Like many readers, I own an Amazon Kindle. What you may not know is that when it comes to learning and studying books, product manuals or PDFs, I often use the free version – “Kindle for PC”. There is a comparable version for the Mac.
The primary reason is it’s much easier to highlight and annotate content. I can also see my notes neatly organized on the side. This makes it an ideal study and review tool. And I can still sync content with my other Kindle devices.
I find the best books to read in the desktop app are non-fiction. These books often have practical nuggets that I want to highlight.
And in some cases, there are technical books with code snippets that I wish to copy and use elsewhere. However, many high-school and college students use the same software to study fiction works too.
Benefits of Free Kindle Desktop
You might be wondering what’s wrong with the Kindle you or I bought? The answer is nothing. They work very well in most scenarios. However, I think the desktop versions offer better features when you need to learn material.
In some cases, the desktop version provides features your physical device might not have. Here are some examples:
- Your desktop computer has more viewable area than the physical versions. Most Kindles have a screen that is 6”-7” wide.
- You can view your notebook alongside the book content.
- It’s easier and faster to highlight text using a mouse. The mouse is more precise.
- It’s easier to visit external websites and hyperlinks mentioned in books. You can easily navigate back.
- You have more font and layout options on the desktop. (This varies based on which Kindle you own.)
- It’s easier to work and resize PDF documents.
- It’s easier to sort your books and see last access date.
- Even with the free version, you can take advantage of Kindle prices, which are often lower than other versions.
- Many public libraries allow you to remotely check out Kindle books.
Multiple Kindle Versions
Before I go into details, I need to elaborate on the different Kindle versions. There are 3 broad classifications.
These are the traditional stand-alone E-readers that you can hold like a book from Amazon. Another distinction is you pay for these devices. They come in a range of sizes, prices, and features. Typically, these devices have a screen that is 6”-7” wide.
Cloud Based E-reader
This version runs in your web browser. I find this version the least useful. It offers a limited set of features, but you can access your books and notes if you’re at another computer.
Free Kindle Apps
This set of Kindles are software-based and free. Amazon calls them “Free Reading Apps”. There are also different versions based on operating systems (OS). Within this category, you have versions for phones, tablets, and desktops.
It’s the desktop version I’ll be using for this article.
How to Download Kindle Software
The obvious place to start is the Amazon Kindle Download page for your country. For example, in the US, the URL is: https://www.amazon.com/kindle-dbs/fd/kcp
You can download the software from other non-Amazon sites, but I can’t think of any benefits. In fact, by using a non-Amazon site, you might be getting an older or modified version. Why take the risk.
Once on the URL, you should see a graphic for a video. Directly underneath, you’ll see the button to get the desktop versions. These include Kindle for PC and Kindle for Mac.
Click the Download button to start your transfer.
After the download completes, open the installer file.
After downloading the software, you’ll need to connect it to your Amazon account. You should see a list of your Kindle books under the Library heading if you have any.
In my case, I’ve also set up Collections to group similar books.
When you open the book on the desktop, you have 2 main areas that show side-by-side.
- Book content
The Notebook area  gives me quick access to the Table of Contents, Highlights, Notes, Search, Bookmarks, and Flashcards. If I just want to see just the book, I can hide the Notebook area.
Another nice feature is I can resize the book content area  either by grabbing an edge or using a Page width slider option within the app.
This is particularly useful if you want to highlight a section that spans to the next page. By resizing the area, you can quickly highlight the relevant section.
You can also see from the Display Panel above there are a number of options that allow me to get granular. (And not all my Kindles have these options.)
Side by Side Content
One benefit to the wider screen is I can show both the Notebook and book. I prefer seeing both because Kindle tends to scrunch your highlights and you can lose important formatting.
Different Highlighting Options
On my first Kindle, I was limited to one color for highlights. With the newer devices and the desktop, you can apply different colors. This can be useful if you want to categorize your highlights such as one color for definitions, quotes, questions etc.
Presently, there are 4 different colors  that can be assigned. You can filter by these colors. However, you can’t change a highlight’s color. Instead, you need to remove the highlight and apply the different color.
You can also prioritize highlights by applying a star . You can use both color and stars together.
Another way to view highlights is via crowd-sourcing. Amazon also lets you see popular highlights from a book. You can view these either by location or by count.
You can see how many people highlighted the text from both the notebook and the page.
These notes will only be colored if you also highlighted the note. In the example above, I hadn’t highlighted this popular entry so it just shows the light gray underline.
I find this feature useful when first starting a book. It helps me gauge what other people thought important or useful.
Working with PDF files
The desktop Kindle version also handles PDF files. Most often, these files are geared towards wider screens. While you can view these files in your web browser, the desktop is a better user experience.
Like normal Kindle books, you can adjust the viewing area. Instead of using the sizing handles or Display panel, you can use the toolbar Zoom level feature.
Another difference is based on how the PDF document was constructed. Whereas as most Kindle books have a Table of Contents, PDFs may not. Some do have them but they aren’t active so if you click a link you can’t hop to the appropriate section. In the example below, the author did add the table of contents.
Perhaps, the biggest difference is your PDF highlights don’t sync to your Kindle account. You can easily export them as an HTML file, but they will not appear at https://read.amazon.com/kp/notebook or your other devices. This is a nice feature that shows your highlights and notes in a wider format using your web browser.
I should mention there are some items, the desktop versions don’t offer, which may impact your behavior. As an example, my desktop software doesn’t include Word Runner. This is a new feature that supposedly allows you to read faster as it just shows one word at a time on the screen. It cuts down on eye movement. However, some folks find it useless such as this review on Good eReader.
Another difference is this Kindle version doesn’t have a clippings.txt file. This is a special file some versions have for exporting your notes and highlights. Lastly, if you really like green highlights, you’re out of luck as the desktop version doesn’t have it.
On balance, I find Kindle for PC to be a great tool for studying material whether it be a course assignment or a PDF manual. It’s easier to read and review material primarily because of the larger screen.