While all its other e-readers cost less than $150, Amazon is going upscale with the Kindle Voyage. This $200 device has a sleek new design, a brighter, crisper e-Ink display, and a fancy new page-turning method. Plus, it's got access to Amazon's huge library of inexpensive content. But, at $80 more than other e-readers, such as the Amazon Paperwhite, is the Voyage worth the trip?
Click to EnlargeThe Amazon Kindle Voyage looks downright sexy; it's sleek, thin and lightweight. While it's a basic black rectangle with rounded corners--the same shape as the Paperwhite--a reinforced glass screen covers the front of the device, with a black bezel surrounding the E Ink screen.
Along the right and left bezels is a dot with a line beneath. These ingeniously serve as Amazon's new "physical" buttons, called PagePress, which are pressure-sensitive and also provide haptic feedback. Pressing the line will flip a book to the next page, and pressing the dot will take you back.
The rear of the Voyage is made of a single piece of magnesium for a durable and classy look. Each edge is angled up and out, reminiscent of the Amazon Fire tablet's design. The only actual button you'll see is the power button on the top right.
The Voyage weighs just 6.3 ounces (Wi-Fi only), and measures 6.4 x 4.5 x 0.3 inches. The $119 Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (6.7 x 4.6 x 0.4 inches; 7.3 ounces) and the Nook GlowLight (6.5 x 5 x 0.42 inches; 6.2 ounces) are both bigger and heavier.
Click to Enlarge Side by side, text was crisp and clear on the Voyage, and easier on the eyes than the Paperwhite or GlowLight.
But Amazon's enhancements don't stop there. The flush front glass that covers the Voyage's front is micro-etched to reduce glare and feel more like a printed page. In bright light we didn't notice many reflections.
Like the Paperwhite, the Voyage also uses Amazon's front-light technology, which lets you read in the dark. Using our lightmeter, the Voyage measured a bright 496 lux, nearly identical to the GlowLight's 490 lux, and far brighter than the Paperwhite's 333 lux. Not only was it the brightest, but of the three, the Voyage also offered the most even lighting.
The light on the Voyage isn't just bright, it's smart. In the light's controls you can set the light to auto adjust based on the ambient light around you. In my well-lit living room, it auto adjusted to 9, but when I stepped outside on a bright day, the display auto-adjusted to 16. Plus, when it's time to read in bed, the light will gradually dim itself over an hour or so, as your eyes adjust to the light and you prepare to sleep.
Click to EnlargeThe Kindle's interface is as easy to navigate as always. The home screen lists recently viewed or downloaded titles as thumbnail images of the book covers. The top bar houses a series of icons for home, back, light, shopping, search, Goodreads and settings. This navigation bar can follow you into the content as you read it, but only as a drop-down menu when you tap the top of the page.
Just below the menu bar on the home page, you can toggle between your Amazon library of content in the cloud or what's on the device. Content can be sorted by type, title, author and most recently received. The second row of thumbnail images shows book recommendations. You can swipe across either row to advance the lists of books and magazines.
The menu button reveals options to shop, view ads, change to List View, create a content collection, check for new items, tweak the settings and open the browser. Interestingly, you can also set to read in landscape mode, instead of portrait.
Within a book, the menu options include displaying book or author descriptions. You can sync to the furthest page read, bookmark and open notes. Within a periodical, this bar allows you to "Clip This Article" for reading later.
The menu button also houses a couple new additions. FreeTime is Amazon's parental controls, extended even to e-readers. You can create profiles for up to four children in your family, which allows you to block access to the Kindle store, Web browser, Wikipedia and social sharing.
Click to EnlargeWhen viewing Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, the Voyage offered sharper text and crisper images than either the Paperwhite or the GlowLight. Page turns were instantaneous and pretty much identical to the Kindle Paperwhite.
Although I've always preferred buttons to tapping or swiping, I found PagePress easy to use. In the settings, you can manually adjust both the amount of pressure required to turn a page and the amount of haptic feedback you get from pressing. You can also turn the page by tapping or swiping on the display. It also made the e-reader comfortable to hold with one hand. Simply holding my finger over the button didn't advance the pages on accident.
Amazon also adds some unique features to enhance the reading experience on all its e-readers.
