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Jakob Nielsen's review of amazon's Fire

A thorough and thoughtful review at

I diverge from Jakob on one point: I'm not a fan of any mobile sites and happily read The New York Times on my iPhone 4. Perhaps that's just me and my thin fingers. When confronted with a poorly designed mobile site, I abandon ship.

Many mobile sites also make it inconvenient to switch to their desktop version (see for example the mobile versions of, The Guardian, and Politico). Designers of mobile sites shouldn't surpress their competition. The user capability to move from the mobile to the desktop version should be at the top of the frontpage, and not buried at the bottom end of the frontpage along with the site map and the privacy warning.

-- Edward Tufte

I recently experienced a particularly frustrating example of this. Links from a magazine article were not live in its mobile version, and I could not access the desktop version on my iPhone.

-- Barbara Saunders (email)

I found JN's review to be more a critique of the way content is structured, rather than how the Kindle Fire operates to access the data. A poorly designed electronic magazine will look bad, regardless of the platform on which it is displayed. For an example of what I consider very good content, try the Wall Street Journal. It has the look and feel of the print edition, but once an article is accessed on the touch screen, a list of all the articles in that section appears on the right side, and you can move among the articles by touching them on the list.

That being said, I have some problems with the Fire itself, although on the whole I really like it and use it frequently to the point of having discontinued hard copy subscriptions to magazines and newspapers in preference to the e-versions. I would never do this, were I required to read them on a smart phone.

One problem with the Fire is that some of the buttons are ridiculously small. For example, the settings button is a microscopic gear icon that appears at the top right of the screen after toggling the menu bar (which appears at the bottom of the screen and which has plenty of room for a larger settings icon) using the upward pointing "arrow" at the bottom center of the screen. The settings icon is needed to change brightness or log in to a wireless network, among other functions.

Another complaint is that you cannot easily move between two applications. For example, if you are reading a periodical and want to make a note of the content, you have to activate the menu bar, go to the home page, select the apps page, open the notebook app, make your entry, activate the menu bar, go back to the home page, find your item on the carousel or select the newstand, open your periodical, and then find where you were reading in it to continue. The Fire would benefit from a way to switch between applications directly.

The Fire may be heavy, but it is certainly lighter and more convenient to use and carry than the iPad or other tablets.

Finally, I use a stylus with the Fire, especially when I have to type into it from the virtual keyboard. It is also handy for touching the otherwise difficult to access touchscreen buttons. The stylus I prefer is about two inches long and has a plug that fits into the headphone jack on a one inch cord, so that is goes along with the Fire until you need it. Amazingly, I have not lost one yet.

But a final note, after an entire generation has developed the skill and coordination to touch type, I note that we are now reverting to hunt and peck to adapt to the tablet environment.

-- James Heimer (email)

First, the assumption that if I arrive at a content site with a device that says Android means I'm reading on a phone is completely foolish. My Android tablet (Motorola Xoom) has nearly as much screen real estate as my travel laptop. Nothing looks quite as foolish as a mobile site on a big screen. I'm in an ongoing battle with several sites that continue to insist I use the UI that THEY want me to use. I've stopped going to a few that I couldn't seem to defeat.

There's something Jakob mentions that I think is very important about the whole e-reader/tablet discussion. I was an early adopter of the first Kindle - black and white, 8 levels of grey, chunky and full of questionable design choices, unlit screen. I travel a lot - two or more flights every week for decades - and for years I'd pretty much stopped reading novels, but subscribed to a dozen magazines, because the form factor was much more travel friendly, and I could lose weight as I traveled by leaving completed magazines behind.

That first Kindle changed me back into a novel reader. It was easy to hold, could keep up with my reading speed, weighed less than my magazines. I was back to three or four novels a month, which was my consumption several decades ago before I became a road warrior. As newer Kindles came out, I upgraded - more shades of grey, crisper text, useless features fell away. I never enjoyed magazines on the Kindle because of the lack of color and rigid word orientation, so when tablets came out I thought I was going to have the best of both worlds.

After traveling with a tablet instead of a Kindle for 18 months, my novel consumption is about 1 per year. I do read magazines and webzines, but I tried reading novels on the tablet and it just doesn't work for me. The aspect ratio is weird, I can never get the text to feel comfortably chunked for speed reading. The backlight and gloss on the screen triggers eye fatigue when reading for long periods. It's heavy and ungainly.

Recently I left the tablet home, carried the greyscale no back lighting and book-shaped screen Kindle for three weeks. By the end of the second week I'd finished one novel and was well into another. The readability differences are huge. I still don't fully understand all of the differences. Backlighting is one, weight is another, but I suspect that there are very subtle differences in how the text flows on a tablet versus the word-oriented greyscale Kindle that my brain fights with. I don't understand why, completely, since the Kindle reader for my tablet comes from Amazon, but it's there. I've noticed several other frequent travelers, who I cross paths with in airports and on planes, have switched back to the greyscale Kindle, and have the same "it's better for reading but I'm not sure why" explanation as I have.

-- Ed Nazarko (email)

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