At first, when I came across this free e-book source, I was suspicious that this website will be our regular free e-book scam full of links that lead to anything, but the e-books. However, after some quality time spent on Open Culture, I was impressed by the textbook section.
To access it, press “Textbooks” on the right top corner. Though, the list of free textbooks is not very extensive, the variety of subjects is pretty nice: Linguistics, Physics, Mathematics, Political Science, Music, History, Biology, Economics & Finance, Engineering, Earth Science etc.
The textbooks are offered in various formats. The reason for this is that the books are hosted on different servers. This is a well selected collection of links that lead to text-books’ locations. For example, A Textbook of the History of Painting by John Charles Van Dyke is actually located on Project Gutenberg site. Hence, there is an option for downloading it in MOBI format for your Kindle. Introduction to Physical Oceanography by Dr. Robert Stewart is hosted by Texas A&M University and it is in PDF format. Calculus by Gilbert Strang is offered by MIT in PDF format.
Also, Open Culture collects the list of the usual classics and links for free audiobooks.
Open Source’s list of textbook perhaps is one of the better lists I’ve seen so far. Hopefully, you kindlized students out there will find this source useful. Happy studying!
Open Library is an amazing non-profit project (partially funded by California State Library). It is trying to catalog book (and e-book) titles and their locations, thus creating a gigantic library. As Open Library owners describe, “One web page for every book ever published”. The idea is to be able to find any book’s location – be it in a store, library, or in electronic version. Open Library is an open project. Anyone can (and is encouraged to) participate: adding book titles, editing the existing catalogue, fixing typos. Also, their software and documentation are also open. There is no registration required for downloading free e-books. However, you need to register on Open Library if you want to participate in the project.
I have to warn you: finding where to download a free e-book is not really intuitive in Open Library. To find a free e-book, you need to type the book title/author’s name in the search bar (there is also an advanced search option, where you can also look for a book by ISBN, subject, place, person, or publisher); check “Only show e-books”. On the results’ page the list of books will have one of three icons – borrow, DAISY, or read. All the available e-books have the “read” icon beside the book title. Press “read”. It should open the book in read-online mode. Press the icon “i” on the top right corner, next to the “play” option. It will open a menu with available e-book formats: PDF, Plain Text, DAISY, ePub, and finally, my favorite, “Send to Kindle” option. Ta-da!
As you might have noticed, other than “read”, there are two more icons appearing in the Open Library search results: “borrow” and “DAISY”. “Borrow” finds the book in the closest to your current location library (it searches by zip-code); and DAISY is a format for vision-impaired readers. According to Open Library, DAISY offers “the benefits of regular audiobooks, with navigation within the book, to chapters or specific pages.” You can find out more about DAISY on their official website. As far as I understand, DAISY format is not that easily accessible. One needs to get a key issued by the Library of Congress NLS program.
Quite frankly, I think I’m very impressed with Open Library’s book catalogue idea and its execution.
This source for free e-books, articles and academic papers will probably be appreciated by very particular type of readers. Sejarah Melayu Library’s resources focus on Malay Archipelago (also called Indonesian Archipelago) and surrounding areas. All e-books, articles and academic papers are available for your Kindle for free and in .PDF format.
Basically the library has seven sections:
General section contains miscellaneous materials on Malay Archipelago that (I am guessing) do not really fit into other categories.
Histories and Other References focuses on history and geography.
Travelogue is self-explanatory: travelers’ notes about Malay Archipelago.
Language section contains dictionaries & free grammar e-books.
Fiction consists of novels, fables, poetry and other literary materials that have connections to Malay Archipelago.
Papers and Articles section has journal articles and academic papers available for downloading.
News and Dispatches has historical newspapers, gazettes, chronicles, and reports.
The layout and navigation for Sejarah Melayu Library is straightforward. Notice that you need to press the tiny plus signs in the menu, instead of the titles. There is no registration required to use these materials. All documents I checked out were in good quality PDF.
I think, this is a precious source for the scholars doing a research on Malay Archipelago; intrigued travelers planning to visit the area; and those hungry for information polymaths.