As you're reading, if you press and hold on a word, a pop-up window will appear with options for the Dictionary, X-Ray and Wikipedia. Amazon's Vocabulary Builder will remember what words you pressed, and at any point, you can look up the words and test yourself (or your child) with flashcards.
X-Ray offers a CliffsNotes-like experience of a book, letting you know at a glance how often and where in a book a specific character or term appears. For example, using X-Ray when reading The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, I could easily see that Bilbo Baggins Esquire dominates the book, but Gollum only appears in two sections.
Amazon plans to roll out an update this fall that will add more features to this already impressive e-reader. Word Wise, designed for those who are learning to read, automatically displays very short and simple definitions above difficult words. You can adjust how the device determines the difficulty level of the words by moving a slider.
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Family Library solves one of my biggest gripes since the beginning of e-readers: the inability to easily share content across a family. Coming soon, you'll be able to link two adults' accounts. That means you'll have access to your e-books as well as your partner's.
Click to EnlargeThe Voyage's on-screen keyboard features small square keys. Tapping one causes it to blink black for a moment, which is a bit distracting. The predictive typing feature helped compensate for errors, but I wish the keys offered haptic feedback. The lag in keeping up with my typing is noticeable, so don't expect to compose long messages or notes.
Click to EnlargeAmazon's e-book library is best-in-class. The e-tailer offers millions of books, newspapers and magazines, as well as a huge library of exclusive titles (600,000). It also offers the best prices around. Among the most recent top 10 e-book fiction bestsellers, as listed by The New York Times, Amazon charged an average of $10, compared with $10.47 for Barnes & Noble and $12.19 for Kobo e-books.
Amazon also boasts more than 1 million titles for $4.99 or less and millions of out-of-copyright books for free. Anyone can download and read the first chapters of a book for free via Amazon's Sample feature. But if you subscribe to the Amazon Prime membership service (a one-month free trial followed by $99 per year), you can borrow from among hundreds of thousands of e-books. You get access to only one book at a time, but there are no due dates.
As an avid reader, I love the Kindle Matchbook feature. Through Matchbook you can purchase Kindle editions of Amazon print books you purchased as far back as 2007, for $2.99 or less. Also, Amazon now offers a Kindle First program where you can access one e-book a month ahead of its official release date. For Prime members this is free, otherwise it costs $1.99 per month.
Like Barnes & Noble and Kobo, Amazon lets users lend some Kindle books to other Kindle or Kindle app users. Eligible books -- those marked as Lending Enabled -- can be lent for up to 14 days. Recipients have seven days to accept, or the book is returned to your archives.
Outside the Amazon world, the Kindle supports TXT, PDF, DOC, DOCX, MOBI, PRC and HTML formats. That means you can download millions of free, out-of-copyright books from such sources as archive.org. The Kindle can also read JPEG, GIF, PNG and BMP image files.
Public libraries are also accessible from the new Kindle. E-books from more than 10,000 local institutions retain Kindle features such as notes and highlights. And when your e-book checkout expires, you can check it out again or buy it from the Kindle store.
Click to EnlargeAmazon's experimental browser on its e-readers is still as bare-bones as ever. From the home page Menu button, you're presented with a page of bookmarks that includes Amazon, Google.com, Yahoo and NYTimes.com. It look 11 seconds to load Laptopmag.com over a Wi-Fi connection, 14 seconds to load NYTimes.com and 12 seconds to load ESPN.com. We wouldn't recommend using this browser for Web searches, as it was buggy and there were a lot of flashes on the screen.
The Voyage should last up to six weeks, according to Amazon. That claim is based on a half hour of reading per day with wireless off and the light setting at a low 10. That's two weeks less than what is promised by the Amazon Paperwhite and the Nook GlowLight.
Click to EnlargeOur review unit of the Kindle Voyage, which came with 3G built in and without ads on the lock screen, costs $269. If you can do without the ads and are happy with Wi-Fi only, you'll pay $199. That's still a pretty far cry from the Kindle Paperwhite, which costs just $119 and has many of the same features.
Real bookworms know E Ink is the way to go when it comes to e-readers. And in the world of e-readers, the $199 Kindle Voyage is the best device yet. I love the glare-free, glass display, smart lighting and the PagePress page-turning buttons. For $80 less, you can pick up the Kindle Paperwhite, offers the same parental control features, and a front light for nighttime reading. But if you demand the very best reading experience and are willing to pay for it, the Voyage is simply fantastic.