The first time I laid hands on a Kindle was in July last year. Until then, I had stubbornly resisted picking up an e-book reader, preferring to surround myself with mountains of my familiar, papery friends. That was last year. After I (reluctantly) reviewed the 2nd-gen Kindle Paperwhite, I found myself doing the unthinkable. I ordered a Paperwhite online, and let’s just say the rest is history.
One of the main reasons – apart from its obvious benefits – of investing in a Kindle was the assurance that an e-book reader, unlike a smartphone or tablet, wouldn’t go out of date as easily. At least, that’s what I told myself. Late last year, Amazon announced its flagship e-reader, the Kindle Voyage, alongside the new Kindle (review). While the new Kindle was launched in India soon after the international announcement, the Voyage only made its way here a few weeks ago. It’s thinner, lighter and slimmer than last year’s Paperwhite, and packs in some innovative tech under the hood. And it’s seriously making me think about an upgrade, less than a year after I bought my Paperwhite. Here’s why.
Looking at the Kindle Voyage and the 2nd-gen Paperwhite side-by-side, it’s impossible not to notice the differences. The Voyage makes the 9.3mm Paperwhite look positively chubby, and at 7.6mm, is Amazon’s thinnest Kindle yet. While both Kindles sport 6-inch displays, Amazon has cut down on the bezels of the Voyage, reducing its width by 2mm and its height by a good 7mm. The weight has also been reduced, with the Wi-Fi-only Voyage weighing 180g, as opposed to its Paperwhite counterpart’s 206g. Because of its slimmer design, the power button on the Voyage has moved from its usual place alongside the micro-USB port on the bottom edge to the rear. Instead of a tiny button, you now get a larger, round button that's much easier to press.
Dimensions aside, the other thing that strikes you immediately is that the display now sits flush with the bezels. On the Paperwhite, the bezels are slightly raised, and though it never felt like a hindrance, the uniformity of the Voyage’s front panel feels much nicer. Another thing you’ll notice on the facade are two new markings. There are two short vertical lines on either side of the screen, with corresponding dots sitting above them. These are indicative of Amazon’s custom-designed force sensors which are responsible its new PagePress feature. By applying gentle pressure, you can use the lines on either side to flip to the next page, and the dots to go to the previous page. By default, the haptic feedback level is set to medium, but you can change it to low or high depending on your preference, or turn it off altogether. You can also set the amount of pressure required for each turn, choosing again between low, medium and high. Initially, I found PagePress difficult to get used to, but over time it’s started to feel as familiar as navigating via the touchscreen, which you can incidentally still do if you prefer.
Unlike the Paperwhite, which features a flat back panel, the Voyage’s rear case is made of four geometrically shaped parts crafted out of magnesium. This makes the device quite sturdy, but I’d still advise using a case, especially if you carry your Kindle with you when you travel. I loved Amazon’s new Origami cover, which attaches to the Voyage magnetically for a snug fit. Unlike the usual Kindle book covers which open sideways, the Origami case opens up from the top like a notepad, with the cover magnetically attaching to the back. It can also fold inwards (hence the 'Origami' in its name) to create a stand, letting you prop your Kindle up in portrait mode.
The 2nd-gen Paperwhite's display was already a step-up from its predecessor, but the Voyage takes it to a whole new level. It uses the same Carta e-ink technology, but features micro-etched glass which is designed to reduce glare and mimic the feel of real paper. Personally, I didn’t find much of a difference when viewing the display outdoors. Also, it doesn’t feel like paper – I actually think the Paperwhite’s screen has a rougher, more papery texture. The Voyage’s screen feels more like a glossy magazine, which isn’t a bad thing either. The display resolution has been bumped up, with a pixel density of 300ppi, a significant improvement over the Paperwhite’s 212ppi. The differences are clearly visible when you examine the screens – text on the Voyage looks much, much sharper, and previously indiscernible fuzzy images like cover art and illustrations look clearer.
The maximum brightness has also been bumped up a bit, and when you look at the screens closely, you can see that the Voyage sports a yellowish tinge, as opposed to the cool white tone of the Paperwhite. The Voyage also packs in a nice upgrade in the form of an ambient light sensor. With the Paperwhite, you had to manually tap the bulb icon on top to adjust the brightness, but the Voyage does that for you automatically. It’s a bit sluggish, taking a few seconds to adapt to different lighting conditions, but works well otherwise.
Another new feature on the Voyage is Nightlight, which gradually reduces the screen brightness as your eyes get used to the dark. I've felt some eye-strain (despite what Amazon says) reading the Paperwhite in a dark room, but it was surprisingly comfortable to do the same on the Voyage.
In terms of software, you can expect the usual suspects like Dictionary, Notes, Highlights, Goodreads, Whispersync, X-Ray and Vocabulary Builder. Among the new additions are Word Wise, which automatically displays short definitions above difficult words. There’s also About this Book, accessible from the drop-down settings menu, which shows you previews of the book series and author information, and lets you update your Goodreads status. Additionally, there’s Enhanced Search, which displays search results from your library, the Kindle Store and Goodreads in one place.
The Kindles have always been praised for their excellent battery life, and Amazon estimates that the Voyage can last up to six weeks on a single charge, with 30 minutes of reading everyday with the Wi-Fi turned off, and the light setting at 10. I read much more than that – anywhere between 60-90 minutes a day, and I found that the battery died much faster – usually within 10 days. To be fair, I kept the Wi-Fi on, but I do that on my Paperwhite too, and it easily lasts between two to three weeks. Even so, we’re still talking weeks compared to days or hours, so it’s not much of a concern.
In terms of connectivity, the Kindle Voyage supports Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n. The 3G variant features Amazon’s free data, which means you can browse the Kindle Store and download e-books without paying a fee.
The storage remains the same at 4GB, which is sufficient to hold thousands of books. The Voyage uses a 1GHz processor like the Paperwhite, but gets double the RAM at 1GB. It doesn't make much of a difference in performance, given that an e-ink display is inherently sluggish.
If you thought that by introducing the Voyage Amazon was retiring the Paperwhite – it's not. The Voyage simply adds another category to its Kindle line-up. The new Kindle is now the base model, while the Paperwhite moves from top-tier to mid-range. The Voyage takes its place as the flagship Kindle, and this reflects in its price. The Wi-Fi-only model costs Rs 16,499, while the 3G version is priced at Rs 20,499, making it a full Rs 6,000 more expensive than its Paperwhite counterparts.
Not many of you will feel like spending that kind of money on an e-book reader, especially when the Paperwhite (and even the regular Kindle, for that matter) is a perfectly acceptable device. But after two weeks with the Voyage, I can't bring myself to look at my Paperwhite the same way again. It feels like a well-thumbed paperback in the face of a shiny new hardcover.
But let's get this straight - the Voyage isn't for everyone. Amazon's subtle enhancements like the sharper display, auto-brightness, PagePress and Nightlight will appeal mainly to voracious readers, myself included. If you count yourself in that category, I suggest you bid bon voyage to your existing e-book reader (and your money) in favour of the Voyage. I know I probably will.