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by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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Six Colors coverage of Kindle



By Jason Snell

Review: Kobo Aura One is a waterproof “hardcover” ebook reader

The Amazon Kindle Oasis (left) with the Kobo Aura One.

The ebook reader market is funny. After an initial flurry of excitement, we seem to have settled in on the idea that paper books and ebooks are going to coexist, and that some people who choose to read ebooks will just do so on their smartphones and tablets. But that still leaves a really interesting niche for people who do love reading on dedicated reading devices with screens that are more like a book’s pages than a computer’s backlit display.

For pure utility, the $120 Kindle Paperwhite is the ebook reader you should buy. But what’s more interesting are the developments at the high end of this category, where premium ebook readers have become a thing. First was the $290 Kindle Oasis, which is beautiful, small, and thin.

So when Kobo announced the $229 Kobo Aura One, I was intrigued. It’s a premium ebook reader like the Kindle Oasis, but Kobo has made a bunch of different choices about what that means and what features matter to ebook readers.

I bought a Kobo Aura One to try it out and have been using it for a couple of weeks, the first time I’ve used an ebook reader that wasn’t a Kindle. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by a lot of the choices Kobo has made, and while I’m not sure it’s better than the Oasis, it’s most certainly different.

Let’s start with the size: The Aura One has a 7.8-inch diagonal screen with a screen resolution of 300 ppi. That’s the same resolution as all but the cheapest of Amazon’s Kindles, but it’s a much larger screen—the Kindle screens are all only 6 inches diagonal. The end result is that reading a book on an Aura One feels like reading a hardcover, while reading on a Kindle feels like reading a paperback. There’s more text on the screen and you need to turn the page much less frequently. The extra reading space isn’t necessary, per se, but it does feel luxurious.

kobo-screen
The tiled Kobo Aura One home screen.

Hardcover books can be heavy, though: the last hardcover novel I read before I bought my first kindle weighed 2.8 pounds! The Aura One isn’t like that—at 8.1 ounces, it’s about the same weight as the Kindle Paperwhite. The Oasis, on the other hand, weighs 4.6 ounces. I was comfortable holding the Aura One and reading for long stretches of time, but if you’re looking for the lightest ebook reader around, the Oasis is for you. The Oasis also offers hardware page-turn buttons; to turn pages on the Aura One, you’ve got to swipe or tap on the screen.

This is not to say that the Aura One doesn’t have its own advantages. It’s waterproof, for one, which no Kindle has ever been able to claim. If you’re someone who reads in a bathtub or hot tub, or otherwise walks the perilous path between reading and water, this is a huge feature in the Aura One’s favor.

Like the Kindle Voyage (but not, strangely, the Oasis), the Aura One has a light sensor that allows it to dynamically adjust its screen brightness based on your surroundings. (Like most Kindles, the Aura One is illuminated internally by a ring of lights.) Unlike the Kindle, the Aura One has a feature that’s akin to Apple’s Night Shift—it can skew its lighting into warmer tones in the evening. If you’re someone who wants to get blue light out of your eyes at night, that’s another point in the Aura One’s favor.

In the end, though, shopping for an ebook reader comes down to the ecosystem it’s connected to. Kobo readers are wired to buy books from the Kobo store; Amazon readers buy from Amazon. You can’t easily migrate your books from one store to another, so if you’ve invested in the Kindle ecosystem it would be hard to switch to the Aura One. That said, I used the open-source app Calibre to convert some of my Kindle books into DRM-free Epub files and then read them on the Kobo. So it’s not impossible to make the transition if you only occasionally want to dip into the archives.

Pocket on the Aura One.

Amazon still offers daily newspapers for the Kindle, which Kobo doesn’t, though both stores offer magazines. Kobo has a leg up on Amazon in a couple other areas: native support for Pocket and Overdrive.

Pocket is a read-it-later service that lets you save stuff on the Web to read at a later time. It’s a perfect fit for an ereader—I use Instapaper to send stories to my Kindle all the time. But on the Aura One, Pocket is integrated right into the device. Just log in with your Pocket account, and your articles will sync, ready to be read on the device. It couldn’t be easier.

