In 1935, Sir Allen Lane and V. K. Krishna Menon founded Penguin Books, a company dedicated to producing high-quality, small-format paperback books for the world market. These small, well-made little books introduced some amazing fiction, philosophy, classical thought and spiritualism to a hungry audience, and the low price made it easy to build a library of amazing titles that could fit into a milk crate. Penguin, it can be argued, brought about an intellectual sea change, bringing us both the post-war writers of note and, in another direction, the Beats and the spiritual riot of the 1960s.
Why was Penguin so popular? And why is the 6-inch Kindle Voyage its emotional successor? Both revolutionized the physical notion of books.
In Penguin’s case, the medium was truly the message, and the writing inside the small, pocketable books allowed for portability and encouraged collection. In the Kindle Voyage’s case, Amazon has created a delightful travel companion.
First, let’s address the size. The $199 Voyage ($219 without ads and with 3G) is about as big as a Penguin paperback and just a bit bigger (and thicker) than a standard passport. It’s 7.6 mm thick and removed from its case it looks about as substantial as a thin stack of paper.
The Voyage is the Kindle distilled. Almost all of the features are there – touchscreen, bright white e-ink display, and even a special haptic feedback system that allows you to “click” left and right side buttons to turn pages. You can also swipe the page left and right to move to the next page and small dedicated spots above the longer touch-sensitive pads that go back one page.
Amazon sells an $45 folding case for the Voyage that opens up like a Moleskine reporter’s notebook. It activates the Kindle upon opening and turns it off when closed. Hidden magnets then allow you to turn the cover into a little stand for hands-free reading.
So how does it work? In short, I love e-ink devices, and the Voyage is the best of them. Because it lasts for weeks – I haven’t charged it in a full week of use – you can stick it in a bag or backpack and expect it to be ready to read. The bright backlit screen casts a gentle glow that is reactive to outside light and makes reading pleasant without the glare of LCD. As a dedicated e-reader, it is nearly perfect, and I rarely say anything in CE is perfect.
Who is this for? It’s for readers. The Voyage doesn’t do much except display books and allow you to buy them. You can download thousands of titles and not run out of space and, thanks to new organizational systems, you can place books into folders and control their placement on the device. But, again, it’s for readers. Don’t expect to read email, browse the web, or control your home security system from this device. It’s the e-reader perfected, however, and that means a lot.
I don’t know how much longer the market for dedicated e-readers will exist, but I certainly appreciate Amazon’s dedication to the cause. E-ink devices are special because they’re amazingly readable and light and have great battery life. All of these aspects work in concert to offer a reading experience akin to thumbing through a Penguin Classic.
Again, this isn’t for everyone. It’s great for travel – I took it with me to Disrupt in Europe and have read it on planes for the past few days – and it’s great for people who don’t want a distracting reading experience. It’s a great gateway tablet, for example, for folks who don’t want a complex experience and instead just want to read. It’s also far more comfortable on the eyes for night reading in bed and the text can be modified for any eyes.
Amazon is aiming for readers. It knows that people love Kindles because they are pure products for reading. And the Voyage is Amazon’s latest attempt at perfecting the e-book. Not unlike Penguin, Amazon looked at the market and made a bold move. It’s paid off and the resulting products – the Fire like and this new Kindle – are nearly perfect media consumption devices by a company that knows how to sell.