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Hands-on with Goodreads for Kindle Paperwhite

Brian Heater
November 19, 2013
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Exactly a day after gracing the Fire line, Amazon-owned Goodreads has arrived on the Paperwhite -- if you're willing to take a little initiative and download yourself, that is. And in all honesty, this was the upgrade we've been waiting for since the acquisition was first announced. It's nice functionality to have on the Fire, certainly, and folks who own multiple Kindle devices will appreciate being able to use it across the tablets and readers, but the addition of social reading means a lot more on e-readers, where things tend to be a lot more locked down, due to hardware limitations. Overall, we were a bit underwhelmed by the implementation on the HDX. With a few exceptions, Goodreads feels more like an app than an integral part of the ecosystem. Given that the Paperwhite offers a less open platform, however, we had higher hopes for the e-reader.

And indeed, once installed, Goodreads is front and center -- well, slightly to the right of center, added to the homepage toolbar, sandwiched between search and settings. If you've already tied your Amazon account to the social network -- as we did with yesterday's Fire update -- you should be good to go. Tap the "g " icon, and you'll bring up the Goodreads app, which has been styled to match the rest of the Paperwhite UI. The app's front page shows you updates across your network, including ratings and who wants to read what. From there, you can like and comment on statuses and mark those titles and "Read" or "Want to Read." Up top, the My Shelves link lets you see your own collection. From that page, you can also click through to add books from your Amazon library, a nice way of back filling all the electronic and physical books that you've read over the years. It's the next best thing to inviting people over to your place to see your real life bookshelf.

Goodreads for Kindle Paperwhite handson

The app's actually a bit fuller than we'd originally anticipated. You can click through to see a list of your friends and click on their profiles to find out what they've read, their ratings and who they're following. You can follow those friends of friends directly from your own friends' profile page or click on the "Who to Follow" link for some more random suggestions. If you see a book that piques your interest, tap it and you'll see a pop-up window featuring your friend's rating and options for rating it and marking it as Read, Currently Reading or adding it your Want to Read List. As with the Fire version, there's no direct link to buy (something Amazon no doubt plans to amend in the near future), instead bringing you to a list of search results in the store. The presence of listings for physical books does really highlight how incomplete e-book offerings still are these days. Amazon's offering of 2.1 million books by last count is solid and only getting better, but a quick trip around Goodreads will remind you just how much has yet to be digitized.

As with Fire OS, a Goodreads rating option will also pop up when you finish a book. The stars you pick will show up on both the social network and Amazon's review page. Actual reviews are once again absent here -- but in this case, it's probably for the best. Anyone who's ever attempted to write anything of any length on an E Ink device will be able to tell you that's it's an exercise in futility. Goodreads sharing has been baked into the reading experience a bit, too. Highlighted text can now be shared through the social network along with Facebook and Twitter. Amazon's site, naturally, gets much more prominent placement than the other two offerings.

Goodreads for Kindle Paperwhite handson

All in all, the Paperwhite integration feels better more fully baked than what we saw on the Fire. There are some shortcomings, still, of course, though those are mainly on the hardware side. Given the E Ink display and lower processing power on the e-reader, the experience is much less smooth than the specked out HDX. For that reason, most will probably spend less time with the features here -- though, granted, Paperwhite users are a bit more of a captive audience, seeing as how there's only one social offering on the device, unless you want to grapple with the browser. We'd like to see Goodreads ratings better incorporated into the recommendations, and hopefully it'll be a bit easier to actually buy recommended books through the Kindle Store, but we suspect Amazon's already tirelessly working on both as we speak.

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