With tablet devices available in all shapes and prices these days it's amazing that eBook readers are still holding their own. But not only do Amazon's Kindle devices persistently perform well, the company regularly refreshes its range to keep things interesting.
That said, the aptly named Kindle Voyage feels like the end of a journey. Not because we can no longer see the need for a device that is locked to almost just one purpose, but because it will be hard to see how it can be topped. Bar a colour Kindle in the future - which may or may not even be needed - the Voyage is the best eBook reader you could possibly ever own.
That comes at a price, though, which is its biggest drawback by far. But if you want the best you will have to pay for it.
At £169 for the Wi-Fi-only model, and £229 for the 3G version, the Kindle Voyage is more expensive than a decent Android tablet, such as the Tesco Hudl 2 or even Amazon's own Fire HD 6 or HD 7 devices, yet does only a fraction of the things a tablet is capable of. So what is it about the Voyage that makes it worth the money?
A thing of beauty
Its build quality is clearly head and shoulders above other eBook readers on the market. The device is incredibly light, at just 180g for the Wi-Fi model (the one we've tested here), and it is super thin, measuring 7.8mm at its thickest point. The rear cover is matt and made of magnesium which is non-slip for comfortable reading, while the front touchscreen is more tablet-like as the panel is made of one glass panel that stretches to each edge.
The screen itself has been dramatically improved over other Kindle models, with a 6-inch display featuring Carta e-paper tech with a 300ppi pixel density. In reality, this means sharper text and a greater contrast ratio, more accurately aping printed words on paper.
The front light this time around is adaptive thanks to an ambient light sensor. That means it will change in brightness based on your surroundings, plus you can set the ideal brightness yourself and the reader will adjust based on those parameters.
The LED lighting is always on as well, not requiring much power to work, so makes reading in daylight easier on the eyes as well as at night. And even when used regularly with the light at almost full pelt, we've found battery life to last around a month. Amazon claims a single charge will last up to six weeks if you read around half an hour a day with the light at half-strength and that seems reasonable based on our experience.
You can of course also turn off the light and the Wi-Fi if you don't use Kindle Store very much or the Smart Look Up intelligent dictionary service, which requires the internet connection if you also want the Wikipedia entry.
The Smart Look Up dictionary service is useful, where you tap on a word and it presents its definition in a pop-up on screen. There is also an enhanced version of X-Ray, Amazon's proprietary service that deep dives into passages of a book to present salient facts on some of its contents. Other new features that have been added through a recent software update, including the Family Library feature to share eBooks with other Amazon account members in the family, and Word Wise which will show explanations in small above difficult-to-understand words for children and those learning a new language.
We feel you might as well leave all of such internet-based feature active to get the complete Voyage experience. And a month of use is a very long time between charges.
Better than the sun
That's one of the benefits the Voyage has over a tablet, partly justifying its reason for being. Another is the age old "better to read in the sun" selling point. All eBook readers, thanks to their E Ink displays, are easier to read in the sun than a glass-fronted tablet. And the same is true of the Voyage, even though it also has a glass frontage.
The front panel has been micro-etched, a process that both diffuses light rather than reflecting it and feels more matte to the touch, like a conventional eBook reader screen. Touch controls are no less sensitive because of it, but it really does mean that you can carry on reading, even in very bright ambient light.
The front of the device also has a couple of visible lines on the bezel either side of the screen. These illustrate where the PagePress sensors are, which are used to turn pages. As well as turn pages of whatever you're reading in the traditional touch way, by tapping either side of the on-screen text, you can also exert a little pressure onto the right or left sides of the bezel. This will turn the pages and emit a slight haptic vibration to tell you it has recognised your action.
To be honest, we found just tapping the screen was just as efficient and easy, as we've been doing on other touchscreen eBook readers for years. Had we the option of losing the PagePress functionality in favour of a lower price, we'd go for that. Still, new technologies and that. And no doubt many users will like the feature.
There are no visible buttons on the Voyage at all, with the only switch being a power button on the rear. Keeps it all neat and tidy.
The final major tech feature worth noting is the processor. Amazon is always cagey about revealing the exact tech spec, so we're not entirely sure what chipset is driving the device, but what we do know is the Kindle Voyage is super quick - faster than any other existing model of Kindle, that's for sure.
Those looking to upgrade from an older Kindle will be gobsmacked just how rapidly the screen refreshes on the Voyage. E-paper devices have always had the issue of ghost text remaining for a while after a page turn, not so the Voyage. It's still not quite LCD or OLED fast but then it doesn't require the power of those screen technologies.
The simple act of purchasing and reading books is the Voyage's raison d'être and in that department it is superb. There is 4GB of on-board storage that can hold thousands of downloaded books. Admittedly, no SD card slot is present, so you can't expand upon that, but you do get unlimited cloud storage for all titles you buy from Amazon, which will remember your bookmarks even if they are not downloaded to the Voyage itself.
Some might whinge about the different file types understood by the Kindle, with EPUB most notably absent (it does recognise MOBI files, as well as its own AZW books though), but considering Amazon is the largest seller of digital titles in the world, it is likely you'll buy all your books from it in the first place. Especially if you're willing to pay £169 or more for the device to read them on.
We've also been using the Origami Case which acts is a fantastic stand, but will add an additional £40 to your order.
That's really what it all boils down to: the price. There is little doubt that the Amazon Kindle Voyage is the best eBook reader on the market, with few if any flaws. We're still not entirely sure the haptic feedback for turning through pages is more than a gimmick, but can see the allure it might have.
However, it is a very expensive bit of kit to read downloaded books on, even if it caters for that with such aplomb. The Voyage is priced roughly the same as eBook readers were when they first emerged onto the market and we didn't have tablets to rival them then - hence this perhaps being the end of its long journey.
That said, those who do have enough disposable income to invest in different toys for different purposes will love the Kindle Voyage. It is not only a technological marvel in its field, but is an object of beauty to look at and hold. It is the Ferrari of eBook readers. And carries the price tag that goes with that distinction.
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