App Review: Amazon Kindle Beta | webOS Nation

App Review: Amazon Kindle Beta 43

by Tim Stiffler-Dean Tue, 19 Jul 2011 5:18 am EDT

Just as was promised back in February, the Amazon Kindle Beta app was released yesterday on the official hard-launch day of the HP TouchPad, and from the looks of it, many of you have already installed the updated app to start reading your favorite books on the 9.7 inch screen of the tablet device. Next to document editing, a movie store, music streaming and video calls, having the Kindle eBook reader was an essential feature for many of you that were looking to be early adopters of the flagship webOS device. With it finally arriving to every TouchPad owner in the US, HP has found another piece of the puzzle that will attract many users to the TouchPad from the competition, and we have the full review of the app right here.

We've put the app through a number of tests and even taken a look at a few different eBooks to give you a full look at the app in its current form. Which, as the title of the app says, is still in the Beta stage; a good thing in our books, because while the app is very good it could still stand for a couple of improvements. Hop after the break to read the full review and see the screenshots, and then head to the app catalog to download the app for free on your HP TouchPad.

Let's get a few things out of the way first: While the app is good once you get it started, getting started hasn't been entirely possible for many users of the new app. There are two known problems that came up for users that upgraded the app from the software manager and went straight to syncing new books to the TouchPad. First, as in our case, if you have both a sample book and full eBook of the same title synced to your device, and you delete the Sample Book from your collection, the full eBook has been known to vanish as well. Second, many users have reported their existing collections would double or triple on initial sync with the TouchPad. Both of these problems can be fixed by deleting and reinstalling the app, and then syncing the eBook library again. Until that problem is fixed, you won't be able to enjoy the service, so make sure you get it done sooner rather than later.

Once you do get everything working properly, though, the app is just great. It runs smoothly and is intuitive enough that anyone should be able to pick up the user interface pretty quickly to read their favorite books. Upon first launching the app you are given two options in a simple dialogue box; You can either register the device as a Kindle now with the username and password that you had set up previously through, or tap a button to create a new account. Once the device is registered, it will show up in your account at Amazon's website to help you distinguish it from other Kindle devices. You could, therefore, have multiple Kindle devices all on the same account, and syncing your books, marks and notes between all of them. Or you can keep each device separate with specific book collections, which can come in handy for families or small businesses using the service for groups of people.

Managing Your Collection

Adding books to your new Kindle app is just as simple as registering the device on initial launch. If you already have books on your account that you've synced to other Kindle-enabled devices, all you have to do is tap the drop-down app menu in the top left corner to Sync your library to the TouchPad. Or if you are new to the Kindle world and your library is empty, simply tap the shopping cart icon in the bottom left corner of the main view, and a new browser window will open to allow quick browsing of the entire Amazon Kindle Store. Once you've purchased a few books, just tap that sync button again from the app menu and they'll be downloaded onto your device for quick (offline-enabled) access. It would be nice if there was a sync button right in the main view, omitting the need to go to the menu, and it would be even more nice if we didn't have to go to the full website in the browser to buy new books, but the system works fine how it is, so we'll let that slide for right now.

As you can see from these two screenshots, the main "book shelf" view of the app has several different views and a few handy features. Depending on what you would rather see, you can switch between either a detailed view that shows some information about each book presented in a list, or a grid view which removes the details but also brings a bookmarks graphic to show how many notes and highlights you've added to each item. You can also filter the books based on the collections you've created using the plus symbol (+) that shows to the right of "Library", and can move books between collections by tapping and holding each item individually (no mass moving of items, sadly). If you need to find a specific book you have two options: either hit the search icon in the top right corner or sort them using the dropdown box in the same toolbar. You can also archive or delete any books in your library by tapping and holding until a new dialogue box appears, but that's all pretty easy once you know what to do.

Now comes the fun part: Tap the book you want to read, and a whole new view is brought before your eyes. Reading a book, whether in landscape or portrait orientation, works very well, but it is definitely a pleasure to read the app in portrait mode (so that the screen is taller than it is wide). If you're going to read while lying down be sure to use the device's Auto-Rotation Lock so that you aren't accidentally changing the orientation mid-sentence; sometimes that rotation is just a little too sensitive for us. Navigating pages is simple enough; just tap the left or the right side of the page, or you can swipe if you're in a dramatic mood, and the page goes to the next one in a quick manner. Oh, and if you miss the page-flipping animation for portrait mode (not landscape) that they showed off on February 9th, you just need to change the "Basic Reading Mode" setting from the app menu to be "Off".