In addition to Sejarah Melayu Library’s resources, Amazon offers somewhat outdated, but free Kindle Books on this topic:
The Malay Archipelago, the Land of the Orang-utan and the Bird of Paradise; a Narrative of Travel, With Studies of Man and Nature Volume I by Alfred Russel Wallace (Volume II is also available for free); Through the Malay Archipelago by Emily Richings; and Blown to Bits The Lonely Man of Rakata, the Malay Archipelago by R. M. (Robert Michael) Ballantyne.
I am slightly disappointed with www.free-ebooks.net for trying to rip off fellows Kindle-ers, but it might be useful for someone, so I will hide my judging stare away.
I have many problems with this site. The first one is the domain name – “free ebooks” is kind of a way overboard name for a site with such limited availability of the actual free e-books.
Another issue with this site is that .MOBI format is available only for an upgraded membership. They have e-books in .PDF format for no charge, but here is the catch – you can download only 5 books per month for free.
One more minor annoyance: they require users to register for downloading e-books.
Also, the site’s content is poorly edited – some book titles have typos, sometimes authors’ names are missing and so on.
So, yes, the site is limiting from all ends. However, the selection and variety of the books is quite large. The library is not restricted by the usual classics, to the availability of which we are so used to. I enjoyed the quantity of “100 Recipes of Something-Something” type of cook books: 111 Egg Recipes, 300 Chicken Recipes, 300 Recipes for the Grill and so on. I also liked the selection in the Tutorials section. There are books like: Build Your Own Home Theatre, An Introduction to Pipe Band Drumming, or even How to Create a Garden Pond.
Hence, if you are looking for a very specific book, this is a good back-up source.
Netronix is working with Texas Instruments in order to bring out new eBook readers sometime in 2010. These eBook readers will be running on Android and will do more than just read eBooks. These are, of course, going to be rivaling the Kindle for market share.
Specifications are not available at the moment because the devices are still under development but the chairman of the company, Arthur Lu, that it will have the unique ability to interoperate between Android smartphones and embedded devices. He did not elaborate on it but it looks like this is Netronix’s bid to make their offering different from the rest of the crowd. The ultimate goal is of course to offer something unique and different that will help to sell the product. And they have another something lined up along those lines.
The device will not only have interoperability with other Android devices but it will also have 3G and 3.5G data connection capabilities. This will be done via WWAN, which is only just catching up across the world. These 3G models are expected to land sometime in the middle of next year.
According to Lu, they are looking to transform this reader device into a platform for personal communications. So what he is looking for is the convenience of an eInk screen by but the data support of a MID. Sounds to me like asking for too much.
Kindle works so well because it is focused on reading books and reading books only. While trying to do so many things, the device is likely to end up confusing customers. And may even frustrate them.
Flat World Knowledge, a provider of cheap digital textbooks, has grown dramatically over the summer. This fall semester, over 40,000 college students will use Flat World’s textbooks. This is 40 times as many people as in the last spring semester.
This is cool for a number of reasons. First of all, Flat World’s text books are super cheap. To read the book in a web browser is free. Most students, however, are willing to pay the $20 upgrade to receive DRM free PDF files. And if a student really hates digital media, there is still the option to pay even more for a physical copy. There isn’t any real downside for the students who have Flat World textbooks assigned in their classes.
The second reason why I like this story is that it means more professors are choosing digital formats for their classes. This is a conscious decision on the part of the teachers to provide students with a more convenient and much cheaper alternative to traditional textbooks.
Students who own the Kindle DX, or other eReaders, are going to especially benefit from this. Since the files come in PDF format, there is no reason why they couldn’t be put on a DX. Even better, Flat World plans to add the Amazon format to their library this year. It shouldn’t be long before students can download their books cheaply, over Whispernet, and (since the books are available in multiple formats) no worries about accessibility.
Business intelligence software vendor, MicroStrategy, has decided to make its reports available to the Kindle DX. Now, any company that is a client of MicroStrategy’s services has the option to download Kindle DX friendly pdfs directly over Whispernet.
While this announcement only applies to those who already buy services from MicroStategy, I think it’s worth mentioning for a couple of reasons. This is an example of a company targeting the Kindle specifically for use in a business environment. This is markedly different from the current, consumer-centric marketing Amazon has done. Thus far, eReaders have been essentially thought of as a toy (not that that is a bad thing) that people use for their own enjoyment. Using the Kindle for work is a somewhat novel idea, if only for the moment.
