First Impressions of the New Kindle Lineup

Len and KindlesAs my flight from New York approaches Denver International and the media embargo ends, I want to share impressions from today’s Amazon’s media demonstration of the new Kindles. My group of about 12 journalists—one of several such gatherings throughout the day—convened at Milk Studios, 450 West 15th Street, for a little more than two hours of presentations and time to try the devices and chat ask questions. It was a beautiful, sunny day on Manhattan, and we began on the top-floor patio with a view of the Hudson River next to a table with stickie buns, coffee, juice and other treats.

I will hold my observations about the new Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 and the Fire HD models for later, because I want to focus here on the new Kindles, the brand-new Kindle Voyage and the new and improved basic Kindle.

As I’ve mentioned several times in recent months, I expected Amazon to step up this fall with a serious refresh of the eInk Kindles, based on comments by executives during the year. These guys are not just going through the motions when it comes to pressing ahead with innovations on the Kindle dedicated eReaders.

One clue was that the first demo station was for the Kindles. They were not an afterthought. They were first out of the chute.

As for the devices themselves, I found them very impressive.

First impressions tell a lot, and when Senior VP Dave Limp handed me one of the Voyages as we sat in a circle in couches off the patio, I fell in love with it. The moment reminded me of the day in Boston when Amazon’s Jay Marine reached into his suit jacket pocket and pulled out a gray Kindle Keyboard, five years and four generations ago. Man, I thought. This thing is sweet!

Likewise with the Voyage. It’s thin, light, and the screen jumps up at you in 300 pixels per inch splendor, with a brighter built-in light. As with each improvement in eInk screen technology, this one makes the previous one look old-fashioned and muddled. We’re getting really close to paper here.

The Next and Previous Page controls move off the screen on the Voyage, to the bezel, but we’re not talking buttons here, as in older models of the Kindle. Which means we are not talking things that go click in the night, when your bed partner may be trying to sleep while you plow ahead in War and Peace until you’re ready to sleep yourself. I slight squeeze of the bezel changes the page, and you know you’ve done it right when you feel a little haptic love tap on your finger. Customers are going to love this, I’m sure Amazon execs are saying, and I believe they’re right. I did my best to accept the elimination of Next/Previous physical controls on the Touch and the Paperwhite, but I am quite happy on this new Kindle to have the screen be left for nothing but the story.

I care about the basic Kindle, because we’ve shipped more than a thousand of them to U.S. Troops deployed overseas through E-Books for Troops. We plan to purchase one last group of basic Kindles and donate them to a VA Hospital as we wind down the program. With this new $79 basic Kindle on offer, the last Soldiers will be getting a terrific eReader and not an after-thought.

I will of course pre-order a Kindle Voyage tonight, but that’s what I do. I’m not saying, in my enthusiasm for the improvement in the device, that an upgrade from the Paperwhite is obvious. Especially since the significant software improvements announced today will be rolled out to the Paperwhite as well.

One of the most notable OS innovations for the Kindles is named Word Wise. It will be great for readers learning English and kids learning to read, because it hovers definitions over difficult words right in-line with the book’s text. There is a slider control that determines how many words will have hints. You can tap on one of the hints to bring up the full definition.

Wise Words reminds me of Vocabulary Builder, an earlier gee-whiz tool to help readers improve their comprehension. I love how the Kindle team presses into raw invention with these capabilities. They don’t all change the world, but a few of them will, especially for individual readers with specific needs.

X-Ray gets expanded powers of seeing into the bones of a book in the new software. There is now a tab for images, so you can scroll through all the graphics in a book. And graphics, by the way, look fantastic on the higher-resolution Voyage display.

Goodreads gets closer to our reading on the Kindle with the new OS. You can access and update your reading status from within the book, something I’ve thought would be nice to have.

So all in all, today was a great day for those of us who may love tablets but continue to have a soft spot for the device that really did change the way we read, the original gray and white Kindle—now much improved, standing proud, and clearly still the darling of the team of innovators and dreamers that conceived it and keeps on making it better.


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Comments 17

  1. Eolake wrote:

    Thanks for the briefing. Cool.

    I guess the Voyage still has a touch screen, for navigation and notes?

    I also guess it still does not have audio or text-to-speech? (One might have hoped, given the price hike, but I’m not too optimistic.)

    Posted 17 Sep 2014 at 10:19 pm
  2. Len Edgerly wrote:

    Correct, Eolake. Touch screen on Voyage but squeeze bars off screen for page turns. No audio on any of the current Kindles. I can see how they’d see audio as better suited for the tablets.

    Posted 17 Sep 2014 at 10:27 pm
  3. Grabbaggar wrote:

    Len, so cool you got to be there to see it, my big questions are
    1. What happened to e ink?
    2. How can glass be anti reflective?
    3. Are the page refreshes as fast as an ipad/Fire hdx?

