Electronic Books–A Human Factors perspective

So I finally made the plunge and obtained an Amazon Kindle E-book reader.  This isn’t a gadget review site so don’t expect a full review but I just wanted to comment on some of the ergonomic/human factors considerations after using the device for the past few days.  The bottom line?  There are some critical “book behaviors” that the device does not afford but are critical to me.  My reading material is primarily articles, reference books; not narrative fiction (that typically flows in a linear, page-by-page fashion).


  1. The hype concerning the display is warranted.  It is extremely high contrast and easy to read even in dim light.  What makes this different from reading on an LCD is that the pixels are actually closer to the reading surface (just like paper).  The pixel density is also very high (167 dpi) compared to LCDs.
  2. The device is very thin and light.  The screen is small but not unusably so.
  3. Search is a nice function.  However, I am not sure if this perfectly replaces book indexes.  With an index, you can rely on recognition instead of free recall (necessary in search).
  4. Built-in 3G wireless for free.
  5. The software is very simple and the navigation is easy.  It is similar to an ATM with soft-options.

The BAD (in no particular order):

  1. Page turning is a bit sluggish (probably .5 to 1 second).  I don’t have empirical data to back up actual “performance” differences but it bothers me.
  2. The page forward and backward buttons are too easily pressed when you pick the device up (not a big deal but an inconvenience).
  3. I can dog-ear pages and include notes on pages or passages.  My notes are accessible as a text file for use later.  However, the text file is sort of meaningless.  While my note is there, it is devoid of context (I don’t know where it goes).  It would be nice if this functionality was improved.
  4. The on-off switch is located on the back of the device.  So when I want to turn it off, I always inadvertently jump a page or two.
  5. Instead of using page numbers to navigate the text, it uses something called “Locations.”  I still have not figured out what this is.  At the bottom of the screen, it might display, “Locations 203-15”.  Are these lines?  Paragraphs?  Pages?
  6. There is the “previous page” button, but also a “Back” button…and they seem to function similarly under some circumstances but differently in others.

Anne and I are writing a book and I’ve been doing quite a bit of research with articles and books.  Typically, I will read a page from a book or article and make notes.  Currently, there is not an easy way to export these notes or even email them to myself from the device.  As I mentioned, the notes it creates are unusable.  Another big thing is that I cannot open multiple books or articles at once–this is a problem with the whole class of devices, not just the Kindle.

These are just some of my recent thoughts on the device.  The tentative bottom-line is that I probably won’t be buying expensive reference books on the device (it just can’t yet replace a paper book for my use cases).  But reading PDF articles and Word .docs is quite pleasant.

Here are some pictures (the device and the device’s text presentation compared to a real book).

Kindle text compared to real print

6 thoughts on “Electronic Books–A Human Factors perspective”

  1. It looks amazingly clear.

    I agree about indices.. I depend on them. Usually the sub-headings in an index get me where I want to go. For example, I’m interested in working memory and aging, so I look up either one and the other is usually under there as well.

    Granted, that’s not true for a bad index (or a bad search engine.)

    We’ll make a killer index for ours. 🙂

  2. As a final note, I probably could have been more constructive, but again, I’ve only had the device a week or so. I think minor issues I can live with but improving the note taking experience is the biggest issue for me. Some initial thoughts are to make the notes easily retrievable from the web (currently you have to connect via USB to retrieve notes). Maybe create a simple web service linked to Amazon that lets me retrieve the notes online. Second, I wish the notes contained more information about where the notes came from–possibly including a snippet of text from where the notes where taken. Finally, unrelated to the device, it would be nice if I could read purchased books from my desktop or laptop computer.

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