But while the Kindle’s use by MicroStrategy is fairly rudimentary, it demonstrates the potential of eReaders. They have turned the Kindle DX into an office on the go. The wireless capabilities allow employees to download needed documents from anywhere, and the large eInk display provides and easy to view and easy to share alternative to office paper.
Right now the only downsides are lack of color and the general spottiness of the Kindle DX’s PDF support. These are temporary issues, however, as eReaders will continue to develop. At some point in the future, it’s likely that more and more businesses will move towards some sort of eReader standard. The idea of a paperless office, which has long seemed unlikely, may not be too far off.
Looks like I’ve found a bug in Kindle DX PDF viewer: any time I open the second page of this PDF file Kindle DX would go into quick reboot. When it comes out of the reboot all of the items are gone from the home screen. To get them back I needed to create some dummy text file to force folder rescan.
It would be nice if someone could try to reproduce this crash and confirm that this problem is not specific to my Kindle. A word of warning though – although there seemed to be no lasting damage to my device and all my files were intact as well this kind of crashes (I would guess a buffer overflow or NULL pointer dereference) have potential for damaging the data. So if you feel like reproducing this bug do it at your own risk.
I’ll also follow up on this issue with Amazon and keep you posted on the progress.
With Kindle 2 if you wanted to read books that contain non-English characters like Cyrillic, Chinese, Japanese, Hebrew etc you had several options:
- Use Kindle unicode font hack to replace default Kindle fonts with ones that support wider range of Unicode characters.
- Convert it to set of JPEGs and read it in the picture viewer.
With Kindle DX option 1 is ruled out for the time being since Unicode font hack doesn’t install on it. (Update: Unicode Fonts Hack now works on Kindle DX as well). However because Kindle DX supports PDF natively there is another way. PDF supports “font embedding”. This means that fonts that are used in PDF file are stored within the file itself or at least a subset of font that describes all the characters that are actually used. So Kindle can display Russian text in PDF files even though there are no Russian fonts on Kindle DX itself.
Luckily creating PDF files is easy as printing documents. There are dozens of PDF “converters”, “creators” or “writers” out there that all work in a similar way. They are installed as virtual printers that instead of printing documents on paper save them on your PC in PDF format. So any file that can be opened in program that supports printing (and 99% of them do) can be converted to PDF.
Kindle DX Russian Text
I tested several such programs and all of them produced files that I could read on my Kindle DX. Visually files produced by all of them were identical and of similar size (on disk). The only difference is how particular program behaves itself on PC. In the end I went with PDFCreator because it’s easy to install and use and doesn’t come with junkware.
- PDFCreator from SourceForge.net. Easy to install (just a single installer). Runs without problems and only offers to install Yahoo toolbar and default search when it’s installed. You can easily opt-out of it. Uses GhostScript (which is included in installation) for file conversion. User interface looks a bit crude but it is not a hindrance.
- CutePDF by Acro Software Inc. Requires you to install the printer driver and Ghostscript separately. Printer driver installation is not Vista/Windows 7 friendly as it requires you to disable UAC (user account control) which requires a reboot (and then another one to turn it back on). There is not proper excuse for such sloppy software writing in 2009 when Windows Vista has been around for years. Otherswise the converter works fine.
- PrimoPDF by by Nitro PDF Inc. Single installer that installs everything you need. Doesn’t have a problem with Vista/Windows 7 UAC. During installation you are subscribed to a mail-list you can later opt-out of. Runs ok except that on my Windows Vista machine Adobe Acrobat Reader would crash if you configure PrimoPDF to launch it to view newly converted file.
- Pdf995 by Software995. You need to install 2 separate packages in order to software to run. It also shows an ad every time you convert a file unless you purchase ad-free version.
There are many more free and paid PDF converters out there. I’ve reviewed just a few free ones. If you think you know of a better one – drop a comment here and I’ll take a look.
You can see a sample (click to zoom) of Russian text that was downloaded from lib.ru, copy-pasted into Microsoft Word, font bolded and converted ot PDF using PDFCreator.
Ok. Lets take closer look at PDF support in Kindle DX.
