyphenation?

    Reply

    Ken June 17, 2011 at 12:32 pm

    I’ve always loved to read and started looking at the Kindle as a Father’s Day gift. Since I was not familiar with an eBook format, I decided to download the Kindle app to my Android smartphone and take a test drive.

    After [quickly] reading Treasure Island (and now onto Sherlock Holmes)using my smartphone, I’m not even sure I really need the Kindle device.

    The only complaint with the smartphone is that you cannot read it in the bright sunlight, but how often do I get to lay on the beach or swimming pool and just read…. Ahhhhhh…… if I could only do THAT more!

    Fyi – I use the HTC Glacier and have the font set to the largest font. I don’t even need my reading glasses anymore!

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander June 17, 2011 at 1:36 pm

    Nice, Ken, another e-book convert. It seems once people start, they just keep going with e-books. Thanks for the comment.

    Reply

    Don Horne June 15, 2011 at 6:48 am

    Last month my wife and I took a cruise. Lots of time was spent reading between ports by nearly everyone on board. My wife used her iphone to read from because, her logic, I NEVER forget my phone and I can read anywhere. I, of course, was writing more than reading, but I have Kindle on my laptop. I read to take a break from writing. I am looking at the iphone4 myself. I wonder if they will give my wife a commission?

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander June 15, 2011 at 12:35 pm

    Don, I do a lot of reading on my iPhone, and I totally agree with your wife. It’s the same reason the point-and-shoot camera makers are going under.

    Reply

    roz shreon June 14, 2011 at 11:12 pm

    It’s a great post. I find the interesting is Kindle is a dedicated reading device & owners convert quickly to the ease, convenience and the ability of its eInk screen to display is well l in sunlight.Thanks for this review.

    Reply

    bettymingliu June 2, 2011 at 4:29 pm

    oh, thank you thank you for the advice! i’ll definitely get the 6″ now. thanks for all the help!

    Reply

    Joan Reeves June 2, 2011 at 4:25 pm

    Joel, you probably already know this but Smashwords signed a deal with Scrollmotion last motion to distribute to just about any smartphone.

    Betty, I agree with Joel. Go for the Kindle 3G with 6″ screen. I compared all the ereaders last year when I was shopping. What I like most about my Kindle is that it is so portable. Drop it in my purse and go. Weight and size are perfect. The larger Kindle is like the iPad, and I didn’t want the iPad because it’s too darn big. Besides, if I want a computer, I’ll tote my laptop.

    I like that my Kindle is a dedicated reading device because when I pick it up, I want to feel as if I’m about to relax and enjoy a book, not as if I’ve just got another techno gadget that means work. Sure, you can do more with it if you want to, but I don’t want to. I just want the fun of reading and the ease of buying books. I can get 3G service in our house in the Texas Hill Country where we are smack dab in the middle of a dead zone. Can’t use our cell phones, but I can always get Kindle 3G service.

    Reply

    Joan Reeves June 1, 2011 at 9:27 am

    Great post! What I find interesting is that people will purchase a Kindle or Nook and get hooked on the convenience of reading that way. In many cases, they often migrate to the smartphone when they’re standing in line, stuck in a waiting room, etc. My daughter bought a Kindle after I got mine. Now, she uses her smartphone more frequently than the Kindle.

    Others go straight to the smartphone as an ebook reader because the newest generations come with the Kindle app already installed. Don’t know about the Nook app.

    I’m particularly interested in how people read and on which device since I’m publishing ebooks of previously printed books and original fiction too. With almost 20,000 ebook sales in 2 months, just on Kindle, I can’t wait to see what happens when my ebooks are available for iTunes and smartphones.

    Since I’m using Smashwords as a distributor for these as well as other outlets, I’m still waiting for that to happen. Smashwords is great but the process of getting into their Premium Catalog and then getting distributed to all the outlets seems to be incredibly slow.

    Reply

    bettymingliu June 2, 2011 at 3:39 pm

    thank you joel and sue! i will definitely go for the 3G. but what about size? with what joel and joan are saving about smartphones, how does that relate to the size of the kindle? there are two options, right? 6″ and 9″ screen? which do you all prefer? thanks for your help on this!

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander June 2, 2011 at 3:41 pm

    Betty I would definitely go for the smaller unit. The page size is about the same as a mass market paperback and there really isn’t any need for the larger screen. I think they came out with that to counter the iPad and to sell newspaper subscriptions, but for book reading I would opt for the 6″ version.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander June 2, 2011 at 3:42 pm

    Joan, very interesting. I think many people don’t realize they can buy, download and read books on their phones. If more people discover it, I think we’ll see another big boost in e-reading, which can only be a good thing.

    Reply

    betty ming liu May 31, 2011 at 4:36 pm

    joel,

    this is all too mind-boggling. are you saying that you actually are reading books now on YOUR PHONE?? doesn’t the scale of this experience feel weird — like reading text on a matchbook???

    thank you for this post, though. i esp appreciate the visuals, which help me see exactly what you’re talking about. btw, i hope you won’t mind a question. my bf wants to buy me a kindle. maybe the kindle3G? any advice? i want to use it for reading books and to develop an understanding of what i might be eventually dealing with as a self-publisher. does this make sense?

    thanks,

    ~b.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander May 31, 2011 at 4:49 pm

    Betty, I go to a local Starbucks most mornings to get in some writing time. I watch people walk in and head for the line. What do they do? Pull out their smartphone, start looking at something. The convenience is the tipping point, and the screen isn’t as small as you think.

    The Kindle is a terrific device, and many people who buy them get hooked quite quickly. Again, convenience, and also price. You can afford to buy a lot more books on Kindle. The 3G connects anywhere you can get a cell signal, the WiFi connects anywhere you can get a wifi hotspot.

    I didn’t get the 3G on my iPad (which offers the same types of models) because I didn’t think I’d need it that often, and this has proved true. If you’re not going to connect that often and you can just as easily do it through wifi, you can save some $$.

    Reply

    Sue Collier June 2, 2011 at 12:59 pm

    Betty–I use my Droid to read my Kindle books all the time, especially at the gym. As Joel says, it’s not as small as you think! It’s so convenient (how many times have you been waiting in line or at the doctor’s office, wishing you had brought a book with you?)–and it syncs with my actual Kindle, so it “remembers” my place when I switch devices.

    I had an earlier Kindle model and am now on my second one; I have the 3G so I don’t need to be near wi-fi in order to download books. If you think you’ll be near wi-fi most of the time, you may not need the 3G. I absolutely LOVE LOVE my Kindle!!!

    Reply

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