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Entries in Tanakh (2)

Wednesday
Sep072011

Hands Down: The Best Kindle Bible Experience Comes from OSNOVA

OSNOVA Blog
OSNOVA Store 

A few months ago, I was talking to a fellow about using the Bible on an eReader. This just happened to be on a Nook, but the problem applies just as much on a Kindle. He said, "I was trying to follow you, but every time you referred to a particular passage, you were already on to something else by the time I got there." 

If you've done anything more than straight reading of the Bible on a Kindle or Nook, you can probably feel his pain. As a child, I was taught in Sunday School that the book of Psalms is right in the middle of the Bible (physically speaking). I knew I could open my Bible to the midway point and find myself in the book of Psalms. However, this obviously cannot be done with an ebook version of a Bible. I can't flip pages past the middle to find Obadiah. And it seems that the larger any ebook is—and Bibles tend to be large—the more difficult it is to get around. Of course you can set bookmarks and the like, and most ebooks of any decent quality has at least some kind of table of contents, but navigation is rarely ever quick

Enter Illya Antonenko, whose bio on osnova.com reads "the husband, the father: originally from Ukraine; born again in 1991. Perpetual student, avid reader, fascinated with gadgets." If it's true that there's a fine line between skill and art, Illya is walking that line when it comes to the method he developed for navigating large books (such as the Bible) on the Kindle. This method is called "Direct Verse Jump" or DVJ for short (the more recent titles have been further streamlined to "Direct Verse Jump 2," or DVJ2). 

So, if a Kindle user wants to go directly to a verse, in many non-OSNOVA Kindle Bibles, he or she would have to go to the menu on the Kindle, then table of contents, then scroll through the pages until the book of the Bible sought after appears. Some ebook Bibles have chapter numbers listed, but I've seen other Bibles in which the Contents merely takes one to the first chapter in the selected book. With OSNOVA's DVJ, a specific verse can be accessed directly by typing in an abbreviated form that works with the Kindle. So, if I want to go to Romans 1:17, I'd type ro 1 17 and the Kindle immediately jumps to that location in the Bible. 

Illya has created a series of tutorial videos with resolutions up to 1080p, which means they can be played at full screen with clarity. In the video I've embedded below, Illya demonstrates the direct to verse method I described in the paragraph above.

 

While this still isn't as fast as merely flipping pages in a physical Bible to arrive at one's destination, OSNOVA Bibles even allow for quick navigation within the body of the text. The Kindle's five-way controller can be used to navigate from book to book or chapter to chapter:

OSNOVA sells other works such commentaries and public domain works like Calvin's Institutes. The navigation in these kinds of titles is also more advanced than the average Kindle book:

So far, none of the more prominent Greek New Testament editions have appeared in ebook format. Neither the United Bible Societies nor Zondervan (who produces a popular reader's edition) have brought their Greek New Testaments to the Kindle. Yes, one can find a few quickly published Greek texts from public domain sources on Amazon, but these are mostly of poor quality. I can say without reservation that currently, the best place to get a Greek New Testament of any kind for the Kindle is through OSNOVA where the recently released SBL Greek New Testament can be obtained for free, as well as the Robinson-Pierpont Byzantine Textform 2005. Both of these offer Direct Verse Jump navigation, as opposed to the 99¢ SBL Greek NT, published by Logos on Amazon has only basic table of contents navigation. 

Most of the OSNOVA titles that are on Amazon's website or in the OSNOVA store are public domain works, but OSNOVA also formatted the NET Bible for Bible.org. A handful of other Kindle Bibles use the exact same Direct Verse Jump method developed by OSNOVA, albeit not coded by Illya Antonenko or with attribution given to OSNOVA. These include titles such as the ESV Bible and the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh), which I reviewed earlier this year. Illya does not begrudge others from using his method of navigation in their titles and actually encourages it. However, with most eReader Bibles so difficult to navigate, the major Bible publishers out there should sit up and take notice—and perhaps even contract work out to OSNOVA. In fact, I've heard from a mutual friend that Illya has a very quick turnaround and implemented Direct Verse Jump to the SBL Greek NT in less than 24 hours!

Of the titles that are on the OSNOVA website for sale, it's true that these same works can often be obtained for free from Amazon.com. However, I've found the hard way that free implementations of public domain works on Amazon often give me about the same value that I paid for them. If any of the titles from OSNOVA happen to be personal favorites, consider picking up a copy there knowing that it will not only be cleanly edited, but easy to navigate as well. 

As a touchscreen Kindle is surely in the works from Amazon, I'll be interested to see what future versions of DVJ look like. Even with a touchscreen, navigating an ebook is not a quick task and something creative is required for quick access. I have no doubt that OSNOVA is up to the task.

Notes:

  1. OSNOVA also sells a lesser number of epub titles for the Nook and other epub readers.  
  2. In the interest of full disclosure,  Illya Antonenko opened the OSNOVA store to me, and I was able to examine a number of his titles for no cost. However, before that occurred, I had already purchased with my own funds the NET Bible prepared by OSNOVA from Amazon.

 

As always, your questions, comments, thoughts, and rebuttals are welcome in the comments for this post. 

