Technical Document PDFs on the Kindle DX

With the recent release of the Kindle DX, many have wondered how its electronic ink display stacks up against PDF related technical documents.  Here, I attempt to get some decent shots of some complex and not so complex technical PDFs.

Quick review:
The Kindle DX has finally made it worth owning a Kindle for the purpose of reading technical books.  The native PDF rendering works wonderfully.  Also, many of the books below, if not free in the first place, were significantly cheaper than the dead tree equivalent which resulted in a large cost savings.  Finally, the weight of the Kindle, roughly 18oz, is significantly lighter to carry than all of these books (which only represent a few of the 100+ PDFs on the device which only occupy a few percentage of the total storage capacity).

Worth the $500?  I’d say so.

(Click any of the images for their original 12MP image)

_Why’s Poignant Guide to Ruby

Golden Gate Ruby Conference Wrap-up

The Well Grounded Rubyist

Random Lambda Calculus PDF

Pragmatic Programmers – Programming Cocoa

Peepcode – Git Internals


#1 Chad on 06.12.09 at 5:02 pm

Nice! This is what I’ve been waiting for. I really wanted to know how well it handles PDF books. This was very helpful, thanks.

#2 Patrick on 06.12.09 at 6:35 pm

Very helpful. Thank you.

I own the Kindle 2 and I’m considering selling it because it doesn’t render PDF well enough for my technical books, of which I have hundreds of PDF’s for… which was a big let down. The DX seems worth it however…

Thanks again!

#3 Nirmal Patel on 06.12.09 at 6:49 pm

Hey, thanks for the pictures showing real content. Do you have any documents that are multicolumn? I’d love to see what a two-column research paper would look like. Here’s a link for one of my papers

#4 Robert Nicholson on 06.12.09 at 7:44 pm

Does it load your biggest PDF file then? I’m interested in learning what it’s run time limits would be.

Can you load and render 40 MB PDF files?

Thank you for the post since that has been the thing that concerns the use of the DX is how well the PDF support supports my existing eBook library.

What’s the Prag Prog Cocoa book like?

#5 Matthew Williams on 06.12.09 at 7:57 pm

@Robert – I have a large graphic novel PDF that renders pretty quickly and I believe it’s in the range of ~100mb.

@Nirmal – A two column paper was actually on my list but I forgot (I have written many in that format for a graduate degree). I will try to get a photo this weekend.

#6 Nirmal Patel on 06.12.09 at 8:54 pm

@Matthew Thanks, the pdf I’ve linked also has color photographs, which may be interesting to see.

#7 Zigzo on 06.12.09 at 10:40 pm


I have to say THANK YOU big time for this. My GF just recently purchased a kindle and i’ve been dieing to know what it looks like but no time to actually play around.

One question — how is the kindle in regards to Index entires?

Sometimes i will look in a physical book’s index, find a topic of interest and then thumb around. Is that kind of accessibility available with the kindle?

#8 Reading Technical Document PDFs On Kindle DX | Sanziro on 06.12.09 at 11:53 pm

[...] The older Kindle and Kindle 2 requires conversion before reading a PDF document. We found the post by Matthew Williams useful to see how Kindle DX fare in terms of reading technical document PDFs. Matthew included a [...]

#9 Jan Rychter on 06.13.09 at 1:09 am

A crucial question: does it auto-zoom PDFs so that minimal white margins are left? And if it does, do you still get one-key page switching with the zoom settings left intact?

I’m amazed that NONE of the Mac-based PDF readers can do this simple thing. They all either leave lots of margins around a tiny PDF in the middle of the screen, or zoom in, but then never keep the zoom and make me pan instead of switching pages.

#10 Carl on 06.13.09 at 4:07 am


Use the slideshow view in to make it fullscreen then tell it to stretch the content to fit. Combined with the option to show two pages at once, it makes journal articles decently readable on my MacBook. (Not great, but OK.)


So, to be clear, the Kindle DX can shrink down 8.5×11 PDFs to fit on its slightly smaller screen without making them illegible? Man, I really want one of these things, but $500 is a lot to blow at once…

#11 Jan Rychter on 06.13.09 at 5:06 am

Carl — I use Skim most of the time, but all PDF readers on the Mac have the same problem — “zoom to fit” doesn’t. It does zoom, but shows much more than the actual text.

I want a TEXT ZOOM: tiny, 0.5cm margin on each side of the screen, the rest filled with text. Single keypress (cursor-right?) to switch pages.