    Posted 17 Sep 2014 at 11:11 pm
  4. Len Edgerly wrote:

    Garrett, I believe this is still e Ink, the latest iteration that showed up on the Kobo Aura first and now is on the Voyage, probably in updated specs that leapfrog the Kobo. The glass is micro-etched in order to diffuse light, and this is supposed to make sure the Voyage can be read easily in sunlight, like its earlier cousins in the e Ink family. The effect is of a matte finish that will not show reflections like normal glass would. The etching also gives a sort of paper feel to the surface. I am sure page turns are not as fast as on a tablet–yet!

    Posted 18 Sep 2014 at 12:39 am
  5. MrsMac wrote:

    Thanks for your review. The forward/backward page controls made the purchase a sure deal and I just preordered.

    Posted 18 Sep 2014 at 12:55 am
  6. Bob Hare wrote:

    You’ve really outdone yourself with this hot-off-the-press coverage Len. Congratulations! This is exciting.

    Posted 18 Sep 2014 at 1:16 am
  7. Len Edgerly wrote:

    Thanks, Bob. There’s more to come in the podcast, if I ever manage to settle down and get some sleep!

    Posted 18 Sep 2014 at 3:01 am
  8. David wrote:

    Great breaking news Len. I would like to know if the Voyage is faster at highlighting and looking up words. I have a Paperwhite that is the generation prior to the current model and it is laggy when looking up words and highlighting. I would like to know if the Voyage is an improvement.

    Posted 18 Sep 2014 at 10:25 am
  9. Len Edgerly wrote:

    David, I hope I will have a chance to spend time with a review copy of the Voyage sometime before they ship. I will remember to check the speed of highlighting and word lookup, comparing it to the Paperwhite. I have a Gen 2 Paperwhite, but I think my wife’s is Gen 1, so that would give me a chance to compare it with the model you have. Stay tuned!

    Posted 18 Sep 2014 at 10:44 am
  10. Michael W. Perry wrote:

    Look at the old and new Kindles all lined up in a row. The feature distinctions are trivial. They’re all coat-pocket sized. They are all fragile creatures, unable to cope with falls or wet.

    Someone needs to create a compact, rugged, jean-pocket ereader for kids, people who like the outdoors and, last but not least, soldiers. It wouldn’t need a host of fancy features, since it’d be just for reading on the go.

    Posted 18 Sep 2014 at 12:55 pm
  11. Len Edgerly wrote:

    Good point, Michael. I did see in NYC a couple of torture-test contraptions that Amazon (and I think other manufacturers) put their devices through. One was a sort of barrel with all sorts of stuff in it, like might be in a knapsack or purse, and it tumbled to simulate a year or more in that state of bumping against other things. There was also a bender machine that pressed and bent the device. So I think these new ones are probably more rugged than they appear. For the kid’s model, they are offering 2 years of no-questions-asked replacement. Still, this issue is an important one. Thanks for mentioning it.

    Posted 18 Sep 2014 at 1:25 pm
  12. forsooth wrote:

    Thanks. One of the new features I’m most interested in is “Page Flip.” In books, I’m always flipping a few pages ahead or behind for one reason or another. More information on this feature would be very helpful.

    Posted 18 Sep 2014 at 8:54 pm
  13. Len Edgerly wrote:

    Page Flip exists in current Paperwhites, and it’s a very handy way to move through a book. You tap on the top menu and it reveals a small view of the page that you can navigate with while keeping the page you were reading in place. I did a demo of the feature in this video : . The Page Flip part begins at about 2:15. I hope this is helpful.

    Posted 18 Sep 2014 at 9:13 pm
  14. Tom Semple wrote:

    I pre-ordered a Voyage, then recalling my past experiences with pre-ordered Kindles (I have had to return 3 of 4 because of screen issues), I cancelled. Amazon is great about returns, but I just want a little more confidence that production issues have been worked out before ordering. Besides, some of the software enhancements (and inevitable bug fixes) won’t arrive until later.

    I assume only the PW2’s will get a a feature update, and not my PW1.

    Posted 18 Sep 2014 at 10:44 pm
  15. Donna Clark wrote:

    I loved listening to the podcast early! Were you able to see any of the new Origami covers? I love my Amazon Paperwhite cover and can’t imagine reading with a flip-style cover. I realize that the power button is now on the back, and the new touch bezel may require a certain degree of movement. I hope I won’t have to go back to the dreaded elastic straps in order to have a folio-style cover!

    Posted 19 Sep 2014 at 4:21 pm
  16. forsooth wrote:

    Thanks, Len, for the video reference for “Page Flip.” I watched it and found it most helpful. I erroneously thought that Page Flip was new with the Voyage. I don’t own a PW, just a 2nd gen K, which I now look forward to upgrading.

    Posted 19 Sep 2014 at 4:57 pm
  17. Len Edgerly wrote:

    Donna, sorry I missed seeing your comment till now (10/3). The new origami covers are very well designed. One simple fold makes a stand for portrait or landscape mode on the Fire HD6 demo unit that I received yesterday. They are much lighter than the Origami covers for the HDX that came out a year ago.

    Posted 03 Oct 2014 at 7:39 am