Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Kindle 2 Review, the Formatting Perspective

There have been a couple of really good Kindle 2 reviews in the last day or two, including Alexander Falk's, which I found to be a good overview of the changes and adjustments in the K2. What I am going to bring you now is a review of the formatting and book display changes that come to us in the new device, some of which are great and some of which are just going to cause frustration. I'm going to list them in no particular order.

Line height: The line height on the K2 has been reduced, allowing more text to show up on the screen. This equates to about 4 more lines of text on the screen at font size 3.

click for full-size

Font clarity and size: The new 16-level grayscale screen, in addition to making images clearer, has made the Kindle font (Caelicia) show up a bit better on the screen. That actually makes the font a little bit lighter, from what I can tell, but it does not make it significantly less readable. It does appear as you compare the two screens that the font on the Kindle 2 is just a tiny bit smaller than the same size font on the Kindle 1. I have compared the font sizes in screen shots, and it does not appear to actually be smaller. However, there are a few places where a size difference definitely does stand out, most noticeably the size of the bullets in unordered lists.

Indentation: On the Kindle 1 the first-line indentation for paragraphs is .25 inches and the left indentation for blockquotes and lists is in .5 inch increments. That allows three full indentation levels and part of a fourth before the text is too scrunched up and the indentation just stops happening. On the Kindle 2 the blockquote and list indentation has been reduced to .25 inches, allowing five full indents and part of a sixth before stopping.

Em units are smaller: On the Kindle 1, em-units (a measurement that equals the height of the font at the current size) are about twice as large as they should be, but on Kindle 2 they have been reduced to the correct size. On both devices the em-unit size does change properly with the user's font size adjustments.

Justification wrapping: The Kindle automatically fully justifies the text in books unless the creator explictly overwrides that setting. On the Kindle 2 there seems to be a bug that does not spread the text of a line out to the end if there is a certain amount of space already between the words. So, if a larger word wraps to a new line the text before it may not be flush with the right margin. This is apparently only a big issue at the larger font sizes, but it does show up periodically at the sizes 3 and below.

Broken Justification: This next one is a pretty important bug that I hope gets addressed soon. On the Kindle you can override the default first-line indentation on paragraphs by assigning a width="0" to the paragraph or by giving it a text-indent:0 CSS style. You can also use other numbers in those values to precisely manage the first-line indentation in the file.

The problem is that any time you use either of those commands the Kindle 2 will assign a left justification to the paragraph instead of retaining the default full justification. This bug poses a significant problem for formatting since no-indent paragraphs are used on a regular basis in books. For example, in many books the first paragraph under a heading is given a no-indent style. Unless the entire book is formatted in a left-aligned style, those paragraphs will stand out significantly.

It should also be noted that the option to turn on or off justification, which is available in the K1 with a hidden command in the font size menu, is not available in the K2, as far as I can tell.

Image Dimensions: The dimensions of the space available on the Kindle screen for book content (both text and images) has changed a bit with the new device. First, you should be aware that since the release of the Kindle 1 the typical answer on the DTP forums has been to make full-page images 450px by 550px. However, on the K1 the available screen area is actually 524px by 640px. Images smaller than that but larger than 261px by 319px will be upscaled to fill the screen area in width or height. This automatic adjustment can have a negative effect on the quality of the image, so it is best to size images at the actual dimensions of the available screen area.

On the K2, the available screen area is 520px by 622px. This is an odd size difference, but the best approach is to size images with the smaller K2 content area in mind.

HTML Tables: One of the biggest complaints about the K1 has been that it does not support tables. This complaint was made more pointed by the fact that tables are supported in Mobipocket, which is the foundational format of Kindle books. Well, the K2 displays tables, even handling them the same way Mobipocket does, by allowing the user to scroll the table horizontally when it is wider than the screen area.

Strikethrough: The K2 has a small change in the placement of the strikethrough line as seen in the image here.

Overall, the changes in the Kindle 2 seem to be aimed at making the text easier to read and easier on the eyes. The line height changes look good, and seem to handle superscripts and subscripts better. The justification issues will be annoying for formatting needs, but should be easy to fix with a firmware update. I really would love to see the Kindle 1 get table support, but unless or until that happens I will continue to use images. The 500,000 or so Kindle 1 users out there will appreciate that, I suspect.

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Blogger Scott said...

Are the "available screen area" numbers you provide the entire screen or the "live area"? The reason I ask is that Amazon claims the Kindle2 screen is 600x800 pixels.

March 2, 2009 6:14 PM  

Blogger Joshua Tallent said...

The available screen area is the live text area only, the area that text and images show up in. The entire screen, with the header and footer bars does go to 600x800.

March 2, 2009 6:30 PM  

Blogger Robert Baruch said...

On justification wrapping: I've noticed that the extra space on the right always seems to happen on lines where it is more appropriate to hyphenate a word and break it across the line. Presumably this means that Kindle's Mobi Reader can't do autohyphenation. o_O

Now, where's Topaz for the non-rich?

March 8, 2009 3:26 PM  

Blogger Joshua Tallent said...

Yeah, that would be a great addition, but I'm not holding my breath. I find it particularly annoying because on the Kindle 1 wrapping works fine. However, I think it is a bug and not the portent of a future feature because it seems to fall more in line with some of the other display changes they made.

Topaz is completely locked up. It is not available to anyone outside of Amazon, not even the major publishers or conversion houses. I'd love to get access to it, though, if only for the font embedding abilities.

March 8, 2009 3:33 PM  

Blogger ALLLGooD said...

In case you weren't aware, you can change the line height by pressing shift-alt, then the numbers 0-9.

March 10, 2009 11:44 AM  

Blogger Joshua Tallent said...

Yeah, I saw that on a blog recently and neglected to update the post here. Thanks!

March 10, 2009 11:47 AM  

Blogger Len Edgerly said...

This is fascinating! Thanks for giving us this detailed a comparison.

March 10, 2009 10:02 PM  

Blogger Joshua Tallent said...

You are quite welcome! What would a Kindle Formatting site be without a decent formatting review?

March 10, 2009 10:05 PM  

Blogger James said...

I actually considered the behavior in the section "Justification wrapping" to be a feature, not a bug. It is much more jarring for me to see a line with only a few words on it fully justified with gigantic spaces than a line that doesn't fully justify and preserves realistic spacing. I thought that was what Amazon was trying to avoid with this and am actually pretty happy about it.

March 11, 2009 12:57 AM  

Blogger Joshua Tallent said...

I can certainly see it as a benefit from the reading angle. From a publishing and formatting angle it just looks ugly. I would have preferred for them to introduce automatic hyphenation to remedy the problem.

March 11, 2009 1:00 AM  

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