Overdrive is a system (owned by the same company, Rakuten, that owns Kobo) that lets your local library offer ebooks for check-out to patrons. You can check out books from Overdrive and download them to your Kindle, but it’s a multi-step process that involves logging in to the Overdrive web site, picking a book, then linking over to Amazon. On the Aura One, all of that happens on the device, which is much more convenient.

Library check-outs are hidden in a sub-menu.

There’s just one problem: The Aura One doesn’t give you a way to search your local library’s collection of ebooks on the device. If you want to read a book, you can search for it in the Kobo store and then tap a More Options icon to see if it’s available on Overdrive. It reminded me of that Douglas Adams line about an item being put on public display “at the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying ‘Beware of the Leopard.” Once you find a book that’s offered by your library, it takes a couple of taps to check it out and read it—but Kobo is not making much of an effort to let you find library books or remind you that a particular book is available for free check-out. Two steps forward, one step back.

After years of using the Amazon Kindle interface, I was interested in Kobo’s very different approach. Instead of making a list of your documents the home screen, the Aura One features a set of tiles that highlight books and apps that you’ve used recently. I’m not sure if I prefer it to a no-frills list of what’s on the device, but I generally never needed to go to that list, since the books I was currently reading were always offered on tiles. I also found Kobo’s typography quite good, with several different font choices as well as the ability to turn off forced justification on books. My only complaint on this score is that book text seemed strangely framed on any book that wasn’t bought from the Kobo store or checked out via Overdrive, with almost no white space at the top of the screen and too much at the bottom.

(Update: Thanks to reader Eliot Lovell, I discovered this set of Calibre plugins that gets Epub files in a more Kobo-friendly format, and solves the rendering issues it seems to have with generic, unconverted Epubs.)

In the end, where does the Kobo Aura One rank? If you’re not deeply tied into the Amazon ecosystem and screen size or waterproofing mean more to you than weight, the Aura One’s a better choice than the Oasis—and it’s $60-$80 cheaper. (Unlike Amazon, Kobo doesn’t make you pay $20 to remove ads—and it does the right thing and shows the cover art of the book you’re currently reading when it’s turned off.)

If you want a no-frills ebook reader, I stand by my recommendation of the $120 Kindle Paperwhite. If you’re looking for something more, the $229 Kobo Aura One is an appealing option.

See more Kindle coverage.


By Jason Snell

Which Kindle should you buy?

Voyage (left), Oasis (center), and Paperwhite.

I do most of my reading on a Kindle. I’ve described my love of the device here before. I’ve also reviewed the Kindle Voyage and the Kindle Oasis on Six Colors. But I’m frequently asked which Kindle model is the right one to buy, and I realized that I’ve never spelled out all my reasons in one place.

Compare for yourself

Amazon helpfully provides a page where you can compare Kindle models. Every Kindle features an E Ink screen that measures 6 inches diagonally.

If you’ve never used an ebook reader before, you may not realize that their screens are dramatically different from computer, phone, and tablet screens. These are reflective screens—like ink on paper, you read them by light reflected off their surface, rather than light shining in from behind like those other screens. These screens have some huge advantages: They use very little power, and they’re extremely readable in bright light. But they’re relatively low resolution and can only display black, white, and shades of gray, so they’re inappropriate for much more than text on a page. If you’ve ever tried to read a book while sitting in the sun at the pool, you can see why this sort of display is a perfect match for this category.

The four top Kindle models all sport a 300 ppi display, which means that the type on the pages is sharp, though it’s still not quite high-resolution enough to make it look just like ink on a page. The low-end Kindle’s resolution is only 167 ppi.

Because E Ink displays are reflective, this means that they rely on ambient light to make them readable. The first Kindles—and the current low-end model—required that you turn on a light or clip on a separate book light in order to read. With the first Kindle Paperwhite model, Amazon added four LED lights around the edges of the display, under the bezel, to light the display. Over the years Amazon has continued to upgrade this edge-lighting—the Kindle Voyage has 6 LEDs and the Kindle Oasis has 10—but the bottom line is, all but the cheapest Kindle now let you read in the dark without the need for additional accessories.

