Although we have never recommended you should purchase any Amazon tablet, we have always consistently recommended you should definitely consider buying an Amazon Kindle eBook reader.
The Kindle eBook reading software is now available on all iOS and Android devices, and on Mac and PC computers, too. So you might think there’s no longer any need for a dedicated eBook reader, and with high quality larger screened color tablets available for not much more money, perhaps there is no reason at all to consider a black and white Kindle eBook reader.
On the face of it, that is a fair interpretation of the situation. But there are two other factors to be considered which, we suggest, tip the scales in favor of buying a Kindle eBook reader as well as a tablet.
The first is battery life. Most tablets are going to die after about ten hours of usage, and while that’s plenty of time for most normal things, if you’re on a long flight or two, plus with extra waiting time in airports, you might find yourself running out of battery long before your travels are completed. The e-Ink style screens on the black and white Kindles use very much less battery power, and so last for very much longer.
The second is that Amazon has some special deals on eBooks, such as allowing you to ‘borrow’ one book a month, but this applies only to Kindle owners, not to people using the Kindle software on other devices.
Some people maintain that for long periods of viewing, the eInk displays are easier on the eyes than regular displays. We’ve never agreed with that claim, and have never seen any formal studies to support them.
An additional point in favor of a Kindle is their size. They are slightly smaller and definitely much lighter than most tablets. They have 6″ diagonal screens, whereas most tablets have at least 7″ or more on the diagonal, and the extra screen size actually does not enhance the reading experience – it detracts from it. The reason for that is there is an ideal line length that is dependent on the size of the type used – anything shorter than that length has your eyes flicking to and fro too quickly, and anything longer than that becomes harder to read.
The ideal line length is surprisingly short – about 65 characters long, and is better approximated on the 6″ Kindle screen than on larger tablet screens.
Let’s also not understate the importance of weight. A regular iPad weighs close on 1.5lbs (more with some sort of protective case installed. That’s not too much to hold for a few minutes here and there, but if you’re going to be using it for hours at a time reading, you’ll very quickly want to rest it on something, and then you start going through successively more and more uncomfortable contortions to try and get comfortable (if you can follow the logic of that!). The new Kindle readers weigh 6 – 7 ounces, about one third the weight of a regular iPad, and just over half the weight of an iPad Mini.
Amazon announced a new line up of eReaders on Wednesday this week, including three that are most appropriate for your consideration. All three have 6″ diagonal screens, but there are plenty of differences between them ‘under the hood’ (and even on the surface, too).
The standard Kindle has no backlight for the screen. The eInk screens are a bit like an LCD display – they need light from somewhere in order to be visible, and while that’s not a problem in most normal lighting conditions, if you are reading in, eg, a darkened airplane cabin, being able to have a muted backlight on the screen rather than needing the overhead cabin light on makes you much less a nuisance for the people seated around you!
I also find the clarity, contrast and readability, even in strong light, is improved by adding a bit of backlight too. So the lack of backlight on the regular Kindle is something you’d miss.
The standard Kindle also has the lowest pixel density on the screen. It has a 167 pixel per inch density, compared to 212 ppi on the Paperwhite and 300 ppi on the Voyage. So, you might think from these numbers that the Voyage is nearly twice as good as the standard Kindle – but you’d be wrong. You need to square these numbers to get an accurate appreciation of the actual density and visual representation – making the ‘true’ numbers 27.9 kppi, 44.9 kppi and 90 kppi. The Voyage is almost twice as good as the Paperwhite and more than three times as good as the standard Kindle.
This really makes a difference to the legibility/readability of the text. While there was a time, years ago, where 167 ppi was considered good, that is no longer the case these days and you’d definitely see the improvement between 167 and 212 ppi, and probably between 212 and 300 ppi.
In addition to the prices mentioned, Amazon offers a ‘no ad’ option for $20 more. On the face of it, avoiding ads is something well worth paying for, but in this case, leave the $20 in your pocket. The ads only appear on the ‘screensaver’ screen, not on the actual book pages, and sometimes are for relevant/interesting special book deals. Amazon doesn’t term these as ads, but instead calls them ‘special offers’ and that’s a reasonably fair description, too. Who doesn’t like some unobtrusive special offers from time to time.
The Paperwhite and Voyage can also have both Wi-Fi and 3G connectivity, but for most of us, there is no added value or reason to get the version with 3G connectivity (and it costs $70 more).
One final comment. Because the Kindle eBook readers are so small and light, you might choose to do what we do, ourselves. We travel with a tablet and a Kindle. It takes up almost no more space in our carry-on, and weighs a mere half dozen ounces, and then gives us all the flexibility to enjoy whatever form of mobile electronic entertainment and communications we choose while traveling.
Summary – Recommendation
The small difference in price and large difference in functionality between the standard Kindle and the Paperwhite make it easy for us to recommend the latter over the former. The larger gap in price and smaller improvement in functionality between the Paperwhite and Voyage make this a more difficult recommendation to offer, and we suggest you decide for yourself if you’d prefer the slightly greater ‘wow’ factor of the Voyage, together with its very slightly smaller overall size and weight, or if you’d rather save $80 on the purchase price, get the excellent Paperwhite, and put the $80 towards building your library of eBooks.
Oh yes, talking about buying eBooks. Do check out this site, which every day offers one or more free Kindle eBooks, and a selection of other heavily discounted titles. We’ve now filled our Kindle with free books – more than we could hope to read for many months to come.