The new Kindle Voyage is not just a fancy Kindle Paperwhite. For booklovers everywhere, it’s the ne plus ultra of e-book readers.
After years of devoting the bulk of its creative efforts to developing ever-fancier Kindle Fire tablets (a Mayday button to summon instant help! Faster processors, fancier graphics capabilities, and the potential for deploying the Firefly button to identify all kinds of digital content…) it’s nice to see the Amazon geeks go back to the drawing board to come up with a better e-reader.
Readers don’t necessarily want to read on tablets or phones. I’m not saying that many don’t end up doing so, but if you’re reading a lot, staring at a backlit screen in the way that you tend to when you’re reading line after line of digital text (you know, book style, as opposed to the way that you’re reading this column or any other digital media) is going to drive you crazy or wreak havoc on your eyesight.
The Paperwhite, launched in the fall of 2012, was a step in the right direction. It uses built-in LEDs to illuminate the e-reader’s screen, and they were adjustable, to boot. And the advances in e-ink technology has meant that so far (touch wood) it is the only Kindle device I’ve owned that hasn’t succumbed to the dreaded “screen freeze,” in which the screensaver bleeds into the text beneath it, making it impossible to read. “You just read too much,” one Amazon tech support person scolded me, when a Kindle Keyboard (generation 3) succumbed to this malady less than six months out of the box.
But if you’re an avid reader, well… reading a book on the Voyage is probably akin to the experience that an auto aficionado has driving a Ferrari 458 Spider or a Lamborghini Veneno — at a fraction of the price. It’s still expensive by e-reader standards, but if you spend more than two hours a day with your nose in a book, and the price doesn’t immediately cause you to say, “Nope, can’t afford it,” you need to consider it. Because it’s state of the art e-reading; it finally delivers on the promise.
When you’re reading, you immerse yourself in a book — something known to those who study this kind of stuff as “deep reading.” You need to remove distractions, from backlighting to stuff that pops up (ooh, look, an e-mail alert!) to superfluous actions that require you to pull your attention away from the word — things like how you hold the device (or the book), how you turn the page (or the cyber page), how readable (or unreadable) the print is, and whether you can easily jump to and from the text to the footnotes or from one point in a chapter to another. Kindle Paperwhite does a good job; Kindle Voyage does an extraordinary job of all that.
For starters, the device itself is truly featherweight: It’s only 6.3 ounces, a full ounce lighter than the Paperwhite. It’s smaller and thinner — and feels significantly lighter and smaller in the hand than the differences in dimensions and weight alone would suggest. To anyone who says this doesn’t matter, try reading for two or three hours straight while holding a Kindle in one hand and then tell me that weight doesn’t matter. (And yes, you do want to hold it one hand, so that you can save the other one for turning the page, sipping your cup of tea or coffee, or whatever else you’re doing, like eating your dinner….)
The screen resolution is something else that you’ll appreciate more when you’re using the Voyage than you will in the abstract. What’s the difference between 300 pixels per inch and 221 pixels per inch? You can tell if you go looking for it — jagged edges to the text. But it’s something that you’re more likely actually to feel, viscerally, when you’ve been reading for a long time: The text stays sharp and doesn’t blur.
While a lot of the other features are great (the degree of subtle LED lighting varies automatically, instead of having to be adjusted manually), the biggest winner for me is not having to use touchscreen controls. The touchscreen is OK when it comes to searching for or buying a book — especially since there’s a greater degree of precision in the touchscreen technology here than, say, on my Samsung Galaxy, meaning fewer frustrating typos and less temptation to hurl the device across the room. But page turns? That’s finicky stuff. I don’t really want my finger moving across my line of sight while I’m trying to read — or trying repeatedly to get the page turn to work in just the right way. That’s smartphone/tablet technology, not ideal e-reader technology.
So I’m a big fan of the new page-turn system that makes its debut in the Voyage. The screen, for the first time, is set flush with the body of the Kindle device, and along both sides are haptic sensors. Hit the upper one on either side and it goes back one page; the lower one will take it a page forward. A big deal has been made about the “feedback” feeling. “Isn’t it like an electric buzz?” someone asked me. Actually, it’s closer to the sensation of depressing a page turn button on the (now defunct) standard Kindle. Only there are no moving parts.
So, what’s missing? Well, there is no speaker. But so what? If you’re a reader, you bought this to read. Amazon has a great line of (less expensive) Fire tablets that offer super sound; you can listen to your audiobooks or text-to-speech function on one of those devices, or on an older Kindle.
The storage still isn’t what it could or should be. Yes, there is the cloud, but there are still some places where WiFi isn’t working or available. (That’s the reason I was willing to pay the extra $80 for the 3G, which works amazingly well worldwide.) But I’d be willing to put up with an extra half an inch of space or extra ounce if it meant I didn’t have to delete a book from the device simply in order to download another one.
Oddly enough, the biggest “miss” by Amazon has nothing to do with the Voyage itself, but with the lack (so far) of a reasonable cover for the device. Amazon’s own Origami cover is a bizarre misstep: They have prioritized design over function and come up with a product that seems aimed more at users of a Kindle Fire, who might want to prop up their devices in order to watch a movie. Try to prop up a Voyage using one of these pricey covers and then turn the page, and over it goes. Nor is the cover designed in such a way that you can hold it comfortably. In fact, you’ll want to bypass Amazon’s website altogether and go hunting for Voyage covers on eBay, where a far greater assortment seem to exist, at far better prices.
But after years of wondering when Amazon would prioritize the concerns of the avid readers who spend thousands of dollars a year downloading e-books — and who have de facto given it the market clout to bully giant publishers like Hachette — I’m just delighted that the day has finally come when I can gripe about something as small as the design of the Kindle’s cover.
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