We at bighugenerd love our Kindles. They just can't be beaten for easing into the ebook world. Yes, there's competition from Barnes and Noble's Nook, and also from... some... other companies out there, but let's face it, - the Kindle is the one to beat. 

With that said, we wanted to talk about the Kindle Touch interface today. While the device itself has been out for several months now, It's not perfect; not even close to perfect, actually. So what went wrong?

Let's start at the beginning:


A touch-based interface seems like such a natural progression for the Kindle. What with competition from iPads and... other tablets, an electronic-ink Kindle is hardly the technological marvel it once was. It needed to compete somehow! So here we are, with the touch interface. And it doesn't really work.

Here's a very simplified description of turning pages on the Kindle Touch: Push the right side of the screen to go forward a page, and the left side of the screen to go back. That makes sense.

OK, so it kinda, sorta works (but not really). First, it's not really a touchscreen, which may come as a shock to many of you. But, but, you cry out, - you do touch the screen! Yes, you touch the screen. However, your touching isn't actually doing anything. Unlike iPhones and iPads etc, the Kindle Touch's screen is not actually sensitive to your presses. The Kindle Touch has a row of IR beams around the sides of the screen, raised slightly above the surface of the screen, in the black area of the bezel. When your finger passes through that IR beam, the Kindle knows exactly where you were touching. Genius! Well, yes, and no. This causes a problem:

You can actually tap the screen and nothing will happen! This can occur because the beams don't move quickly enough to pick up your finger movement. You can see this phenomenon take place if you tap the screen and remove your finger very quickly. Often it simply won't register your touch if you're too speedy. Crazy! This means you need a very deliberate tap to switch page. It's not usually an issue, but the difference is apparent if you've spent any time reading on a real touch-screen device. We know several people who thought their Kindles were defective because of this issue. 

So, the Kindle Touch really should technically be named Kindle Break The IR Beam. We're not sure that's quite catchy enough...

So what else is problematic?

Well, one of the nice things about previous generation Kindle devices was that you didn't have to smudge up the screen like you do on every other device out there with a touchy-feely interface. Unfortunately, this is no longer the case. Welcome to smudge-land, Kindleites. Hey, we made up a new word! (Actually, no we didn't, because this is the Internet, and thus someone has always beaten you to it, curses!)

Anyway, smudges aren't fun when reading, so forget about moisturizing those digits before a good read. With a device as thick as the Kindle Touch you'd think there could be some buttons on the side, too. But no! Amazon hates you (and us). 

OK. So what else?

Well, in the interest of aesthetics, Amazon has done away with the handy "BACK" button on the Touch model. Actually this button wasn't just handy, it was essential. We'd like to get hold of the gentleman (or gentlewoman) who came up with that one, and smack them around a bit (verbally, of course). The removal of said button comes at the cost of... you guessed it - usability. Having to tap the top of the screen to bring up the menu, and then tap the BACK arrow is just one step too many. 

Anything else?

Yes, actually. While holding down on a word to look up a definition is a fantastic addition, the interface is not being used to its potential. Take, for example, the book Game of Thrones: A Song of Fire and Ice. This nerd is finally reading it after much nagging from his significant other (wife). No, not his significant other wife. Because that would be... odd. Hmm. 

Anyway, moving on. The problem with this book is getting distracted by other nerdy things. With a book this dense it's often easy forget who's who. Take for example the character Baelish. Or Petyr. Or Littlefinger. They are all the same person, but sometimes I forget he has all these names and want to look up the name to see where else it's mentioned in the book. Yes, you can do that. However, you have to tap the top of the screen to bring up the search bar, and then manually type in the name to find all instances of that name in the book. Why can't we hold a finger down on the name, and then tap a "SEARCH BOOK" button that would appear? Seems pretty simple, right? And while you're at it, Amazon, make it so we can search the book prior to where we are, so we don't inadvertently see spoilers about that character ahead of where we are reading!

Are we too demanding? Call us BigHugeNeed, if you will. 

Last thing:

With the touch interface, it's now quite difficult to tap on asterisks or footnote indicators above words. It's easy to miss. The easiest way then to do this is to enlarge the text first so finger accuracy increases, but that's hardly a great solution. Once you successfully tap the asterisk etc, it takes you to another page to read the note. Then *sigh* you have to tap the top of the screen to bring up the menu, and then hit the BACK arrow to get back to where you were. 

This is extremely problematic if you're reading say, The Bible. Say you tap on one asterisk, and then you tap on another footnote, and then one more, as you make your way through the plethora of notes. Then to get back to where you were reading, you have to do the following:

Tap top of screen. Hit BACK arrow. Tap top of screen. Hit BACK arrow. Tap top of screen. Hit BACK arrow. 

See the problem there? Madness, we say! On the last generation Kindle (or current-generation non-Touch model) you would just hit the BACK button three times quickly. Simple!

One last thing, really:

The Kindle Lighted Leather Cover is not very good, Mr. Amazon. The last-generation one wasn't very good either. Convenient, yes. Very good? No. Amazon says this on their product page:
Built-in LED reading light provides even lighting across Kindle's entire screen
We have one word for this: LOL! (it's technically one word, we think). Not only does it not illuminate the screen evenly, it also glares in your eyes for no apparent reason. Two more minutes in the design process would have had that problem addressed, but currently the only way to avoid glare in your eyes is to tilt the Kindle toward you so it's almost vertical. We don't like that very much. We can only guess the reason this happened is because nobody actually read a book with the light attached. It's that simple (probably). 

Plea to Amazon's Kindle Team:

Dear Amazon Kindle Team, 

We love the Kindle. But please fix the unfinished interface on your Kindle Touch, and your rather rubbish (though extremely convenient) Lighted Leather Cover. You'd make this nerd (and doubtless many nerds world over) very happy if you did.



Going back, 
7/24/2013 07:34:49 pm

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