Have a Kindle or eReader question? We're here to help.

I recently gave a Kindle to my cousin Wilson. This guy cannot be bothered to read books unless there are pictures in them, so I was compelled to check if the Kindle could show different types of images.

The Kindle Paperwhite has a 6-inch screen that can display pictures, photos and illustrations in black and white. Images are scaled down to fit the screen and while it is possible to zoom and pan, the process is cumbersome for picture-heavy books.

In this post I'll show you examples of how it looks like on the actual device and list down some challenges you might encounter. We also talk about ways to get around those constraints. In the end, we'll see if we can actually enjoy looking at pictures with the Kindle.

Exhibit A. Kindle showing a picture. And a puzzle about the Sherlock Holmes cover above. Clues are marked in this post with {!} 

Examples of how the Kindle Paperwhite show different types of pictures

Don't you feel like reading on the Kindle is an absolute pleasure? No screen glare, just the right font size, and a thousand other reasons. Not the least of which are the thousands (or more) books, all conveniently ensconced in such a small device.

But some books are better suited to the Kindle than others. Those that are all text are perfect. Occasional pictures would be okay, but books with a lot of pictures would not be as enjoyable.

Here's why.

Cover pictures on the Kindle Paperwhite

Assuming you don't mind it being just black & white, cover pictures are fine as the size on the Kindle is not too far away from that of a traditional paperback.

The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle. Now in the public domain (i.e. free). Click on the image to see a higher resolution.

Here's another example of a cover picture.

If you really want to see the cover in color, you can always open the book in the kindle app on your phone, tablet or computer. And you can do the same for any kind of picture for that matter. We'll touch on this shortly.

Illustrations on the Kindle Paperwhite

The Kindle can render illustrations the same way as photos. And in the case of black and white illustrations, it's remarkably similar to the printed version.

If the page layout mixes pictures with text, we'd likely want those pictures to be located at the original spot that the author intended. And not be grouped together into a "Gallery section" near the back of the book. It would be rather inconvenient to have to jump to that section every time we are referred to a picture.

Thankfully, the Kindle Paperwhite handles this well. As long as the eBook preserves the desired layout, the Kindle can easily render pictures alongside text paragraphs. This is really a matter of how the eBook was formatted.

Here are other sample illustrations:

Comic books on the Kindle Paperwhite

The main challenge here is the screen size. This Kindle has a diagonal width of 6 inches (4.75" long x 3.5" wide). Whereas standard comic books are usually about 12" diagonal. This leads to a pretty significant amount of cramming.

While the illustrations can be tolerable, the text often becomes too small to read. Here's an example:

You can zoom in, but it takes 1-2 seconds for each zoom and pan adjustment. And on average, it would likely take you 2-3 of those adjustments to get the correct position on screen.

And then you need to un-zoom afterwards to move to the next section of the page. So that's about 6 seconds both ways. It's a bit of a momentum killer.

You can also try to pan around the page while keeping the same zoom level. However, a current limitation with the Kindle Paperwhite is you can't turn to the next page unless you are fully zoomed out. So you'd still need to zoom out fully every few seconds.

Another challenge for panning comic books is: you might not know which section to go to next. It's not always left to right, right?

Another way is to use the "panel view". Some books allows you to double click on individual sections of the comic book that will then enlarge that particular section to the full width of the Kindle. Unlike the zoom and pan approach, this method allows you to move to the next panel easily as if you are turning the page.

However, if the panel already spans the entire width of the page, there won't be much difference. And any tiny text would still be tiny.

Most importantly, one could assume that these graphic novels were illustrated specifically with a whole page in mind. And not zoomed-in section by section. Some elements, specially the background, usually extends across sections. And does so on purpose. The artist thought about us looking at the page as a whole, to see the forest as it were, not just the trees.

Because of this, I'd say it's not worth it to read comic books on the Kindle Paperwhite. You'll understand the story, but you won't get much of the value of the illustrations.

PDFs on the Kindle Paperwhite

These documents suffer from the same problems as comic books. You might have to do a lot of zooming and panning, which makes the over-all experience cumbersome. Otherwise, the text is just too small.