Getting PDF files on Kindle
You have two options here: either connect Kindle DX to your PC via USB and copy the files over or send the file to your Kindle email address just like any other personal document. Amazon web service is smart enough to know which device supports PDF natively and will just send the file over without conversion. You will need to pay $0.15 per megabyte transferred. Unfortunately you can’t download PDF files directly to your Kindle since in this case Amazon will pay $0.12 per megabyte and you will pay nothing. When on Kindle DX, PDF files are treated just like other personal documents – they are not archived to Amazon servers when you delete them.
Displaying and navigating PDF files
PDF files are always displayed in ‘fit-to-width’ mode whether screen orientation is portrait or landscape. You can’t zoom in or out or pan horizontally. While this will not be a problem for most documents it can render some completely unreadable. 5-way controller seems to do nothing when viewing PDF files. Because of the nature of PDF format implementing text-to-speech and variable font size properly would be next to impossible so I wasn’t surprised to find that these features are not there.
Of course you can still email you PDF file to free document conversion email at @free.kindle.com and then import into Kindle. Font sizes and “read to me” will then work however for PDF documents the result of such conversion is usually not visually pleasing.
When navigating PDF files you can:
- Go to next and previous page.
- Go to page by number via menu command. Total number of pages is displayed in the bottom portion of the screen.
- “Go to Beginning” and “Cover” menu commands both seem to take you to the first page. This makes sense since PDF format doesn’t have a concept of cover or beginning of text unlike eBooks.
- You can search within the document and iterate search results. Search terms will be highlighted as you view the pages. You can’t see all search results at once.
- You can add bookmarks and navigate them as a list.
You can not:
- Follow any internal and external links from PDF documents. While you can see things that look like links (underlined text in different font for example) they will not work – there is no way to select them. In PDF functionality and appearance are separate. You can think of it as JPEG screenshot of web-page – the seem to be there – but there is no way to know where they lead since Kindle PDF viewer doesn’t implement the functional part of links.
- There are two ways table of contents is generally implemented in PDF files: either as a set of pages that contain links to sections and chapters (and as described above links don’t work) and as a separate data structure that is not displayed as part of the document. Adobe Acrobat usually displays these tables of contents in the navigation bar to the left of the document. Kindle DX doesn’t seem to use this either. This was a bit of a surprise for me because having worked with PDF format I know that it would take average software developer one day to write code that will extract this table of contents and make it usable by the viewer. Hopefully this will be addressed with some future update.
- Annotation and highlighting is also not possible in PDF files.
So if you have a document with small number of pages – it’s no problem – you can just page back in forth. For large documents you need to either use in-document table of contents and then use “Go to page” menu command and keep creating bookmarks or searching for chapter titles and keywords. If the document relies only on out-of-document table of contents then you are in real trouble.
It looks like PDF documents are not indexed globally so you can’t search them from the home screen. Perhaps Amazon decided that indexing them would strain resources of Kindle DX too much. Or perhaps this feature will be enabled with some future update.
Page turn speed is visually the same as when reading eBook. It takes some extra time to open the document itself and after that page turns are fast.
To summarize: Kindle DX did to PDF documents exactly opposite to that it did to paper books. It turned books into things that are interactive and easy to navigate and search while PDF documents were reduced to functionality close to the one of paper document.
Types of PDF documents that can be displayed
Obviously it’s impossible to implement PDF standard on a device such as Kindle DX when size, weight and battery capacity impose limits on the amount of memory and computing power. Nevertheless Kindle does a great job at supporting most of PDF features.
Obviously regular text is implemented properly.
Kindle DX properly supports embedded fonts into PDF files. And this means that you can convert your favorite non-English book into PDF and read it on your Kindle! I’ve tested it with a PDF that I’ve downloaded from the Internet and it worked (see screenshot). There are several “PDF Writers” that install as virtual printers and would allow you to convert any document English or not to PDF that will be viewable on Kindle. I promise to test several of these packages and report results.
Kindle DX Russian Text
Math formulas are displayed properly. There is little surprise there since PDF decomposes formulas into a collection of simple shapes and pieces of text that require only core PDF functionality to display. I used short math guide for LaTeX (FTP) to test formulas and it displayed perfectly on Kindle DX.