Reading and Navigation Toolbars

Upon initial looks of the reading view, there doesn't seem to be any way to get back to that app menu to change those "Basic Reading Mode" settings, though. There are no visual cues at all to be seen on how to navigate the book from this point forward, and it almost seemed to us that the only way to get back to the library was to close the app entirely and launch it all over again - an annoying and tedious task. Amazon did add a some tools to this view, though, and you just need to tap the very bottom of any page (make sure it's near the center of the page, not near the corners) for the hidden buttons to show up again. To be honest, it's nice that they are taking away all of the non-necessities from the reading view so that we can focus on the text, but it boggled us for a few minutes why we couldn't get back to the library without closing the app. Never the less, the tools are there to use, no matter how tricky they are to find your first time using the app.

Once the toolbars do appear, though, they bring some very good features to the app. You can see all of the toolbars in the two screenshots above. Starting from top left to bottom right, these are the items you can see: (Top) Return to the Library, Book Title, Font/Color Settings, Display Brightness, Search, (Bottom) Back to previous view, Page Scroller, Sync Devices (to get to the last page you were reading on any Kindle-enabled devices) and finally the Navigation Menu. This final Navigation Menu includes options to see the cover of the book, go to the table of contents, the beginning of the book, a specific page or to read the Notes and Highlights that you've created for that book in a panel that slides in from the right.

Before anything else, you'll probably want to change the current font and color settings to something more comfortable for your eyes. In the top toolbar, on the right side, you'll see the button that will help make those changes possible (it looks like "Aa"). Tapping this icon gives you three different settings that you can change to make a desired display combination: Font Type, Background/Text Color and Font Size. You can choose anything from very tiny Georgia text on a white background to huge Verdana text on a black background. While everyone will have their own preferences when it comes to these settings (that's why they have these settings, after all), we imagine that most will stick with a slightly smaller Georgia font on the beige background for daytime reading, and the same font on the black background for night time reading - those are the most readable settings, after all. For night reading, you can also change the brightness of the display using the button directly to the right of the Font options. Trust us, your sleeping partner will be happy if you do.

Notes, Highlights and Search

If you're in the need for adding notes to pages or highlighting bits of text while you read, say if you're studying for a class, the Kindle app has you covered there too. Simply find the text that you need to annotate, and tap+hold to get started. You'll be presented with two options: highlight the text or create a new note. Highlighting the text will provide you with two selection dongles that you can tap and drag throughout the page just as you might when performing a copy elsewhere in the operating system.

Once you've made the selection, tap highlight and a dull yellow background will be added to that text. If you tap on Note instead, a text box will appear for you to input the note, and after saving a small icon will display permanently in that location (unless, of course, you delete it later). You can also access every note or highlighted text using the Menu from the bottom right corner of the app (which ironically does not have a search feature added in). The book itself does have search capability added in as well. Tap the magnifying glass icon in the right corner of the top toolbar to open a search box that will search for all instances of a word or phrase throughout the entire book; Very helpful for finding a certain page that you want to read again (though you could just use the scroller in the bottom toolbar to move through the pages quickly as well).


When it comes down to it, the Amazon Kindle Beta app does live up to the hype that it brought with it, but it doesn't necessarily exceed it. We loved the way that the book shelf was setup for easily managing, but we didn't like how the full website was launched in a separate browser card when we wanted to purchase a new book (we'd like to see that built into the app itself). And while the tricky-to-find reading toolbars were very useful for navigating through our books, a more robust notes system would be nice to have (or at least the ability to search them individually, which would allow tagging notes something of a regular exercize). The look of the app and the experience actually reading the books was outstanding, though, even while reading at night in bed, so we definitely will recommend downloading this free app and trying out a few samples in the Kindle store to see for yourself how it all works.

With the Amazon Kindle Beta app finally released, we just have a few more apps on that list that we'd like to see released on the TouchPad that will let it fully compete with the likes of the iPad and Galaxy Tab. But this is definitely a great step in the right direction for HP and its flagship webOS device.