Saturday, October 13, 2012

Amazon addresses some uneven lighting on Paperwhite in dark rooms, decisions to omit audio and have less storage

Amazon adds a "We want you to know" section to the Kindle Paperwhite product page

I earlier called attention (Oct. 5) in an Update about the first Kindle Paperwrite reports and reviews, to a situation developing in which some owners were concerned about the bottom 1/2-inch of the device, which, in darkened rooms especially, often shows some uneven light where the LEDs begin sending light to the rest of the screen and, at the start, the light isn't yet evenly diffused.

 I described this and linked to a Youtube video that shows the same device in daylight indoors and in a room completely darkened.

  Also, some units have arrived with what seem to be discolorations, usually in dark rooms, although with many of these, the colors aren't being seen after a few days of exposure to the air.  In a very few cases, they've remained visible in all lighting situations and, if so, those should be returned to Amazon for replacement -- Amazon has been replacing these with no trouble, sending out replacements the same day.

  The latter indicates a possible bad batch though, and the reported problematical ones are being sent to engineers to check out, per some customer rep responses to forum members.  In the Kindle forums, some are upset by the normal bottom 1/2-inch unevenness and this is partly because Amazon's product illustrations tend to show the ideal display, as marketing materials will -- so for those buyers, it seemed a flaw.

  In my early Notes for buyers, I drew attention on Sept. 8, in points 3 and 5 and in the "Things Buyers should Know" section, to the lack of audio capability in the Paperwhite and the lower storage capacity of 2GB vs the 4GB of the previous e-Ink Kindles (Aug 2010 and after).  That was to prevent prospective buyers from purchasing without realizing these things.  I also gave a couple of theories beyond what Amazon explains as of yesterday.

  Yesterday Amazon added its "We want you to know" section on the Paperwhite product page.

Because it's so unusual, here is their advisory in their own words:
We want you to know...

Kindle Paperwhite is the best Kindle we've ever made by far, but there are certain limitations and changes from prior generations that we want you to know about.
  • Kindle Paperwhite does not have audio or Text-to-Speech. This makes the device smaller and lighter than it would otherwise be. Audio and an improved Text-to-Speech engine are supported on Kindle Fire and Kindle Fire HD. 
  • Under certain lighting conditions, the illumination at the bottom of the screen from the built-in light is not perfectly even. 
    [Edited for the Kindeworld blog Dec 28, 2015, after an alert by Mr.Cyberdude in the Comments area on December 28, 2015:
    Examples of how the screen looks in different lighting conditions accompanied the text on the product page for the original Paperwhite released Sept 2012, but now that Amazon has been on the Paperwhite 3 for a year or so, the product page for that first model is used only for selling Used Paperwhite 1's, and all the descriptive product text (except for basic specs) have been removed.
      The smaller image I made at the head of this blog article is all that's left of the accompanying images.]
    These variations are normal and are located primarily in the margin where text is not present. The illumination is more even than that created by a book light or lighted cover. The contrast, resolution and illumination of the Paperwhite display is a significant step-up from our prior generation. 
  • The Kindle Paperwhite has 2 GB of storage. Some previous Kindle models had 4GB of storage. 2GB allows you to hold up to 1,100 books locally on your device. In addition, your entire Kindle library is stored for free in the Amazon cloud, and you can easily move books from the cloud onto your device.
Thank you, and we hope you enjoy Kindle Paperwhite.
- The Kindle Team '

Essentially, the 4 lighting situations shown include:
  1.  Daylight with maximum setting at '24'
  2.  Bright room with light setting not as high, at '20'
  3.  Dark room, light setting low
        which they recommend for 'most comfortable reading'
  4.  Dark room light setting at full brightness,
       which they do NOT recommend.

Amazon reiterates at the bottom of the 4 illustrations:
  "In darkness, the most comfortable illumination level for most readers is a lower light setting."  That's probably because in a dark room any light will stand out more.

  Notice that (i) the bottom half-inch shadings are stronger when you're in a dark room and the light-setting is very high and that (ii) when you're in a dark room, and the light-setting is low, Amazon's photo shows some mildly pink and green discoloration at that level and may be what some have seen.
  When these also appear in daylight to any noticeable or bothersome degree, that wouldn't be what's expected and a few forum members have returned those units for replacements which were usually better.

What Amazon doesn't mention, in a section that describes what they want people to know are normal appearance of the Paperwhite under very varied light, is what their battery rating is based on:
  The ~8 wks battery life of the Paperwhite, customer reps have said, is based on a light-setting at '10' and with wireless Off most of the time.
  Most owners report using their Paperwhites at battery settings from 9-14 for best appearance and comfortable reading.

