Tuesday, April 19, 2011


I've been thinking about getting a Kindle. The main thing I would do with it is read articles in PDF format which I would download from JSTOR and journal websites. I heard that Kindles are better abou this sort of thing than what they used to be, but I thought I would check in with the Smokers to be sure. Are Kindles indeed better about this sort of thing than what they used to be? Many thanks.

--Mr. Zero


Anonymous said...

I bought my kindle a while ago with that in mind. Turns out still not to be very convenient for pdfs. My finding is this: the kindle is great to scan a bunch of articles to see which are worth reading closely. But once you decide on those, you'll still want a printed version. You can highlight passages which the device then stores for easy recall, so that's nice.

Should you buy a kindle? I'd say yea. My new hobby is downloading sample chapters. I download maybe 15 a week, read through them, occasionally buy the book.

Short point: the kindle is great for casual reading, not so much for serious work.

Anonymous said...

given your needs, I'd suggest getting an iPad 2. much better for PDF stuff

A158 said...

I downloaded "Kindle for PC" (free software) and a couple of free books from Amazon, just to try it. So far, so good.

I haven't tried it with an article yet. I never thought to -- I've been thinking of it mainly in terms of novels -- but I guess I will now.

Anonymous said...

What do you want the Kindle to do with the PDF file?

I have a Kindle and I love it -- in fact, I think it is the most valuable devise I've bought since my first computer. However, I wouldn't read philosophy on it because the underlining and note-taking features aren't that useful. If you want to just read through articles, it'll meet your needs just fine. If, on the other hand, you want to be able to put a lot of notes on the article and then access them easily later, the Kindle won't really meet your needs.

Anonymous said...

This youtuber has a helpful series of videos about the Kindle and pdfs. She's looking at a JoP pdf taboot.


Anonymous said...

I have have the same question for Kindle. So far, I can think of the following:

1) Kindle (or any ebook reader) is better in reading than i-pad because of the e-ink technology.

2) Kindle is good if you need to buy ebooks from amazon.

3) But if you just want to read pdf for philosophy articles, may be other ebook readers (Sony, ezbook reader, etc.) are better. Kindle is not good in adjusting the size of the font of a pdf file.

Mr. Zero said...

Thanks everybody.

The thing about ipads is that the cheapest ones are like $500. The cheapest Kindles are like $140. And as 1:35 points out, ebook readers are easier on the eyes.

Also, yes, I want to underline and make (usable) notes in my PDFs.

But I'm open to non-kindles, especially since the Amazon people seem to be DRM fascists. Which off-brand ebook readers should I look into?

Anonymous said...

One positive thing about the Nook (Barnes and Noble's e-reader) is that it also works for ePub format. That means anything in the Google Books catalog is downloadable and readable on the Nook. If I recall, the Kindle can't do that. But that's a nice feature for us historians--who read a lot of original texts long out of copyright.

Anonymous said...

Despite its backlit screen, I think the iPad is best for e-reading. The application GoodReader, for example, allows easy highlighting, underlining, and note-taking all with the stroke of your fingers. (GoodReader also gloriously links up with DropBox and GoogleDocuments). I loaded up all of the readings for my entire semester on my iPad and its been great. Since i'm not reading anything longer than a journal article or two, the screen never irritates my eyes.

Throw in the TeX editor app, the Blackboard app, and, of course, AngryBirds, and the iPad clearly outpaces standard e-readers.

With the release of iPad 2, prices for iPad 1 should go down (esp. used and refurb). So, unless you're set on buying new, an iPad might still be an affordable option.

Kevin said...

For the price of a kindle you might be able to get a good netbook. PDF your heard out, get kindle books from amazon, nook books from barns and noble, download books and articles from libraries, etc.

Jamie Dreier said...

About adjusting when you change the font size: actually this works just fine, but you have to convert the pdf files to Kindle format. The way you do this is by sending the files you want converted as attachments to a special server; it converts them and returns them in a minute or so. It sends them to your Kindle, or you can get them on your computer and upload them. (Hm, maybe it's uploading.)

