Amazon Kindle for PC E-Book Software
Monday, November 16, 2009; 12:19 AM
Amazon's Kindle family gained a new member today with the arrival of the free Amazon Kindle for PC reader app. And while I'm not a big fan of reading books on computer displays, I have to admit that Kindle for PC handles the basics of its job well. But it lacks a few features--most significantly the ability to create your own notes--found not just in Kindle hardware but also in the Kindle for iPhone app.
A 5.3MB download, Kindle for PC installs in a jiffy. After you log in to your account, it presents a home screen with options to look at your archived items or to shop at the Kindle store (the latter simply opens a Web browser window to Amazon.com's Kindle home page). Books appear as color thumbnails, sortable by author or title. It was nice to see the book covers in color for a change (the Kindle iPhone app does this, too).
The Menu button on the far right brings up an option for changing the account registration info; the app does not support registration of multiple accounts. You'll also find a command to sync and check for new items purchased in the Kindle store, which do not automatically appear with your archived items.
You must click on a book in the list of archived content to download it and bring up the reading interface. The first time you do so, a little pop-up graphic shows how to turn pages: You can use either your PC's arrow keys (pressing the down or right arrow moves a page forward, and pushing the up or left arrow goes back, just as I expected) or the scroll wheel of your mouse. Pages on the PC looked good and crisp. Clicking the font icon on top gives you ten font sizes to choose from--plus, you can also set the page width with a slider, a nice feature you don't get in any other Kindle hardware or software. On the far top right, an icon labeled 'Show Notes & Marks' produces a pane for annotations and bookmarks. Another button lets you set bookmarks, and a 'Go To' button produces a menu for navigating to the cover (enlarged, and again in lovely color), the table of contents, the beginning of the book, or a specific location.
Also in the Go To menu is the 'Sync to Furthest Page Read' command, which you use when you've been reading a book on another Kindle registered to your account (or on the Kindle for iPhone app) and you want to pick up where you left off. This feature worked smoothly when I tried it, and it could be a huge convenience for people who wish to move seamlessly among devices. Kindle for PC also syncs bookmarks and annotations, but you don't have to create a bookmark for it to note the location you leave off reading on the PC: Whispernet automatically provides this info to other devices on demand through similar sync commands.
For Whispernet synchronization to work, however, you must keep it turned on in your account settings on the Amazon site (it's on by default)--and, of course, you must turn on the wireless support on your Kindle devices. The option of turning sync on or off is useful, because if more than one person is reading a book registered to a single account at the same time, they probably don't want to use one another's bookmarks. But if you're the only account user, turning sync on lets you pick up reading on any Kindle device or application.
Kindle for PC, by the way, does not support the creation of annotations; this seems a bit odd considering that the iPhone app supports not only note creation but also the application of highlights to text. Kindle for PC also lacks search capability, although a Future Improvements item in the menu says that Amazon plans to add both annotation and search support.
The only somewhat unintuitive aspect of the interface is the Back button in the reading screen: I thought that clicking it would turn the book a page back, but the button turns out to be inactive unless you've used one of the Go To navigation options, in which case clicking Back returns you to wherever you were before you jumped around.
At the bottom of the page, you get your current location range in the center, your percentage of progress through the book on the left, and the total number of locations on the right (the e-book equivalent of the number of pages in print). Clicking the Home button at the top of the page returns you to a list of books you've opened on the PC (you must click the Archived Items button to see your entire collection).
And that's pretty much the entire application. Kindle for PC is simple and intuitive, and if you don't mind reading on a backlit screen or doing without annotation features, it offers a cheap way to get going with the Kindle store.