Kindle DX Math Formula
Graphics are displayed properly and with high resolution. Picture-intensive PDFs look much better than featured Kindle DX books. Obvious exceptions are 3D graphics and animations. Yes, PDF format supports these but Kindle DX can’t display them properly. You can compare this screenshot to how this file will actually display in your acrobat reader. If Kindle can’t provide proper rendering for some aspect of PDF file it is indicated in the bottom portion of the screen by message “Some elements on this page could not be displayed“. It is unreasonable to expect Kindle to support such kind of graphics.
Kindle DX 3D PDF
Although it can only display 16 shades of gray Kindle DX seems to correctly support color-spaces even DeviceN and Separation. It also correctly supports PDF transparency.
Tables are rendered correctly. This is very similar to math formulas. In PDF tables are represented as a bunch of words and lines. Same is true about charts. You can get the idea by looking at the following screenshot from Bank of England quarterly report.
Kindle DX PDF Charts
Kindle DX PDF Tables
Forms are correctly displayed but are not editable.
Kindle DX offers comprehensive support for most PDF format features. It’s probably as good as it can get taking into consideration hardware limitations. Lack of zoom, pan, link and table of contents support are a major minus that renders some PDF files unusable to one degree or another. Fortunately to me as a software developer it doesn’t seem as something that can’t be fixed by a software update.
Ok, lets pick up where we left off: My Kindle DX has just arrived…
Unboxing Kindle DX
Kindle DX power up
Exterior & Ergonomics
Kindle DX is much larger and slightly heavier than Kindle 2. In fact If you put K2 on top of DX, K2 would be almost the same size as DX’s screen. It’s still comfortable to hold and flip pages, at least for right handed people like me. Of course it works upside down and it’s usable this way but I will pass on making a judgment on how comfortable such setup would be for left-handed people. One thing for sure – alphanumeric keyboard is not usable this way. Landscape mode is comfortable. As Kindle is rotated, 5-way controller is automatically remapped so left remains left and right remains right.
Amazon leather cover now comes with two magnets to keep itself shut. If you are still using floppy disks from the previous millennium you shouldn’t put them next to Kindle DX if you are using the cover.
Kindle DX vs. Kindle 2
Screen and fonts
It’s large. That’s for sure. 824×1200 pixels. It seems to update faster than Kindle 2 and whiles seems to be slightly lighter. There’s minimal ghosting sometimes just as on my second K2. The first K2 that was bricked by airplane didn’t have ghosting problem. Screensaver pictures seem to be the same as in K2 but upscaled and they do look gorgeous on the big screen. Fonts seem darker. So looks like Amazon took complaints about low contrast in Kindle 2 seriously and decided to address them. Spatial resolution is slightly lower – 150ppi comared to 167 in Kindle 2.
I’ve downloaded samples of some of the “books that look good on Kindle DX’s large screen“… Really they should be called “books that would have looked great on Kindle DX should have looked great on Kindle DX if images were not downsampled to lower resolution… I’ve checked 3 books and none looked as good as screensaver images. You could clearly see that illustrations in these books are much lower resolution than the screen. Hopefully this will get fixed as some point.
There are 7 font sizes just as in previous models. However the smallest font on Kindle DX seems to correspond to second smallest on K2. I can’t say for sure because I have Droid fonts installed on my K2 so that I can read Cyrillic. When font size dialog is invoked there are 2 additional options there that are specific to DX: “Words Per Line” and “Screen Rotation”. The second one is pretty much self-explanatory: you can explicitly select one of the four rotations or set it auto and let the accelerometer control it. “Words Per Line” really controls left and right margin width. Three available options are: default, fewer and fewest. At the moment I don’t quite understand the use of it. If I would want smaller screen area I’d just use K2. As this option is changed inline pictures as downscaled as well.
Works as advertised – the image rotates as you rotated the device. Refresh time is good. Changing scren orientation is as fast as flipping a page.
Kindle DX Landscape
Keyboard layout is QWERTY. Numeric row is merged with top letter row. To enter numbers you need to hold the “Alt” button. If you just need to enter one digit, you can press “alt” and digit in sequence (“alt” is “sticky” just likethe “shift” button). On DX buttons stick out more and are harder to press. Overall I found K2 keyboard more comfortable and easy to use than DX. Except “Next page” button being larger on DX, buttons on the right edge of the device are identical. 5-way controller stick is higher on DX.
