Life at the sharp end with the Kindle Voyage

Unboxing the Kindle Voyage — a light and tough magnesium body with a micro-etched, non-reflective, toughened glass display that doesn’t show fingerprint marks

It’s been a long time since I used an e-reader. I was a relatively early adopter around 2007 with the Sony PRS e-reader, which I didn’t like with its awkward metal buttons and flashing page turns. In 2008, I moved on to a Kindle e-reader, which was better, but not by much.

I was relieved when the iPad emerged into the world in 2010. I loaded the Kindle app and enjoyed flash-free, smooth page turns with just a touch of a finger.

However, the iPad took a back seat when the Kindle Fire tablet came out and that has been my staple ebook reading device ever since, although I do use my Samsung Galaxy S4 phone a lot for reading ebooks when travelling.

The back of Amazon’s Kindle Voyage has a bevelled shape which makes it easy to handle

Excelling at a specialist role

Enter the Kindle Voyage. This is light at 6.3 ounces (180 grams) for the wi-fi-only version, which is the one I have (the wi-fi plus 3G model runs 3 ounces heavier).

By comparison, the Kindle Fire HD 7-inch version hits the scales at 13.9 ounces (395 grams), which is over double the weight of the Voyage.

The Voyage is also handy. The size of the device is 6.4 inches x 4.5 inches x 0.3 inches (162mm x115mm x 7.6mm) and I can pick it up with one hand easily.

It’s simple to use. There’s an on/off button on the back of the device at the top right, which is a relief as Amazon has tucked away the on/off on its e-readers and Fires in a number of locations, some of which have proved to be surprisingly difficult to use.

Select the book you want to read from your library and you’re away.

E-readers may seem to be the poor relation of do-it-all tablets but they have advantages in that while tablets aim to be a jack of all trades, an e-reader is a master of one – displaying ebooks – and the Amazon Voyage excels in this role.

Come up and see my micro etchings

The Voyage is very sharp. It has a 6-inch, micro-etched, toughened glass screen which is anti-reflective (you can read in sunlight without problems) and which displays at a resolution of 300ppi.

It is also impervious to fingerprint marks, so no more smeared screens, which is one of the drawbacks of tablets.

The Voyage’s screen resolution of 300ppi is sharper than the vast majority of print books. It’s not just like reading a print book, it’s much better than reading a print book in many ways. A print book is often cumbersome and heavy, hardbacks can be particularly difficult to read comfortably while softbacks can be designed with text that doesn’t take into account the binding, so it’s difficult to read into the margins or you have to crack the spine.

The Kindle Voyage only displays book covers in black and white but it’s a very sharp black and white, with rich, dark tones

But the Voyage also has limitations by comparison with print. It is an E-ink device, which means although it covers 16 levels of gray comfortably, it is still nonetheless black and white. It’s great for reading most novels, but anything with illustrations is not going to be shown to best effect and, of course, all book covers are displayed in mono.

E-readers really cater for keen readers who like the idea of a small, light device that can hold a charge for weeks.

Charge of the light brigade

I should point out that the length of time between charging is entirely dependent on the amount of use. Amazon says, ‘A single charge lasts up to six weeks, based on a half hour of reading per day with wireless off and the light setting at 10. Battery life will vary based on light setting and wireless usage.’

Half an hour reading a day seems a bit low to me, considering Voyage owners are likely to read more than that. Presumably, an hour’s reading a day would reduce battery life to three weeks, while three hours a day would mean charging would be needed after just a week.

It’s something to consider carefully if you’re, for example, going on a holiday which involves a plane journey of several hours where you’ll be reading and then using your e-reader every day for anything from an hour to several hours. Don’t forget to pack your charger.

I’ve only been using my Voyage for just over a week now, so I can’t make a fair assessment of battery life, particularly as I’ve been using the wi-fi extensively to download books from my Kindle library and to try out the self-styled ‘experimental browser’. I’ve also read the new Michael Connelly novel, The Burning Room, straight through, which was a stint of around four to five hours. At this level of use, I needed to recharge the Voyage after about six days, although this is a big improvement on the daily recharging required with the Fire.

The new page press controls offer a novel feedback buzz. You can press one of the vertical lines on either side to move forward a page.

Haptic days

When you come to turn a page on the Voyage, you will find things can be very different here. There are two dots on each side of the display and below them are two vertical lines. These are the page press controls. Squeeze the vertical lines on either side and you will move forward a page; do the same with either of the dots and you will go back a page.