All Kindles charge via an included Micro USB cable, and offer battery life far beyond what you’ll get on a tablet or smartphone. Amazon rates the bottom three Kindle models as having “weeks” of battery life, and the Oasis as having “months.” That may be a little exaggerated, at least if you leave Wi-Fi on. But pretty much any Kindle will go at least a week without needing a charge, especially if you’re careful to put it in Airplane Mode when you’re not using it.

You can also use that Micro USB cable to side-load files onto the Kindle from a Mac or PC. But you may not need to: Amazon also supplies an uploader app that lets you upload files into your personal Kindle book library from a Mac or PC, via the Internet. You should know, though, that the Kindle’s pretty finicky about what file formats it supports. Kindles can display books in Amazon’s AZW formats, plain text, PDFs (though they don’t render well and I don’t recommend you use a Kindle to read PDFs), and Mobi/PRC files. Mobi is by far the most common format, especially for books that you’re not buying directly from Amazon. The app will also convert HTML and Microsoft Word files into Kindle-compatible formats, though the results are not pretty.

Many books are available in Mobi format, ready to sideload onto the Kindle. However, the most common book format—ePub—won’t work on Kindle. Fortunately, you can use a free tool called Calibre to conver ePub files to Mobi format.

Finally, nearly every Kindle model offers two different options that increase the price. For $70, you can convert the top three Kindle models into ones that offer both Wi-Fi and 3G cellular data; these days it’s rare that I’m not somewhere with available Wi-Fi, so it seems like an unnecessary option. And for $20, you can get the Kindle without “Special Offers,” which is Amazon’s term for advertisements on the sleep screen and home screen of the devices. You can buy a Kindle with Special Offers turned off, but some people find that the Special Offers are unobtrusive and often provide good values on other Amazon products. The good news is, if you buy a Kindle at the base price, you can still turn off Special Offers at any time by paying $20 to Amazon. I advise that you buy the base model and pungle up $20 later, if you decide you just can’t stand the ads.

The right choice for most people

paperwhite-amazon

For just about everyone, the best choice is the $120 Kindle Paperwhite. It’s a solid reader with a high-resolution screen and backlighting that means you can read books even in the twilight or when you’re in bed with the lights out.

Though there are two more expensive models of Kindle, and each offers a few upgrades from the Paperwhite, neither offers enough to justify the difference in price for most people. Yes, there are some things about the Paperwhite I don’t like: It has no buttons, so to turn pages you have to tap or swipe on the screen itself, and it’s the heaviest of all the Kindle models (but still only 7.2 ounces!), but these are minor quibbles.

A disposable reader to take to the beach

If you really don’t plan on reading many books on a Kindle, and you expect to largely be reading in the daytime, the $80 Kindle might be okay, I guess. There’s no light and the screen is lower resolution than other models, but it’s small and light and relatively cheap. However, if you’re going to use the Kindle more often and at night, I don’t think this is a good choice. Kindle expert and my friend Scott McNulty says you might as well throw your $80 away on this model, and doesn’t recommend it at all. I recommend it with zero enthusiasm.

The one with all the trimmings

oasis-amazon

The best Kindle Amazon makes, hands down, is the $290 Kindle Oasis. I can’t really recommend it because you could buy two Kindle Paperwhites for that price and have $50 left over. But it’s pretty sweet. It comes with its own battery case/cover, which is made from high-quality leather and charges the Kindle when it’s connected, allowing the Kindle itself to be ridiculously thin and light. It’s got physical buttons to turn pages, which are much more pleasant to use than either the Paperwhite’s touchscreen or the Voyage’s squeeze-to-turn virtual buttons.

I love my Kindle Oasis. So if you don’t blanch at paying more than $300 for an ebook reader—you’ll want to turn off Special Offers so that flipping open the included cover takes you straight to your book rather than forcing you to swipe over an interstitial ad—then you should go ahead and buy it. The Oasis is the ebook reader equivalent of a luxury sedan, but it’s overkill for most people.

What about the Voyage?

