Thursday, April 9, 2009

Amazon is considering K2 screen contrast issue

Which inner gray box has a lighter gray?  Why does one seem lighter?

  Posted 3/24/09 at 3:57pm   (Updated 4/9/09, at the bottom)
  I called Customer Service a couple of times to ask what Amazon is saying to us these days about the screen/font issue with the Kindle 2, in that some customers have felt that the thinner new font, used with a lighter weight than is used for the Kindle 1, is not as easy on their eyes.

  Some customers are driving a petition for a gray screen that is a lighter gray because their Kindle 1's have a somewhat lighter gray and a darker basic font.  For others, the differences are slight, and I find I can read full-width webpages because of the new fineness of the fonts when it's decreased. It's that sharp.

  But the relative lightness of the thinner K2 basic font, along with a somewhat darker gray perceived by a percentage of users moved to write to forums and to comment-areas of review columns, raises an issue (readibility) which is important and Amazon had earlier been a bit tone deaf to the concerns.

 The complaints are from people who prefer high contrast and who want to keep their Kindle 2's but want them to be as easy on their eyes as was the Kindle 1.  There have been odd choices by Amazon, such as changing the HOME item-listing from a dark medium-size font of the K1 to the wispy non-bolded thinner font weight of the K2.  Some people prefer to read output from medium-point pens to that from fine-point pens. And vice versa.

That's what Amazon seems to be taking into consideration.  I was told they do take customer feedback seriously and are working on a way to modify the darkness/lightness of the screen but that it's important to find something that will work for most of it customers.  As we've seen, many magazine reviewers have mentioned the 'sharper' and 'crisper' lettering.  Customers who read for longer stretches of time in different lighting situations may have quite different responses.

  I'm somewhere in between. I often wish for the more defined K1 weight for the font but I don't think about it much when I don't have the K1 nearby. But I do notice I used to be able to read for hours without noticing any eye strain whatsoever (new to me).

However, it was good to see they ARE working on a solution that can work for more customers, though it may take a while.  This is better than the silence we'd heard or the idea that there was no real issue there.  So, I'm encouraged.

UPDATE - 4/9 - 4/12/09 At the Amazon forums, Ted-san (Ted Inoue) describes running private tests using the native Kindle 2 fonts, comparing the display of a tweaked set he made against that of the native font set.  It involves using a more bolded font as the basic one and making normally "bolded" fonts even more bolded to keep the differences.  He proposes that users have the option of choosing between 'normal' and 'enhanced' display while reading, so that those who like the current fonts setup as-is are not affected.

The perspicacious :-) and meticulous Inoue has reorganized his test reports, and his full set shows what the relative lack of contrast can look like for some users on some Kindle units and what effect modifications in font properties can have.  (However, my own Kindle 2 has far more contrast than shown and is very sharp too, but units in the same home have been reported to show noticeable variances in contrast ratio.)  Also, he has found an even better example (Michael Bach's) of an optical-illusion having to do with the perception of lightness and darkness of objects with constant luminance, their brightness values perceived as changing when seen against the luminance values of surrounding objects (simultaneous contrast).

 As for a fix, my own wish is simpler: that they just provide a darker-effect basic font similar to what they did for the Kindle 1 and that the e-Ink folks have a better quality control process over the relative lightness/darkness of the screen's gray.  Luckily, I have no problems with my Kindle 2 and I find mine a real joy to use (constantly), but my eyes are still more comfortable with the Kindle 1 font and I'm mindful that some other customers have a tougher time of it with the current-font to gray-background contrast ratio.  For balance, it appears most customers are quite happy with the current state, but enough aren't so that Amazon should do something, and I was told they were working on this very carefully, as mentioned, keeping in mind all customers need to be happy with the results.

UPDATE - 4/17/09 (late update) - On April 13, Wired's Gadget Lab posted an article about the screen font/background problem experienced by many K2 users.  By Priya Ganapati, it's an unusually accurate and thorough summary of the issues -- citing Ted Inoue's extensively detailed work on the anti-aliasing factor plus information from this blog and via a phone discussion).  It also references a busy Amazon forum thread that is a heavy request for darker fonts.  The story was picked up by most of the online computer and gadget sites, some listed at Inoue's "Kindle Optimizer" pages.

UPDATE - 4/26/09: Ted Inoue offered Amazon Customer Service representatives results of private tests with font replacements that would help the screen contrast issue for those having it.  It's a simple fix for those who want it or need it (there is a reason Amazon is doing easy Kindle 2 replacements) and the people who've been unhappy with their K2s are ecstatic over the change the fonts make.  Crunchgear writes today about the problems and the test results. Below are ways to Share this post if you'd like others to see it.
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  1. You were told by whom, when? I've been told quite the opposite, repeatedly, by senior Kindle support technicians and supervisors. No update forthcoming, "it isn't either!", it's not a serious issue, return your Kindle and wait for Kindle 3, etc.

