In the world of tablets and smartphones, with notifications and apps competing for your attention at every turn, there’s something to be said for the purity of a dedicated e-reader, offering a chance to become immersed in a story without distraction.
Amazon has taken that experience to another level with its new Kindle Voyage e-reader.
A longtime Kindle user, I’ve been testing the new device, and I’ve come away impressed with the new screen and Amazon’s new approach to turning pages. These features make the Kindle Voyage (starting at $199) a strong high-end alternative to the Kindle Paperwhite (starting at $119). But I’m not convinced the Voyage is worth the higher price.
Better screen, smaller device
Kindle Voyage includes the key advance introduced in the Paperwhite: a front-lit screen that directs the light down at the words, not up at the reader’s eyes, making it possible to read in pretty much any situation (including complete darkness) without noticeable eye strain.
The Voyage, however, offers this feature in a higher-resolution screen, with 300 pixels per inch, compared with 212 pixels per inch on the second-generation Paperwhite. The words on the page are noticeably more clear and crisp on the Kindle Voyage.
In addition, the light on the Voyage can be set to automatically adapt to the environment around you, something that needed to be done manually in the past. Amazon takes this a step further with an optional “Nightlight” feature that more gradually reduces the screen brightness when you turn off the lights, to match the way your eyes adjust to the dark.
Both of these features worked well for me, adjusting intelligently depending on my surroundings, and eliminating the need to fiddle with the light settings.
Anyone upgrading from an existing touch-screen Kindle will notice that the surrounding bezel of the Voyage is flush with the screen rather than elevated slightly above the page. That is a function of Amazon’s shift to a capacitive touch screen in this new device. In previous touch-screen Kindles, the company used infrared touch, which created an IR field on top of the screen that registered a touch when disrupted by a finger.
Even with the shift to capacitive touch, similar to what’s used in smartphones and tablets, the Voyage still has minimal screen glare. The device is also thinner, at .30 inches (7.6 mm) compared with .36 inches (9.1 mm) for the Paperwhite. With a smaller bezel above and below the screen, the Voyage is also shorter, at 6.4 inches compared with 6.7 inches on the Paperwhite, although the screen is still as large, 6 inches diagonal.
The difference in size is noticeable, making the Kindle Voyage easier to hold, especially with one hand.
The Kindle Voyage is also lighter, at 6.3 ounces (180 grams) compared with 7.3 ounces (206 grams) for the Kindle Paperwhite. Amazon likes to say that the device is lighter than most paperback books, and the company is right. By comparison, for example, my paperback copy of the sci-fi classic Dune weighs in at 9.1 ounces.
Turning the page
But the biggest change in the Kindle Voyage is the PagePress sensors in the bezel of the device. These sensors make it possible for a user to be almost motionless when paging through a book, to the point that someone watching from across a room might wonder how the pages are being turned.
It works by sensing a change in pressure from the thumb, letting users rest their hand on the sensor and give it a tiny squeeze to turn the page. The device delivers a slight force-feedback vibration as the page turn is activated.
This worked great in my experience, after I adjusted to the layout of the sensors. I assumed that the page forward would be on the right-hand side of the device and the page-back on the left, but in fact there are two PagePress sensors on each side, a lower sensor for paging forward and an upper one for paging back. This makes it possible to use the feature with one hand from either side. (This actually shouldn’t have been a surprise to me, because it’s how Amazon has done its hardware page-turning buttons in the past, in the Kindle Keyboard and even the original Kindle.)
It’s still possible to turn the page and navigate the device the “old fashioned” way, by tapping the screen.
I haven’t been using the test device long enough to get a complete sense for the battery life, but based on a few days of steady usage, the battery seems to be holding its charge about as well as my first-generation Kindle Paperwhite typically does.
Amazon is the big player in the market for dedicated e-readers, with an estimated 50 percent market share and a solid lead over competitors such as Kobo and Barnes & Noble. This device shows that the company isn’t resting on its laurels. If you’re in the market for an e-reader, you have the extra $80 to spend, and you really care about having a high-end reading experience, the Kindle Voyage is a great device.
My advice is to get the cheaper ad-supported version (“with special offers”), and ask yourself if you really need cellular connectivity for your e-reader. The answer is probably no. WiFi is more than good enough for the vast majority of people.
But here’s the bottom line: The older Kindle Paperwhite is still available, and it’s a perfectly good device. After using the Kindle Voyage, I don’t plan to upgrade from my existing Paperwhite, and even though I like the new features. It’s hard to recommend the Voyage to anyone who has a Paperwhite already, and it’s easy to recommend the Paperwhite to anyone on a budget.
And there’s always the $79 baseline Kindle, which has a touchscreen but doesn’t include a light.
Whether or not it’s a big seller, the Kindle Voyage should serve as an example for Amazon’s product teams. Prodded by CEO Jeff Bezos, the company tried to do too much with its Fire phone, developing a 3D interface and gesture-based navigational features that were impressive at first glance but unwieldy in practice.
If the Fire phone was War and Peace, the Kindle Voyage is Walden, adding features but ultimately simplifying the experience.