As it is, I get small text in the middle of the screen, lots of useless white margins around it, and I have to press Fn-down to switch pages (which requires two hands). A usability nightmare.

That’s why I’m asking about the Kindle DX — if what I get is an inch of white margin around tiny text in the middle, or a zoom with that useless panning thing, then it is pretty much useless.

#12 Carl on 06.13.09 at 5:27 am

Yeah, leaves on the useless margins, but at least in full screen mode, it’s big enough to read, and you can go to the next page with the arrow keys or spacebar.

I too am curious about the zooming methods of the DX.

To be honest, I would prefer if Amazon would just sell these in Best Buy or whatever so we could try them out before buying.

#13 Nirmal Patel on 06.13.09 at 10:57 am

“To be honest, I would prefer if Amazon would just sell these in Best Buy or whatever so we could try them out before buying.” – Carl

exactly! Seems like seeing one of these screens in person would increase the attachment to the product.

#14 Dan on 06.13.09 at 5:32 pm

I second Nirmal Patel’s request : I would love to see a DX in action with some scientific journal publications. And if the Portrait mode doesn’t handle the two-columns – small font most journal use, how does the Landscape mode fares ?

#15 Matthew Williams on 06.13.09 at 6:11 pm

When you have the Kindle in landscape mode, it splits the page up into two halfs; the top and bottom.

So a two column document wouldn’t fare well in landscape mode, you would need to change pages to read the first column and then flip back to jump to the second column. I haven’t been able to look yet but there’s a photo on the Hacker News link to this post with an image from someone’s iPhone and it looks just fine.

Also, you can see in the first photo, the far right column is extremely readable and that text is much smaller than a typical two column journal publication.

#16 Ron on 06.14.09 at 8:43 am

How well does the Kindle DX PDF support work with Macs?

#17 Matthew Williams on 06.14.09 at 3:43 pm

@Ron – OS plays no role with the Kindle.

Upon plugging it in via USB, it presents itself as a typical mountable volume and you simply drag and drop PDFs into a documents folder. Or, you can bypass a computer altogether and just e-mail the documents to the Kindle at $0.15/mb.

#18 Nirmal Patel on 06.14.09 at 5:49 pm

Sorry to keep asking so many questions…but, how does the Kindle handle if you drag folders with PDFs, can you navigate by folder?

I will probably stop asking questions next week. I just placed an order for a DX and will have it then. :)

#19 Matthew Williams on 06.14.09 at 8:29 pm

@Nirmal – Sadly, there’s no organization support… I helped it out a little by naming the PDF’s. So all my Ruby PDF’s are “Ruby – <name of document”, so I can hit the R on the keyboard and enter and it jumps me to my R documents.

There’s a rumored update coming out with ability to add a folder like system to help organize really large libraries.

Enjoy the DX!

#20 Dan on 06.14.09 at 9:26 pm

I guess i’m hoping for too much by asking if it supports any kind of annotation of the pdf, whether it’s the possibility of adding stiky notes or highlight parts of the text ? I’ll probably buy one even if that’s not a supported feature, but that would make it perfect for my usage.

On a side note, does anyone have found a way to get a DX shipped to Canada other then buying them for 150$ more on ebay ?

#21 Matthew Williams on 06.15.09 at 7:20 pm

@Dan – Nope, unfortunately on PDF’s you lose the notes and highlighting feature that Kindle books and plaintext documents have…. If you really need that, iRex makes a large 10″ eInk device with a built in Wacom for notes and such (though more expensive, around $900 I think).

Worst case scenario is you’re handwriting notes in a notebook… A moleskine and a Kindle DX is going to be more pleasant to carry still than a large hardcover.

#22 Why I Want a Kindle DX – PDF Support | CornerBirch on 06.18.09 at 10:59 am

[...] PDFs on the Kindle DX [...]

#23 kate on 06.23.09 at 2:28 pm

I’ve been testing these PDFs on DX a little too, and it looks like the bookmarks and links that I’d added to help get around the PDF are not retained on DX?

There’s no way to hang onto those jumps from the PDF book on Kindle DX? The only options are Go to beginning, Go to page, and that’s it?

Has anyone figured out how to get any PDF links or bookmarks to work on Kindle? Can I insert them on a desktop as metadata somehow, and get them working on Kindle?

