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Improved But Still Not Perfect
on 22 November 2010
NOTE: Having tried 'The Times & The Sunday Times for the Kindle' on two previous occasions and found it to be a pretty substandard product both times I was asked in December 2012 by News International via the comments below this review to give it another go. Apparently they had made some significant improvements to the Kindle version of the paper that would address many of my criticisms.
Feeling it was only fair to give them another shot I purchased several copies of both the Times and The Sunday Times for the Kindle over a period of four weeks. I want to make it clear that I paid for these and was not given them by NI.
As a result of trying these editions of The Times and The Sunday Times I have increased my rating of the product from two to three stars. I have also added this note and a further update below. However I have left my original review and an update from May 2011 intact for clarity's sake.
I hope you find all of this helpful.
I'm currently mid-way through my 14-day free trial of The Times and the Sunday Times on the Kindle. Based on my experience to date I will not be continuing with a paid subscription when the trial period ends.
Its not on the grounds of cost. £9.99 per month for a newspaper delivered automatically to my Kindle everyday, advertisement free, sounds like a pretty decent deal to me. Its certainly cheaper than buying the print version of any paper.
Nor is my unwillingness to fork out my money due to the editorial content of the paper. In terms of basic editorial content the Kindle version is identical to the main sections of the printed Times & Sunday Times. I can even live without the photos; most of which are omitted from the Kindle version.
No, my reason for not subscribing and for awarding a two star rating is that if I'm going to spend money on a daily paper for my Kindle I want to receive a daily paper produced and formatted specifically for the Kindle. Instead, with The Times, what I have been receiving appears to be an afterthought hastily cobbled together by News International with no thought to the platform it will be accessed on.
As a result some photos are included as postage stamp sized images, whilst most are omitted, but photo captions remain, attached without explanation to the end of articles. The running order of articles seems to depend on where they would have appeared on the printed page rather than where it would make sense for them to be on the Kindle, resulting in sidebars being separated from main articles by other, unrelated features and the various parts of indepth investigations being scattered seemingly at random across the paper. Equally no effort is made to adjust the formatting of articles to suit the Kindle, so that lists of quotes that on the printed page would appear on separate lines simply become one chunk of solid text with no punctuation on the Kindle's screen, robbing them of meaning & impact.
Add in the fact that most of The Sunday Times supplements such as Culture & Style are missing entirely from the Kindle version and I couldn't help feeling that zero effort had been put into creating the Kindle version of The Times, which hardly makes you want to part with your hard earned cash in return.
Maybe if enough people subscribe to it then News International will be willing to invest some time and money in coming up with something specifically geared towards being read on e-readers, but I'm not willing to spend the money on the off-chance they do. I might still pick up the odd single issue now and again when I'm travelling and there's no other easy way to access UK news, but it needs to be a whole lot better before I'll consider subscribing.
UPDATE NO. 1 - May 2011 - Since so many people have marked my initial review of the The Times and The Sunday Times as 'helpful' (for which I am grateful) I thought it was only fair to everyone concerned that I check to see if News International have made any effort to improve the quality of their product in the last six-months. Unlike a novel or an auto-biography, daily, weekly and monthly periodicals can improve or deteriorate over time, so it was possible that The Times for the Kindle had undergone a major makeover and my original review was no longer accurate.
To that end I downloaed a couple of single editions of The Times and compared their content to what I had written back in November 2010. The result was that I found that everything I wrote then still holds true. The Times on the Kindle remains a shoddy, second rate product. All the formatting and layout issues remain and no effort seems to have been made in the past six months to create a product suited specifically to the Kindle. The only minor improvement has been to the navigation menu, but that's come entirely as a result of an update to the Kindle's software and not due to any significant work on the publisher's part.
One of the comments on this review wonders whether News International have read it and will respond to it. On the basis of this most recent experience the answer would appear to be a resounding 'No'.
UPDATE NO. 2 - So have the updates that News International claim in the comments below they have made to The Times and Sunday Times for the Kindle improved the product. As the increase in my rating from two stars to three would suggest the answer is yes, but not by a huge margin.
On the positive side they have cleaned up a lot of the formatting issues that dogged the previous version. There are more photos and redundant captions have been eliminated. Side-bars are better formatted too with, for example, breaks between paragraphs for lists. It makes the reading experience a far smoother and therefore more pleasant one.
However a significant number of negatives still remain. Whilst the layout and formatting is improved its still far from perfect for the Kindle. The order of articles and sections needs more work. What works for the printed paper (e.g. the choice of front page articles, having the comment section on page 2 of the Times or how the Opinion section is ordered in the Sunday Times) doesn't necessarily work for the Kindle. Shuttling things around a bit and including some section headings so that you know where you are without having to refer back to the contents page would improve matters greatly.
Content from the printed papers also remains missing from the Kindle versions. There's no crossword or soduku in either The Times or The Sunday Times and there isn't even a selection of articles from the Culture or In Style sections of The Sunday Times.
In fact the Sunday paper feels like its had far less work done to it than its daily sister. There are virtually no photos in the Sunday Times, whilst they pepper The Times, and even if bits and bobs are omitted from the latter at least there aren't whole sections and supplements AWOL as there are with The Sunday Times. The Times on the Kindle is a now a pretty good substitute for the printed version and would probably deserve 4 stars by itself. The same cannot be said for The Sunday Times for the Kindle and this drags the whole package back down to 3 stars.
Overall I'd give News International kudos for trying to improve matters, but more work is required, especially from The Sunday Times Team. Based on my latest experience I will not be subscribing but I will happily pay for the odd copy of The Times on the Kindle now and again, especially when I'm travelling overseas.