As a booster of e-books for mass literacy, I rejoiced when Amazon came out with its $50 tablet, which cost a mere $35 during the 2015 Black Friday sale.
But sure enough, many people still haven’t caught on to the Fire’s potential as an e-reader. Even the normally astute Joanna Cabot took one look at the screen and decided it would do only for games and YouTube.
Granted, the Fire’s display (1024 X 600 resolution—171 dots per inch on a seven-inch screen) is a far cry from that of my Samsung Galaxy Tab S (1600 x 2560—288 dpi on a 10.5 incher). But it is hardly a disaster compared to the original iPad (1024 x 768—132 dpi on a 9.7-inch screen).
No, the biggest problem isn’t the hardware. It’s Amazon’s stubborn refusal to let people achieve all-text bolding through a Kobo-style font-weight control or at least through heavier fonts than they can get now.
Doubt that Amazon could? Just look at the screen shot in this post. It shows all-text Bookerly font, as it appears on my $50 Fire, as photographed by my Nexus 6 phone. Believe me, this shot is not giving the Fire justice in such areas as screen contrast or evenness of background or sharpness of text. For a better view, albeit still a flawed one, click twice on the image.
Alas, I couldn’t increase the all-text font weight with Amazon’s own e-reading software. Instead I had to sideload Moon+ Reader Pro, which won’t work on DRMed books.
Furthermore, Joanna remind me that she would rather than all books show up in her Fire’s usual library rather than being scattered among different e-reading apps.
Beyond that, most Amazon customers lack the technical know-how to install apps from sources other than the company’s app store.
Clearly, then, Jeff Bezos needs to tell his people to stop overdoing the Keep It Simple Stupid philosophy and allow for all-text bolding. I’m going to send him a link to this post.
Here’s what an option for heavier fonts could mean:
Better readability for many customers, especially older people, more than a few of whom suffer vision problems or are living on limited budgets and could benefit from a good, low-priced tablet like the Fire. The heavier fonts won’t improve actual contract. But they will do wonders for perceived contrast.
Longer battery life. The bolder the font, the darker the background can be without compromising the perceived contrast.
Less eyestrain. The darker the background, the less than glare and wear on the eyes.
As in the case of text to speech—which the $50 Fire laudably has, unlike recent E Ink Kindles—we’re talking about a feature that could make a huge difference to many K-12 students in terms of the Fire’s potential as a reading machine.
Other than the standard KISS orthodoxies, Jeff, just why hasn’t Amazon let customers adjust font weights, the way users can on Kobo readers? This option would be a cinch to add to your main font-related menu. It could go right under the line-spacing control.
If somehow a font-weight control isn’t possible on the $50 Fire and other Fire models or E Ink Kindles—even with all your world-class coders—then at least let readers enjoy bold versions of individual fonts.