The $199 Kindle Voyage is a tweener. It’s not $80 nicer than the Paperwhite—it’s slightly lighter and smaller and offers “PagePress” areas where you can squeeze the bezel to turn pages. I can’t think of a single reason I’d recommend the Voyage over the Paperwhite. And if you really want “the nice Kindle,” the Oasis is now the answer there. In a world where Amazon keeps upgrading the Paperwhite and has now introduced the Oasis, I’m not quite sure why the Voyage exists. Don’t buy it.

The bottom line

For most people, the Kindle Paperwhite is the right Kindle to buy.

See more Kindle coverage.


Linked by Dan Moren

Amazon’s new Kindle Page Flip wants to ape holding a page

Amazon’s adding a new feature called Page Flip to its Kindle e-readers, iOS and Android apps, and Fire tablets:

By tapping a button in the corner of the screen, you can now more easily scan the entirety of a book while a small thumbnail of the original page follows as you scroll around.

The feature, called Page Flip, is designed to be the “digital equivalent of sticking your fingers in the book,” says Amazon Kindle VP Jeff Kunis. He says it’s made with non-fiction readers in mind, who often jump around books to check glossaries, endnotes, and other referential material.

While reading a novel on my Kindle just the other night, I found myself wishing I was reading a paper book so I could flip back to an earlier page and check something. I’m a little skeptical that this will work quite as well as the old analogue method, but it certainly looks like it’s an improvement over what’s there now. Also, the little ad Amazon made for the feature is cute.


By Dan Moren

Amazon releases new base model Kindle

newkindles

If you were surprised that the base version of the Kindle didn’t get a boost when the new Oasis was announced a couple months back, it was really just a matter of time.

The updates for the model are pretty mild: it has a slightly redesigned form factor that’s thinner and lighter, twice as much memory for faster navigation, and there’s a white option. There are also a few software updates, including the ability to export notes, built-in Bluetooth audio for accessibility, and a personalized home screen.

Other than that, the base Kindle still has the same touchscreen interface, weeks-long battery, and $100 retail price ($80 if you go with the ad-supported option). It does lack the 300-dpi screen of the higher end models, including the Paperwhite (which itself now has a white option as well).

Well, at least that means a couple more things for Scott McNulty to buy.

See more Kindle coverage.

[Dan Moren is a tech writer, novelist, podcaster, and the Official Dan of Six Colors. You can email him at dan@sixcolors.com or find him on Twitter at @dmoren.]


By Jason Snell

Kindle Oasis Review

I’ve bought the flagship Amazon Kindle for just about every generation of the device. Yes, I have a bit of an addiction, but I’ve found plenty of takers in my extended family for hand-me-down Kindles, and I love ebook readers so much that I’m always excited to use the latest and greatest version of the technology.

Without belaboring the point, I love ebook readers specifically because they are not phones or tablets. They’re unitaskers that are great at letting me read text on a page, without push notifications or the ability to flip over to Twitter for a minute, with almost no glare in the brightest light and a lighting scheme that’s much easier on my eyes when I’m reading with the lights off. Ebook readers aren’t for everyone, but if you’re a heavy reader with room in your bag (or by your nightstand) for another device, they’re worth it.

With the Kindle Oasis, Amazon raises the bar on what a premium ebook reader can be. The company tried this last year with the Kindle Voyage, with mixed results. The Voyage is better than the Paperwhite (owing to a haptic page-turn control on the bezel, a light sensor for automated brightness adjustment, and a completely flat face rather than the screen being recessed below the bezel), but I’m not sure those changes were enough to justify the price difference between the two products.

The Oasis, on the other hand, is miles above the Paperwhite and Voyage. It weighs 4.6 ounces and is 5.6 by 4.8 inches, with a grabbable edge that’s .33 inches thick, with the rest of the device being only .13 inches thick. This is a compact, thin, light device that’s a delight to hold. It fulfills one of the design ambitions Amazon has always had for the Kindle, which is for the device to disappear, leaving nothing between you and the book you’re reading. Holding the Kindle Oasis in one hand for an extended period of time is easy, because it’s so light.

