Review: Kindle DX

kindledx.jpg

Photos: Heather Beschizza

Verdict: The DX is the king of readers, and regular book buyers will love it. Native PDF support is slick and speedy. That said, Amazon’s weird online service for converting file formats is still a black mark against it, especially given the $480 tag.

Were it not for its price, Amazon’s Kindle DX would render the older models obsolete: the standard model might be a better form factor for reading novels, but the DX’s huge display and relatively small bezel and keyboard make it more attractive, more readable and better able to present large documents.

Native PDF support (there’s no zooming) deprives Sony’s Reader of its last technical advantage over the Kindle lineup. At the new size, the Kindle looks well-designed, simple, even sexy: a third of an inch thick, it has 3G wireless access to the Kindle Store, 16 shades of gray, 3.3GB of storage, auto-rotation, text-to-speech (if permitted by the publisher) and the experimental web browser.

For those who just buy books and mags, and who don’t plan on reading stuff from their computer, the DX’s combination of best-of-class hardware and Amazon’s well-stocked store make it the one to own. For the rest of us, however, its format support remains a pain: if you don’t like PDF or plain text, you’re tied up in an irritating file conversion service: at $480, the DX is quite expensive enough.

If you’re not sure about it because of the bigger size, check out our gallery of the Kindle DX alongside everyday items. Though based on the Kindle 2, it’s the first version that seems a beautiful thing.

Update: Testing PDF for speed and compatibility, I tried a 2.4MB PDF of “All you can eat: autophagy in neurogeneration of neuroprotection,” by Phillipp Jaeger and Tony Wyss-Coray. It loaded in 3-4 seconds, with 1 second transitions between pages — same as plain text! Nothing in the document confused it, layout was good, including charts, pictures, superscript and greek letters, etc. Hilbert’s Foundations of Geometry, full of pointy-headed Tex-set equations, was just as snappy.

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About Rob Beschizza

Rob Beschizza is the Managing Editor of Boing Boing. He's @beschizza on Twitter and can be found on Facebook too. Email is dead, but you can try your luck at besc...@gmail.com
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39 Responses to Review: Kindle DX

  1. minhksb says:

    Hello,

    Thanks so much for the review. I have 2 questions, could you please help me out:

    1. Could you test to see how DX handles the large pdf file, around 30MB for example?

    2. Does it be easy to transfer the pdf file you already have in your computer to DX?

    Thanks so much in advance.

  2. Bugs says:

    Hmm, a skim of the Amazon reviews suggests that it doesn’t support keeping your .pdfs organised in folders, instead they all end up together. That would be a big shame, as it’d be much more difficult to keep a personal library of articles on there.

    Also, someone mentioned that Table of Contents links don’t work. That doesn’t bother me, but it seems like a major oversight if it’s going to carry textbooks in .pdf format.

    On the upside, someone mentioned that turning the kindle on its side does zoom in on the top or bottom half of the .pdf, if you need some zoom.

  3. Brother Phil says:

    How does it handle multi column PDFs, such as Steampunk Magazine?

    My Sony reflows these, and breaks them horribly.

  4. Robert says:

    Thanks. After seeing that the DX is basically a scaled-up Kindle 2 with none of the design flaws solved, I’ll wait for the Plastic Logic reader.

  5. Rob Beschizza says:

    Right, no internal links on PDFs work. PDFs don’t have any annotation, either (though text formats still do, of course)

    Will test one of those monster PDFs tomorrow.

  6. dculberson says:

    Wait.. is the PDF support native or does it need a file conversion service? (You mention both scenarios.) Can you copy a PDF to the DX using the USB connection?

    You say there’s no zooming – does that mean the PDFs are always scaled to fill the screen and can’t be any other size? What if you turn the DX on its side – does it show a half page or does it squish it down?

    How is the speed when viewing large or complicated PDFs? (The Sony Reader was a joke, with 30 second page turns and ludicrous zoom times.)

  7. bobbi says:

    thanks for the review and testing a biology journal article pdf (which is what i want it for). can you please verify that there is no support for folders? that would be a major con for me – i have 1000+ pdfs that i would want to keep organized in folders…

  8. Rob Beschizza says:

    No, PDF is native. PDF works pretty good!

  9. Rob Beschizza says:

    PDFs always scaled to fit screen (I only tried a couple, though)

    Speed is fine! Just a few seconds wait, nothing worth mentioning if you’re used to other readers, which take a second or two to update pages. A PDF of this website took several seconds to show.

  10. Rob Beschizza says:

    If you link me to a PDF such as you’d like tested, I’ll update.

    Rob

  11. BookGuy says:

    Finally! I was wondering if the DX would fit in the pouch that I normally carry my army helmet in.

    @Rob and dculberson

    Lots of reviews say that there is a conversion fee, but that’s not the whole story: I have a Kindle 2, and the only time you pay for a file conversion is if you have the document e-mailed directly to your Kindle (at an address that’s whatever@kindle.com). If you have it e-mailed to your e-mail address (using a slight variation of the address, whatever@free.kindle.com), then the conversion is free. You just have to plug the Kindle in to your computer and transfer the document over.