If the pdfs are images (like JSTOR articles), then it's bad. When you 'zoom', you can only see 2/3 of a page, and it's the left or right 2/3, so you have to scan back and forth. Okay in a pinch, but not satisfactory. But pdfs with the text embedded convert nicely.

The main obstacle to annotating is that the keys are very small.

On the whole, I like it a lot, actually. I load a few articles and pull them up on bus rides and other waiting around times. And I'm looking forward to using it at workshops and conferences when I can load all the conference papers onto it.

I can't compare it to other readers in usefulness, but the Barnes & Nobel one seems seriously overpriced to me.

Anonymous said...

I like my kindle. My dad wasn't using his, so he gave it to me. It's not great for pdfs unless it is a pdf you create (change in font size is a pain). One thing that I do like is that it has a decent text to voice feature that I can use on walks and during my commute. A bunch of ebooks and articles I've converted using calibre to a format that my kindle can read to me while I drive or walk. I don't think the other ereaders can do that yet. When I asked at the Sony store, they laughed at me. Fuck them. It's the 21st century and it wasn't like I was asking for a flying skateboard.

Anonymous said...

the kindle is great to scan a bunch of articles to see which are worth reading closely. But once you decide on those, you'll still want a printed version.

Inquiring minds want to know: Why will you still want a printed version? Is the underlining/commenting capability lame? Or is there some other problem?

What annoys me is that it seems like a good reader only needs four things: (1) read .pdfs, (2) save comments in a transferable format, (3) allow commenting with a touchscreen, and (4) be large enough to read .pdfs.

For some reason, the readers that do all of this are not being sold in the US. I assume it's an anti-academic conspiracy. (Except for the dualbook, which is expensive, but cheaper than an iPad. Also: don't the iPad and other tablets have a battery life problem? I mean, I don't want to have to recharge every few hours. And in my experience, computer batteries are good for a year at most before you have to shell out a few hundred for a new one.)

Anonymous said...

I've been using my Kindle since Christmas. It's not perfect for PDFs, though some journals reflow better than others. But since I do everything in LaTeX, it's been very easy for me to make my own PDFs (teaching notes, my entire dossier, notes for talks), and for that's it's been very, very nice to have. It's also been good for skimming through articles -- I find I eventually need a hard copy anyway, but it's nice to be able to take a "stack" to a coffee shop to breeze through, and then find what's useful. For me, it's worth it for its price point.

I don't find it to be great for note-taking. The keyboard isn't really up to it.

zombie said...

Do you have an iPod Touch or iPhone? The screen is small, but you can read most formats of ebooks on the Touch, and it's hella portable. There's a PDF ReaderPro that lets you highlight and annotate, and there's a free Kindle app for when you wanna buy one of those convenient Kindle books.

I find the small screen to be a bit of a bother -- lots of virtual page turning. But if you already have one, it's a couple bucks to get the PDF reader app, which beats buying a Kindle.

Personally, I still need to print philosophy texts on paper to read them competently, and highlight with a pen. I have lousy eyesight, and computers distract me with all their fancy interwebs and funny cats and eaglecams.

Anonymous said...

Another vote for iPad. I held out for the 2, but for my budget-conscious friends I have been suggesting a used first generation. Price isn't that much more than a Kindle and a real PDF annotator (I use iAnnotate, but there are several of them) seems to be what you actually want. Plus when it comes to looking for books you can have your library reader if they have one, and iBooks, and Kindle, and Nook, and any of the GoogleBooks readers you want. (One disappointment for me: newspapers for the Kindle won't work on the iPad.)

Anonymous said...

Wow. I am jealous of this discussion. I just got tenure and can't afford such devices!

CTS said...

I'm curious about the whole e-book thing.

I can understand wanting to be able to read/access something when not at a desk, but don't laptops permit that with plenty of apps and few problems of proprietary interface with your desk computer? All the e-books are smallish, it seems to me, and they are limited in many ways.

Like A158, I downloaded the Kindle for PC (free) and can now access a number of things that are available in e-format on Amazon but otherwise out of print.

Anonymous said...

Funny timing--I actually bought a Kindle this morning for the exact same purpose, and had the same question about pdfs that you ask. I did some research, and basically came to the conclusion that one might draw from this thread--it is not ideal but works ok.

