The Kindle Voyage is the culmination of years, 7 of them, as of today, to be precise, of Amazon’s efforts to produce a great electronic book reader. This is a beautiful device for those who love reading. While I won’t go into all of the advantages of a dedicated e-reader, some are: less eye strain, easily read in day light, thin and light and no on-line distractions. Yes you can read Kindle books on your iPad, Kindle Fire or phone but the experience is not like a book. The current line of Kindle readers (and especially the Paperwhite and Voyage) are much more so. There are lots of other benefits, including syncing with Audible audio-books, having all your books with you all the time and so forth. (See these posts for more on the Kindle Paperwhite, Audible and Whispersync for Voice or a the Kindle’s role in a lean mobile office or an research on the road.) But the point of this post is to really look at the Voyage as an e-reader and it’s advantages over the previous generation, the Paperwhite.
This review is less about a technical review and more about my experience. Obviously, your mileage may vary, so I’m going to bore you a bit with my history with Kindle and my typical usage to help you compare to yours. I have owned and used Kindle Basic (4th Gen., D Ring), Kindle Touch, Kindle Paperwhite (1 & 2) and Kindle Voyage. Now you might wonder at upgrading at almost every generation. I want to give each of my four childen a Kindle and I do so by handing down my device to upgrade; alas, I only have one upgrade left (these devices are now disperse among my wife and three of four children). So I’ve only known e-ink pearl and beyond. I use Whispersync (between Kindle & Windows 8.1 computers and tablet) and Whispersync for Voice (between Kindle & Audible’s Windows Phone app on my Nokia Lumia 920 – I’ve used the Android version of the app previously). I use my Kindle almost everyday. Most of my reading is novels, some reference and business/tech books and books on theology. I use the Chrome app to send Web articles to Kindle to read later. I’ve “checked out” ebooks from the library and receive advanced reviewers copies from Netgalley and directly from authors. It’s well used.
So I’ve had the Voyage for a little over 3 weeks (I received it on November 23rd). I’ve used it at home, work, coffee shops, airplane, in the car (waiting for kid pick up) and outside in the park. In that brief time, I’ve pretty much used all of it’s features with the exception of Kid Time). I’ve downloaded new books, side-load books (directly from PC) and sent web articles, Word documents and PDFs to it. Like I said, it’s well used even in this relatively brief time period.
While the Paperwhite came close, Voyage is the first e-ink reader that disappears for me. After I start reading, the device is gone and the content totally takes over. Why? I no longer have to give it any thought. I don’t have to set the lighting (there’s a sensor and setting that allows the intensity of the lighting on the panel to automatically adjust to your environment), it’s super light and thin, so holding it for long periods of time is hardly noticeable (less so than a paperback) and I can easily read hands-free with the separate but related Origami cover (about which more below). The content comes alive and the world disappears just like with a “real” book.
The ease with which content is accessible really came through on a recent flight. It was fairly short 737 flight – AKA crowded and cramped. You also have dramatic shifts in lighting from a bright terminal, lights off in the cabin and people turning on the lights over their seat. You have a small area to hold your reader, especially when the coke & peanuts arrive. The Voyage handled all these environments with aplomb, moderating light reasonably quickly with each change. I could even stand the book up on the flip-down tray using the cover whilst munching peanuts (which are nearly inaccessible behind their packaging). While the Paperwhite is a marvelous device, I would have been playing with the light setting quite a bit during this trip and juggling the reader and drinks during the flight. Could I do it? Sure, but it was nice to avoid it which lends itself to full immersion in the book.
One note about a gain and a loss from the Paperwhite. As far as I can tell, active content (games or apps such as a calculator) don’t work on the Voyage where they did on the Paperwhite. These aren’t a big loss. On the flip side, graphic novels/comics do work, but obviously without color. Comics would not download on the Paperwhite.
What are the things I most love about the Voyage? The screen is flat-out gorgeous. Text is crisp, diagrams and drawings are clear, the lighting is even and fonts a fabulous. I also love that the screen is flush and not recessed. (There is one issue I’ve read about where the screen shows some discoloration, possibly yellowing. When I first read about this, I looked at the Kindle and thought, after looking hard, that I noticed some as yellow. Now for the price, this thing should be spot-on perfect, so I was disappointed. Then I forgot about it and never noticed it again. Later I went back to my screen straining to see the issue, and, at least for me it was a phantom non-issue. It is, however, a testament to the power of suggestion. I’m not saying the issue doesn’t exist for others, just that I don’t see it.) I also love the automatically light adjustment (sometimes it seems to get “stuck” where it doesn’t adjust. This is resolved with a reset, but I’m hoping for an update to resolve this.) I love that it’s light and thin.
What would I love to see improved? PagePress could work better. Even with the most sensitive setting, I think it takes too much pressure to turn a page. I typically stay with using the touchscreen. I would love to see the movement (page turning, opening a book or access a collection) a bit quicker and selection of text less of a test of agility. It takes WAY too long for categories to be selected/deselect. Now, I have collections in the cloud so there some network part of this, but I have to think that’s minimal. If that’s the issue, cache it and send it asynchronously. Finally, I really think it should have been called Voyager since it’s the vessel for our voyages through books, not the voyage itself. OK, that list isn’t an improvement to the device, but still…
People seem to love or hate the Origami cover. I’m in the love category. Yes it’s a bit awkward in the beginning, but it becomes pretty straight forward to set. Once you’re used to it, it works extraordinarily well. The stand’s perfect; it can easily be used to hold it in landscape mode (with the same fold, just turn it on it’s side) and, because it holds the Kindle in magnetically, it’s easily removed (that’s definitely not the case for the Paperwhite official cover). So when you want to hold it for long periods of time reading, just pop it away from the cover and it’s that much lighter. When you do hold it with the cover, it’s still light and the flipped-over cover stays put to the back with a magnet. Brilliant. It’s pricey, like the Voyage, but it’s worth it. It’s also very compact so that with the Voyage, being slightly smaller than the Paperwhite, and this cover, being smaller than the official Paperwhite cover (which is a quite nice cover), the fits nicely in my back pocket.
So the million dollar question – should you upgrade? If you’re currently using a Paperwhite (1 or 2), I would say no (unless you have discretionary income to burn or you are an avid reader). If you are on a Kindle prior to Paperwhite and have extra money, it’s really nice and would be worth it to at least upgrade to the Paperwhite, and nicer to upgrade. What about first time buyers? This is a pretty expensive reader ($200), if you’re not a huge reader or you’re on a fairly tight budget, get the Paperwhite ($120); it’s really good. If you’re on really a tight budget, get the Kindle (basic model – no built in lighting, but with touch). Personally, I think e-readers are so much better than other devices for reading that I would get the basic ($80) and a 7″ HD Kindle Fire ($120) for a total of $200 over an Apple mini-iPad for $250. Yes the iPad mini is nicer than the Fire but those two are pretty powerful and you’ll have a good experience reading. For the price of the base iPad – $500, you could get the 8.9″ Fire HDX ($380) and Kindle Paperwhite ($120). So if you’re tempted to read on your tablet using the Kindle app, you owe yourself to at least look at e-readers if you read with any regularity. (If you don’t, that’s a whole other argument.)
If you can swing it, I highly recommend the Kindle Voyage.