The key to the Oasis design is that it’s asymmetrical. One edge has a larger bezel, physical page-turn buttons (yes!!!), and is thicker than the rest of the device. This is the edge you hold in your hand, and I found that my thumb naturally came to rest right on the lower page-turn button. (You can toggle the behavior of these buttons, so no matter your grip, you’ll be able to turn pages on the Kindle Oasis easily, and if you prefer gripping with the other hand, just flip the Kindle over so that the wide bezel is on the other side—the screen automatically rotates.) Beyond the one edge, though, the Oasis is practically not there. It’s an ultrathin slab with very little bezel.

Shaving three ounces off of the Paperwhite’s weight does have an effect, though: In my limited use, the naked Oasis has much worse battery life than its predecessors. Not enough to make you afraid to take it to the beach, but I only needed to charge my Paperwhite or Voyage once a week, or even less. The Oasis, by itself, seems to need a recharge every couple of days.

The Oasis in its case.

This is probably why you can’t buy the Oasis by itself. Instead, Amazon bundles the Oasis with a leather battery case. This would seem to explain the Oasis’s high price—you’re not just buying the reader but a mandatory accessory—and as someone who generally eschewed a case for my Kindle, I was kind of bummed out that it was a requirement of the Oasis.

Now that I’ve used it, though, I’ve changed my tune. First off, having seen the battery life of the Oasis, it makes perfect sense that Amazon would want Oasis owners to have a case that extends the device’s battery life. The Oasis battery case attaches magnetically to the back of the Oasis, and charges the Oasis battery from its own store of power whenever it’s connected. Amazon’s rated battery life of the Oasis and the case together is essentially the rated battery life of the Kindle Paperwhite.

The Oasis case is only held on magnetically, so it’s easy to pop on and off.

It’s a trade-off, but I actually think it’s a smart move on Amazon’s part. This is going to be a flight of fancy, but imagine if Apple made an iPhone that got five days of battery life. That’s more battery life than most people need, given how they use their iPhones. So Apple would be absolutely right to make the decision to reduce the size of the iPhone battery in exchange for a thinner, lighter device. (Alas, the iPhone has never had a surplus of battery life.)

This is the decision Amazon made. Your Kindle itself doesn’t need to run for a week between charges, because nobody reads for several days straight without taking a break. When you’re done reading, if you pop the Oasis back into its case—even if you’re miles from an electrical outlet—the reader will charge from the case’s battery and will be ready for your next reading session later. Clever. (You charge the Oasis via a Micro-USB port on the reader itself; if the case is attached while you’re charging, the case charges too.)

The case is pretty great itself. Like the Oasis, it’s thin and light, adding very little bulk. Even with the case attached and the cover folded back, the Oasis feels compact.

When it comes to the reading experience itself, the Oasis isn’t really much different from the Voyage or the Paperwhite. They all light themselves so you can read in the dark, via LED light channeled in from the sides of the display. (The Oasis apparently has more LEDs, but the effect didn’t seem markedly different from the lighting on the Voyage.) This lighting approach feels more natural than the backlighting on a phone or tablet display, because it’s reflecting light off the E-Ink display rather than blasting light through an LCD. The Oasis’s E-Ink display itself, alas, is the same 300 dpi as the Voyage.

So let it be known: The Kindle Oasis is a really great ebook reader, probably the nicest one ever built. And if you are a Kindle fanatic like me or you just like nice things, if you buy one you’ll be happy. But at a starting price of $290, it’s a high-end product for a narrow audience. If you’re just curious about the Kindle or want to replace an older model, I highly recommend the Kindle Paperwhite, which is still the best buy in the product line. It starts at $100, lights itself, has the same 300 dpi resolution of the Oasis, and runs more or less the same software.

See more Kindle coverage.


By Dan Moren

Amazon’s new Kindle Oasis goes for the thick end of the wedge

kindle-oasis

Have you ever felt that you were thirsting in a desert for something to read? Perhaps you should reach for…an Oasis.