  2. As I said, what you report has been the mantra for the last month and has been obvious boilerplate.

    The newer response I got was from calling customer service, and I prefer not to name the rep in case of honesty not being rewarded in the company, just as so many online prefer not to name themselves when commenting even, I guess.

    It was a longer discussion than mentioned, and the tech rep was intelligent (and didn't insult my own intelligence as they had been doing earlier) and not acting as if denial. I had earlier received responses like the ones you received which just won't hold water anymore, in my view. As you've seen, on any matter, some service reps are more up to date with policy changes than others.

    The main thrust was that they are able to make a change to the units, but they are working carefully on a change that will suit all customers. I think the danger is in people misinterpreting such forthrightness as acknowledging some inherent flaw rather than their discovering strong decision-affecting preferences by a sizeable number of those willing to give feedback. Their forums are not particularly closed to negative feedback as we've seen.

    For them the upside is that so many have been happy with the K2 the way it is that it is clear to me they'd of course be careful not to make a change that might have a less positive effect on others currently happy with their K2s.

    The biggest problem for them (in my own view) would be that K1 users who kept their units see a difference and won't 'buy' the notion that everything is as it should be for those who prized the much-perceived easier reading via the K1.

    Internet forums are not used by the vast majority of buyers, so that when 200 or so avid active writing customers are adamant they want to keep their K2 but may not, this will be reported by the mainstream reviewers such as in CNet's report of the situation at

    Enlarge the CNet picture (ctrl+ in Firefox at least). While too unclear, it still shows that the 'ink bleed' is wider on the K1 and that will make it a more-dark font. I had thought it might be the angle of the K1 but I also looked at the keyboard letters and the Next/Previous buttons when comparing.

    As someone said, we have the option to return the Kindle without penalty now and that would be wiser for those whose reading experience with it is not a positive one. Since any modification would take awhile, as said, this is still a decision unhappy users should make (even in my view) and they can buy one later if there is a change. This would also be a recordable action where it matters ($$ and word of mouth).

  3. Nice posting.
    Interestingly, I got into this entire fray, not because I was dissatisfied by the K2 but because I hear so many people complaining about the contrast.
    Being a good engineer with about 20 years experience in digital imaging and more in optics, I figured that this case had my name written all over it.
    I see the fixes proposed as "enhancements" that allow users to get even more out of an excellent device. I've been amazed at just how much better the Kindle looks with enhanced fonts and a black border.
    I like it so much that I just bought my 88 Y.O. father one. And I'm definitely installing the enhanced fonts on his unit!
    Keep up the great blog!
    -Ted Inoue

  4. Is that the perspicacious Ted ? I love what you've done with all these analyses and how you go about it all. The anti-aliasing and font replacement tests are great reading and very well done.

    Your new footers for each page are nice too!

    I wanted to comment right on your pages but wasn't able to find a place to do it. On your Going Native" page,
    the comparison photos illustrate a difference in how eyes perceive clarity.

    While the contrast in the 2nd one is obviously better and the font darker, I have problems viewing either one screen shot.

    The first full-screen shot, of course, really lacks contrast but on my Kindle 2 the contrast on my K2 screen is very snappy compared to that first screen image.

    It's a function of the enlargement, and if you squint your eyes, the 2nd one is definitely far more well-defined.

    However, in the actual screen shots, my eye responses are different. The first one, while lacking in contrast (you've probably seen that my K2 has far more contrast), is still clearer by quite a bit for my own type of eyes in actually being able to make out each letter and then each word.

    There's no ink-spread, no smudging. On the 2nd screen shot, the characters are easier to immediately see (defined) but when I try to read the actual text, I find the first screen shot's words quite a bit more clear. No eye strain except for contrast. With the 2nd screen, the ink is so spread out (which aids in perceiving the needed darkness), that the letters seem more smudged and blurred to me, so that going back to screen 1, the WORDs rather than the characters are a relief to my eyes due to no spreading of the ink.

    Now this is probably just a function of the way my eyes work. I think that in real life, your K2 has far more contrast than is shown in that first screen shot and that your replacement fonts are also much clearer for you.

    This has been really interesting to me, and your work is amazing.

    - Andrys

  5. I'll be interested to see how the screen looks on the K2 I just ordered for my father. The pictures are a pretty good representation of what I see on my screen, though there's definitely some loss in resolution in the reproduction.
    The native fonts are quite nicely defined when I illuminate the screen clearly and just look at the fonts. I've been trying in vain to find other serif fonts that work better. We'll see. For now, I have to rest my eyes and start reading again. Too much analysis has left me with a headache!

  6. Really? Your default K2 photo has almost zero contrast, if so, and you should get a replacement then. True with the mobileread set by someone that I saw comparing the default to the font-replacement someone made. Not only that, the new font was made as an equivalent Font size 4 on the K2, which is dark anyway on the K2.

    Have you placed your actual unit next to that K2-default photograph with good lighting on the K2?

    Your lounger chair photos show a normal looking Kindle with grayish (not greenish) cast but I can't see the fonts.


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