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Kindle For iPhone E-Book Software

At a Glance
  • Amazon Kindle for iPhone

    PCWorld Rating

    Kindle for iPhone is great for getting into e-books, but isn't ideal for serious e-book users.

Amazon Kindle electronic books have been restricted to Amazon’s own Kindle e-book reader--until now. The Kindle for iPhone application (free as of 3/4/09) is a welcome addition to the Kindle universe, one that broadens the possibilities for Kindle books. However, the app has some surprising limitations: It lacks an integrated Kindle Storefront gateway--the signature feature and strength of Kindle 2--and it doesn't support Kindle blog content, or magazine and newspaper subscriptions.

Kindle for iPhone melds well with the Kindle service. All you need to get started is your Amazon.com account and password. If you already have e-books that you’ve bought for your Kindle or Kindle 2, you can access your archive on Amazon’s servers and download your purchased Kindle e-books to your iPhone. But you can’t initiate purchases within the Kindle for iPhone application itself--a surprising omission given that Amazon has a separate shopping app for the iPhone.

Using Amazon’s WhisperSync service, Kindle for iPhone can sync with your Kindle device to match up your e-books and bookmarks, and it finds where you left off reading on your Kindle. In my testing I got it to sync from a Kindle 2 to an iPhone, but for some reason syncing e-book locations from the iPhone to the Kindle didn't work for me. Also, I discovered that downloading e-books may take a while if your iPhone uses AT&T's EDGE network instead of 3G or WiFi--I grabbed a cup of coffee from the kitchen in the time it took to download an already-purchased e-book. With 3G turned on, however, e-books downloaded fairly quickly, though perhaps not quite as quickly as with the Kindle 2.

Kindle for iPhone is basic and simple. The home screen lists the e-books you've downloaded to your iPhone; it also links to your archived items, which permits you to download your other owned e-books to your iPhone, too. To read an e-book, click on its title to open it (either to the first page or to where you left off on your Kindle device).

Pagination works a little differently than I expected. While most text-oriented iPhone apps give you up/down scrolling to view more text, Kindle for iPhone tries to simulate the pages of a book, so it requires you to swipe your finger left or right to view the previous and next pages, respectively. As with the Kindle devices, you don’t select a page so much as you pick a "location" to describe where you are in the book.

When you have an e-book open, tapping the screen brings up a set of controls, including text-size settings, a button for adding bookmarks, a button that takes you to the table of contents from anywhere, a refresh button (which resyncs the e-book with your Kindle, turning to the last page you read), and a slider control that allows you to jump around the e-book (along with a "snap-back" button that will return you to the last page you read).

The text-size controls let you choose from five different sizes. Though the setup works reasonably well and ties into the Kindle 2 device, which has six font sizes, I would have preferred to see Amazon using the iPhone's "pinch" gesture to increase and decrease the text size--that approach would have fit in with the design of other iPhone apps a little better.

Since the iPhone uses a backlit LCD screen instead of something like the Kindle 2's e-paper display, the two present text in slightly different ways. E-paper mimics real paper; such screens have no backlight, and the background color is light gray, sort of like the pages of a paperback novel. Some people may find the Kindle 2 to be a little easier to read over time, with less eyestrain. In Kindle for iPhone, the background is stark white; I would have liked some way to adjust the contrast levels to change that to light gray. The lack of such an option reduces the iPhone app’s viability for long-term use.

The iPhone does have one advantage as an e-book reader: its full-color screen. The Kindle 2 can support only 16 shades of gray--that's decent for text, but images definitely look better on the iPhone.

Kindle for iPhone suffers from some other notable omissions. First, it offers no dictionary feature. Second, as noted earlier, the app gives you no way to buy e-books; you'll have to do so through a Web browser on your PC, or via the Safari browser on the iPhone. And finally, if you were hoping to use Kindle for iPhone to catch up on the top news stories or blogs on your way to work, or perhaps to flip through the latest issue of The New Yorker, you're out of luck: Kindle for iPhone doesn't support Kindle newspaper, blog, or magazine subscriptions.

Kindle for iPhone is not really for serious e-book users--if you already have a Kindle device, this app likely won't replace it. The app is great, however, for people who can't bring their Kindle everywhere but always have their iPhone handy. And if you simply want to dabble with e-books before spending several hundred dollars on an e-book reader, Kindle for iPhone is a terrific way to start getting hooked.

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At a Glance
  • PCWorld Rating

    Kindle for iPhone is great for getting into e-books, but isn't ideal for serious e-book users.

    Pros

    • Free
    • Intuitive interface

    Cons

    • Can't purchase e-books from the app itself
    • No Kindle newspaper, magazine, or blog support
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