News-site reactions to Amazon's additional information
Gizmodo's Casy Chan - " awesome, awesome e-reader. But it's not without problems! ... For the lack of audio and limited storage, there’s really nothing that can be done. If you needed those two features, you shouldn’t get a Paperwhite. As for the lighting issue? Well, watch your brightness levels."

Cnet's Roger Cheng - "How's this for honesty? Amazon took it upon itself to post a note today on its site listing the limitations of its newest e-reader, the Kindle Paperwhite...For instance, Amazon acknowledged that the built-in light will provide uneven illumination under certain lighting conditions.  The uneven lighting occurs in the margin where text isn't present...Of course, a cursory look at the product page would also reveal some of these differences.  Amazon, however, has opted to be crystal clear about the differences between the Kindle Paperwhite and older models."

  Their headline though: "Amazon preemptively discloses some potential shortcoming in its latest Kindle e-reader compared with previous models [That would be audio and space], most likely to get out in front of user complaints."

The Verge's Chris Welch - "So far as uneven lighting is concerned, Amazon readily admits that its front-lit solution isn't perfect while simultaneously calling the variations "normal" and assuring customers they mainly affect areas of the screen that display little to no text.  The slight difference in uniformity didn't hamper our enjoyment of the device, so it's hard to fault the company here."
  The comments to the article are an interesting read.

EXCellent Customer Video Review
This almost two-minute video review is especially apropos because the reviewer, on Oct. 1, was attempting to show, he said, the glow screen and address the comments about the LED lights at the bottom.   He felt it was "no big deal" and found the screen very clear and bright.

Upshot - my take
From what I've seen of photos of Before and After replacements units, there -was- a bad batch, but also there are some who are a lot more sensitive than others are to the bottom half-inch variances as well as some who didn't expect any unevenness at all (probably because Amazon's marketing states that the lighting is even, top to bottom) and couldn't get past seeing them, while most owners I read found them no problem once they started reading.

  So I think Amazon was wise in addressing what may be normal, as there had been no indication by them of any variances dependent on lighting situation and there'll be more realistic basic for expectations now.

Current Kindle Models for reference [as of Oct 13 2012 blog-entry only], plus free-ebook search links.
NOTES on newer Kindles [at that time]

Updated Kindle Fire Basic  7" tablet - $159
Kindle Fire HD 7" 16/32GB - $199/$249
Kindle Fire HD 8.9" 16/32GB - $299/$369
Kindle Fire HD 8.9" 4G 32/64GB - $499/$599
Kindle NoTouch ("Kindle") - $69/$89
Kindle Paperwhite, WiFi - $119/$139
Kindle Paperwhite, 3G - $179/$199
Kindle Keybd 3G - $139/$159, Free but slow web
Kindle DX - $379 $299, Free, slow web
Kindle Basic, NoTouch - £69
Kindle Touch WiFi, UK - £109
Kindle Keyboard 3G, UK - £149
  Keybd: w/ Free, slow 3G WEB
Kindle Paperwhite, WiFi
Kindle Paperwhite 3G, UK
Kindle Fire 2, UK
Kindle Fire HD 7"16/32GB, UK
OTHER International
Kindle NoTouch Basic - $89
Kindle Touch WiFi - $139
Kindle Keybd 3G - $189
  Keybd: w/ Free, slow 3G WEB

Boutique Kindle
Deutschland - Kindle Store
Italia - Kindle Store
Spain - Tienda Kindle

* Kindle Fire HD to be released October 25, 2012 in listed European areas above;
    Paperwhite to be released November 22, 2012 there.

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  1. Andrys:
    "From what I've seen of photos of Before and After replacements units, there -was- a bad batch"

    I wouldn't be so quick to put it in the past tense. A review just this past afternoon complains of blue and pink discolorations, across 3 units (original order and 2 replacements).

    What bothers me about all of this is that Amazon knows they have a problem with the discolorations and yet it seems they're still shipping units that have the problem. At the same time, some reviewers specifically say that they don't have any problems with discoloration (indicating they're looking for it) so apparently there are good and bad units. What I find frustrating is that one would think Amazon would start inspecting units for this problem before packaging them, rather than continuing to ship them and hope some people won't care. I could understand if they didn't know the problem existed (it's entirely possible that in the factory lighting the problem isn't evident) but now that they know about the problem they should be pulling units.

