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RJ Geeky Explorations — 2022 Jan

See also:  October 2021  and February 2022 (View all)

(Sorry, I was too busy with other stuff to do this column for Nov and Dec).

Preliminary Review — 11th Generation Paperwhite (2021 Edition, Signature Edition with 32 gig memory)

Last month I decided to buy the latest Paperwhite. I’m buying it mainly for testing purposes — though I hope to use it more than previous Paperwhites. I bought the 2020 Paperwhite and was underwhelmed.

The 2020 Paperwhite had a lit display and was functional, but I didn’t like the ads which covered a lower strip of the home page. That made browsing through my own ebook titles a pain. I didn’t mind at all the random ads which appeared on the screen when the device went asleep, but I really really minded the commandeering of the lower part of my home screen. It meant that I was constantly selecting the wrong thing when scrolling my ebooks. I have thousands of ebooks and had to create about 20 collections. Indeed, even the latest Paperwhite interface makes it hard to merge a view of purchased ebooks with uploaded ebooks. The only way to do this is to create a collection and then add both purchased and uploaded ebooks would make it hard to view ebooks you uploaded with ebooks you bought in the same interface. You could select DOCS (referring to ebooks you uploaded to the device) or EBOOKS, but not both. I had figured out that by sticking things into collections, your view would show BOTH DOCS and EBOOKS together. Unfortunately the collections view was de-emphasized — perhaps for performance reasons). It became painful to scroll through so many ebooks. Once I had downloaded the ebooks I wanted for the device, things were a little better, but browsing was still laborious. Reading ebooks (in the generic sense) was ok, but the screen was still too small. I could decrease the font to permit more lines to be displayed, but my eyesight for reading wasn’t so good; that meant I needed to increase the font size slightly. Also, I remained disappointed by the rendering of pages. I was producing ebooks with somewhat complex layouts and just disappointed at the inconsistent way that images would render when compared to the Kindle apps.

The latest Paperwhite improved significantly on performance and rendering speed. Also, upgrading removed the ad strip on the home page (which is good), but Amazon replaced it with another strip of “book recommendations” — which apparently required you to scroll down several screens. I have a 3 month complimentary subscription to Kindle Unlimited, so I guess it was sort of nice to have a browsable screen of ebooks. The main problem with that feature is that I would never never browse through potential ebook titles on my latest Paperwhite. It’s too slow; the ebook covers are too small to make sense of, and browsing potential items to buy is still a very painful experience on the Paperwhite. Listen, I’ve never had a problem browsing through items or buying ebooks within a web browser. So let me see: Amazon decided that because there’s a chance that I might want to buy one more ebook from the Paperwhite itself, Amazon will now make the home screen partially unusable. This does not make sense.

Paperwhite has a slightly bigger screen, which means 4 or 5 extra lines of text per page — so now there is 27 lines of text onscreen. That for me is a big deal and a game changer. It means less scrolling, and (from a formatter’s point of view) a greater likelihood that images and textual elements can coexist on the same display. You’d be surprised at how often the Paperwhite’s rendering engine will force an image to go onto a separate page — and how often elements which are supposed to belong together (like an image and a caption) end up going onto separate pages. Sometimes it’s the result of the reading system’s calculation of available display for laying out elements. These are solvable to solve degree by coding and testing.

Another issue on this Paperwhite and all others is simply rendering. Sometimes when you turn to a complex ebook page, the rendering will initially fail and just render the heading or the image on a single page. Often big gaps will exist on the rendered page. However if you advance to the next page and go back to the original page, the rendering problems disappear and the page renders as intended. How on earth can an ebook formatter prepare for that? That has nothing to do with the ebook’s coding or layout; it’s a problem with the Kindle rendering engine. Significantly, this problem never happens on the Kindle apps for Android (and probably ios).

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