I decided to get the kindle for the following reasons: It seems to work at least ok for native (non-image) pdfs. It has the conversion possibility Jamie Dreier notes. It is lighter, much cheaper (first gen iPads are still way more than the wifi Kindle), and easier on the eyes than an iPad. And lots of philosophy books that I might buy are available in the kindle format.

As for the iPod Touch (or iPhone)--I have one, and have tons of pdfs loaded on it, but it is horrible for reading (way too small).

Bradley said...

I have a Nook, which I got primarily to read .pdfs. It sucks for that purpose. I purchased it because it supposedly had better pdf support (though I don't know where I got that idea) and because the navigation is iPod-like rather than button-pushing.

My Kindle-owning friends have differing opinions, but the general consensus is that if you don't mind reading a third of a page at a time in landscape format, then you should get one. Also if you get the 3G version, you can check your email from anywhere, including overseas.

I will say, however, that the Nook is one of the best purchases I've made. I have a ton of books on there, and rather than bringing a few books on a trip, I can bring a library. Also, I can format my own papers and notes (written in TeX) to display perfectly. For $140, it was a great purchase. Just don't kid yourself that you'll be reading philosophy papers on it.

Anonymous said...

I read a lot of papers on my Kindle. It's not perfect, but it's not bad. What you can do to make the experience better is rotate the screen. Just hit the font size button and rotate the screen horizontally and you probably won't need to zoom unless it's a multi-columned article. You can also in some articles highlight and comment without converting them to Kindle format. I'd probably spring for an iPad if I had the money, but the Kindle works well to replace printing a hundred articles (or at least slow it down).

Anonymous said...

I've used a Kindle and a netbook for pdfs, and I didn't like either. The Kindle is super clunky for pdfs (but great for other things). You have the option to keep the pdf format, and then slowly zoom to different quadrants of the paper (or zoom out so far that, for your eyes's sake, you might as well be using the ipad screen). Alternatively, you can have Amazon or Calibre convert the file, but then you lose the formatting and get, for instance, footnotes in apparently strange places.

Like a poster above, I've found that the second option (the conversion) is great for skimming articles. You want a computer or printout, though, for deeper reading (it's more convenient) and for citing page numbers (it's more accurate).

All that said, I love my Kindle, for these only tangentially academic-life reasons:

1. I can have my computer send the kindle, through various convenient plugins, nicely formatted versions of webpages (html, not pdf). This is great for the newspaper, New York Review of Books, Atlantic monthly, blogs like Crooked Timber, etc. It takes like two clicks to get something interesting from your RSS feed onto your Kindle, and it's free. It makes the Kindle a kind of digest of articles that you want to read all at once (again, not pdfs). AND it keeps me more productive at my computer. I can browse the internet when distracted, but easily send the article, news story, etc, to my kindle to read over a real break, subway ride, etc. It helps keep me from drifting too far from work.

2. I think it's fantastic for reading before bed to shut my mind off and fall asleep. There are enough good free books (and of course not-free books) to make for a good selection, and there's something lulling about simply clicking the little page turner at a regular pace. It's different than a book-- the motion is so regular and minimal that I drift off right away (frequently dropping the thing on my face as I do...) .

None of that replaces the joy of actual books, but when you've got too many of those (and you feel it when you move from job to job), a kindle's nice for the non-work stuff.

An ipad would be great for going to conferences, especially ones where you are expected to have copies of everyone's paper on hand. I might be able to afford an ipad one day, but I certainly can't afford to drop/lose/leave it. The Kindle's a little easier in that regard.

Alex Gregory said...

Another vote for the Kindle being helpful. I get through a lot more philosophy reading now than I did before. It's true that converting files or reading in landscape is a necessity, and it's true that it's difficult to make notes, but these problems aren't enough to outweigh the benefit the kindle brings.

Anonymous said...

I have been using the nook color,and it has been pretty great with pdfs. I have actually read complete ebooks on it. It is not perfect, but I think it is better than most alternatives.

Elizabeth said...

@8:55: Can you say what plugins you use to get webpages into your Kindle?