    1. Blackbeard, my saying definitely that I feel there -was- a bad batch doesn't mean there isn't one now or in the future, but I'm not going to opine on current reports today. As I wrote in this post, the Amazon photo in a dark room with low lighting-setting shows some of that discoloration. Did you notice this in the picture? Am seriously asking.

      They come from warehouses - and opening those at the various warehouses, as a rule of thumb, before shipping would also take away from new packaging that people expect.

      Also, one person has had 4 in a row as of today and I wonder about that in more than one way. Right now they're doing the right thing in sending those to engineers to check out.

      The thread asking who has had good experiences shows a lot of them one right after another, and so we have a trouble thread (which will focus on that) and an OK thread (which will focus on that).

      I don't think we know enough to be saying they should pull any units. I think it's just precipitous and overkill at the moment. As you probably know, the news-site reviewers have always been hard-nosed about these things, so there are all kinds of factors going on. They also have had to try everything, so may have a different perspective on the glow/dark/unevenness.

    2. Andrys said:
      "...the Amazon photo in a dark room with low lighting-setting shows some of that discoloration. Did you notice this in the picture? Am seriously asking."

      Yes, I did notice, but didn't make much of it for a couple of reasons:

      - If I stare at a white background long enough, I'll think I see some colors that aren't really there. Like the old saying goes, if you perform an experiment with the expectation of a particular outcome, you'll usually get it; thus the need for a blind study in this case.

      - Amazon doesn't address that issue (only the variation at the bottom as we've discussed) so it could simply be an artifact of the photographic process, taking into account the lighting in the room, the frequencies of light coming from the LED's and how they're processed by the camera's imaging sensor (and post-processed for the web JPGs) and how they're rendered on my display. Now certainly you can't get something from nothing, so if the camera picked it up then something is different there, but that doesn't mean it is noticeable to the naked eye. I feel differently about the reviews with photos because many of them complain about specific colors in specific areas, and I and others see them too. So when a reviewer says something to the effect of, "This shot is pretty much how I see it in person," and the existence is confirmed by other readers, then I have a high confidence level it's there. I don't mind the lighting at the bottom of the screen, but yellow/pink/blue blotches around the screen would drive me up the wall, across the ceiling, and down the other side. I did find it interesting that the low-light photo at full brightness doesn't seem to show colors, but it's "not recommended" (probably because it's just too bright in a dark environment and could lead to eye strain.)

      As a side note, many years ago a professional painter looked at the white paint on the trim in my house (thinking about which color to use) and said, "There's some blue in that paint." I stared at it and didn't see it. He explained that a small amount of blue is used because it makes white look whiter. His experience in seeing straight pure white allowed him to see the difference in my paint. Indeed, I've since learned even some laundry detergents add blue to make clothes look whiter. It's possible that Amazon chose LEDs with some blue to make the screen appear whiter, and there's some unintentional diffraction going on.

      "They come from warehouses - and opening those at the various warehouses, as a rule of thumb, before shipping would also take away from new packaging that people expect."

      I don't expect them to open boxes. But I also don't think they have so many warehoused that it takes them 6 weeks to ship existing stock sitting in a warehouse. I think they're shipping them as soon as they arrive from manufacturing. Back in the days of the first gen Kindle, I recall an Amazon employee who worked in shipping commenting that the Kindles came in waves (probably related to shipping schedules) and it would get very hectic when they arrived, with the rush to ship them out. At least in the case of that generation, this tells me they don't take weeks to clear existing stock.

      "I don't think we know enough to be saying they should pull any units."

      That's entirely their call; only amazon knows the return rate. I will say this though. When I checked the ratings distribution yesterday, 39% of reviews were <= 3 stars. As a comparison, the value for Kindle Keyboard is about 17%. I don't believe there's such a high defect rate; a good portion of the dissatisfaction is related to the shading at the bottom which is not considered a defect. Still, it's interesting that Amazon felt compelled to do a bit of expectation control.

  2. Blackbeard, my *point* was, though, that the pink and green ARE there, and in this picture they're mild, and the areas are exactly the same as shown in the photos by others who see them on theirs.

    What differs, though, is the *degree* displayed and that depends on the Camera (few people who don't do photography a lot realize just how much the camera AND monitor calibration or non-calibration figure into what you 'see' in photographs) AND the sensitivity of the person viewing it AND the degree to which a device may actually be defective.

    I was trying to show you and others the *basis* for the pink and green areas "writ large" as might be said, when whatever it might be causes their more vivid display at times or for some.

