Wouldn’t it be ironic if, after all the hype surrounding the launch of the Kindle e-reader, Amazon ended up making more money via their free reading software on other platforms? After all, we have the Kindle Cloud Reader as a browser extension for Chrome, Safari and Firefox, the Kindle for PC and Kindle for Mac offline applications for non-Linux desktop PCs and laptops, and now Kindle for Android tablets and phones. I couldn’t find comparative figures, but it wouldn’t surprise me to find that people are spending more time reading Kindle books on non-Kindle devices than on the Kindle itself.
For this review I put the Kindle app running on a mid-range seven-inch tablet with Android 4.0 alongside a classic Kindle Keyboard 3G with an e-ink screen. I tried to ignore the purely hardware-based differences—touch screen versus buttons, monochrome versus colour—and to focus on operational differences.
The real Kindle started up a little more quickly, but only by a second or two. When I opened the Library screen, two differences became obvious: The Kindle didn’t display book covers, and the Android tablet didn’t allow books to be grouped into categories. I can see groups might be useful, although it would be better if they displayed as a tree structure rather than just headings in a list, but cover displays are useful too, and I wouldn’t want to give those up. I see on the web that the Kindle Fire also displays covers, so presumably it’s a colour screen thing.
Both devices provided one-button access to the Kindle Store, but although both were going through the same Wi-Fi connection the Kindle was a lot faster; the tablet had to open a separate browser application and go via the Kindle website, where for some reason it ended up showing all the Kindle Singles. By the time I got out of this and into the Kindle Store, found the book I wanted, signed in and made a purchase, I was fed up with the whole procedure; navigating through full-sized webpages on a seven-inch screen is a pain in the neck. (At least I thought I had made a purchase; when it didn’t show up on the tablet I went back and did it via a PC instead).
Note to Jeff Bezos: If I ran Amazon I would give tablet owners using Wi-Fi the chance to go straight to a text-only screen for the Store. The Kindle’s built-in keyboard also gives it an edge in searching for authors and titles.
Looking at the same book showed the presentations were similar, although the screen on the tablet was larger, and with colour it showed italic text and photographic images better. The tablet also displays a running head with the name of the book—useful if you’ve had a busy day and forgotten what it was you were reading. Both platforms can be set to open up immediately with the last page you were reading. On the Kindle, pages can be turned with buttons on the left or right edges of the device, while the tablet can be tapped or swiped with a finger. If your tablet has an up-down volume control this is also an option for page turning.
The Kindle Settings menu is a little more comprehensive than that on the tablet, with eight font sizes versus five for the tablet, and options for text-to-speech and screen rotation; but the tablet can be set to rotate the screen automatically, so it claws back points for that. The options for navigation through the text are also similar on the two devices, though the Kindle has an Go to End selection that the tablet lacks. Setting a bookmark in the tablet is simply a matter of tapping a blue ‘ribbon’ that appears in the top right corner when the centre of the screen is tapped, while in the Kindle this requires selecting the text using the five-way controller. On the other hand, the Kindle bookmark is specific to that cursor location or block of text, while for the tablet it encompasses the whole page. Both devices allow the user to ‘zoom in’ on illustrations by tapping the screen or using the five-way controller.
Searching produced similar results on both devices, with one odd anomaly: Where the search term appeared twice in a quoted sentence, the Kindle highlighted both appearances, the tablet only one. However, both devices also listed the second appearance as another Find result. Location numbers go above the found text on the Kindle, below it on the tablet.
And that’s about it. Apart from failing to group books in the Library, and the cumbersome process of accessing the Store, an Android tablet running Kindle software seems to do just about everything a Kindle will do. Is that a good or bad thing for Amazon? Time will tell.