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.


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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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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Interview on Teleread

Kat Meyer, the Bookish Dilettante and book marketing guru, interviewed me for her new "The Digitizers" column on Teleread. She also had some very flattering words to say about me and the work I do at her own blog. Thanks very much Kat!

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Sunday, February 22, 2009

Now Accepting Credit Cards

credit cards imageI am pleased to announce that KindleFormatting.com now accepts credit cards and electronic checks. The option to pay in these ways is available in the Billing Manager invoicing system. Rest assured that your private information is kept private in this system. I never see your credit card or bank information, and Intuit, the company behind Billing Manager is well-respected, with a long history providing valuable tools like QuickBooks, TurboTax, and Quicken. You can read their Privacy Policy here.

Also, be aware that eBook Architects LLC is the official company behind KindleFormatting.com, so all of the billing is now directed through that entity. If you have any questions about this or anything else, please do not hesitate to contact me. Keep an eye out in the future for other great services and opportunities from eBook Architects and KindleFormatting.com!

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Monday, February 16, 2009

Greek text on the Kindle

As I mentioned in my last post, the Amazon team recently released a firmware update (version 1.2) that allows some much-needed functionality in Kindle books. I was finally able to test the Greek functionality and figured out how to add Greek text to HTML files destined for the Kindle.

First, add the Greek characters into the file using Unicode character entities. For instance, the lowercase alpha is α or α. You could also add the actual character (copied from character map or another source) but I do not suggest doing that since it is usually a better coding practice to use the entity. Also, it just makes inserting and messing with the characters easier.

After the characters are inserted, the file needs to be saved with a Unicode encoding. I suggest using UTF-8, a very common encoding that will be sufficient for these purposes. Just open the HTML file in your default text editor or in Notepad, go to the Save As dialog box, set the encoding to UTF-8, and save the file with the same name or a new one. That HTML file can now be used in Mobipocket Creator to create a PRC file for testing, or be sent to the Kindle through the automated conversion system.

As always, I do not suggest you try uploading Microsoft Word or PDF files, with or without these characters in them. The Kindle format is HTML, and you are always better off formatting and tweaking in that code.

Overall, the Greek support is pretty good on the Kindle. The only characters which are not supported are the archaic koppa, sampi, digamma, and stigma in uppercase and lowercase. The Kindle does support all of the other Greek characters, including all of the pre-composed characters with diacritics... and I mean all of them. I was not able to find any that are not covered. I have included some screenshots below that will give you a sampling of what the Greek looks like on the device, including in the mono-spaced font.

As always, if you have any questions or thoughts on this, please let me know!


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Sunday, February 8, 2009

Kindle Firmware version 1.2

Amazon is pushing out an update to the Kindle firmware that includes a few important and interesting features. The 1.2 firmware update is being pushed out to coincide with today's announcement of the Kindle 2.

The update apparently includes three changes that are important to my Kindle Formatting clients and other interested parties. The first is a zoom feature for images. If you click next to an image using the scroll wheel, the Kindle will make the image fill the page, even rotating it if the image is wider than it is tall. This is a useful feature that was previously only available to some books using the black-box Topaz format.

The second feature is the addition of a mono-spaced font that can be used for code sections. This is great for technical publications, and will be a feature I use in the Kindle version of my upcoming book.

The third feature is the ability to use Greek characters in Kindle books. This is a welcome addition, especially for the scientific publishers I work with, but I have not been able to figure out how to get it to work yet.

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