Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Kindle: One Week On

I've had my Kindle DX for about a week, now. It's long enough to be learn a great deal - both good and bad.


As you know, I wanted the Kindle DX because of its larger screen, so I could read gaming .pdf files from a variety of sources. My wife has the smaller size, so I can easily do side-by-side comparisons. After a week, I'm sure I made the right decision. You see, the Kindle .pdf reader could still use some work.

I hadn't expected perfection, so I'm not hugely disappointed - in fact, the .pdf reader has worked well enough for most of the pdf's I tried to read on it.

Last week, I used Houses of the Blooded as an example of a .pdf I wanted to read on my Kindle. Houses of the Blooded is the only PDF which I have had zero luck on. It takes ten minutes to load, and then almost five minutes to change pages. It's frustrating and annoying. Yes, I can read it, but it's far too slow to be worth the effort. Why? HotB is big. 31 MB. I don't know how much RAM the Kindle has, but I've noticed most Kindle files are less than 5 MB. I've also noticed that pages with images are slower than pages without. HotB has images (even if it's just a background image) on nearly every page.

By contrast, The Kobold Guide to Game Design, Volume II opened perfectly. The cover page is a bit slow to load, but once I'm past the cover, it's pretty fast.

Other .pdf files have been mixed. For example, as a D&D Insider, I can download issues of Dragon Magazine. If you download the sample issue, you'll see that Dragon is published in landscape format. The Kindle .pdf reader auto-fits documents to the width of the screen. On my Kindle DX, it reminds me of watching letterbox films on a standard 4:3 TV - the image is shrunk down and there are gaps across the top and bottom of the page. If had my wife's Kindle, I wouldn't be able to read it due to its small size. When I rotate the Kindle, it does rotate the image - but it still auto fits to the width, so the bottom inch or so of text is cut off. I can jump to the next page to reach it, but it means jumping back and forth to read pages with multiple columns of text.

Amazon also makes a "conversion" option available. You can e-mail files to them, and they will convert that file to a native Kindle file format. I'd love to have a web interface for this - some files are just too big to e-mail. The PDF conversion is (of course) imperfect, however. I converted the Kobold Guide as a test, and it lost some formatting (including page breaks) but was perfectly legible.

After working with my office's IT guy for a while, I managed to get HotB e-mailed to the conversion address (not many ISP's will allow e-mail attachments that large). It came out almost completely unreadable. Images were compressed to a ridiculous degree, and the text was split randomly - I don't know if the columns or margin notes threw it or if it was something else. Either way, I wouldn't have been able to use it to run a game.

I tired a couple of other IPR books, including the now apparently out-of-print Thousand Suns. Once I got past the cover, it read just fine. It was a little slow to change pages, but nothing on par with HotB.

I know it sounds like I'm down on the Kindle, but I'm not - really. I think that all of the above issues can be fixed with a few software updates - and I know that Amazon is hard at work on the next generation of the software.

In the not-too-distant future, I very much hope that some publishers will publish specifically for the Kindle. It's dangerously convenient (by which I mean "my wallet is a bit unhappy with me").

Or maybe gaming publishers will release .pdf files which are better-optimized for the Kindle (and other e-book readers) - whether that means releasing two versions of their games on .pdf or not, I don't know. But I wouldn't mind buying an "image-light" version of a book.

I have found other gaming uses for the Kindle. For example, I created my D&D character using the Character Builder from D&D Insider. I then printed that character as a .pdf, and put him on the Kindle. Now I don't have to worry about losing the character sheet - all of his stats are right there. My scanner at home is capable of scanning to .pdf, as well, so I can put other characters on there if I want to.

I think that eBook readers such as the Kindle have a legitimate place in the future of roleplaying.

As an aside - does anyone know if the Dresden Files RPG will be available in .pdf? Because I'd like to take advantage of Evil Hat's Brick & Mortar PDF Guarantee. Since the FATE RPG file loaded just fine, I'm guessing Evil Hat's other games will load, also. Maybe this is the kick I needed to finally pick up Spirit of the Century ...


  1. Hey, glad you liked Kobold Guide to Game Design

    Sadly, it's good performance on the Kindle has little to do with my publishing efforts and everything to do with the Kindle's myopic vision of what people read on screen.

    The KGGD2 succeeds because it is not really a game book; it's a how-to or advice book without tables, charts, or graphics of any kind. In other words, it plays well with the "text-only" approach that Kindle has embraced, rather than like the real range of book elements. I sort of get the feeling Amazon only considered novels when spec'ing the thing.

    I failed miserably when I tried to set up other titles for the Kindle, such as Kobold Quarterly magazine or some D&D and Pathfinder sourcebooks. It's impossible to reproduce the layouts on the device's display, which doesn't handle tables, pictures, or even certain type treatments all that well. Going "image-light" for an adventure with maps, or a monster book, or a magazine, just won't fly.

    I confess to some disappointment; I really want e-publishing to succeed, but right now, I can't sink a lot more time into Kindle compatible work. More's the pity.

  2. Wolfgang,

    First of all, thanks for the comment. :)

    Yes, I loved the KGGD (both volumes). I also very much enjoyed Kobold Quarterly. I have a few back issues in .pdf - It's perfectly readable on my Kindle.

    This week, the new World of Darkness Core book is free on RPGNow/DriveThruRPG. I put it on my Kindle as a .pdf file rather than converting - much of the art is missing, but the charts and tables are intact, as is all of the text. So even if the native Kindle format doesn't support the charts and tables, the .pdf reader does.

    I think the Kindle is a viable platform. Or, more accurately, will be with a few firmware patches. I'd be shocked if Amazon is just sitting on their laurels regarding the Kindle at this point, too.

  3. So this article was from March. Has Amazon or kindle been updated any since then to participate in the world wide PDF movement or are they still dragging their feet.
    Given the implosion of Google pads coming this year, they will be very hurt if they don't act soon.


  4. The Kindle has been updated to allow users to adjust their zoom for PDF files.

    There have been some other minor tweaks here and there to PDF reading as well.

    It's still a bit slow (mind you, my Kindle DX is a year old, and the newer ones are faster).