Friday
May132011

Hebrew Bible (Tanakh) for Kindle & Nook



Kindle Edition
Nook Edition

Popular eReaders like the Kindle and Nook are still new technologies essentially. As such, there are features not yet present in eReaders, such as the ability to display right-to-left languages like Hebrew and Arabic. To my knowledge, because of this limitation, there have not been any Hebrew Bibles available for the Kindle or Nook until now.

Last week, Miklal Software Solutions, Inc. released a true Bible in Hebrew for both the Amazon Kindle and the Barnes and Noble Nook. Here is the description from the company website:

Hebrew Bible (Tanakh) is a complete Hebrew Bible in an aesthetically pleasing Hebrew script. It contains all of the consonants, vowels, cantillation marks (accents), and other symbols. It follows the text of the Leningrad Codex as digitized by the J. Alan Groves Center for Advanced Biblical Research. This is the same manuscript underlying Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (BHS) and Biblia Hebraica Quinta (BHQ).

In addition, the Kindle version has The Comprehensive Biblical Hebrew and Aramaic Glossary, by Humphrey H. Hardy, appended to it.

The reference to an "aesthetically pleasing Hebrew script" is no exaggeration. Drayton Benner, president of Miklal Software, sent me review copies of both the Kindle and Nook versions of the text. Although I think I'm probably biased at this point toward E Ink displays, honestly, the text in both versions looks as professional as the type in my hardcopy Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia. Here are a couple of screenshots:

Psalm 23 on the Kindle

 

Psalm 23 on the Nook Color

As you'll notice the formatting looks much better on the Kindle version than the Nook Color screen. I'm trying to get a screenshot of an E Ink Nook screen for comparison, and if I do, I'll update this post. My hunch is that the E Ink Nook will display this text better than the Nook Color, which is essentially an Android tablet. This version of the Hebrew Bible seems primarily intended for dedicated eReaders as there is a warning that the formatting has mixed results on some mobile devices (the iPhone is specifically mentioned). I'll come back to this subject toward the end of the review.

Regardless of the differences, the final result is impressive when considering the limitations of a device like the Kindle or Nook when it comes to right-to-left text. Benner is not currently revealing his method of reproducing the Hebrew text on these devices, but I have a few hunches. For instance, the text itself cannot be increased or reduced like normal English text on a Kindle or Nook. When navigating through the text with the Kindle's five-way controller, the insertion point jumped letter by letter instead of word by word as with other titles. This leads me to believe that perhaps each Hebrew character, including vowel markings and cantillations, are essentially small graphic files, but I may be wrong. I checked file sizes to see if this title took up an inordinate amount of space on my Kindle, but it does not; I actually have a number of other titles, including some English Bible translations, that are much larger in size. But in the final analysis, none of this really matters because it's the end product that counts, and the end product is quite impressive.

The Hebrew Bible for Kindle and Nook includes a fairly sophisticated navigation system—one that is more feature rich than most eReader titles. Like a handful of other better-formatted Bibles, there is a fully interactive table of contents allowing the reader to go from the listing in the contents to the text and then back very quickly. But there's even greater flexibility than that. The search feature built into the device allows for strings such as "Joshua 4" to be entered as one means for accessing a chapter. If you don't want to type that much on an eReader keyboard, no problem, as there is a table included in the preface that offers abbreviations such as "jos" instead of the aforementioned "Joshua." While in a passage, pressing left or right on the five-way Kindle controller moves to the previous or next chapter respectively.

Interestingly, the order of the books matches that of most English Bibles rather than the traditional order found in Hebrew Bibles.

The Kindle edition has one advantage over the Nook version: the inclusion of a concise Hebrew glossary. Here is a sample screenshot:

Representative page from The Comprehensive Biblical Hebrew and Aramaic Glossary, by Humphrey H. Hardy

The navigation system for the glossary has received a good bit of thought as well to make navigation as quick as possible.

 

So, what's the true need for something like this? Even though there are Kindle and Nook apps on iOS and Android devices, those are not the platforms for which this title is really intended. The more advanced mobile devices all have dedicated Bible apps that make displaying and reading the Hebrew Bible a breeze. In fact, I tried viewing the Nook version of this Hebrew Bible on my iPad and the Nook app repeatedly crashed. I viewed the Kindle version on my iPad, and it was stable; but again, it wasn't overly necessary for that device.

 

When I got my Kindle, I wondered whether I needed a Bible installed on it. Bible reading and study on the iPad becomes more and more practical as the software and platform continue to improve. But after installing a few English translations of the Bible on my Kindle, I discovered that I ended up accessing the biblical text much more often that I initially imagined I would. That's what this Hebrew Bible is for. If you need access to an original language text on your Kindle or Nook, this is it. And what's more, this isn't something that you have to "settle for" simply because it's an only option. Rather, this edition of the Hebrew Bible is put together with quite a bit of thought and skill, and more impressive navigationally and in other ways than many "normal" Kindle books in English.

 

So, if you're a student of Hebrew, and if you have a Kindle or a Nook, you're covered. Be certain to look at the Miklal website for more information, and pick up either version for only $9.99 each, which, incidentally, is much less expensive than the average print copy of a Hebrew Bible.