Free Kindle Software for the Blackberry and Mac

This is a review of a few fine points about the free Blackberry and Macintosh versions of Amazon’s Kindle, with an eye towards reading MobiPocket format ebooks.

I do a lot of reading on my smart phone, since it has tons of text storage space, and Gutenberg has lots of free ebooks. They now offer everything in MobiPocket format. Amazon took over management of the open-source MobiPocket Reader and has apparently killed it with apathy. Meanwhile, the Kindle will happily read MobiPocket format files if you put them in the right place.

So here are my thoughts on Kindle for the Blackberry and Kindle for the Mac. I’ve also included comments on the “free” books currently offered by Amazon for the Kindle.

Kindle for the Blackberry: Pretty Good

I’ve been using Kindle on my Blackberry Storm 2 for about a month now. It’s not flawless, but it’s not bad. The books are all stored in a specific directory on the internal SD card. All you do is move files into the “kindle:eBooks:” directory and they show up the next time you visit “Home” in the Kindle application.

Even better, the software searches the whole directory hierarchy under the “eBooks” directory. This lets me organize my extensive library into folders by author. This is much cleaner than having a giant pile of files, each with an incomprehensible name, usually derived from a Gutenberg accession number.

On the flip side, here’s what’s wrong with the Kindle Blackberry, based on my experiences with other ebook reader software, and with working versions of MobiPocket:

  • It gets lost easily. If I stop reading and go through some sequence of actions on my Blackberry, the software forgets where I was in the book. I try to remember to bookmark my place when I stop. Other times it completely forgets what book I was reading and dumps me into the Home page.
  • Bookmarks get unreliable when the Blackberry does an update. Recently Blackberry updated a bunch of my apps, and when all was done, the Kindle couldn’t quite remember what I’d been reading or where I was in it. It had even lost some recent bookmarks.
  • I can’t copy quotations. If I see a pithy statement, I like to copy and paste it into a separate memo file. I can’t seem to do that with Kindle. When I try to select text, I move forward a page.
  • There’s no way to search a large library of texts, even if you have the texts organized somehow. Now, it’s true that I’ve never seen an ebook reader do this effectively. Kindle is already ahead of the pack here in one way: they let you sort the ebooks alphabetically by either author or title. Unfortunately, that doesn’t help much if you have, say, 200 titles, and you want to start at the letter “S.”

When the Kindle sees a new file, it creates a shadow file for it – same file name, but with a “.mpb” file type. This file seems to keep track of your current location in the book, along with your bookmarks. If I copy a “.mobi” file and its matching “.mbp” file from my ‘Berry to the Mac, the Mac recognizes my last reading place (unreliably) and my bookmarks.

Kindle for the Mac: Thumbs Down

I’ve just started using Kindle for the Mac. I need to download a copy for my laptop – my desktop Mac isn’t a place where I’d be inclined to read an ebook. I mostly wanted to use it to review ebooks I had loaded onto my Blackberry.

To read a MobiPocket book on your Mac, you go to your “Documents” folder and put the file into the “My Kindle Content” folder. Unfortunately, the Mac software isn’t sophisticated enough to search directories. I tried copying my hierarchy of Kindle files from the ‘Berry to the Mac, and Kindle didn’t see them. But if I move ebooks from the subfolder into the main “My Kindle Content” folder, the Kindle eventually sees them. As noted above, it uses the “.mbp” file to find your bookmarks and guess where you left off.

“Free” books through the Kindle web site

Amazon has (finally!) started offering free ebooks, though they seem to put them through the same regimen as their for-pay books: you have to put them in a shopping cart and go through checkout, though they don’t actually charge you for the transaction. I don’t care about this for the most part: I have a huge collection of ebooks already and I don’t want to laboriously find, “pay for,” and re-download them from Amazon.

Moreover, Amazon offers some free books on a “limited time basis.” This means that you can buy a book, download it onto your Kindle, and partway through the read, Amazon can delete it. And there’s nothing you can do, except perhaps buy another copy. In fact, Amazon did that last July: they deleted Orwell books from Kindles after the publisher informed Amazon that it didn’t really have the right to be selling Animal Farm or 1984 to Kindle readers. This illustrates the power of a well-designed digital rights management system, and why consumers should avoid them like the plague.

I much prefer to fiddle with Kindle directories and “own” my books than to have Amazon unilaterally take back a book I thought I’d purchased.

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