Kindle Software Update 2.3

I’ve had my Kindle 2 for about eight months at this point. It has easily crossed the point of being able to justify the purchase. I’ve read a dozen books in their entirety and parts of many more. I use it as my Twitter/web interface when I’m out of the house, and I even in a pinch use it to maintain my comic book inventory and wish list for when I’m shopping for comic bargains at conventions.

Last week Amazon announced an upgrade to the Kindle software, from 2.0.4 to 2.3. I had previously had the Unicode Fonts hack installed and only a few days prior realized that prevents automatic upgrades from happening and had removed the hack. I also had a misapprehension about how quickly the automatic update was supposed to happen (it might take weeks for all Kindles to get it over the air) and when 24 hours had elapsed without me getting it, I downloaded it and installed it manually.

There are three main features announced as part of this upgrade.

  1. Improved battery life, even when wireless is left on.
  2. Built in PDF reader
  3. Manual screen rotation

Here is my quick review of these features. For battery life, I completely charged my Kindle 2 on Tuesday night, turned the wireless on and left it. I’ve used it about the same as any time period, possibly a little less because of the holiday. It’s been five days in this experiment and the battery indicator is still around 2/3 full. Tomorrow I should do some reading in the gym and other routine uses through the week, so I should get a good feeling for how long this charge lasts. Thus far, it looks like it will easily make the one week mark.

For the built in PDF reader, I took all the documents I had on my Kindle that had been converted from PDF and removed them, and just put the original PDFs on my device. This experiment didn’t work so great. For pretty much all of the PDFs I tried, the typeface was too small for my old eyes to read. The one that I did find reasonable and readable was the PDF of Conversations with ADD by Alan David Doane. Unlike normal books, there is no way to increase the font on PDFs so in almost every case, no matter how screwed up the PDF to Kindle conversion was, the converted version was better.

Feature #3 I do love. The ability to on the fly change the screen rotation from portrait to landscape or vice versa is very nice. The same menu that allows for changing the font size also allows you to change the screen orientation. This used to be possible but was cumberson to do. Putting this in the menu (accessible by the button to the right of the space bar) is a very nice usability increase, and works well with the PDF reader. Since that reader auto-sizes based on the width of the PDF, being able to rotate makes the document display larger.

So, while the experiment isn’t quite conclusive yet for battery life, I’m going to score that one a success. That makes the battery life a clear win, the PDF reader mostly a wash as something that will occasionally be useful but mostly useless, and the screen orientation much better. That’s 2 for 3, not bad. I already was happy with the Kindle but all these improvements make the experience better. Had I been less of a spazz I’d have gotten this upgrade automatically over the air. That Amazon continues to work to improve the user experience of devices they’ve already sold is a good sign.

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Dave Slusher is a blogger, podcaster, computer programmer, author, science fiction fan and father. Member of the Podcast Hall of Fame class of 2022.

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