Here are some samples:

Tables and charts on the Kindle Paperwhite

Simple tables with up to 3-4 columns would be fine. But as you get larger tables, the text becomes harder to read. Note that tables presented as pictures (which are most of them) aren't affected by adjusting the font size of the eReader.

Here are a few examples:

{!}

Cookbooks, Gardening books, etc. on the Kindle Paperwhite

These books with lots of large colorful photos would be difficult to read in the Kindle Paperwhite.

Setting aside the loss of colors, the amount of panning required would simply take too much time and effort.

Here's a sample recipe book:

As you can see, most of the pages are occupied by photos. Text are much smaller and follow non-text book layouts, making them very difficult to read without lots of zooming.

So we've concluded that there are some pretty significant challenges in viewing pictures in the Kindle. Still, for those of us determined to find a way, there are some alternatives worth considering.

Alternatives to viewing pictures on your Kindle Paperwhite

The main strength of the Kindle Paperwhite is in the ability to lose yourself for hours in a good text-only book.

While lacking good picture display might seem as a handicap on first glance, losing it enables the Kindle to just keep itself simple. And I reckon that simplicity is what enables it to come closest to reading on the paperback.

Having said that, there are times when we do need to look at pictures. The book itself might ask us to. And in such a scenario, perhaps you are worried that you would be missing out on key details of the book.

For occasional black and white pictures, the Kindle Paperwhite would do a decent job. And you should have a pleasant over-all reading experience. But for more demanding images, here are some possible solutions:

Read using the Kindle app on a tablet or computer.

If the book is picture-heavy, you'll be better off switching to a larger screen. It solves most of the zooming issues, plus you get color. The Kindle app would sync with all your devices so can still use the Kindle Paperwhite just in case you want to. You can also combine the two. Have the tablet on standby in case you need to refer to a picture in the book you are reading.

Here's an example of the Kindle app on a tablet:

Personally, I'd prefer to get as much reading on the Kindle rather than on other devices. I can go on for hours reading on the Kindle without getting tired. But I scarce can read for more than an hour on a tablet or computer.

Consider larger eReaders

Some eReaders have screen sizes of up to 10" even 13". These tend to be a lot more expensive though, and usually come with many professional features that you might not need. The larger size also means it would be less portable (i.e. won't fit your pocket anymore).

But if you plan on reading lots of graphic-heavy books, then it might be suitable.

Consider color eReaders

These eReaders can show colors, but has lower over-all screen clarity. Because the color filter adds another layer to the screen, everything becomes a little darker and less clearer even for black and white text. The colored pictures are presentable and are similar to how old newspapers look like. However, they are nowhere near the quality of LCD screens in today's tablets and phones.

These colored eReaders still have a ways to go before they can be a good alternative to the Kindle Paperwhite.

Good old printer

Some books come with pictures that are referred to several times in the text. Such as maps, diagrams, and tables. Many of these may also be available online for downloading. Try a quick search and if you can't find it, you can open the book in your computer (using the Kindle reader) and take a screenshot instead.

Of course, we need to be careful about copyright protections and must not make other copies.

Once you have it printed, you'll have real paper in your hands, which you can refer to anytime. You can also get creative and print them on special kinds of paper to further enrich the reading experience.

Good old magnifying glass

They aren't just for detectives or grade school citizen scientists. These handy tools are quite efficient at scrutinizing those tiny pictures. If you are in a hurry and need to get back to the reading action quickly, this could be enough to get the job done.

Plus, they make good paperweights too.

Of all these, pairing the Kindle Paperwhite with the Kindle app on a tablet, computer or phone, is probably the most convenient and enjoyable. You get the best reading experience for text, while still being able to see colored, easy to zoom pictures when you want to.

These are some ways to get around the picture display limitations of the Kindle. But there must be many more. Can you help find other ways?

As for my cousin Wilson, I haven't heard anything yet on whether he has started reading books on the Kindle. And I am not holding my breath for that.

Do you have a Kindle or eReader question you need investigated? Please don't hesitate to drop us a line.

P.S. Here’s the answer to the puzzle in Exhibit A: 

© 2021 Copyright EBOOK DETECTIVES