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Amazon Kindle 3.1 software hands-on test gives page numbers a thumbs-up

Amazon's Kindle is getting an update, shedding its perplexing navigation system and replacing it with a completely new, experimental and totally out-there notion: page numbers.

Amazon's Kindle has shed its convoluted and perplexing navigation system and, in a software update we had a go with today, replaced it with a completely new, experimental and totally out-there notion: page numbers.

Yes, it seems bizarre but it really did take Amazon three generations of its hugely popular Kindle to realise that the system in paper books -- a number index incrementing with each page -- was actually a pretty nifty way of doing things. Finally, the smug early-adopter no longer has to click through a title, peering in confusion at eInk screens to find the pages those paper-loving Luddites cite -- it can now be navigated to directly.

The reading display does still have that off-putting little progress bar indicating what percentage of the book you've read, making reading feel oddly like levelling up.

Stop reading and tell us what you think

Amazon famously badgers you to rate and review anything you buy, from your new PlayStation to a jar of Marmite, and keen to rake in the user-generated content on ebooks as well, a feature in the new Kindle OS automatically drops you into a feedback form once you reach the end of the book. Sorry, you don't get to take that quiet moment of reflection after finishing a book any more: we want you to rate, analyse, judge! We want opinions, and we want them fresh!

This addition feels like an annoying prat with a clipboard is trying to catch your attention all the time, but you can skip leaving feedback just as easily as you can kick clipboard-people in the shins and run away.

The Kindle now also has better support for sharing notes and passages. You could always highlight passages of text and share them with your friends on social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. But this was mere posturing: a release for irritating pseudo-erudite people who want to show off what cerebral title they're reading to their acquaintances.

The social network features remain in the new update, as do the original features to share passages and notes with other readers, but now with an improved interface that makes it easier to apply notes and push them out to the Kindle community, who actually care how you've interpreted the fencing scene in Hamlet. You'll get to share your opinions and still keep your friends: win-win.

Finally, the Kindle's integration with newspapers and magazines has had a refurb, allowing you to scan over a brief summary or start of the article so you can see if it's something you'd want to read. Not only does this allow the front page to show more articles, it gets you to the comics faster.

Feedback loop

What's striking about this update, though relatively minor, is Amazon says it has based all its changes on feedback from users. As the Kindle's screensaver sometimes shows -- among the birds, silhouetted trees and eerie authors -- Amazon is keen for you to send in ideas for improvements, even providing an email address to that end. It's always good to see a request for feedback that's sincere and you can see being acted upon.

The software update for the Amazon Kindle is exclusive to the third-generation model and will be pushed out automatically to all Kindle 3 models once it's released. In the meantime, if you want to have a play with it yourself you can download and manually install it at Amazon's US website.