Amazon’s best Kindle yet: the Kindle Voyage reviewed

Can an eBook reader be premium? That’s the question Amazon is attempting to answer with the Voyage, an ultra-slim take on the concept that changed the way many of us consumed books.

Features and performance

There’s no denying that Amazon’s Kindle has changed the landscape of books, with the digital reader essentially popularising electronic books in much the same way that Apple’s iPod did with electronic music. Sure, both the eBook and MP3 were around before each of these, but it needed these gadgets and their respective digital marketplaces to make the dent, to make the case that more people than just the early adopters could get into them.

Since then, Amazon has had a few Kindles out, and every year or two, we see a new device take to the market, providing an update to the idea of the digital book reader to make things just a little more like reading a book.

This year, though, the important update has come with a few things, such as a new way to control the eReader and a thinner form-factor, but one of the most important features of the Voyage eReader has to be the screen, so let’s talk about that.

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Anyone considering an eBook reader has probably seen the difference between reading text off a standard LCD screen like the iPad or another tablet or phone might have, and that of an eBook reader like the Kindle or Kobo. These devices are totally different, with vibrancy and colour offered from an LCD screen on the iPad — ideal for movies and games — and just simple black and white and lots of grey offered on the eReader screen.

The display technologies are fundamentally different too, with eReaders relying on a low power technology that doesn’t have screen burn known as “electronic ink”. Also known as “electronic paper”, this screen type has been made to look and feel more like paper, with no light behind the display that you need to adjust your eyes to, making it ideal for books.

Generally, it’s monochromatic, which also helps the printed argument, and great with battery life, resulting in weeks worths of life, not hours to days that regular LCD equipped tablets deal with.

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Amazon has been playing with the technology for longer than most in its Kindle range of eBook readers, and in the Voyage is pushing the screen technology to a higher level. This eReader employs an E-Ink Carta HD screen, which allows the display to show 1448×1072 pixels on its 6 inch screen, a more technical way of saying that this has 300 pixels per inch, which makes it not far off what Apple considers Retina, and good enough to print with.

“Good enough to print” is the phrase you should take home with the Kindle Voyager as it translates to book quality, which makes the Voyage more like reading a book than previous Kindles thanks to that technology.

Granted, the previous Kindles have been relatively sharp, too, and only under what many regard as printed book quality, so most might not have seen the difference, but the new model is practically on target, resulting in the same level of print quality, with the only thing missing from the experience being the texture of the paper and the smell.

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Amazon’s Kindle Voyage doesn’t really smell like anything, so it doesn’t take the personality that an old book has, but it does come with a magnesium body which is soft to grip and comfortable to hold, and some might say slightly cool to the touch.

Up top is a plastic section where the wireless antennas likely are, and this doubling up of materials helps to provide something else to grip and not lose your fingers to, providing a little more resistance if the magnesium is too smooth.

It also offers up the best implementation of front-lighting we’ve seen, working with a sensor found in the top left of the frame that does its best to work out what sort of light the Voyage should be providing, which is fantastic.

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This front-lighting is a little different from the backlighting you might be used to on phones, tablets, and computer screens simple because rather than light up from the back — as that name suggests — this one lights up the page, almost as if the whole display was changing colour, going from a flat beige white when emulating a proper page to a bright light “read-me-anywhere” look when the light goes up.

For the most part, the automatic brightness setting does a decent job of working out what sort of page lighting you’ll need, but we found it was easier to just override it, opening the tab up top for lighting and dragging our finger up and down the light scale, which offers 24 steps of brightness when you want to exert that level of control.

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