Yep, Amazon’s newest version of the venerable e-reader is—as leaks earlier this week predicted—the Kindle Oasis. The major changes here are in the form factor: instead of the earlier version’s tablet shape, the Oasis is more of a wedge, with a bulge on one side intended to make it more ergonomic to hold. (You can do so with either the left or right hand, and the Kindle’s screen will rotate to accommodate.) Backward and forward page-turning is done either by the touch screen or by actual physical buttons on the side with the larger bezel.

kindle-oasis-profile
The slim profile of the new Kindle Oasis

Amazon calls the latest version “the thinnest and lightest Kindle ever”; frankly, I just got a Paperwhite last week, which already feels pretty darn light, but the Wi-Fi-only version of the Oasis is 4.6 oz, compared to the 7.2 oz of the Paperwhite, so there you go.

Granted, you lose out on some of that weight-shedding by attaching the new included battery cover, which plugs into the Oasis and provides battery life on the order of months. (Good thing, too: because of how small the Oasis is, its internal battery lasts only about two weeks, according to Engadget.) It’s a bit Smart Cover like, right down to magnetic closures that snap it closed, automatically putting the Oasis to sleep. But it also weighs 3.8 oz on its own, bringing the whole shebang to 8.4 oz, or heavier than pretty much any of the previous models.

There’s also a new version of the E-Ink screen, though it retains the same 300 dpi as before; it does, however, have 10 redesigned LEDs for the backlight, up from the 6 on the Voyage and the 4 on the Paperwhite. That screen is thin, too: equivalent to a sheet of aluminum foil, but with a “chemically-reinforced” glass cover.

All of this comes at a price, naturally: $290. That’s $90 more than the next highest Kindle, the $199 Voyage, and $170 more than the Paperwhite, which is considered by many the e-reader to beat. Despite the improvements, the Oasis is still a single-function device, and in this day and age it remains to be seen whether consumers will pay a premium for an e-reader, no matter how fancy it is.

Amazon’s major competitor is not really Apple—I don’t think most folks are trying to choose between a Kindle and an iPad—but itself. Sure, it keeps making its e-readers better and better, but is the $290 Oasis really that much superior to the Paperwhite I just bought? I’m not particularly feeling any buyer’s remorse over that one.

See more Kindle coverage.

[Dan Moren is a tech writer, novelist, podcaster, and the Official Dan of Six Colors. You can email him at dan@sixcolors.com or find him on Twitter at @dmoren.]


By Jason Snell

More about ebook conversions

A Kindle

After my piece about converting ePub books into a Kindle-friendly format Monday, I got some feedback from people who use different methods to move their ebooks around from place to place.

Serenity Caldwell pointed me to Kindle Previewer, an app that’s intended to preview how ebooks look across Kindle devices. This was very useful for her when she was in charge of our ebooks back in the Macworld days, but it does convert epub files to Kindle-friendly formats, something Send to Kindle for Mac won’t do.

Unfortunately, when I tried Kindle Previewer, it just quit (repeatedly) on launch. This did not fill me with enthusiasm, and since I already have a pretty good solution in Calibre, I didn’t spend time trying to figure out why the app wouldn’t launch.1

I also had the command-line app kindlegen recommended to me. If you are someone who is comfortable with running Terminal commands, kindlegen will give you epub-to-kindle conversion power without the ornaments of a graphical interface. However, while it did convert some of the Hugo Award nominee epub files I have on my disk, it failed to convert the MacStories ebook I download yesterday. And Calibre succeeded. So… more points to Calibre.

A reader who uses the excellent automation utility Keyboard Maestro suggested building a workflow in that app, which is way beyond my skill level as a user of that utility but points out just how powerful and flexible it can be.

And another reader asked me, as a follow-up, if there’s an easy way to save web pages to the Kindle for later reading. Amazon offers extensions for Chrome and Firefox to do this (alas, not Safari), and you can also email a web page to a send-to-kindle email address tied to your particular device.

As for me, I use Instapaper, which offers an “instant send” feature for paid subscribers, and otherwise bundles up articles you’ve added to Instapaper and ships them to you daily. I do a lot of my “read later” reading by adding articles to Instapaper and then reading them at my leisure when I open my Kindle.