    You lost me at one point. How can they inspect a replacement without opening a new one. The actual new ones are in warehouses, not in Seattle for the most part. I don't want an opened one myself. That would mean someone there decided it was okay and, as you have seen, if you read the forums carefully, many HAVE seen some of these unusual prismatics at certain angles and in certain light and say they're not bothered by them.

    In some devices they may well be dominant.
    Neither you nor I can decide for Amazon how many are involved and when they become a problem. There's too much over-the-shoulder coaching right now and too much dependence on individual sensitivity being 'reality' for all.

    Terry ___ proudly displayed photos of two he purchased saying he was lucky to get two good ones and they looked white to him. The forum people said his photos looked to be of discolored devices. It is -very- difficult to take a picture of a white-lit object and have it turn out as a nicely white-lit object. There are also oddities from underexposure and then with the actual device, it seems the various shadings will show up more when in a very dark room.

    Others say they can read in the dark w/o an external lamp or much better than they did with the Glowlight and they don't fret over any shading differences they might have noticed when not reading. That's why I pointed people to the third picture - there are areas where there are shadows when the light is not high and there are discolorations under those circumstances.

    No one can tell from the 3rd picture how much it shows up to someone in real life holding it up and looking at it from various angles.

    SO, Terry, who was so happy over his two, now feels maybe he doesn't have good devices after all, since others see so many flaws in his photographs. This is then part of the group dynamics too.

    There are all kinds of interesting dynamics operating here, and so I'm being very cautious about any decision-making for Amazon by any of us as to how much is not right with any of these. My guess is it varies and not all complainers have bad units.

    Amazon needed to do some kind of advisory as they also found out that people were returning them just for the uneven shading in the bottom half-inch and their own reps didn't know that part was normal. That's an expensive thing. But their focus is customer satisfaction, so the next thing is to let them know what -is- normal, especially in darker light.

    I am sure that picture 3 shows the basis for what some have been bothered by in discoloration with most of the ones I read (except for ~4 people) noticing they are either gone or are not noticeable after a few days. Some of it would be dependent on the layers and what is happening there and maybe a relaxation of bad conditions after being exposed for some days.

    As someone else pointed out, at this point in its life the Kindle 1 had a rating of 2.5...

  3. I'm reaching a crossroads with my Paperwhite.

    No doubt I've been spending too much time reading and contributing to discussions about the various screen problems on Mobileread but I just can't help thinking that the screen should be better than it is, and will be, once Amazon has had a chance to address the issues.

    The shadows at the bottom don't bother me at all, but the seemingly random appearance of pastel clouds and sometimes inconsistently rendered text is more difficult to ignore. After two weeks I have given up hope that the color clouds will go away spontaneously as some reported.

    Don't get me wrong, it is good about 80% of the time, but the other 20% is where I can't seem to set the brightness to where I'd like it without boosting the distracting color. The text rendering issue is more subtle (some text appears bolder than other text on the same page, like a bad printing run), and probably can be fixed with a firmware update. But the device in my hands now is not the one I thought I was buying. There does not seem to be any point in exchanging it, I'm sure there are better screens to be had even now, but until a greater proportion of them are better to begin with, a new black box (literally!) arriving on my doorstep seems more likely to disappoint than not.

    Apparently Amazon is telling people they can request an exchange at any point for up to one year. So my choice is to return for a refund, or keep it and exchange when it seems the production issues have been ironed out. Today, I am leaning towards returning it, and maybe trying again in a couple of months,

    1. Tom, if it were me, I'd give it one exchange-try. All that can happen that's bad is that it's no better. And then if that's so, just return them and forget about it until hearing production probs are nil. That's my plan.

      I definitely would not keep the one you have, though. You didn't sign up for a papermultitint.

    2. Requested a replacement today. They are going to check the replacement unit for issues before sending it out. I also reported the text rendering issue and a problem I've encountered 2 or 3 times where PW would not wake up, he promised to pass that along and said an update was in the works. Excellent customer service as usual. I think they are well on the way to addressing the screen issues, based on this and some recent reports on Mobileread (which prompted me to move forward with replacement).

      While initially I thought I was seeing pinkish and greenish clouds eventually I realized that was an optical illusion. The non pink areas are actually color neutral as far as I can tell now.

    3. Tom, that rendering issue seems to be a result of whether the background is pinkish or green-blueish. I have mine now, and in normal daylight INDOORS, it is almost pure white, a sort of ivory. I raise the light only until I get it 'whiter' but not glowing (as that hurts my eyes the way LCD screens do).

