NEW YORK - Contrary to rumors to the contrary, the e reader isn't dead. Amazon heralded the arrival of the Kindle Voyage today, marking the seventh generation for the company's E Ink devices. It's thin, sports pressure-sensitive buttons and will cost you $199, which is $99 more than the company's new budget tablet. But you will be able to share a family library of books and read them in direct sunlight without issue.
During my hands-on time with the Kindle Voyage, I was struck by the sleek look of the flush glass front. The chemically treated glass front is micro-etched to offer a slightly textured surface, adding to the real-book-feel while also resisting scratches and diffusing light. The Paperwhite display offers a resolution of 300 pixels per inch, which looked very sharp. Even a graphic novel looked clear and well shaded.
The Voyage was effortless to read even in bright direct light, but should you take it to bed the new, brighter front light is smart enough to help you go to sleep. The adaptive light can automatically adjust the brightness based on surrounding light. And if it senses you're in the dark, it knows that the human eye adjusts to darkness over time. So the Kindle Voyage can lower its brightness over time.
Instead of push buttons, both sides house a long line and a dot, which function as pressure-sensitive page turn buttons. These worked well, and offered a tiny pop of haptic feedback when pushed. But, while I held my hand on the button it didn't automatically jump pages by accident. The display is a touchscreen as well, so you can still tap to turn the page.
The back of Voyage is made of a single piece of molded magnesium for a strong, but thin look. The whole device weighs just 6.4 ounces and measures 7.6mm thin, making it the thinnest and lightest Kindle yet.
If $199 for an E Ink e reader is too rich for your blood, Amazon also took the wraps off a new $79 base model Kindle which features a touchscreen, unlike previous models. What you don't get for that price are the PagePress buttons or a Paperwhite front light.
The base Kindle, like its more expensive cousin, will include 4GB of onboard storage and unlimited storage of books in the cloud. Amazon also announced that it will continue to offer the existing Kindle Paperwhite for $119, while also upping the amount of storage to 4GB. The inexpensive Kindle felt very similar to existing models, with a slightly indented screen and soft rubbery plastic feel.
Battery life numbers weren't immediately available, but there's no reason to think it won't be close to the eight weeks claimed by existing Kindles. Pre-orders for all three e readers start now, and will ship in October.
The Kindle, Kindle Paperwhite and Kindle Voyage will all come with the latest updates to the Amazon operating system, and existing models will get an over-the-air update. The newest features include deeper integration with Goodreads social network and a new Word Wise vocabulary tool for young readers. When you turn it on, challenging words get in-line, short definitions automatically. You can adjust this, thankfully. But, I can see how students might find them helpful, particularly when used in conjunction with the Kindle FreeTime Unlimited service that offers all-you-can-eat content including various Newberry Medal award-winning kids books.
I was particularly excited to see the Family Library on the Kindle line. That means up to two adults and four children can share books with a simple tap. Plus, you don't have to be reading those books on a Kindle e reader; you could be reading them on an iPad through the Kindle app.
Amazon also improved upon its X-Ray feature for books. In addition to the ability to search a book for characters or key terms seen throughout, you can now flip through a book's images in order. For those like me who pick up a book only to put it down half-read, you'll love the timeline view in X-Ray. It lets you browse through the most notable passages in the book to get you caught up. But it only shows you up to the point you've read: no spoilers.
While the Kindle Voyage looks great, I'm hard pressed to know why I'd recommend a $199 e reader over a tablet, no matter now much I love to read. However, I am excited to see some of the features coming to the software, which makes that $79 Kindle look pretty attractive.