a developer's notes – a semi-technical web development BLOG

February 19, 2012

Reading technical or programming PDFs on the Kindle Fire

So I recently reviewed (and returned) a 4th Generation Kindle Reader. As you read from my review, the Kindle Reader is not a good device for reading technical PDFs. The font was simply too small for comfort. But novels and regular books are perfect on it.

Now I have the new Kindle Fire in my possession. It is a full color tablet with a 7″ inch screen. That is one more inch than the Reader’s screen. This is not going to be a full review of the Fire. There are hundreds of articles out there that cover that already. This will just be a quick review on the Fire’s PDF experience. Specifically, reading technical ebooks in PDF format. Let’s begin.


For this review, I used the same PDF I used for the Kindle Reader review. Here is a full portrait view. The screen has some glare in the daylight but the color looks great. More on night time reading later. Only issue here is that we have unused top and bottom areas. This is due to the fact that the Fire has a 16:9 screen ratio. This screen ratio is perfect for watching widescreen movies, but not so much for reading ebooks. You would rather want a 4:3 ratio screen like the iPad.

Here is a page with some source code on it. The text format looks great because there is no reformatting of the text. It is a direct port. Again, unused top and bottom areas which makes makes the font just a tiny bit smaller than desired. But it is drastically better than Kindle reader.

We can zoom in with a pinch zoom, which is ok. You can probably get away with reading like that but the zoom resets itself when you navigate to the next page. This will force you to zoom again. But even if you are able to zoom in, or crop, extended reading of that size will probably strain your eyes. Here is how it compares with a magazine print.

As you can see, it is a little small. What about landscape? Here is the page on landscape view. It looks great. Nice size font but you will have to scroll down for the second half of the page.

It is very close to magazine size print so reading is easy.

One thing I don’t like about viewing in landscape view is scrolling down to the second half of the page, it is a little clumsy. The Fire thinks that you are trying to move the page, instead of scrolling down. In this image, on the right side, you will see the page attempt to move. But all I really want to do is scroll down.

You can see another example here at the 0:50 mark.

It isn’t that big of a deal, but it just gets a little annoying when it happens on every page. If only there was a way lock in the zoom setting with the native PDF reader. I read that there is the ezPDF app, which you can purchase for $2.99 that will give you that ability. I haven’t seen this in action so do your own research before you buy.

One thing I notice that was strange is that the Fire does not pick up any previously highlighted text. So if you were reading this from your computer and made some highlights in the book, the Fire will disregard all of that.


Navigation on the Fire is really nice. Tapping on one side of the screen (or finger swipe) will go to the next page just like the iPad. Double tapping on the screen reveals the page scroll which you can drag with your finger to quickly go to whichever page you want.


I found that night time reading is a little hard on the eyes. Even if you set the brightness to the lowest setting. You don’t get the same options with PDFs as you would with ebooks. These options include inverting the black/white colors to make the text in white and the page black, font size, etc.

Note that the above is NOT AVAILABLE for PDFs.

So if you read technical PDFs and want an effective eReader, the Fire will do the job. Though, not 100% perfect. Since viewing the full page at once is too hard to read because the text is too small, you either have to zoom or read in landscape. And if you have to do either, scrolling up and down is a little clunky because the PDF does not stay focused when you attempt to scroll up or down. It shifts as if it thinks you are attempting to move the page. It is only for a second but it can be really annoying. Especially, when you need to do this on EVERY page. So if you’re thinking about getting the Fire for reading technical books, I would say go ahead and do it. It is light years better than the small Kindle Reader and cheaper than the high priced Kindle DX. And obviously, you will get all the other features the Fire comes with. This includes, apps, games, web browsing, watching video, and all the norm you would expect from a media consumption device. But keep in mind, that the next Kindle Fire is rumored to have a bigger screen. So you might want to wait for that to come out to make your purchase.

And of course, there is the iPad. Yea. You know it is the best at displaying PDFs. It has the perfect 4:3 screen ratio. Font size will not be a problem as it is about the same size as a real book. The real problem is the huge $499 price tag. More than double the Fire’s price! If price weren’t a concern for you, you wouldn’t be reading this review at all. Cause you’d have the iPad already. If you can, get an older model or a used iPad. You can save a few dollars. But if you can’t get an iPad, get the Kindle Fire. It isn’t perfect but for $199 vs $499, it will do.


  1. Hello There. I found your blog using msn. This is a very well written article.

    I will make sure to bookmark it and return to learn more of your helpful info.
    Thanks for the post. I’ll certainly return.

    Comment by Raymond — July 16, 2013 @ 7:00 pm | Reply

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