Amazon’s entry-level 2019 Kindle is let down by a sub-par display

Amazon’s Kindle is of course the brand most think of when they consider buying an e-reader, but competition does exist and the truth is it makes the company’s newest entry-level device look like a poor bargain. The price may be low, but this budget reader just doesn’t meet the bar.

The most basic current device in the e-paper Kindle lineup, the plain old “Kindle” (as opposed to Kindle Voyage, Kindle Paperwhite, etc) has in this 2019 iteration gained a couple features. An adjustable frontlight illuminates the E-Ink screen, there’s an improved touchscreen and a refreshed hardware design, though you’re forgiven if you don’t notice.

At $ 110, or $ 90 if you allow ads on your device, it’s among the cheaper devices out there, falling well below the $ 150 Paperwhite and $ 270 Oasis (again, subtract $ 20 if you don’t opt out of “special offers,” which I always make sure to mention).

It runs the familiar Kindle OS and of course seamlessly connects to your Amazon account, just like the others in the lineup. In general it’s more or less the same as the others in terms of formats, store and access features, and so on. So you’re not sacrificing anything on that front.

Unfortunately, what you do sacrifice is something much more important: a decent screen.

We’ve been privileged in the last couple years to see the quality of e-reader displays improve considerably, both in terms of resolution and lighting. A couple months ago I reviewed the $ 130 Kobo Clara HD, which offers few frills and, frankly, inferior build quality, but a beautiful screen and color temperature-adjustable frontlight, which is really worth paying for.

The specs speak for themselves: the “all-new” Kindle has a 6-inch with a pixel density of 167 PPI. The Clara HD has nearly twice that: 300 PPI, like the nicer Kindles, and believe me, you notice. It makes a huge difference to how text looks — there are diminishing returns past that point, but the change from 167 to 300 is a big one. Letters look much crisper and more regular, and fonts look much more different from each other, allowing you to customize your reading experience a more. (I recently found out I can easily add fonts to the Kobo and it’s great.)

It’s hard to capture the difference between the two except in macro shots, but in person it’s a serious one. There’s a reason phones, tablets, and e-readers (including Amazon’s own) all went to high pixel density and never looked back.

The Clara also has a frontlight that lets you adjust the color cast from cool to warm, which you can see above (I realize the temperatures of the images themselves are different as well but you get the idea). I didn’t think I’d find this useful, but as with resolution, it’s one of those things where once you have it, it’s difficult to go back. The cold, pixelated screen of the basic Kindle was unbearable after the warm, smooth look of the Kobo.

If you must have a Kindle reader and can’t spend more than $ 100, I’d seriously advise you to try to find an old generation of Paperwhite or the like with the higher resolution screen and frontlight. It makes a huge difference to readability and that’s really the most important part of a reader.

I would however advise you to spend a little more now to avoid buyer’s remorse. The Paperwhite is a great device and not too much more if you’re willing to accept Amazon’s “special offers.” Kindles in general have great build quality as well. If you aren’t attached to the Kindle brand, however, the Kobo Clara HD is only a bit more money and offers a better reading experience than either, in my opinion, as well as the flexibility that comes with the company’s devices.

When the entry-level Kindle gets a screen that matches the entry-level competition, I’ll happily endorse it, but for now I have to recommend its slightly more expensive peers for a major bump in quality.

Gadgets – TechCrunch

Kobo’s Forma e-reader takes on Kindle Oasis with an asymmetric design and premium price

Kobo’s latest e-reader is a complete about-face from its anonymous, cheap, and highly practical Clara HD; the Forma is big, expensive, and features a bold — not to say original — design. It’s clearly meant to take on the Kindle Oasis and e-reader fans for whom price is no object.

The $ 280 Forma joins a number of other e-readers in using a one-handed design, something which is, we might as admit up front, isn’t for everyone. That said, I’ve found that my reading style on these devices has been able to adapt from one form factor to another — it’s not like they made it head-mountable or something. You still hold it like you would any other small device.

It uses an 8-inch E-Ink Carta display with 300 pixels per inch, which is more than enough for beautiful type. The frontlight — essentially a layer above the display that lights up and bounces light off it to illuminate the page — is a Kobo specialty, adjustable from very cold to very warm in cast and everywhere in between.

The Clara HD, Kobo’s best entry-level device, left, and the Forma. (The color cast of the screens is adjustable.)

The screen will be very similar to that of the Aura One, Kobo’s previous high-end reader, but the Forma’s asymmetric design gives it slightly closer to square dimensions.

Where it differs from the Kindle Oasis is in size and a couple important particulars of design. The Forma is slightly larger, by about 20 millimeters (3/4″ or so) in height and width, and is ever so slightly but not noticeable thicker. (I didn’t have one to compare on hand, unfortunately.)

It’s also worth saying that like all Kobo devices, there are no forced advertisements on this one and you can load your own books as easy as that. To me Kindles aren’t even an option any more because of the “special offers” and limited file support.