Thanks for any ideas…

#24 Jack on 07.03.09 at 10:37 am

I am curious whether I should buy the Kindle DX. Like someone mentioned here, I am especially worried about the screen size, when reading PDFs. The rendered PDFs I have, have large margins. When printed on an A4, it’s okay, because the paper is much bigger than the screen. However, will the PDF be scaled down, including the margins, to fit into the screen? Or only the actual content (from the “middle” of the A4 paper) will be shown?

#25 Jack on 07.03.09 at 10:54 am

Another question, I was especially interested in the text 2 speech option of the Kindle DX. Does it also work for PDFs? Does it work for PDFs with two columns?

#26 Pat on 07.24.09 at 10:19 am

kindle put really the level very high. A PDF reader, that apparently can handle huge pdf files!! this is THE tool that EVERY scientists want!

How come noe one has done it before?

Anyway, Im from France, and here in Europe we have no kindle at all. What amazon is waiting for? waiting for that ice melts in summer, or that chicken have teeth? :)

They could sell dozens of millions of kindle here in europe as there are many public transports and scientist and business men would read in the public transports.. what the hell are they waiting for? :) )

Pat,a french guy.

#27 Jim H on 07.24.09 at 4:40 pm

No the reader does not work with PDFs and I don’t think there is anyway to zoom in on a PDF, if the fant is to small for the screen.

#28 Jim H on 07.24.09 at 4:41 pm

I should say the SPEECH reader does not work on PDFs.

#29 Roscoe on 08.14.09 at 4:36 pm

You just sold a DX for amazon; you should get a kick back or something. This is what I’ve been waiting for, hope you still love it.

#30 Elizabeth on 08.19.09 at 11:37 am


Have you tried loading a PDF that came as an ILL, or off JSTOR?


#31 Daniel on 10.08.09 at 9:04 am

Hey Matt, did you ever try Nirmal’s document? Pics?

#32 Do any of you have a Kindle e-book reader? - Page 2 - Tennessee Gun Owners on 01.16.10 at 8:07 am

[...] I would get the DX. The PDFS on the kindle 1 and 2 look bad but on the DX they look pretty good. Technical Document PDFs on the Kindle DX — Matthew Williams   __________________   Cheap .22 LR fun. [...]

#33 Kindle DX on 03.22.10 at 3:53 am

I just wanted to add my review to confirm that PDF support works great. One thing I love about the PDF on the Kindle DX is that it shows page numbers rather than the units of measure the regular ebooks use that I still don’t understand.

#34 Will on 05.06.10 at 4:12 pm

Google k2pdfopt for a PDF optimizer that allows technical articles to be read on a Kindle 2.

#35 exapted on 05.15.10 at 1:28 am

Questions for all Kindle DX users:
(1) Is it possible to set bookmarks throughout a PDF document, and retain all of them the next time you open that PDF? It would solve the navigation problem. The only other good option would be to append a modified 1-page table of contents to the PDF, with the actual pdf document page numbers (often the PDF document page numbers don’t match the book page numbers).
(2) I have some PDFs that are scanned, but because of OCR the text can be highlighted, copied to clipboard, etc. I’m wondering, will I be able to keyword search those PDFs? I have heard that such search is “disabled” for “scanned image” PDFs. But what about PDFs that are scanned images and include the actual characters too?
(3) Does the dictionary work inside a PDF?
(4) How fast is it to quickly page through a PDF?

And by the way, for people who are worried about margins: I’m trying to figure out the most convenient way to crop PDF files before putting them onto an ereader. I’ll try out and some others and report my experience. Maybe if it works out I can create a script to automate some parts of the process. Anyway, if you are at all technically proficient, I don’t think auto-cropping should be a big huge factor in which ebook you purchase, since there are many other factors to consider, not many choices, and cropping is an issue you can resolve by simply pre-processing all of your PDFs.

#36 Nick Djinn on 02.04.11 at 5:48 pm

The Onyx Boox M90 will be out in March and not only reads PDFs well but you can textflow the font size and images, which to my knowledge is currently not possible with the Kindle of any variety. Its a 10 inch reader.

Also, the Onyx Boox M90 has a great screen and Wacom non glare touch screen, with stylus only, but you can take notes and go on google.

#37 jacka on 03.24.11 at 7:20 am

Hey guys,

I`m interested in a reader that can zoom the PDF files. For example if you want to read a scientific article which has a lot of equations and the font is small, you may need to zoom it in.

Anyone knows a good e-reader that has this zooming feature?

#38 Kindle Review Blog on 05.10.11 at 9:56 am

I’ve put together a detailed review of Kindle DX PDF capabilities feature by feature –