Note: The day I finished writing this review, Jeff Bezos announced a new, high-end Kindle, so it’s probably a good idea to wait for further details before buying any of the Kindles — if only to pick-up a second-hand Voyage for a better price.
Years ago, I preordered the Amazon Kindle 2. I’d never used an eReader before but I was spending hundreds of dollars a month on physical books and was eager to slash that cost as much as possible by going digital. I handed over my money and hoped for the best.
This was one of the better decisions I’ve made in my life.
Right away, the Kindle 2 became my favourite gadget. Books were now affordable, they didn’t need to be shipped from the United States to Australia, and the reading experience felt wonderfully refined. I was in heaven.
Since then, new Kindles have been released, but until earlier this year, I didn’t buy any of them. I tried one of the earlier updates, but the lack of physical keyboard, lousy buttons, and otherwise cheap feeling kept me wary of upgrading unless I had to. Even as well-reviewed updates were released, like the Paperwhite, I stuck with my Kindle 2, content with my “if it ain’t broke” mentality.
Then it broke.
After seven years of faithful service, the Kindle 2 started bugging out. Sometimes books wouldn’t open, forcing me to restart the device, delete the book, and then re-download it. In other cases, my highlights were disappearing without syncing to the web, which meant I could no longer trust the linchpin of my research.
The time had come for an upgrade.
Paperwhite vs. Voyage
At this point, there’s three types of Kindles to choose between:
With a lower-resolution display and no option for 3G connectivity, the standard Kindle wasn’t going to make the cut. I read enough to justify the ultimate in reading luxury, and I used the 3G connectivity on my Kindle 2 enough times to know I’d miss it if it wasn’t there (especially during long layovers in airports).
This meant the choice was between the Paperwhite and the Voyage, and in terms of features, the Voyage only has a slight edge:
- A sensor that adjusts the brightness of the display, meaning you (theoretically) never have to manually manage the display’s brightness when you’re reading in different lighting conditions.
- “PagePress”, a feature that uses haptic feedback (vibrations) to simulate the feel of clicking buttons when navigating between pages.
The Voyage is also lighter, and apparently the glass is less reflective than the glass of the Paperwhite, but still, there’s no particularly killer feature that makes the Voyage a must buy — especially since it costs $80 more, which is enough to buy a good amount of Kindle books (or a few months of Kindle Unlimited).
Nevertheless, I found a Voyage on eBay that included the “Without Special Offers” option and 3G connectivity for just $165 USD, so I couldn’t resist buying the highest-end eReader on the market — especially since I’ll probably use it for years to come.
Once again, this was a pretty good decision.
It’s been a long time since I setup the Kindle 2, so I can’t compare the Voyage setup process to anything, but I can say it was a breeze. It’s just a matter of connecting to a Wi-Fi network (or using the 3G connection if you paid for that option), logging into Amazon, and confirming the registration of the device.
Navigating the device is mostly handled through the touchscreen’s display, which has been a staple of the Kindle for a while now, but was a big departure from the Kindle 2’s entirely physical approach to navigation, which combined buttons, a joystick, and a physical keyboard. I worried about the lack of buttons for navigating between pages, but the touchscreen has been satisfying. I do make the occasional mistake — tapping the screen by accident or tapping while intending a swipe — but the device is quick, so it only takes a second to reverse the mistake.
What had me a little worried is that, after the setup process, I was presented with a “Home” screen that displayed three of the books in my library, a list of my Amazon Wish Lists, and some content recommendations. Some people might find this view useful, but all I wanted to see the books in my library, like I did on my Kindle 2.
By default, I’d have to click on the “My Library” like to get a similar view, and while that’s just one tap away, that’s a lot of taps over a lifetime.
Fortunately, this can be changed:
- Click the “Settings” icon in the navigation bar.
- Select the “All Settings” option.
- Navigate to the “Device Options” section.
- Navigate to the “Personalise Your Kindle” section.
- Click on “Advanced Options”.
- Disable the “Home Screen View” option.
But the books will be displayed in a grid, which means only six books will appear on the screen at a time, and you’ll have to identify the books by their covers, rather than their title (and covers aren’t always designed with a prominent title). To change this, tap the “All Items” dropdown and choose the “List View” option. As a result, clicking the “Home” icon will display a written list of the books in your library.
This, I find, is much more user-friendly than the default option. (I also like having the “Downloaded” option selected so I’m only shown books that have been downloaded to my device, rather than everything I’ve bought, but that’s a personal preference.)
Something that can’t be changed, unfortunately, is the ineffective use of space in listing the books. On the Voyage, each list item contains three lines of information: the book’s title, the author, and the percentage of how much of the book you’ve read. This means that, despite the Voyage having a high-resolution display — meaning, it can display more information on the screen — it can only lists eight books per page, compared to the Kindle 2’s limit of ten books per page.
This is a relatively small nit-pick, but I mention it because:
- The change doesn’t seem to have been made for any meaningful reason. I’d have thought that listing more books per page would be more useful than showing the percentage of how much you’ve read of each book.
- All of my gripes about the Voyage are small. The device doesn’t make any huge mistakes. There’s just of a lot of tiny tweaks that could be made.
