Fire font Nexus - - GmailAs a booster of e-books for mass literacy, I rejoiced when Amazon came out with its $50 Fire tablet, which cost a mere $35 during the 2015 Black Friday sale.

But sure enough, many people still haven’t caught on to the Fire’s potential as an e-reader. Even the normally astute Joanna Cabot took one look at the screen and decided it would do only for games and YouTube.

Granted, the Fire’s display (1024 X 600 resolution—171 dots per inch on a seven-inch screen) is a far cry from that of my Samsung Galaxy Tab S (1600 x 2560—288 dpi on a 10.5 incher). But it is hardly a disaster compared to the original iPad (1024 x 768—132 dpi on a 9.7-inch screen).

No, the biggest problem isn’t the hardware. It’s Amazon’s stubborn refusal to let people achieve all-text bolding through a Kobo-style font-weight control or at least through heavier fonts than they can get now.

Doubt that Amazon could? Just look at the first screen shot in this post, created under experimental conditions. It shows all-text Bookerly font, as it appears on my $50 Fire, as photographed by my Nexus 6 phone.

Fire direct screenshotBelieve me, this shot is not giving the Fire justice in such areas as screen contrast or evenness of background or sharpness of text. For a better view, albeit still a flawed one, click twice on the image or try something equivalent. What’s more, after this post first went out, TeleRead Editor Chris Meadows suggested I do a direct screen capture, which he believes would accurately reflect the video quality. I myself had wanted to err on the cautious side, given various unknowns and factors, such as glare. But if a direct capture is of interest to you, the second shot shows one.

Alas, I couldn’t increase the all-text font weight with Amazon’s own e-reading software. Instead I had to sideload Moon+ Reader Pro, which won’t work on DRMed books.

Furthermore, Joanna reminds me that she would rather that all books show up in her Fire’s usual library rather than being scattered among different e-reading apps.

Beyond that, most Amazon customers lack the technical know-how to install apps from sources other than the company’s app store.

Clearly, then, Jeff Bezos needs to tell his people to stop overdoing the Keep It Simple Stupid philosophy and allow for all-text bolding (ideally allowing for how much bold you want) in the native e-reading app. I’m going to send him a link to this post.

Here’s what an option for heavier fonts could mean:

  1. Better readability for many customers, especially older people, more than a few of whom suffer vision problems or are living on limited budgets and could benefit from a good, low-priced tablet like the Fire. The heavier fonts won’t improve actual contract. But they will do wonders for perceived contrast. Along the way, the dots in characters can be a lot harder to see.
  2. Longer battery life. The bolder the font, the darker the background can be without compromising the perceived contrast.
  3. Less eyestrain. The darker the background, the less the glare and wear on the eyes.
  4. More school- and library-related sales for Amazon since the Fire would better comply with the spirit of federal accessibility laws. The Fire would better fulfill the desire of good professionals in those fields for usable hardware. Text to speech helped. But by itself it is not enough.

As in the case of text to speech—which the $50 Fire laudably has, unlike recent E Ink Kindles—we’re talking about a feature that could make a huge difference to many K-12 students in terms of the Fire’s potential as a reading machine.

Other than the standard KISS orthodoxies, Jeff, just why hasn’t Amazon let customers adjust font weights, the way users can on Kobo readers? This option would be a cinch to add to your main font-related menu. It could go right under the line-spacing control.

If somehow a font-weight control isn’t possible on the $50 Fire and other Fire models or E Ink Kindles—even with all your world-class coders—then at least let readers enjoy bold versions of individual fonts.


  1. You are right- font weight control is one of the few features that the Kindle needs to be a truly stellar e-reading experience. The puzzle is why not add this?? It seems like low hanging fruit…seemingly so easy to implement. It is one of the few things another e-reading platform has a leg up on the Kindle.

  2. @SteveH: Thanks very much for speaking out. I’ll include your “low-hanging fruit” reference in my forthcoming note to Jeff Bezos. How unfortunate that more people don’t grasp the importance of font-weight control. Here’s one case where Amazon could do a better job of anticipating the needs of its customers. Let’s hope Jeff B listens. David

  3. Thank you, David, for continuing to plug away for the ability to darken fonts. I LOVE this on my Kobo so much that I doubt I will buy another Kindle until this is implemented. Contrast is everything to me. For all other reasons I would prefer my Kindles, but the fonts look so washed out when you look at them next to the same text on the Kobo. As long as you are writing to Jeff, we also need more gradations in the font sizes. On the e-ink Kindles, there is a huge jump in size between the 3rd largest and the 2nd largest. There should be something in between. Again the Kobo does this better.

    • @Mary: You’re welcome. I ran out of time, so the note has yet to go off. If others want to speak up on the contrast issue, I’d encourage them. BTW, my wife fervently agrees with you about the need for more gradations in font sizes. David

  4. I emailed the Kindle Team and Jeff Bezos with a request for:
    1) A larger screen option
    2) More and/or removable storage
    3) Font weight
    Sent with rationale for each …it’s nice if readers read requests…infinitely better if the manufacturer hears from you directly.

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