Work-wise, I use my Kindle for PDFs that can convert well, which requires them to be in the right format and not rely on many equations (these often don't render correctly after conversion). This is helpful in getting me to sometimes read things that I wouldn't otherwise -- not my core texts for work, where I'm going to take extensive notes, but interesting stuff outside my area. Better than reading a blog!

I also use it for equation-heavy documents that I write and format so that they'll render well on the Kindle screen. But I didn't even know about the landscape option until reading this thread! Thanks, everyone.

Feggy said...

With Calibre, you can convert the pdf:s to Kindle format...works better for some, worse for some. In general, I would recommend the DX-version which is of the same size as Ipad.

Anonymous said...

I use my kindle only for PDFs and I'm happy with it.


Over ipad: easy on the eyes, just like paper, not like computer reading at all.

Over photocopies: very portable, carry every pdf you own, no lost, folded, or torn pages. No losing articles and forgetting you lost them. Easily find old articles when you need them.


1. Reading endnotes is a severe hassle (menu, jump to page, symbol, page #, hunt around, then do it all again). I've quit reading them.

2. Not good for photocopied double-paged articles, since you have to select part of the page and zoom in, a function that is inconvenient and not very user friendly.


1. Use kindle to store articles and to quick read to find which are useful, then printout the ones you'll be closely reading.

2. Most journal pdfs work great. If you photocopy your own articles, just copy one page at a time.

I find I read a lot more journal articles and more efficiently now that I have the kindle. Worth it, if imperfect.

Anonymous said...

Apparently back issues of e-magazines disappear when you don't continue your subscription. Not sure if it works the same with academic journals.


Anonymous said...

anon 6:51,

Amazon has a "trade-in" program that allows you to sell textbooks, dvds, and video games in exchange for store credit. Many of the academic books sitting on your shelf will qualify. You almost certainly have enough for a low-level Kindle on your shelf right now.

Matt W said...

@ Elizabeth (8:55 here):

I use Instapaper, which gives a bookmarklet you click whenever you want to save something, and then sends a daily digest of saved pages to your Kindle. There is another bookmarklet, called Kindebility,which is supposed to be even more streamlined, sending each article by itself.

Anonymous said...

For my grad classes this semester that were entirely articles, I used my Kindle pretty much exclusively rather than printing. I never converted any of my PDFs, but I got pretty handy with the zooming features. Overall, for something that I need to underline and read through several times, I'd still print the article out, but for everything else, I use my Kindle. I also get more fun reading in as well, simply because I'm able to redeem the time I used to just be waiting around, so it's a win-win. My Kindle is definitely one of my favorite gifts I've ever received.

Ron said...

Love my Kindle for non-PDF content of all kinds -- very easy on the eyes, and I find the note-taking much better than many here. PDFs with the text embedded convert very nicely, but ones that are scanned in, not so much. Newer journals via JSTOR, etc., are mixed -- sometimes a nice conversion, sometimes not.

Also, I recommend Instapaper and a browser extension like "Send to Kindle" for Chrome.

Anonymous said...

Has anyone tried tablets that are not iPads? Are there decent ones? I would guess that tablets generally are better for annotating pdfs and such, but my worry is that battery life: if I can't read it through even a full 8-hour flight, or during a long stint at a cafe and on the trip back home, it isn't really worth much. Especially since computer batteries tend to degrade pretty quickly.

Any thoughts on tablets that are decent for reading and have good battery lives?

Word verification: wagmen. "If those wagmen are as impressed with my work as they say, why are they sending me a PFO?"

Elizabeth said...

@MattW: Thanks!

Anonymous said...

if I can't read it through even a full 8-hour flight, or during a long stint at a cafe and on the trip back home, it isn't really worth much.

Really? 8-hour flights make up at most 10% of my trips. I don't have a tablet, but I have a laptop, and although it most definitely does not last eight hours it's still worth a lot to me on these trips.
And if you have a long sting at a cafe, try sitting next to an electrical outlet.

Anonymous said...

Has anyone tried the large Kindle? (The DX). It is more expensive, but bigger, and is supposed to be better for reading PDFs.