Kindle

Each year, my lady wife goes to visit her family alone for a while – she gets more holiday than I do.

While she is away, and not keeping her normal eagle eye on the credit cards, it is my wont to treat myself to a toy. This year, that was a Kindle from Amazon.

I have an extensive ebook collection; I went almost completely digital as soon as I could, driven by complaints from the rest of the family about how much of the holiday luggage was filled with books.

Naturally, though, it wasn’t long before I started looking at how to use the Kindle for nefarious gaming purposes.

PDF FILES

First off, how does it handle PDF files, which is how most of my games are currently held? I was a little dubious, as my previous experience of handheld devices and PDF is that they are slow to load, and illegible once loaded.

My first attempt was to transfer the Savage Worlds Test Drive v6 to the Kindle. This worked surprisingly well. The SW rulebook is 166 x 228 mm, and the Kindle screen is 90 x 122 mm. So, it displays at about 55%, which is just about legible for me with the naked eye if I squint, and no problem at all with my spectacles on. The only problem I found was that some of the artwork moved around on the page, and developed a dark grey background which helpfully obscured the text. Switching to landscape mode and fidgeting with the contrast helped with legibility, but not with the images.

To my surprise, the print-friendly version of the Explorer’s Edition rulebook worked much better, I suspect because the background layer is suppressed (which it is not in the Test Drive).

THW rulebooks and the Pathfinder SRD PDFs worked well too, because of their basic layout and low graphics content. The graphics movement and darkening wasn’t noticeable here.

Large, graphics-intensive files such as Ptolus or the Pathfinder Core Rulebook do work, but page-turning slows quite a bit once you’re a few pages into the document. However, the fact that they can be read at all on this platform is impressive. Respect to you, Kindle designers. The Kingdom of Legend PDF (of which more in a later post) causes the Kindle to hang, sometimes for minutes at a time; blessed if I can work out why, it is smaller and less graphics-intensive than some of the other files. My experience so far is that any file which is going to do this, does so within the first 10-12 pages.

PDFs I’d created myself from my campaign notes using Open Office transferred well, and were legible. The lack of graphics seemed to help both legibility and speed of opening the document. However, the body text (which I’d set to Arial, for its greater legibility at small font sizes) had mysteriously converted itself to some sort of serif font, possibly Times New Roman. After some experimentation with font and page sizes, I settled on using the standard fonts and setting the page size to A5. (As an added benefit, the pages are then clearly legible if printed 4-up from Acrobat, and 9-up is viable if you have good eyesight.)

I’m also having good results with the free MobiPocket Creator software; starting from OpenOffice or similar, save your notes as HTML files, then import into MPC and build as MobiPocket files. The Kindle will recognise these as ebooks and display them happily. The advantage of this over PDF is you can use the built-in text size adjustments to change font size once your file is on the machine.

Disclaimer: I haven’t tried this with graphics-intensive files because I don’t build them much.

APPLICATIONS

Umm, none to speak of. Bear in mind that I don’t want to play Texas Hold ‘Em or Sudoku; I want a dice roller. I suppose I could use solitaire for that with a little ingenuity, but it looks like the few apps currently on sale are only available in the USA.

I can live with creating character sheets on the PC, printing to PDF, and exporting to Kindle; I can track experience etc. using the annotation features.

LOOK AND FEEL

The Kindle looks a bit like a tablet PC or a big smartphone, and I found myself tempted to tap the screen or drag things around with a fingertip, even though I know it won’t work. The temptation wore off about day two.

My podgy fingers are big enough to cover four of the little keys at the bottom, so I don’t see myself writing copious notes on it; but then, that isn’t what it’s for. I’ll use a stylus and cultivate brevity.

The greyscale display is less of a problem than I expected, even colour pictures displaying clearly. It is much easier on the eyes than anything else I’ve tried, and is also the only handheld device I’ve ever used whose screen actually gets more legible in brighter light. That is a huge plus.

Pressing “next page” several times in quick succession tends to freeze the display for a few seconds before it catches up, so I should avoid this habit – I often search this way on a PC, but the Kindle doesn’t handle it well.

It is extremely lightweight and comfortable to hold for long periods, even when loaded with many, many megabytes of books and games.

I’m delighted with my purchase.

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