Pressing either of the dots on the Kindle Voyage will take you back a page. It’s useful to have the controls on both sides of the device as you can press on the left vertical line to move forward or the right dot to move back, rather than the usual method of tapping in the direction you want to go.

The page press controls also feature haptic feedback, which is a fancy way of saying you’ll feel a bit of a buzz to tell you that you’ve pressed a page turn.

This is all very useful at times, particularly if you’re sitting upright and you’re gripping the Voyage with both hands. It’s not so good if you’re reclining or reading in the bath or bed, but fortunately you can turn it off entirely or you can keep the page press function but turn off the haptic feedback.

The page press feedback settings can be adjusted or turned off

The page press controls are a good choice to have, but a simple tap of the finger (or a sweep) on the right-hand side of the page will also turn the page forward smoothly while a tap on the left will go back a page.

I said in the previous paragraph that the page will turn smoothly, and it will do so if you tap or sweep the screen lightly, but if you use a heavier touch you may well get a dreaded flashing page turn.

I’m surprised that a flashing turn is still possible on an advanced ereader like this and I’m hoping that Amazon will update the software to deal with this. The firm has already updated the software once since launch for non-essential improvements to areas including X-Ray and magazine access, but it really needs to address this basic issue.

A bright idea

One of the main claims of the Voyage is for its adaptive lighting which adjusts the brightness of the display automatically according to the relative brightness of the room. This has worked well for me so far, but it can also be turned off so you can finetune the brightness to your liking if you prefer.

The lighting is beautifully even across the display, right into the corners.

This screenshot shows the font options for the Kindle Voyage, with Baskerville selected. There are eight size options, plus three choices each for line spacing and margins

One of the annoying features for me with the Voyage is the paltry selection of typefaces available on the device. There are just six typefaces built in to the Voyage and none of them is particularly great. The choice comprises: Baskerville, Caecilia, Caecilia Condensed, Futura, Helvetica and Palatino.

I’ve been using Palatino, which is an acceptable typeface for long reads, and Baskerville is also usable, but I miss Georgia from the Fire, which I feel is an excellent typeface for reading ebooks. As well as Georgia, the Fire features Caecilia, Trebuchet, Verdana, Arial, Times New Roman, Courier, and Lucida.

E-readers generally have fewer typeface options available than tablets. The KIndle Paperwhite has Caecilia, Baskerville, Futura, Helvetica and Palatino, but has also featured ‘Publisher Font’ which meant the Paperwhite could display publishers’ embedded fonts.

However, Kobo has made some efforts in this area and the recently launched Aura H20 e-reader offers 10 typefaces built in with the option of 24 sizes together with sharpening and weight settings.

This screenshot shows the Kindle Voyage’s ‘experimental browser’ displaying the New York Times Arts page. It’s readable and seems to be fast on a decent wi-fi connection. You can turn the pictures off to make it more readable. You can also use Article View using the Kindle Voyage’s ‘experimental browser’ to read online articles easily

The ‘experimental browser’ in action

As mentioned earlier, the Kindle Voyage features an ‘experimental browser’. This does work to an extent, but also crashes at times. A mono device is never going to be very good for browsing the web but it is possible to use if you persevere.

The Kindle Voyage compared with the Paperwhite

The Voyage is really an upgrade from the Kindle Paperwhite, which also has a 6-inch display but weighs a bit more at 7.8 ounces (222 grams) and is slightly bigger at 6.7 inches x 4.6 inches x 0.36 inches (169 mm x 117 mm x 9.1 mm). The Paperwhite’s display isn’t as sharp at 212ppi compared with the Voyage’s 300ppi, but the Paperwhite wins out on battery life, with a claimed eight weeks based on half an hour reading a day.

The Paperwhite does, however, lack adaptive lighting and the Voyage’s page press controls, but it is a lot cheaper than the Voyage at $119/£99 against the Voyage’s price tag of $219/£169 (both wi-fi only).

I’ve been very happy with using the Voyage so far and particularly happy that throwing it into a bag doesn’t seem to add to the weight, you can even slip it into a jacket pocket. I believe it’s the best e-reader available, but it could be a question of degree between the Voyage and the Paperwhite for some people. If you love reading and want the best reading experience (and the lightest, sharpest and most compact device), then, for me, it’s got to be the Voyage.

Outside of Amazon, the only real high-end e-reader contender looks like Kobo’s Aura H20 e-reader which is claimed to be waterproof. The device is heavier than the Voyage at 233 grams, with a 6.8-inch screen displaying at 265ppi, while the device measures 179mm x 129mm x 9.7mm and is priced at $179/£139, midway between the Paperwhite and the Voyage.