Finally, I heard from a few people who asked about converting ebooks bought from Apple’s iBookstore to other formats. Not all books sold via iBooks are wrapped in copy protection, but most are. These books are protected by Apple’s FairPlay DRM, and it’s beyond Calibre’s powers to unwrap FairPlay. There are some apps out there in the shady parts of the Internet that will do it, but I’m not really comfortable recommending them.

Happy reading!


  1. Reader Fernando reports that the Kindle team has a workaround. ↩

See more Kindle coverage.


By Jason Snell

Calibre: How I put epub books on my Kindle

I like reading books on my Kindle, but one of the drawbacks of the Kindle platform is that it doesn’t support the epub book format. Instead, Kindle supports the Mobipocket format and its Kindle-specific AZW successors. So when I get an epub book I’d like to read, I need to convert that book before I can load it on my Kindle.

For this (and many other ebook related tasks), I use the free tool Calibre. It’s a program that’s hard to love, because it’s a cross-platform open-source project and it really shows in the interface. While Calibre fancies itself a sort of iTunes for ebooks, I don’t use it as a catalog. Instead, I use it to convert books into different formats.

You can add a book to the Calibre library by dragging it in. Converting is a multi-step process: First select the book in the Calibre library window, then click on the Convert Books item in the app’s toolbar, choose a new output format from the pop-up menu in the top right corner (I choose MOBI), and click OK. (From this window, you can also apply changes to the book’s settings—for example, you can force text to be aligned left rather than justified, and the Kindle will honor this choice!)

Calibre will begin converting the book, and you’ll see a spinning circle in the bottom-right corner of the window next to the “Jobs” label. Once that wheel stops spinning, your book has been converted. To open the book in the Finder, right-click on the book in the Library and choose Open Containing Folder.

At this point, I open Amazon’s Send to Kindle app, which lets me add files to any of my registered Kindles and store them in Amazon’s cloud library for future access. For example, the hardcover of Lois McMaster Bujold’s book Cryoburn comes with a CD full of epub versions of past novels in the series. I was able to convert those files and upload them to Amazon, and then download them and read them at my leisure. When I get the voter packet for the Hugo Awards every year, it tends to include some epub versions of nominated novels. Federico Viticci’s Club MacStories offers long articles in epub format as well.

Also, if you’re not a fan of DRM on ebooks, you might be interested to know that there’s a plug-in for Calibre that lets you remove the DRM from books and then convert them to other formats. I maintain a DRM-free backup of most of my Kindle books, so if I ever want to abandon the platform altogether, the books I bought will come with me to wherever is next. Piracy is bad, people, and authors deserve to get paid—but if I buy a book, I’m going to feel free to load it on any device I wish.

Whether you bought something on Kindle that you’d like to have on iBooks or downloaded an epub and wish you could load it on a Kindle, Calibre is the tool for the job. I don’t love it, but I use it, and I’d be sad if I didn’t have it around.

See more Kindle coverage.


Linked by Jason Snell

New Kindle software update revises home screen

kindle-sales
Thanks to Scott McNulty for alerting me both to this software update and to the new Bujold book!

The E-Ink Kindle screen interface is largely unchanged since the first-generation Kindle was released in late 2007. At least until today, when Amazon released a software update for the Kindle Paperwhite, Voyage, and Kindle (2014) models.

A bunch of the new features aren’t at all interesting to me, since they involve recommendations—essentially, the space on your Kindle home screen that Amazon uses to try to sell you more books. A large amount of the redesigned screen is devoted to recommendations and your own wishes for future book purchases. It really enhances the feeling that Amazon is constantly trying to get you to buy more Kindle books.

Fortunately, you can turn off recommendations, which I did. The fancy graphics disappear when you do this, but the entire interface has still been overhauled. There’s a new typeface that’s absolutely gorgeous on the high-resolution screen of my Kindle Voyage. There’s a new toolbar at the top of the screen, which gives you direct access to common commands—toggling Airplane Mode, forcing a content sync, and adjusting the lighting—with a single tap. There’s also an updated sharing feature that shares a highlighted quote, with a web preview of the book. (All the better, again, for Amazon to sell more Kindle books.)

