Wednesday, December 7, 2011
Thinking about buying a new Kindle Fire or other mid-size tablet for work or personal use? You may want to first check out this small usability study by Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox. Although intended to provide feedback for content providers on how to make websites more compatible with the new, midsized 7" screens, the study revealed some user interface disadvantages of the smaller screens compared to their bigger siblings.
The most striking observation from testing the [Kindle] Fire is that everything is much too small on the screen, leading to frequent tap errors and accidental activation. You haven't seen the fat-finger problem in its full glory until you've watched users struggle to touch things on the Fire. One poor guy spent several minutes trying to log in to Facebook, but was repeatedly foiled by accidentally touching the wrong field or button — this on a page with only 2 text fields and 1 button.
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Our iPad testing showed that full sites work quite well on 10-inch tablets. Conversely, testing mobile phones revealed that specialized mobile sites are superior on smaller touchscreens (typically, 3.5-inch diagonal).
Using designs intended for a full screen on a 7-inch tablet is like squeezing a size-10 person into a size-7 suit. Not going to look good. But that's what the Fire is trying to do. Accessing full (desktop) sites on the Fire was a prescription for failure in our testing. Users did much better when using mobile sites.
Using sites optimized for 3.5-inch mobile screens on the bigger 7-inch screen felt luxurious — somewhat like using a regular website on a 30-inch monitor. You have all the space in the world and can see the entire page with little (if any) scrolling.
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Our studies of Kindle Fire weren't intended to advise consumers on whether to buy a Fire device. Our goal was to discover design guidelines for companies that are building websites, apps, or content that their customers might access on a Fire.
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Even so, I have some observations on the device itself, based on both my personal use over the past two weeks and on the usability study.
The Fire is a heavy object. It's unpleasant to hold for extended periods of time. Unless you have forearm muscles like Popeye, you can't comfortably sit and read an engaging novel all evening. The lack of physical buttons for turning the page also impedes on the reading experience for fiction. On the older Kindles, it's easy to keep a finger on the button when all you use it for is to turn the page. In contrast, tapping an area of the screen disrupts reading enjoyment, is slightly error-prone, and leaves smudges on the screen. The Fire screen also has more glare than the traditional Kindle.
For reading fiction, the older Kindle design wins.
For nonfiction, such as textbooks and magazines, the older Kindle's awkward interaction design precludes easy navigation and the grayscale screen doesn't properly display illustrations.
The Kindle Fire wins big for reading magazines and other light nonfiction. Deeper reading that requires users to frequently refer to other parts of the text is still not well supported. Even with a touchscreen, within-book navigation is slow and awkward, so I don't recommend the Kindle Fire for reading textbooks.
You can continue reading here.