      I don't raise it any further than the point where it is making the text look less etched. So I'm mainly adding a whiteness to it. That means, in my case (I think the units differ), I am at light level 14.

      Strangely enough I've found 14 also best for a dark room. SO, I have what seems a fine one by daylight *indoors* with shades down for the computer room.

      Yesterday, first day, as soon as dusk settled in, I noticed a sudden appearance of the pink and bluish-green. They're milder in my case

      In a totally dark room the pink and blue-green areas (pastel like) are far more noticeable. You'll see it somewhat in the 3rd picture of Amazon's add-on page of what is normal.

      I took 4 pictures of the pink and blue-green. In my case it's not an optical illusion, as I took them in the kitchen with the lights off and closely matched them in the computer room. Same page, same effect.

      However, it didn't bother me that much but it was somewhat annoying and it did affect font heaviness in those spots.

      Today, it is much better, but it's still daylight. But I went into the closet :-) to check against the darkness, and the discolorations today ARE quite a bit milder. Right now, in any kind of light in the house, it's sort of beautiful.
      Can't see the shading effect at the bottom, even. Very calming. I can't stand seeing it w/o the light anymore !

      Will see what it's like tonight, but right now it's gorgeous. Such even light.

      ONE MORE THING. Part of the irritation is that faint Home screen font that is THIN besides and it just makes me notice any impurities more because it's harder to read. On books and newspapers, I use Helvetica with medium spacing. I think it is eye relief against the background. I read about 14 inches away from the eyes.

    4. Yes I took some pictures when I first got it and saw green in them. Not sure if I'd get the same results now, but at least my brain has remapped its white balance so I don't see green with my eyes. Maybe if I work at it I could get the pink to look white. Cameras also have to calculate what 'white' is also, and while they often do a good job at this, without some calibration I would not trust that either.

      Regarding the font unevenness, any 'background' color is going to shift the apparent sharpness. But what I'm referring to is a redraw problem: as you turn pages, text that is drawn on an area of the screen that was previously blank is bolder than text that is drawn where text was before (and I like the bolder text). You can also see it after bringing up a dictionary panel, dismissing it and comparing the redrawn text with that on the rest of the screen. I have seen some of the latter thing before on Kindle Touch and my Nook STR, and that is not so bad, but page turns should not have this problem.

    5. Tom - Actually, it's tri-color. White (so there IS white for white-balance), pastel versions of turquoise and pink. Only at night in a quite darkened room. It became milder today, and didn't show during dusk or shortly after.

      As mentioned, I held up the page on the Kindle and matched it to the image on the screen, both in darkened rooms.

      With the older Kindles, the inked text and images would shift to absolutely black and white at initial turn of a page and give great contrast and then morph into a grayer version after.

      I'm seeing only almost bold facing when there's a coloration underneath (usually pink) but it's milder today. It looks like a photograph that uses the faint image of a rose in the background, with the pink and greenish leaves as a background but as something hinted at though stronger than a hint. It's like an arty photograph of "what was" as background.

      In normal daylight indoors, subdued (no bright windows), it looks like the marketing though.

  4. **See examples of how the screen looks in different lighting conditions.

    We're sorry. The Web address you entered is not a functioning page on our site

    1. MrCyberdude, interesting. I checked out the original Paperwhite page (the original page is linked in the block at the end of it] and saw what happened and have edited the old article from 2012 to address the now missing examples (and accompanying text quoted).

      Thanks for the alert. It was an interesting statement by Amazon with examples at the time and was made only a month after the official launch. I googled the wording tonight and found it quoted on the Amazon forums a few times too, back then.

  5. We have the Paperwhite1 and the KindleKeyboard3G which had audio and I used to appreciate listening to the speech to text when driving. I cannot believe that Kindle doesn't do the audio function when the 4 year old version with a cpu half the speed does.
    Such an apple technique of milking the market.
    Thanks for your blog info, between your comments and this link the info has been invaluable.
    Cheers MrCyberdude

    1. MrCyberdude, from what I read, the eReader competition became a matter of who has the smallest, thinnest eReader -- and combined with stats that most users didn't use the audio Text-to-Speech, they decided to go for the smallest they could (the mainstream tech site reviews support this notion with their reviews so focused on that). And it coincided with the arrival of inexpensive Kindle tablets, which offer Text-To-Speech (not to mention apps to read non-Kindle books). It also makes the eReaders somewhat less costly.

      Thanks for the feedback on your experiences :-)


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