Chin or ear?

The shape is similar, as anyone can see, but the Kobo team decided to go against having a flush front side and instead give the device a “chin,” as we used to call it on HTC phones, though being on the side it would perhaps more accurately be termed an “ear.” The screen, of course, is flat, but the grip on the side rises up from it at a 15 degree angle or so.

Is this better or worse than having a flush front? Aesthetically I prefer the flush screen but practically speaking it is better to have a flat back so it lies flat when you put it down or prop it against something. That the Oasis sits at a tilt when you set it down on a table is something that bothers me. (I’m very sensitive, as you can tell.)

It’s still very light, only 30 grams more than the Clara, the same amount less than the Aura One, and nearly equal to the Oasis. Despite being larger than any of those, it’s no less portable. That said, the Clara will fit in my back pocket, and this one most definitely will not.

The device is fully waterproof, like the Oasis, although liquid on the screen can disrupt touch functionality (this is just a physics thing). Nothing to worry about, just wipe it off. The USB port is just wide open, but obviously it’s been sealed off inside. Don’t try charging it underwater.

I am worried about the material the grip is made of: a satin-finish plastic that’s very nice to the touch but tends to attract fingerprints and oils. Look, everyone has oils. But the grip of the Forma won’t let you forget it.

Although the power button is mushy and difficult to tell if you’ve pressed it right, the page-turn buttons are pleasantly clicky, and despite their appearance of being lever-like, they can easily be pressed anywhere along their length. Which goes forward and which backward switches automatically if you flip the reader over to use the other hand.

This flipping process happens more or less instantaneously, with a rare exceptions in my brief testing. Neither side feels more “correct,” for instance because of the weight distribution or anything.

The only one that doesn’t feel correct is the landscape mode. I’m not sure why someone would want to read this way, though I’m sure a few will like it. It just seems like a missed opportunity. Why can’t I have two pages displayed side by side, like a little pocket paperback? I’d love that! I’ve already asked Kobo about this and I assume that because I have done so, they will add it. As it is most books simply feel strange in this mode.

Familiar software, unfamiliar price

Text handling seems unchanged from Kobo’s other devices, which means it’s just fine — the typefaces are good and there are lots of options to adjust it to your taste book by book.

Kobo’s much-appreciated drag-and-drop book adding and support for over a dozen formats (epub, cbr, mobi, etc) is here as well with no changes. Pocket integration is solid and extremely useful.

The Forma (like Kobo’s other readers) does have Overdrive support, meaning that with a library card and account there you can easily request and read books from your local branch’s virtual stock. This is an underutilized service in general (by me as well) and I need to take advantage of it more.

So far, so good. But the real question is whether this thing is worth the $ 280 they’re charging for it — $ 30 more than the Kindle Oasis and even an even bigger jump over the Aura One. In my honest opinion, for most people, the answer is no. For the dollar you get a lot more from the Clara HD, which also has the advantage of being compact and pocketable.

But it must be said that the Forma is clearly a niche device aimed at people who use their e-reader a lot and want that bigger screen, the waterproofing, the thin profile, the one-handed design. There’s a smaller, but not necessarily small, number of people who are willing to pay for that. As it is the Forma is among the most expensive e-readers out there and it’s hard to justify that price for ordinary people who just want a good reader with the warmth control and good type.

The Forma is successful at what it aims to do — provide a credible competitor to Amazon’s most expensive device, and beat it at its own game in the ways Kobo usually beats Kindle. That much I can say for certain. Whether to buy it is between you and your wallet. Pre-orders start October 16.

Gadgets – TechCrunch

How the Kindle was designed through 10 years and 15 generations

 The Kindle has become one of the most ubiquitous pieces of specialty electronics in the world since it launched 10 years ago, but the device has changed so much since its debut that one can hardly believe the oldest and newest models are meant to do the same thing. Amazon’s Chris Green talked with me for a retrospective of the design choices that have defined and redefined the device. Read More

Gadgets – TechCrunch

The new Kindle Oasis is my dream e-reader

 Amazon’s newest Kindle Oasis arrived like the answer to a timely question  – mostly because I happened to request an update to the device right before it actually arrived. I’m an unabashed fan of the Kindle, dating back to its earliest days, so take that into consideration, but believe me when I say: The new Kindle Oasis is the Kindle update I’d hoped for, and more.… Read More

Gadgets – TechCrunch

Kindle Oasis is beautiful, pricey and still not like reading a book

Oasis blurred I’ve spent the last week trying to pretend the new Kindle Oasis is the same as reading a real book. It’s not. I love books. I love Kindle’s e-readers and was hoping this was the melding of the two. That real book feel was part of the inspiration for the latest Kindle in the family and why it comes with a protruding one-sided grip handle able to flip from left to right… Read More

Gadgets – TechCrunch