By Jon Jermey

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.


  1. I have a Fire but pretty much don’t use it… I do use every day my kindle app on my android. I always have my phone with me.

  2. You’re right about Kindle apps: none of my family have a Kindle, but we’re running Kindle apps on two iPhones, one iPad, one Mac laptop and one Mac desktop, and we were running a Kindle app on my husband’s Android phone, which was why I came to read this review. He found it buggy and unreliable (crashing on him) and ended up deleting it off his phone. He now also has an Android tablet (Asus Transformer), so I’ll have another go at encouraging him to run the Kindle app on that. We all share the same Amazon account, so having the Kindle apps on our devices makes it easier to buy ebooks for each person.

    I’m interested to hear that you found the Kindle app satisfactory on an Android tablet. I’ve found it stable and usable on iOS (I really wish it had categories), but had quite a bit of trouble with it on OSX. Currently, I have to launch it from the command line to access it at all. If our family is any example, Amazon is indeed doing very nicely out of its apps (lots of ebook purchasing), so perhaps they could spend some more time making them usable and stable across platforms. 😉

  3. Clytie — I used the Kindle app on my PC laptop for months before I finally got around to buying an actual Kindle. In fact, I probably would have bought one a lot sooner if the app hadn’t existed. Then again, I don’t think I’ve used the PC app even one time since.

    I do use the Kindle app on my Android phone pretty regularly though, and I don’t really seem to have any problems with it. What exactly was happening with your husband’s phone, aside from the app crashing? Was it slow to load, or anything like that?

  4. After giving up on Mobipocket, I started using kindle in this order:
    ipad 1
    Kindle 3
    iPad 3 replacing iPad 1
    Nexus 7

    I find it painful to read books on the iPad, with its large screen and heavy size, however, I was once in dire need, having left my Kindle at home and being overseas, and read two whole books on it. In general, I may use it to browse through the books I have, but if I decide on one I want to read, I send it to my Kindle. I also exclusively use my iPad to browse through their store and purchase new books. The cover art of a book is important in my buying decision, sadly, so I wish Kindle would default to the book cover when first opening a book.
    I use the Nexus 7 to read books with color graphics, like The Little Prince, and like it. It never froze or shut down unexpectedly.

    I also had the Fire for a while, and really, really liked the Amazon integration on it. Other than with the Kindle eReaders, you see a carousel of your book covers that you can flip through, no matter whether they are in the cloud or on your device.

    What I am missing is a way to order books by purchase date and a really solid cataloguing function for their web “manage your kindle” page, as well as for their iOs and Android apps. Oh, and I would love to see the customer ratings for the books in my library.

  5. While the Kindle apps as they currently stand are adequate I’d like to see a more unified consistency in what features they offer.

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