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A Voyage to 2009

The Kindle Voyage e-ink reader is so unremarkable that I’ll just direct you to Jason Snell’s better review for most details, since it’s not worth writing up a full review here.

I was expecting better after years of Kindles being decontented into flimsier, lower-end devices, but I think it’s clear that Amazon just isn’t willing or able to make a premium, high-quality e-reader.

Rather than approximating buttons, the Voyage’s overly complicated “pressure-based page turn sensors with haptic feedback” are the worst of both worlds: they lack the precision, feedback, and intentionality of buttons, and they take more effort and are smaller than touch targets.

The Kindle software and interface is even worse. It has changed very little since the 2011 Kindle Touch, which itself was mostly just basic touch interaction bolted onto the 2009 Kindle 2’s UI.

And this crisp, new, high-resolution screen is still displaying justified text with very few, mostly bad font choices. Some of these choices, like the default PMN Caecilia font, made sense on the old, low-resolution Kindle screens but need to be reconsidered for this decade. Some of them, like forced justification and forced publisher font overrides, have always been bad ideas.

But Amazon doesn’t care. Nothing about the Voyage’s software feels modern, or even maintained. It feels like it has a staff of one person who’s only allowed to work on it for a few weeks each year.

The ideal Kindle would have hardware page-turn, Home, and Menu buttons and a touch screen for UI navigation, selection, and text entry.

The hidden, error-prone touch zones would be optional and off by default, since the hardware buttons would remove the need. Touching the screen would only be used to interact with what’s being displayed on the screen (which usually isn’t necessary) rather than constantly triggering unintuitive, undiscoverable, error-prone actions.

Text would be rendered with a small selection of high-quality fonts designed for high-resolution screens or printed books, and full justification would be either optional or unsupported. The user’s font and justification preferences would optionally override any fonts specified by publishers.

But Amazon has never made such a device, and it seems like they never will.

Bottom line: It’s a Kindle. If you’ve used any recent Kindle, you know exactly what to expect. There are no surprises, no major changes, and no major improvements. If you already have a Kindle that you like, there’s not much reason to upgrade. It could be much better with a few small tweaks, but Amazon seems to think releasing almost the same thing every year is good enough to keep the e-ink line going.

I suspect this will be my last Kindle. Amazon doesn’t care about e-ink Kindles anymore. Why should we?

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