Kindle is not good for textbooks

by Edward Z. Yang

Having attempted to read a few textbooks on my Kindle, I have solemnly concluded that the Kindle is in fact a terrible device for reading textbooks. The fundamental problem is that, due to technological limitations, the Kindle is optimized for sequential reading. This can be seen in many aspects:

  • Flipping a page in the Kindle is not instantaneous (I don't have a good setup to time how long the screen refresh takes, but there is definitely a perceptible lag before when you swipe, and when the Kindle successfully redraws the screen—and it’s even worse if you try to flip backwards).
  • Rapidly flipping through pages in order to scan for a visual feature compounds the delay problem.
  • There is no way to take the “finger” approach to random access (i.e. wedge your finger between two pages to rapidly switch between them); jumping between bookmarks requires four presses with the current Kindle interface!
  • The screen size of the Kindle is dramatically smaller than that of an average textbook, which reduces the amount of information content that can be placed on one screen and further exacerbates slow page turns.

A textbook cannot be read as a light novel. So, while the Kindle offers the tantalizing possibility of carrying a stack of textbooks with you everywhere, in fact, you’re better off getting the actual dead tree version if you’re planning on doing some serious studying from it. That is not to say textbook ebooks are not useful; in fact, having a searchable textbook on your laptop is seriously awesome—but this is when you’re using the textbook as a reference material, and not when you’re trying to actually learn the material.