Smartphone e-Reader App Reviews: Kindle by Amazon

POSTED ON May 31, 2011

Joel Friedlander

Written by Joel Friedlander

Home > Blog > The Joel Friedlander Archives > Smartphone e-Reader App Reviews: Kindle by Amazon

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.

    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.

Joel Friedlander

Written by
Joel Friedlander

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