The Kindle Voyage is sucking up to Andy Ihnatko and it’s working

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The Kindle Voyage: It’s the iPad of book readers. Even the iPad isn’t the iPad of book readers.

The Kindle Voyage: It’s the iPad of book readers. Even the iPad isn’t the iPad of book readers.

If you love books, then only a physical, dead-treeware edition will satisfy you. If, instead, you love reading … then you’ll find that an e-book is as good as anything articulated as a soybean derivative on mashed-pulp substrate.

It’s been years since I’ve had to haul out my go-to response to book snobs (thank God) but it’s appropriate today. Amazon kicked off the transition to digital with their first Kindle, which sold for $399 in 2007. With the new Kindle Voyage — available for pre-order today starting at $199 — it’s time to update my old saying.

Any number of devices do a fine job as book readers. But if you love reading … you want a Kindle Voyage.

I’ve had the Voyage for about a week now and it’s had the pleasant effect of making me feel like a dope for reading books with my iPad and my phone. The Voyage emphasizes just how much better the experience can be when you’re using a device designed only for reading books.

Readers with electronic paper displays have always had a big leg up on devices with LCD and LED screens: bright light only helps them to look better. The Voyage has upped the ante with increased contrast and 300 dpi resolution. The improvement over the Kindle Paperwhite’s 212 ppi screen marks the difference between “you can barely see the dots, even when you try hard” to “this is a printed page torn from a satanic spellbook, whose words shift on the pages before the eyes of the unholy.”

Text at your existing preferred size is easier to read. And I found that the extra resolution allowed me to choose a smaller font size and put more text on every screen.

Step Two in building a better Kindle: new page-turn buttons. Previous Kindles use touch sensors on the screen. The Voyage has pressure-sensitive areas on the left and right sides of the bezel. The stripe moves you ahead; the dot flips you back. Between page-turns, I can rest my thumb comfortably on those areas without any accidental page turns because they only react to gentle taps, which are confirmed by a reassuring (and silent) haptic vibration.

The haptic touch buttons are a twofer: You can turn pages without having to block the screen or reach up with another hand, while still being able to hold the device comfortably. This has always been a problem with the iPad as a book reader. The screen bezel has been shrinking steadily, leaving me without any “safe” areas to place my fingers while holding the device.

And holding the Voyage isn’t a challenge at all, thanks to its light weight. The Voyage is a little more than half the weight of an iPad Mini. I noticed that I tended to hold the Kindle instead of propping it up against something, or putting it in an easel, which is my go-to move with the iPad.

Spending a week with the Voyage as my exclusive book reading device showed off another weakness of tablets and phones: Unless you’ve put them in cases, they’re too damned slippery. The Voyage is encased in a nice, grippy plastic and it isn’t any thinner than prudence suggests. It’s also small enough to fit in even my front pants pockets.

Feature after feature has been optimized for the reading experience. In a room with subdued lighting, the backlight starts strong and gradually dims to a lower level. It was a subtle feature for me to appreciate until I switched between an older Kindle and the Voyage for a night, and realized that I had adjusted the non-adaptive screen after 15 minutes in bed. 

The other distinct advantage of a purpose-built Kindle over a Swiss Army knife tablet or phone: battery life. With the Wi-Fi and 3G radios off, the needle on the battery meter barely even moved after three days of heavy usage. When I tried to make the battery cry (brightness all the way up, radios on), five hours of reading ate up what appeared to be no more than 20 percent of the device’s charge.

Alas, the Voyage only reports battery life as a coarse, tiny bar graph, so I couldn’t perform a “real” battery test. Amazon’s spec sheet promises “weeks” of usage in a best-case scenario. My experience didn’t contradict that claim.

That should be no surprise, given that the Voyage doesn’t need to perform all of the complex tasks of a tablet. Still, it’s plenty nimble. Screen refreshes and page turns are snappy. When I need to enter text with the on-screen touch keyboard (to search for text, or shop for new content) it can almost keep up with my typing. I’m just impressed that the Voyage can pull off a “tap and drag to select extended text” move.

The X-Ray feature provides added information about characters, places or any other text you care to inquire about.<strong><strong> </strong></strong>

The X-Ray feature provides added information about characters, places or any other text you care to inquire about.

This is important, because of a couple of neat software features. The Voyage includes the Kindle X-Ray feature, which helps you to keep track of characters, places, and other bits of text that furrow a reader’s brow. Not every book contains X-Ray content, but the content is wired up inside the book itself and can be accessed without an Internet connection. 

Selecting text also let you share quotes (or spoilers) with your social community on Twitter, Facebook or the Goodreads service. Amazon purchased this useful international online book club last year and it’s been integrated into the Kindle experience. When you’ve finished your book, it’s dead-simple to leave recommendations for your friends and, in turn, to quickly find and buy a book that your friends like and have been talking about … all without putting down the Voyage.

(In an impolite society, this would be known as “chain-smoking books.” But you’re a classy audience so I won’t make that suggestion.)

The Voyage has 4 gigabytes of storage, an amount that’s best described as “who cares how many books I download?” Given that the Voyage can’t handle movies or music, the only limiting factor would be comic books and electronic magazines that are heavy on photos. Still, I’ve loaded up this device with 17 books, three full-length graphic novels, two public domain PDF titles from Google Books (where every page is a scanned image), and a dozen or so articles clipped from the Web. 2.89 gigabytes free.

 And sure, you can read comics on the Voyage. The extra screen definition pushes this Kindle just over fence and into the realm of “Enjoyable,” particularly when you read the comic using a Comixology-style “panel view.” I’d like to see some of Comixology’s influence in the Kindle library; I suspect they could do much to improve the reading experience on Amazon’s e-readers, to say nothing of the many terrible, terrible digital Kindle editions of mass-market comics trades.

I don’t have many real complaints about the Voyage. At times, I find the interface a little vexing, but that’s because I spend so much time using phones and tablets and the Kindle Voyage is a tablet-shaped object. I keep wishing that the Voyage had a persistent “home” button right on the bezel, for instance, that would always take me straight to the device’s front page. Instead, tapping within the top area of the touchscreen brings up a deck of buttons.

Similarly, the responsiveness of the touchscreen is high enough to trick me into hoping it’ll work as well as an iPad. I’m often accidentally pulling up definitions of words when I actually wanted to highlight a block of text. There’s room for UI improvement but this isn’t 100 percent the device’s fault.

And it certainly doesn’t damage my relationship with the Voyage. It’s a pricey device: at $200 for the Wi-Fi-only edition, Amazon is charging as much for this e-ink reader as other makers charge for color tablets that can do way more than just display and turn pages of text. Hell, Amazon makes their own color tablet that costs just $99.

But that misses the point. iPads and Galaxy Tabs and the like are for people who have many goals for that screen.

The Voyage is here to pander — no, “suck up” — to people who like to read and it achieves this goal to near-perfection.

My Kindle library contains a bunch of books that I’ve been banking against the time when I can finally sit down and enjoy reading them. Like, a delayed flight or an extended quarantine. The reading experience with the Voyage is so strong that it’s encouraged me to stop waiting and actually make the time to read.

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