The good news is, navigating the Voyage in general is great. The screen refreshes fast and the search functionality is slick, so if your library grows particularly large, it won’t be a laborious effort to track down whatever book you’re looking to read.
In terms of reading experience, the Kindle has had it nailed for a while. I was always satisfied with my Kindle 2, but the new Kindles check all the right boxes:
- Extremely crisp text that’s readable at tiny sizes.
- A default font (Bookerly) that’s pleasant on the eyes.
- Backlit displays (with adjustable brightness).
What’s also nice is that, while reading a book, there’s no bar at the top of the screen, as was the case with earlier Kindles, and you can turn off the “Reading Progress” indicator at the bottom of the screen. As a result, the Kindle feels “invisible,” with nothing on the display except for the text of whatever you’re reading.
To navigate between pages on a Voyage, there are two main options:
The default option is PagePress, a pair of touch-sensitive strips that appear on either side of the Voyage’s display. When touched, these strips respond with a subtle vibration, known as haptic feedback, that is meant to simulate the sensation of clicking a physical button. But as someone who’s been spoiled by the actual buttons on the Kindle 2, this feature doesn’t feel that good. Even after setting the vibration to the maximum level, it remained weak and unsatisfying, and if you were thinking of buying the Voyage for this specific feature, I’d suggest trying it out first.
The alternative option is to tap the display itself, which is the standard way to turn pages on all of the modern Kindles. As long as you tap within certain “zones” on the display, the Kindle will know whether you’re trying to flip to the next page or the previous one. It doesn’t respond with any kind of vibration, but I prefer this over PagePress.
Another addition to the Voyage is a sensor that detects the lighting conditions of whatever room you’re in and automatically adjusts the brightness of the display based on those conditions. You can still manually adjust the brightness, but fortunately, the automatic adjustment works well. It’s not a must-have feature if you’re on a budget, but I expect to increasingly appreciate the convenience over the coming years.
Battery life is an important part of the reading experience, but it’s hard to offer any estimates as they’ll depend on your reading habits. When using the Kindle 2, I got 2 days of battery life without wireless enabled (and without a backlight). With the Voyage, I get 3-4 days with the backlight on and Wi-Fi enabled. This is a big improvement and I have no complaints. (It’s also worth noting that, since my Voyage was second-hand, the battery is probably no longer at peak capacity.)
Being able to highlight text on the Kindle 2 is central to how I research, write, and otherwise work, so I was curious how the Voyage would match up.
On the Kindle 2, highlighting text was achieved by moving and clicking a joystick. This process was slow — particularly if you tried highlighting text in the middle of the page — but it was always precise. On the Voyage, highlighting is achieved by pressing your finger on the display and dragging. This is fast, but less precise. After highlighting text, you’re provided with a couple of “handles” that can be dragged to modify the highlight, in case you’ve made a mistake, but I find it easier to tap out of the highlight and try again from scratch. The handles are difficult to grab and, generally, not worth the effort.
To highlight across multiple pages, a reader can drag their finger to the bottom-right corner of the screen. The next page will load and, without lifting your finger from the display, you can finish the highlight. What’s neat is the Kindle will try to guess what exactly you’re trying to highlight on the next page, either by assuming you just want to finish highlighting the most recent sentence, or the rest of the paragraph. It doesn’t always guess correctly, but when it does, it’s just a matter of lifting your finger from the display to complete the highlight. No further precision required.
Whether or not the touchscreen system is better than the joystick, it’s hard to say. I think they’re both imperfect options that are implemented well enough to get the job done, but I’d love to see a Kindle touchscreen with the precision of an iPad.
What’s unfortunate is that the interface for viewing highlights on the Voyage is terrible compared to viewing highlights on the Kindle 2. In fact, it’s easily the worst thing about upgrading from the older device. When viewing highlights on the Kindle 2, for instance, four highlights are shown at a time and you can “flip” through them with the “Next Page” and “Prev Page” buttons.
On the Voyage, four highlights are also shown, but the interface is significantly more cramped, and instead of flipping through pages of highlights, you must scroll through them by swiping your finger across the display. This is less intuitive than tapping your finger on the screen to navigate between separate pages of highlights.
I don’t understand this change at all. You could drop the previous interface into the Voyage and it would be significant improvement over the current state. Readers do still have access to the “Your Highlights” interface on the web, but that interface is terrible in its own right, and I still can’t fathom how anyone at Amazon thought this change to highlights was an improvement. It’s not a deal-breaker, but it does spoil the joy of flipping through a book’s highlights while kicking back on the couch.
Even if my Kindle 2 hadn’t carked it, I’d have been very glad if a Voyage had fallen into my lap. It’s a brilliant eReader that has already motivated to read even more than I already did. At the same time, it’s this brilliance that makes the flaws so frustrating. So much of the Kindle experience is perfectly crafted after years of tweaking, but in a handful of cases the experience has become worse, and with Amazon’s domination of the eReader market, I’m worried their innovations might slow.
As for whether the Voyage is worth the extra cost over the Paperwhite, I think it’s just a matter of how much you read. If you read every day and can afford the Voyage, buy it. If not, the Paperwhite seems like a perfectly fine substitute.