The e-reader lives a lonely life, and the nice Kindle Voyage won’t change that

There’s a stack of e-readers sitting on the coffee table in my apartment. From bottom to top: A broken Nook, an old Kindle Touch, a first-generation Kindle Paperwhite and, as of this week, a review unit of the Kindle Voyage — Amazon’s latest e-reader, which starts at a whopping $199.

I read about two books a week, but the e-readers don’t get a lot of love around here. When I went to turn on the Kindle Touch and Kindle Paperwhite to compare them to the Kindle Voyage, I discovered that both had run out of battery at some point, and I had to recharge them. The broken Nook belonged to my husband, and when it finally stopped working he decided to start reading on his iPad instead of upgrading to one of the other e-readers we already owned.

Sad stack o' readers.
Sad stack o’ readers. Photo by Laura Owen

This isn’t about to turn into one of those “I just really love the smell of paper books” treatises.

For me, e-readers have their uses; various Kindles have come with me on long trips, and I often borrow ebooks from the library on my [company]Amazon[/company] Kindle. I read about two books a week in some form. But the e-reader is simply another tool in my reading arsenal, sharing time with print books and my phone and iPad. If I had to give up one of those categories, it would definitely be the e-reader.

The Kindle Voyage isn’t going to change my mind, and that’s not the device’s fault. The Kindle Voyage is a really nice e-reader! As others have written, its higher resolution screen is great, sharp and bright. The Voyage is mostly free of the “grayness” that is very apparent in older e-readers, especially when you compare them side by side.

I chose two books to read on the Voyage — Lena Dunham’s Not That Kind of Girl, which includes black and white line drawings, and America’s Test Kitchen’s The Make-Ahead Cook, which includes photos. The drawings and photos both rendered nicely on the Voyage (though the photos weren’t in color, obviously); text is black and sharp.

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Kindle Voyage on the left, Kindle Paperwhite on the right. Photo by Laura Owen

Cookbooks aren’t the kind of thing you normally imagine reading on your e-reader, but the Voyage is actually well-suited to them, and I’d rather bring it into the kitchen with me than the iPad — in part because to turn the pages, you don’t have to swipe the screen with your greasy fingers. Instead, you can press one of those vaunted Page Press buttons on the bezel, keeping your screen clean.

But should you upgrade to the Voyage? It depends. If you already have a working e-reader and you don’t read on it very much, I see no reason to buy a better e-reader at all; in my experience, at least, upgrading to something better has not encouraged me to use my e-reader more. If you have an e-reader that you use a lot, and it doesn’t have a built-in light, get a Kindle with a light: It makes a big difference, and reading in bed in the dark is really nice. But you still don’t have to get the Voyage; you could get the Kindle Paperwhite, which is $119 with ads.

Who should buy the Voyage, then? I’m not convinced that even avid ebook readers need it. If your vision is bad AND you read a lot of ebooks, having a better screen and crisper text could make a big difference for you. I’d probably upgrade in that case. Otherwise, I’d probably pass.

If you already feel meh about e-readers, the Voyage won’t change your mind and there is no need to shell out $200 to prove it. If the e-reader is an essential part of your reading life, however, you certainly can’t go wrong with an upgrade here; you’ll just have to decide if you’d rather spend the money on books instead.