Still, it’s great to see Amazon updating the Kindle software, and on a more regular basis.


Linked by Jason Snell

Amazon retrenches on consumer devices

Greg Bensinger at the Wall Street Journal:

In recent weeks Amazon has dismissed dozens of engineers who worked on its Fire phone at Lab126, its secretive hardware-development center in Silicon Valley, according to people familiar with the matter.

The layoffs were the first in the division’s 11-year history, these people said. But the precise toll on its roughly 3,000-person staff couldn’t be learned, in part because Amazon typically requires employees to sign a nondisclosure agreement in exchange for severance payments.

I love my Kindle despite its outmoded software, and the Kindle Fire tablet is a good piece of hardware. Dan loves his Amazon Echo. Dan and I are both proponents of the Fire TV stick and Fire TV.

Then there’s Fire Phone, which was by any measure a spectacular flop.

What’s Amazon’s unifying vision for the future of its hardware offerings? It seems to be making smart moves in some places and stupid ones in others. I’m still not sure I really understand how Amazon fits into the future of tech devices.


Linked by Jason Snell

Kindle typography: Amazon repents?

Today Amazon released an update for Kindle for iOS that adds a new custom-built font and, more excitingly, support for hyphenation and many other improved layout features.

Old Kindle (left) and new Kindle with Bookerly font and auto hyphenation (right).

As John Brownlee reports for Fast Company:

The new app finally gives the boot to the hideous absolute justification of text that the Kindle’s been rocking since 2007. The new layout engine justifies text more like print typesetting. Even if you max out the font size on the new Kindle app, it will keep the spacing between words even, intelligently hyphenating words and spreading them between lines as need may be.

I have been complaining about Kindle typography for a while, so this is incredibly welcome news, especially since this improved typography is coming to Amazon’s E Ink readers as well. But I have to admit that I groaned when I read Brownlee’s report that E Ink Kindles (as well as the Kindle Android app) won’t get these features until “later this summer.”

(On Twitter, Brownlee told me that the E Ink update “looks great” and “could ship this month.” Fingers crossed!)


By Jason Snell

Kindle Voyage review

Kindle Voyage
(Photo by Andy Ihnatko.)

I’m a serial Kindle buyer. I bought (and returned) the original model. The second model I kept, and since then I’ve bought at least four more of Amazon’s E-Ink-based reading devices. The latest up is the Kindle Voyage, which I bought immediately upon its announcement. I took receipt of the Kindle Voyage last week and have been using it to read books and newspapers since then.

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Linked by Jason Snell

Upgrade 8: ‘With special offers’

Upgrade Podcast

This week on my favorite tech podcast not featuring John Siracusa, Myke Hurley and I welcome special guest Scott McNulty to talk about the new Kindle Voyage and why we use Kindles. Plus there’s follow-up about TestFlight, annoying things people do in the Apple Store, and the introduction of our new cheese vertical.

Upgrade is sponsored by our good friends at:

  • Clubhouse: Making it easy for anyone to create and manage communities on iOS, Android, and the web.
  • Hover: Simplified domain management. Use code AHOYTELEPHONE for 10% off your first purchase.

By Jason Snell

Jason’s Umpteenth Kindle

Kindle Voyage

(Photo courtesy Andy Ihnatko.)

I bought a new Kindle last night.

Someone on Twitter mentioned that Amazon had announced new Kindles, and within about five minutes I had ordered the Kindle Voyage, a $199 dedicated ebook reader that’s the spiritual successor to the Kindle Paperwhite (which remains in the ever-growing Kindle product line).

Yes, Amazon announced several new devices (and my pal Andy Ihnatko saw it all). The other devices were new Fires (formerly Kindle Fires, now not part of the family)—Android-based tablets including one for only $99, but I love my iPad and that’s that.

And yet… those E-Ink Kindles? I have a weakness. This is the fourth or fifth I’ve bought. I’ve lost track.

Why do I love Kindles so much? Why does someone with an iPhone, iPad, and MacBook need a Kindle? Am I a crazy person? (Spoilers: I am definitely a madman with a Kindle.)

Continue Reading "Jason's Umpteenth Kindle"

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