Amazon’s new high-end e-reader, the Kindle Voyage, starts at $199 but has fancy page turns

Remember all that speculation that Amazon would one day start giving away Kindle e-readers for free? In fact, the company is going in the opposite direction: Amazon introduced on Wednesday a new, high-end e-reader, the Kindle Voyage, that starts at $199 for the version with ads and goes all the way up to $289 for an ad-free, 3G version. Not only is it expensive for an e-reader, it is twice as expensive as the most basic tablet that Amazon also launched Wednesday.

So what will you get for your money? The Kindle Voyage is thinner and lighter than previous devices. It has a totally flat glass screen, without the raised plastic bezel that is present on cheaper models, and the screen is high-resolution, with 300 pixels per inch. Like the Kindle Paperwhite, the Voyage is front-lit, but its light is better — it can go “39 percent brighter” and there is an “adaptive front light” option that adjusts based on the level of light in the surrounding area. If you’re reading in a dark room, the light gradually decreases in brightness as your eyes adjust to the dark.

The Voyage also has a new method of turning pages, which [company]Amazon[/company] is calling PagePress. People really like turning virtual pages, apparently, and tapping the screen wasn’t satisfying enough. So the Voyage has added sensors on either side of the screen; you press on them to turn the page, and, if you’ve enabled this option, a haptic actuator vibrates slightly, to confirm the turn.

At first, when I tested this, I thought that something inside the device was broken. Then I came to find the slight vibrations satisfying. You can turn them off if you don’t like them.


The lines on either side of the screen are the PagePress sensors. Photo courtesy of Amazon.

The Voyage includes 4 GB of storage. In addition, both cheaper versions of Kindle — the Paperwhite, which remains $119 with ads, and the basic Kindle I discuss below — now have 4 GB of storage. (None of the devices have expandable storage.) Technically, storage space shouldn’t be a big concern for Kindle users because Amazon will store all of their ebooks for free in the cloud. But some people just like to carry around large libraries with them (and/or don’t trust their files to Amazon’s cloud), so the capacity increases are apparently in concession to them.

Amazon isn’t the first company to launch a “luxury” e-reader, by the way. Kobo did it last year with the $169.99 Aura HD. Kobo said at the time that its market research supported power readers’ desire for such a device. Amazon has even more customer data presumably supporting the same conclusion. CEO Jeff Bezos said  in a statement that the Voyage is “built for readers from the ground up.”

Cheapo Kindle gets an upgrade (and $10 price hike) too

Amazon also upgraded its most basic Kindle and increased its price slightly. The cheapest Kindle you could buy new from Amazon used to be a $69 (with ads) device with no touchscreen. Now, the new barebones device is the $79-with-ads Kindle (it’s just called Kindle). It has a touchscreen and no buttons, and Amazon claims its processor is 20 percent faster than the one on the previous basic Kindle.

Pre-orders for both the Kindle Voyage and the Kindle start today and the devices begin shipping in October.

Updated software for all

Whatever Kindle you buy or already own, its software is getting upgraded. You can download the software straight from Amazon’s site to your existing device (I’ll post the link when I have it), or it will be pushed out over the air eventually. The main changes to the software are deeper Goodreads integration — you can now long-press on an ebook’s cover to automatically add it to your Goodreads library; there may be other changes, too, that I didn’t get to preview — and a new feature called “Word Wise” that includes words’ definitions directly within the text. (Clearly, that feature is aimed at students or English-language learners — and Amazon says there are many such people who use Kindle largely because of the assistance it gives them learning new vocabulary.)


This is what the WordWise feature looks like. Photo courtesy of Amazon.

More ebook sharing — at least for some titles

As part of the updated version of Fire OS 4 (a modified version of Android) that Amazon pushed out Wednesday, there is a feature called “Family Library” that lets people with separate Amazon accounts share content. This is officially supposed to work within one household: Two adult accounts and up to four children’s accounts are allowed per family, and account-holders can share content between them.

So let’s say that you and your wife each have a Kindle. In the past, if you wanted to read the same book on it, you had to either each buy a copy of that book under your separate Amazon accounts, or you had to have both Kindles assigned to the same Amazon account. But the “Family Library” feature should technically let you access your partner’s Kindle books without signing out of your own account.

Family Library lets people share books on separate Kindle accounts. Photo courtesy of Amazon.

Family Library lets people share books on separate Kindle accounts. Photo courtesy of Amazon.

At least, this is how it’s supposed to work in theory, and not just for ebooks but for all types of Amazon content — Prime Instant Video, apps and games — across all Amazon devices: the Fire tablets, Fire phone and so on.

However, my guess is that book publishers’ licensing restrictions — and perhaps other content providers’ restrictions as well — could prohibit users from sharing some content while signed into separate accounts. An Amazon spokeswoman appeared to confirm this to me when she explained, “I can’t get into details on partner relationships, but I can tell you that the same restrictions that publishers currently have on things like number of devices a book can be on continues to apply and are unchanged.”

Family Library is supposed to only be used within an immediate family. Of course, Amazon can’t prohibit you from using it with friends instead, but “the intent really is to share the content within a house,” said Peter Larsen, VP of Amazon devices, “not within a fraternity house.”