Kindle DX relies on it’s large screen to display PDF files “as is”, without re-flowing the text (which would be next to impossible with PDF since the format lacks any concept of paragraphs or text continuity). The only way to zoom that I could find is to switch to landscape mode. It’s not such a big problem because most PDF files that people would want to read are preformatted for either Letter or A4 page size and Kindle DX screen is comparable in size to these formats.
Although there is concept of pages in PDF and you can navigate to any given page, both internal and external links in PDF files are disabled. Structured table of contents that is present in some PDF files is not usable either.
Graphically PDF files look fine and crisp. Rendering time is also good. It usually takes around 5 seconds to open the file initially and after that pagination speed is the same as when reading ebooks.
It’s not possible to download PDF files to your Kindle via WhisperNet. Most likely this is because Amazon pays 12 cents per megabyte to Sprint while keeping Internet connection free for Kindle owners. Given decent support that Kindle DX has for PDF files, abundance of PDF files on the Internet that people would like to download and read and relatively large size of these files it wouldn’t be a good idea for Amazon to enable such downloads.
It so happens that in my past life I spent a lot of time writing software that would process PDF files. Some time later I’ll run a comprehensive test of PDF support in Kindle DX and publish the results here.
Web browsing seems to be that same as on Kindle 2. “Advanced mode” is now called “Desktop mode’”. Basic mode is still much faster and usable than desktop mode. I tried to render BlogKindle.com in desktop mode and DX actually rendered it quite well. The only problem I could see was the lack of PNG transparency support.
Kindle DX Basic Web
9 inch screen definitely makes browsing a better experience.
There are seemingly no changes in this feature. Funny thing that I’ve noticed as I experimented with it that female voice seems to have trouble pronouncing word USB. With male voice turned on is sounds much more natural.
Apart from PDF support, changes to font size dialog, picture viewer mentioned above and additional game mentioned below Kindle software remains the same. Kindle DX comes out of the box with firmware version: 2.1 (337560062). Source code for Kindle DX is already published by Amazon and I’ll take a look at it. What seems important is that it has a separate section for Kindle DX sources code. On this basis I would speculate that next version of software for Kindle 2 is going to be 2.0.4, for Kindle DX it’s going to be 2.1.1. These will come from separate branches of code so I wouldn’t hope too much for PDF support being ported to Kindle 2 any time soon.
Unfortunately Kindle DX was unresponsive to the “old way hacking”. When I created a small “update” using Igor’s tool to dump the system log along with full directory listing to the root of Kindle drive the “Update Your Kindle” menu item remained disabled. Either Amazon has changed the format of the update files or they’ve come up with some way to digitally sign them to prevent hacking. Either way this means no unicode fonts for Kindle DX for the time being :(
I did a quick check on Kindle 2 easter eggs.
- Minesweeper is still there. It’s accessible by pressing Alt–Shift-M in the home screen. If you press G after minesweeper is started you can play GoMoKu (it’s like tic-tac-toe but on a large board and the goal is to get 5 in a row). Kindle is actually a very good GoMoKu player. I played it twice and so far the score is 1-1 even though human player always gets the first turn.
- Picture viewer is also there. To activate it connect Kindle via USB cable to your PC and create “pictures” folder in Kindle USB disk. Create subfolders there and copy pictures. Subfolders will become “book” names and pictures will be pages. JPG, PNG and GIF files are known to be supported. Once you’ve copied the files, disconnect the USB cable and press Alt-Z in the home screen – you should see your picture folders among books now. Scaling options have moved from the main menu to font-size dialog. Kindle DX will never try to stretch image to fit the screen but it can downscale to either fit width, height or screen. You can also display image at actual size and use 5-way controller to navigate the image. Screen rotation is also supported.
- Symbol keyboard shortcuts are gone since numeric row is merged with the top letter row.
- Hidden settings are still there. Typing “411″ and “611″ (using the alt-key) open corresponding settings pages.
Kindle DX is a nice device. Perhaps it’s not as much better as people hoped it would be but Kindle 2 sets the bar quite high. For day-to-day book reading I would still recommend Kindle 2 because of greater portability. If you can’t get by without PDF support and don’t want to use Savory hack (that would add similar or better level support than what’s available in 2.1) – Kindle DX is right for you. Hopefully with time there will be digital media that would take advantage of Kindle DX’s large screen.
Stay tuned for more detailed reviews, second impressions etc…