Amazon’s Kindle is a tech-industry miracle. That sounds over-the-top; it’s not.
In 2007, when the company first unveiled its e-reader, the device was an expensive ugly duckling whose future looked marginal at best. The first Kindle, which sold for $400 and was made by a company that had no track record in hardware, had a lot to overcome: the reluctance of the book industry to change its business model, the sentimentality of readers for the printed book, and its egregious industrial design, which looked like the product of the Soviet space program.
Worst of all, the Kindle was a dedicated machine. Its only purpose was to let you read books that you purchased from Amazon’s online store. In the age of smartphones and apps, when a single phone does just about everything, most dedicated devices have had a rough ride. Sales of snapshot cameras and digital have crashed because their functions were eaten by phones.
But not the Kindle. Amazon’s e-reader hasn’t merely survived, but thrived, thanks to a single-minded focus on the needs of obsessive readers. Each year Amazon slightly improved the Kindle’s prices, hardware and software, making it more competitive with print, and roiling the publishing industry in the process.
Now, with its newest Kindle, the Voyage, Amazon is refining its e-reader once more. The Voyage’s main trick is a high-resolution display that mimics the look of a printed page. Text on its screen appears at a resolution of 300 pixels an inch, which is on par with the high-resolution displays now found on most of our other mobile devices.
Compared with previous Kindles, text on the Kindle Voyage appears both sharper and in starker relief against the background. Graphics, like charts and graphs, look just as clear as they do in any black-and-white book.
The effect is beguiling. If you look at the new Kindle for any stretch of time, you don’t just forget that you’re reading an e-book; you forget that you’re using any kind of electronic device at all.
Amazon says the Voyage offers a better approximation of print than has ever been available on an e-reader, but for me, it’s far better than that. It offers the visual clarity of printed text with the flexibility of an electronic device.
Given that combination, the Voyage functions as something like the executioner of the trusty old hardcover. Until recently, there were only two remaining reasons to hang on to books — either you just couldn’t get on board with the way a Kindle page looked, or you were suspicious of Amazon’s power and larger motives in the publishing industry, and you saw the printed book as the only bulwark against its overreach.
The first reason is now gone. The Voyage, which at $199 and up is Amazon’s most expensive Kindle, doesn’t look just like the printed page. Like other Kindles, it does things the printed page can’t do.
Reading a long tome (say the “Game of Thrones” series) and you want to keep track of the characters? X-Ray, a feature built into most Kindle books, shows you a handy pop-up guide of every person you encounter. Need to look up a word? Just tap on it. Want to flip back and forth between footnotes and the main text? It’s just a matter of tapping; reading David Foster Wallace’s “Infinite Jest” on a Kindle isn’t the workout it is in print.
The Voyage is Amazon’s thinnest Kindle, but I found that advantage to be of little significance; Amazon’s other recent Kindles have also been very thin.
The Voyage also includes a new way to turn pages built into the plastic border of the device, right under where you’d rest your thumbs while holding it. To turn, you slightly pinch with either thumb; on other Kindles, you had to lift your finger and tap the screen. (You can also turn that way on the Voyage.) I found this method to be also only slightly helpful, because turning pages on other Kindles really wasn’t much of a hassle to begin with.
So the only real reason to chose the Voyage over the other Kindles — the Paperwhite, which goes for $119, and the entry-level reader, which is $69 but doesn’t have a light — is its high-contrast display. For me, the Voyage’s display justifies the price. If you read often, you’ll want a high-quality screen, and this is one you’ll appreciate every single time you read.