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Kindle 2 flaw: Lighter text causing headaches?

The blogosphere is buzzing with user reports that the text is lighter on the Kindle 2 than the Kindle 1. Some say this makes reading for long stretches uncomfortable and that Amazon should issue a firmware upgrade to correct the suspected flaw.

The blogosphere is buzzing with user reports that the text is lighter on the Kindle 2 than the Kindle 1. But is there more to the problem than meets the eye? Sarah Tew/CNET

Whenever a next-generation version of a product is launched, inevitably you get comparisons to the previous model--and what the older model did better. Well, in the case of the Kindle 2, the nitpicking is in full swing as several blogs have taken up the debate over whether the Kindle 2's text is lighter than the original Kindle's.

On Joe Wikert's Kindleville blog, one reader lodged the following complaint:

Side-by-side, the K1 text is bolder and jumps out at you. It's as if the low fidelity, dot-matrix-like typeface of the K1 is better suited for the reading experience than the feathered, crisp, 16-shades of gray of the K2. After 30 minutes of reading on the K2, my eyes get tired and I actually experience mild dizziness, headaches. Never experienced that with the K1.

In the Mobileread forums, a reader posted that he had decided to return the Kindle 2 after he noticed "low contrast on text as compared to kindle 1...text on kindle 1 is really good it is dark and somewhat thicker than kindle 2 at the same font size, menu is normal on kindle 2." He said he spoke to a Kindle representative (we assume a customer service person), who said he'd heard complaints from other Kindle 2 users as well.

On Amazon, there's a thread titled, "Amazon: Please make the text darker on Kindle 2!"

The thread's starter, BMK, is calling for an e-mail campaign to encourage Amazon to update the firmware on the Kindle 2 to fix the alleged problem.

"Kindle 2 is capable of producing darker text than the default setting, which is light, thin, and difficult to read for many people. Customer Service has reportedly told at least one person that the standard text could have been a darker shade of gray/black than the one that was chosen."

So, what's the deal? Are people imagining things or is there really an issue?

Well, we looked at the Kindle 2 and Kindle 1 side-by-side and it appears that the background is every so slightly lighter on the Kindle 1, which helps create the perception that the contrast is worse. Furthermore, the font on the home page for listing all your content is different on each Kindle 2. The font on the Kindle 1 has no serifs and appears bigger and bolder.

I personally read Michael Connelly's "The Brass Verdict" on a plane recently for 90 minutes straight on the Kindle 2 without a problem. I keep the font at level three (the middle size) and it seemed fine. Some say they notice the "lightening" issue more acutely with the two smaller font sizes. There's also a separate issue with images or text leaving a residue or ghost effect on your current page. (This I can confirm is definitely true). Some are saying that the more pronounced ghosting is a trade-off or byproduct of the Kindle 2's faster refresh rates on page turns.

The simple way to eliminate the "ghost" is to force a page refresh by pressing ALT-G on the Kindle 2's keyboard. Some forum posters have suggested that makes the text "pop" more, but I don't think it changes the lightness or darkness of the text--it just creates a uniform background that may slightly improve the perceived contrast of the text. All that said, it is a problem that hitting ALT-G has the impact it does--and Amazon needs to figure out a way to better clear the ghosting without having people do a manual page refresh.

Small changes to formatting may alter readers' perceptions.

To further complicate matters, the Kindle 2 has slightly different formatting from the Kindle 1. The Kindle Formatting blog has an excellent post on all the small formatting changes (yes, the Kindle 2 has been reviewed in many different ways that you probably never thought of).

Joshua Tallent, the "e-book guru" behind the blog, writes:

"The new 16-level grayscale screen, in addition to making images clearer, has made the Kindle font (Caelicia) show up a bit better on the screen. That actually makes the font a little bit lighter, from what I can tell, but it does not make it significantly less readable."

In the end, it's difficult to say how much of an issue this really is. The screen flaws with the Sony PRS-700 are much more noticeable--and severe--and, as I said, I haven't had a problem reading for long periods on the Kindle 2. But I suspect that if you're a heavy Kindle 1 user, you may be sensitive to these slight changes.

The obvious solution would be for Amazon to put out some sort of firmware upgrade that will give readers a choice of contrast or text gradations in the settings menu that makes everyone happy (the question is whether this is possible). I would also hope that the same firmware upgrade addresses the ghosting and ALT-G issues. If there were a trade-off in performance, the user would ideally have some choice as to whether they want to make speed sacrifices.

As always, feel free to weigh in. If you own a Kindle 2--or both a Kindle 1 and Kindle 2--please post your personal observations.