Amazon’s Kindle has been hailed as the first truly successful e-reader, but some users say you shouldn’t throw out the old-fashioned book just yet. Owners of the recently released Kindle 2 are reporting difficulties reading smaller text sizes. The users say poor contrast between the e-reader background and the three smallest font sizes on the device makes text almost impossible to read, according to Wired.
The problem seems to stem from the Kindle 2‘s capability to display 16 shades of gray compared to the 4 shades that its predecessor could produce. The Kindle 2 also has a “smoothing algorithm” that uses the many shades of gray to reduce visual distortion or that boxy, pixilated look that letters can sometimes get on a computer screen. But along with reducing distortion, the smoothing effect inadvertently blends the shadowing of some letters with the background, making the letters more difficult to distinguish when reading. The new feature was supposed to create crisper and clearer text and images, but for those with less than perfect eyesight, the multitude of gray shades seems to have the reverse effect.
Some are so disgruntled with the Kindle 2’s performance they are returning their devices or downgrading (XP-style) to the original Kindle. There are also complaints coming in to Amazon’s discussion boards from disgruntled users. One thread has hundreds of posts from customers pleading with Amazon to fix the problem.
Ted Inoue, a Pennsylvania man who runs a Kindle 2 fan site, has an open letter to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos as part of a grassroots campaign over the e-reader’s shortcomings. The letter states that examinations of the Kindle 2 under a microscope prove there is a contrast problem with the device, but that Amazon Technical Support has denied there is a problem.
Inoue also suggests a variety of solutions that Amazon could implement, including bolding text at smaller font sizes; using fonts other than the one typeface the Kindle comes with; and placing a darker skin over the Kindle’s white body to increase overall visual contrast. Andrei Pushkin, who runs “blog kindle,” took a different approach to the problem. Pushkin wasn’t willing to wait for a fix from Amazon, so he created his own Unicode fonts hack. The hack puts a wider range of fonts on the Kindle 2 and adds support for foreign characters like Cyrillic, Chinese, and Japanese.
For now, Amazon reportedly says this is a minor problem that is troubling a small number of users and is not offering any kind of fix. However, as we’ve seen time and again with online consumer outrage, if the cries get too loud the company will be forced to act.