    If you really don’t feel like getting up and walking over to your computer (or you’re away from your machine and you DESPERATELY need a file converted and sent directly to your Kindle), it’s about $0.30. I tried both versions when I got mine, just for giggles.

    As far as the conversion itself, it’s not bad, but not great. I converted the free PDF of John Kessel Baum’s short story collection (featured on none other than BoingBoing a while back), and it was quite readable, with a lot of the PDF bookmarks actually intact, but the page footers tended to get stuck in at random places.

    For giggles, I tried to convert David Hilbert’s “Foundations of Geometry” (from Gutenberg), but that failed epically. Too many equations, too many figures, none of them rendered properly.

  12. megazver says:

    White Wolf roleplaying game rulebooks have always been really tough on my machine, due to all the stuff in them. I can’t send you the full book, but the demos on their site seem to be on the heavy side as well.

    http://www.white-wolf.com/downloads.php?category_id=115

    http://www.white-wolf.com/downloads.php?category_id=134

    Could you test them? I’m very curious.

  13. zootboing says:

    If you can’t zoom, how can you control text size? Or is that independent of the zoom?

    As a professional with vision/light sensitivity issues (Irlens), I’ve been drooling over the non-backlit grey scale and font size control..as well as the now-defunct voice-reader the Kindle USED to provide in a hady all-in-one package.
    But now? For $480 (!!!???)with NO voice reader, locked-in software would force me to pay full price for all my books that I currently buy used….

    Hell, it’s STILL cheaper to buy my books in used analog form and print out my professional journal reading on softer-colored paper when my computer screen gets too bright to read from anymore.

    It’s like buying a fancy European sports car- there’s plenty of sensible old junkers that would get you where you need to go for less, so you’re basically spending tonnes more in purchase and upkeep just for a few minor techno perks and for impressing the neighbors.

    Amazon seems to have screwed up on this one.

  14. BookGuy says:

    Looking at my first post, I should clarify a couple of things: The difference between paying the $0.30 conversion fee is whether you have the converted file sent to your own, personal e-mail address, or whether you have it sent directly to your Kindle via its e-mail address. (It’s kind of confusing to refer to the Kindle’s e-mail address, which is certainly “yours” in some way, vs. the one you use for every day communiques.)

    Also, the PDF conversions I talked about were for the Kindle 2, which does not have native PDF support. From what Rob says, the native support on the DX works well, although Rob, if you want to give it a work out, perhaps try:

    http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/17384

    The Hilbert book doesn’t have the full range of math symbols you might see, but it’s got quite a few.

  15. Bugs says:

    Rob – I’d love to see how it handles science journal articles, as I (and most other researchers) tend to get through small mountains of printouts reading these things. If I ever bought a reader, it’d be so I could comfortably read all these papers without being personally responsible for felling an acre of rainforest every week.

    This one is a bit big at 2.4 MiB but has a nice mixture of text, tables and diagrams. The link to the .pdf file is at the top left corner.

  16. Scott says:

    I’m really interested in seeing/hearing how it displays something like this.

  17. Philip says:

    I’m playing with my Kindle DX right now, I was very surprised to realized that you can’t zoom PDFs at all, this is very bad since some of the data I’m looking to publish is in dual column PDF. Even in single column the text is small and would be difficult to read for readers with bad eyesight.

    Because of this I’ve given up using PDF and I’m now focusing on formatting HTML to get it right. Unfortunately there isn’t a great guide that says to publishers “this is the way things work”, Amazon says they support div and styles, but they don’t do a great job with them, they put some of their own interpretations as to how things should be (they simplify the styles a lot), I’ll need to continue playing to see what is really done. To play nicely you need to use MobiPocket creator, it’ll create a PRC file that you can use on the Kindle.

  18. fulkdj says:

    Can you read a Kindle in the dark without a book light? I’ve yet to find a book light I can actually use, and I hate to disturb my partner by reading with a light on. Thanks.

  19. Robert says:

    Have you tried searching on partial words? Like, if you can’t remember the end of a word, but only its beginning? Such as “autoph” or “neurogen” or “neuropro”?

  20. dculberson says:

    No, the eInk display is purely reflective, so you need some sort of light to read it by. That’s why it’s so comfortable to read on for long periods, though, so there’s no getting around that while retaining eye comfort.

  21. Robert says:

    Philip — Kindle’s (i.e. MobiPocket’s) support of HTML is a joke. I call it the retarded brother of the ePub format.

    This is about all the formatting that MobiPocket can do.

    Kindle (AZW = Amazon Whispernet) uses a subset of MobiPocket, so it’s even more retarded. The Topaz (TPZ) format allows you to add fonts and a little better formatting, but unfortunately it’s a format only released to big publishers by Amazon, and it has not been cracked.

    Perhaps the best thing would be if someone were to develop an app which would reformat a PDF to the desired layout. Then you could just “DXify” a PDF.

  22. Rob Beschizza says:

    Sorry chaps, ran out of review time, Amazon asked for it back early.

