Wednesday, 19 June 2019

Review of the 10th generation Kindle Basic: Good front light adds value

The Kindle Basic isn’t just the 8th generation Kindle Basic plus a front light. There are subtle differences that make a difference. The positives are the front light and ergonomics of the e-reader. The main negative is text contrast and font rendering.

 Even and gentle front light 

The Paperwhite's front light has an extra LED light – five against the Kindle Basic’s four LEDs – and is noticeably better. The front light on the Kindle Basic, despite one less LED, is surprisingly good, gentle and even. For many users, the front light is an important feature and the main reason that many users didn’t purchase the Basic in the past. Of course, this is personal preference, but I would’ve liked to see an updated Kindle with a 220 PPI screen rather than adding front light functionality. Below is a front light comparison picture between the Kindle Basic and the Kindle Paperwhite (click on the picture to enlarge):

Front light comparison: Kindle Paperwhite's (left) Vs. Kindle Basic (right) 
Compact design 

I like the design of the latest Kindle Basic. The previous generation – like the Fire tablets – had a utilitarian design. This generation gets a makeover and has extra rounded corners and is thinner. It is also slightly more compact and can fit in a large pocket. A small negative, despite the dimensions being smaller than the previous generation, is the weight increase to 174 grams (the previous generation weighed 161 grams).

Text rendering is a negative 

Amazon doesn't officially state if the 10th generation Kindle has a Carta screen but does advertise an updated screen with the latest electronic ink technology for better contrast. In reality, I found the text on the Kindle Basic appears ‘greyish black’ – it is also faded in comparison to the previous generation. The problem might be inherent to the screen – i.e., the extra layer for the front light – or possibly remedied by a software update to improve and optimise font rendering on the lower resolution screen.

Due to the lack of contrast text bolding is required for better legibility and even then, it doesn’t resolve the lack of clarity and darkness. To enhance legibility, I sideloaded modified versions of Charis and Constantia fonts that come with added weight.

The first picture below shows the faded appearance of the screen. The second picture shows a comparison between the previous and the latest generation Kindle Basic (click on pictures to enlarge):

The Kindle's text appears faded  

Text contrast comparison: Kindle 8th generation (left) Vs. Kindle 10th generation (right)
Other problems 

I am not going to talk about the Kindle’s firmware features in this review as they have been covered in previous reviews. The firmware, being near identical to other Kindle e-readers, is stable and feature-rich. However, there are problems that I find frustrating about Amazon’s firmware:
  1. Font & page settings need to be expanded: This includes font options, margin settings and line spacing. As the same font and page settings can be rendered differently between e-books the software's narrow pre-set options are often inadequate. Android e-reading applications, e.g., Moon+ Reader, allow the user to customise font size, line spacing and margins to the narrowest degree. Further, Kobo, despite having limitations too, provides a scale that allows better control over font and page settings. 
  2. The recent support of font bolding and the option to sideload fonts only work with Amazon's AZW3 file format. Many users with a library of MOBI e-books before the update are, therefore, left without no option to bold fonts or use side-loaded ones. Recognizing this issue, the software prompts the user to use Amazon Ember Bold in unsupported files, but this is restrictive and Amazon Ember Bold doesn’t render well in some e-books. 
  3. There is no file manager to navigate and categorise sideloaded books: The lack of a file manager means it is necessary to manually add sideloaded e-books to collections. 
  4.  Sideloaded books do not automatically upload and sync to the user’s Kindle account. To get an e-book archived and synced it is necessary to either send it to the Kindle’s designated email or via the Send to Kindle application (Calibre can also be used to send e-books to a Kindle). Accordingly, for the new user, with a large library, it is a hassle to get their personal documents to archive to the right collection on their Amazon account. 
Verdict 

Many users wanted a front light but didn’t need the waterproofing, extra storage and extra PPI of the Kindle Paperwhite. Amazon responded and updated the Kindle Basic with a very good front light. The updated design and smaller footprint make this device comfortable to hold and carry.

The biggest negative, in my view, is the Kindle Basic’s screen. It is not the relatively low resolution – I believe electronic ink handles lower resolutions better than LCD screens – but the text’s lack of clarity and contrast. It is possible this is a firmware issue and can be resolved by an update that optimises the pre-installed fonts for the low-resolution screen, e.g., by increasing the default font-weight.

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