If someone asked you to describe your ideal reading environment, you might picture a calm, quiet place with soft lighting, few distractions and a cushiony chair.
Can you picture your ideal e-reader?
Amazon thinks its latest Kindle Voyage is the crème de la crème of electronic reading.
This new Kindle, which starts shipping to people tomorrow, Oct. 21, is smaller in every dimension than its predecessor. It’s lighter. It has sensors on the sides of its screen for flipping pages without moving a finger, and a built-in light automatically senses your environment and remembers how much light you like to use for reading.
But it costs $199. That’s pricier than Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablets, which have color screens and more functionality. It’s more than several models of Android tablets. And it’s almost as much as the least expensive iPad, which now costs $249. To put things in perspective, a Kindle hasn’t been this expensive since more than five years ago, when Amazon introduced its second-generation Kindle for $359.
I got the Kindle Voyage a week early so I could experience this top-shelf reading experience firsthand — and tell you whether or not it’s worth the big bucks.
If you read a lot, haven’t bought a new Kindle in years, and think you deserve a major upgrade, the Kindle Voyage would be a real treat. Are its new features must-haves? PagePress puts page-turning buttons with haptic feedback on the Kindle bezel, but that’s a nice-to-have. The same is true for the Voyage’s adaptive light, sleeker build and high-resolution display with crisp, clear text. They’re delightful, but you don’t need them.
Instead, consider one of two alternatives in the Kindle family. The entry-level Kindle, which is now $79 (used to be $69), is also light and small, giving you basic functions like a touchscreen for turning pages — but no light. The mid-level Kindle Paperwhite costs $119, comes in a 3G model, and has a touchscreen and built-in light — but it lacks the bells and whistles of the high-end Kindle Voyage.
If you don’t spring for the most expensive Kindle model, you’ll still get software features that Amazon will send out in an automatic device update to the Kindle family next month. Among these software features is Family Library, which lets two adults and four kids share books while keeping their independent Amazon accounts. Prime Instant Video content, apps and games can also be shared, though not using a Kindle.
Another feature, called Word Wise, will show short definitions above difficult words, so readers don’t have to stop and look up a word to know what it means. This is especially helpful for kids who are learning how to read, and people can adjust settings to show more or fewer definitions.
As expected, reading is a pretty plush experience on Amazon’s Kindle Voyage.
It felt small and yet comfortable in my hand as I sped through chapters of “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn. (Yes, I finally got suckered into reading it after seeing enough trailers for the new Ben Affleck movie based on the book.)
Text on the Kindle Voyage’s e-paper looked sharp. And I turned on the light’s automatic sensor, which helps it glow less in darker environments, and more in brighter environments. Though this may sound counterintuitive, it’s actually easier on your eyes — especially after a lot of reading.
This built-in light also adapts to your patterns. If you start reading the Kindle Voyage in the dark, and the light is auto-adjusted but is still too dark or bright for you, you can manually change it, and the device’s algorithm will remember your behavior for similar scenarios in the future.
PagePress took some getting used to. Side buttons have been helpful in past devices, like older models of the Kindle and the Barnes & Noble Nook, because they let you turn pages forward or back without moving your finger from where it was. These PagePress buttons do the same, but add a tiny vibration of haptic feedback so you know that the button was pressed.
I eventually got used to PagePress, but it took a little more pressure than I would have liked. I could also flip forward or backward in the book by touching the Voyage’s screen.
I’m a big fan of the Voyage’s Origami cover. This clever design folds to support the Kindle so you can prop it up on a table for long periods of time instead of holding it to read. I used this case to prop the Kindle Voyage up on my nightstand so it didn’t get lost in my ever-growing pile of papers and physical books.
The Origami cover was first introduced with the Amazon Fire tablets, but this is the first one designed for an e-reader. Like the device it fits, this cover is pricey: $45 for a polyurethane case in one of five colors, or $60 for a leather case.
Like other Kindles, this one’s battery life is outstanding — lasting for around six weeks, or, as I like to think of it, long enough for you to misplace your charging cable. It comes with four gigabytes of storage, which will hold thousands of books, and it connects to Wi-Fi or 3G — though the 3G model costs extra.
The Kindle Voyage is the new gold standard in e-reading, and it gives users a lot of ways to personalize their reading experience. But at $200, it’s a luxury, not a necessity.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.