Remember last November when TechCrunch said that the Kindle "Ice Wine" would feature improved typography and a much better screen? I didn't believe parts of that report at the time, but there have been moments over the past few days where I think TC may have understated the case.
Amazon's latest Kindle, the Voyage, arrived at my door on Friday and now that the embargo has been lifted on Monday I can finally tell you what I think. Three days isn't really enough time to write a review, but I do have a few thoughts. (I got my unit later than some of the other reviewers.)
I wouldn't buy one, and in a couple ways the design falls flat, but wow. If you are one of the lucky few who ordered early enough to get an early ship date, you are in for a treat.
While I would normally balk at writing a review after only 3 days (not enough time, IMO), I have checked and my Kindle Voyage loaner is still running pretty much the same software as what the Paperwhite ran a month ago. Technically the Voyage is running v.5.5, which is a later version than what is running on the Paperwhite, but the Voyage still lacks the new software features which Amazon is promising to add in a firmware update later this year.
Since the software features are largely identical to other Kindles I can skip them and focus on simply the hardware and the reading experience. And that is most of what I have been doing for the past 3 days. (I even put off writing a review I had scheduled so I could instead lay around, reading ebooks, and playing with the Voyage. What a tough life I lead.)
How Does it Feel
As the early photos will tell you, the Kindle Voyage is a simple black rectangle which is at first glance is difficult to distinguish from other Kindle models. But then you flip it over and the difference is obvious.
The Kindle Voyage sports a rubberized rear shell which is patterned after the design of Fire tablets, except without the sharp angles. While you can see and feel the suggestion of panels, the angles are so shallow that the Voyage feels more like the curved rear shell of the Paperwhite than it does to the angled rear shell of the Fire tablets.
Moving on to the front, the Voyage has a 6" screen which is noticeably a couple shades lighter than the screen on my 2013 Paperwhite. The screen on the Voyage is mounted flush with the front of the case, which matters more than you would think. When placed next to the Paperwhite the text seems to float on the Voyage's screen, and thanks to the 300 dpi resolution it is also considerably sharper with more finely detailed fonts than can be found on previous E-ink screens.
If you're upgrading, I think you will notice. (I am ambivalent on such details, but even I noticed and marveled.)
The Voyage sports a frontlight which is both much brighter and much whiter than the frontlight on my Paperwhite, which is browner in comparison. The Voyage also has an ambient light sensor which can set the intensity of the frontlight for you, but I can't comment on it (I always disable such sensors).
I can comment on the fact that the frontlight is never off, not even at the lowest setting. Even in a pitch black room I could see some light on the screen. It wasn't enough to read, but it was enough to be able to turn the frontlight up. I'd rather be able to turn the frontlight all the way off, but I will admit that that is a nice touch, and one which the Paperwhite doesn't have.
On either side of the screen you will find a pair of page turn buttons, the one feature which I don't think worked out well. These non-physical buttons are pressure sensitive, and trying to get them to respond consistently detracted from the reading experience.
What is it Like to Read On
When I posted my review of the new basic Kindle, I lead with the observation that I was having trouble writing the review because the device had got out of my way while I was using it.
I can't say the same about the Voyage. While it was fun to get one in my hands, some parts of the design kept tripping me up.
The origami cover, for example, folds over the top rather than the side. This detracted from the reading experience, and trying to fold that cover correctly so I could use it as a stand was a hit or miss process.
And then there are the page turn buttons.
While I like that Amazon added them back in after going button-less with the Kindle Touch in 2011, I would prefer actual physical buttons. The pressure sensitive buttons on the Voyage are finicky and don't work in every situation.
According to Amazon's promo info, the page turn buttons, or PagePress as they are called are intended to be squeezed, but given how I usually hold my ereaders that doesn't always work. For example, I found while reading in bed that the buttons didn't always register my press. What's more, I regularly had the Voyage decide that I wanted to go back rather than forward.
While you could write that off to user error, any design that still has me tripped up after 3 days could well be described as counter-intuitive, and in need of work. Luckily there is an option to disable the page turn buttons (it's in the settings menu).
Update: Actually, you could also write that off to a user not looking at the settings menus. The buttons can be adjusted to respond to less or increased pressure. This might have helped with my inability to get a consistent response.
Three days is too early to post a real review, but based on what I have seen so far I would say that if you have the money to spend, you're going to love the Kindle Voyage. But if you don't have the money, well, there isn't much you'll miss aside from the higher resolution screen and the brighter frontlight. (I won't miss them much.)
The Paperwhite will be getting the same software updates as the Voyage, and it has its own smartcovers. So the question you should really ask is whether the Voyage is worth the extra $80 (or possibly even more, if you are upgrading and selling off your old unit).