  23. Jon H says:

    One problem with the Kindle DX’s PDF support is that they render the full ‘media box’, rather than the crop box or trim box, which if present are often smaller. For instance, the media box might include registration marks that aren’t meant for the final printed page – they would lie outside the crop or trim box.

    You can test this by opening a PDF in Acrobat or Preview.app, and setting a crop or trim box. Save the file and then view it on the kindle. The Kindle will ignore it.

    By rendering the media box, the DX is forced to render the text smaller than is desirable.

  24. dculberson says:

    Rob, the PDF that Bugs linked to would be perfect. If it loads at reasonable speed and is readable, then Amazon might have a winner there. NOTHING on the market right now in the price range can do that.

    (The iRex 1000 might but it’s $900.)

  25. Rob Beschizza says:

    Sorry, just been terribly busy. Will get to this asap.

  26. Rob Beschizza says:

    I took that paper for a spin and the DX ate it for breakfast. It loaded in 3-4 seconds, with 1 second transitions between pages — same as plain text! Nothing in the document confused it, layout was good, including charts, pictures, superscript and greek letters, etc.

  27. Rob Beschizza says:

    Trying Hilbert now.

  28. dculberson says:

    Gasp!

  29. Rob Beschizza says:

    Hilbert rendered just fine, was also fast! Maybe textbooks will just come as PDFs.

  30. Jen says:

    What’s it like reading PDFs off the internet using the experimental web browser?

  31. bob says:

    If possible could you look at 2 things:

    a: a conference presentation (this is from the mysql conf): http://www.mysqlconf.com/mysql2009/public/schedule/detail/6871

    there is a pdf under ‘presentation’

    a developer book, i buy the pdf books from Manning and would like to read them on the kindle, they look terrible on my Sony and some larger pdfs cause it to crash).

    http://www.manning.com/gsmith/

    has a sample chapter (chapter 7 has code and images).

    many thanks,
    bob

  32. Bugs says:

    There’s a nice comparison of the Kindle DX and Irex 1000s here.

    The Irex has a slightly bigger screen and much better .pdf support: Table of Contents, hyperlinks within documents, quickly flip between 2 or more open .pdfs, zoom options etc. It also has a touch screen with a WACOM stylus, for annotating pdfs with handwritten notes. On the downside, it lacks Amazon’s bookstore and costs about twice as much at £600 compared to the DX’s £290.

    The comparison itself goes into more detail but for the impatient:

    The verdict:

    Kindle can do everything the digital reader can except interactive annotation, print document capture, store documents on SD card, present documents in other languages, and hit wi-fi hotspots.

    Digital reader can do everything Kindle can except, wireless whispernet content delivery, whisper-syncing with other devices, deliver magzines and blogs, browse the internet, access built-in dictionary, and play music background music.

  33. toto1261 says:

    Hi, I’m new to these e-readers. I’ve just got my Dx yesterday and tried installing pdf files by drag & drop, also, by copy & paste method. The problem is that the computer keeps saying ‘error copying file or folder’. But the icon of the file is dipalyed on the DX but when I click it, the device will say ‘unexpected error’. Could anyone please enlighten me how to do this the right way? Thank you very much.

  34. ptp123 says:

    If you’re not sure about it because of the bigger size, check out our gallery of the Kindle DX alongside everyday items.
    Term Paper

  35. Erich says:

    I was disappointed to hear that annotating is no longer available with this model? For me, that really reduces the utility of the reader.

    Does anyone know if this is for PDF only? Or for text docs too?

  36. Andrys says:

    Rob, that scene in the photo looks almost 17th Century :-) I like it.

    Great photos too! That violin looks 17th C as wlel – my bias, I guess. And the Comcast channel controller was my best gauge of the size – it doesn’t look as outlandishly large that way.

    1. Re Amazon’s conversion process being a black mark, that conversion or even unconverted-send costs only if you send the converted (or unconverted) document direct to your Kindle.

    If you have it instead sent to [you]@free.kindle.com it’ll go to your computer via your regular email address and it won’t cost a penny although of course it’ll cost time to usb the doc over to the Kindle.
    Sometimes I prefer to pay the 15c (up to 1 megabyte, 15c per added megabyte – rounded) and have it just appear on the Kindle when I’m in a rush.

    2. re the DX having 3G wireless access to the Kindle Store, it actually has 3G wireless access to the Net, as the preset options and bookmarks on the Kindles take you to Google and Wikipedia and many other places. As long as the website is not overcomplex it works. Slowly. but it’s great for Googling or Yelping when away from your computers.

    – Andrys

  37. Robert says:

    I hope Rob hasn’t abandoned this post. There are still a lot of questions, and give how many copies of the published DX specs there are out there masquerading as reviews, someone who actually has the thing in front of them and can actually try things out is very valuable.

    Rob, come back!

  38. Bugs says:

    Thanks Rob!

    That’s awesome news, as dculberson says there’s no other eInk device on the market that can handle these things at a decent size and speed. Now I just need everyone I know to club together for one $480 (+international shipping) birthday present…

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