New "hand-tuned" fonts from Amazon

dstdenis's picture

Amazon announced new Kindles on Sep 6, including new e-ink readers with higher pixel density and new hand-tuned fonts.

All six fonts on Kindle Paperwhite have been hand-tuned at the pixel level for maximum readability and comfort. Higher resolution allows for unprecedented sharpness. The new high-resolution display allows for elegant typeface options including Baskerville and Palatino.

These new fonts also appeared in an update to the Kindle iPad and iPhone apps on Sep 21, and I was eager to check them out. However, I found that the Baskerville doesn't seem to work that well, at least to my eyes. I'd be interested to read opinions from the experts here.

Here's a screenshot showing Amazon's Baskerville (it's huge because of the pixel density at capture, but I thought that would be better than resampling to a smaller size):

It seems to have uneven color. The uppercase letters seem darker than the lowercase. Okay, maybe Baskerville is just not a good choice for use on a tablet? So I looked at Linotype Baskerville in the Fontbook app:

Seems to have a more even color. What do you think?

hrant's picture

Good topic.

There are many gremlins running around here.

1) There are different Baskervilles. This one seems to be ITC New Baskerville, which to me isn't a "classical" cut, so not very authentic. But I guess that's not the main thrust of this thread.

2) Some fonts -especially older ones- intentionally have hefty caps. For a clue, look how the caps are additionally very tall.

3) It's very difficult to compare emissive screens (LCD) and reflective screens (E Ink) by proxy. And fonts optimized for one are unlikely to work very well for the other.

4) I agree that Baskerville is not a great choice for a tablet, but for an e-reader I think it would work.

BTW, to compare UC-lc relationships, maybe show more than seven "U"s and an "I"... And anyway Linotype Baskerville is a quite different animal than ITC New Baskerville.


eliason's picture

The issue is the terrible large wordspacing.

hrant's picture

Excessive word-space slows down reading, but unlike insufficient word-space does not destroy it (unless the leading is unusually tight).


kentlew's picture

Hrant — I’m pretty sure that’s Monotype Baskerville, not ITC New Baskerville, on the Kindle. As you say, not the main thrust of the thread. Just pointing it out.

dberlow's picture

"It seems to have uneven color."

To some extent, it's being viewed larger than intended, and to another extent this is the old pitfall of too many jobs for each character.

"Okay, maybe Baskerville is just not a good choice for use on a tablet?"

I think, historically, and according to modern studies, what makes a good choice should depend on the material, not the device, the app, OS, WC3 or initially, even the user! As resolution and mobility increase (again), the initial type selection for most material should be done where it used to be done.

I also think that it's fabulous there is now some choice in this application, considering the rather wide range of material it presents.

hrant's picture

Amateur mistake - sorry.


dstdenis's picture

Hrant, thanks for your feedback. I appreciate your observation that it's difficult to compare LCD and e-ink screens by proxy, and that a font optimized for e-ink might not work as well with LCD. Amazon stated that these fonts were optimized for the new Kindle Paperwhite, which made me wonder whether the Baskerville would work well on the iPad. I'll be interested to see how well it works on the Paperwhite.

Kentlew, thanks for directing me to Monotype Baskerville. Actually both the ITC New Baskerville and Monotype Baskerville seem closer to the Amazon Baskerville than the Linotype Baskerville that I had been comparing. In the Fontbook app, I noticed that the Monotype Baskerville caps also seem slightly darker than lowercase, though not as much as the Amazon Baskerville. So maybe Amazon's type designers didn't introduce this with their optimization?

Eliason, I agree that the word spacing isn't good. The app formats text with full justification and no hyphenation, so it's loose. Apple's iBook app has options to turn on hyphenation and ragged right justification, which improve word spacing. I wish Amazon would provide these options in their apps.

Dberlow, I'd like to see ebook designers start embedding well-chosen faces. The new Kindle Format 8 supports this. With most ebooks that I've read, however, the publisher hasn't taken advantage of this capability. And with the one ebook I've read with an embedded font, the publisher/designer chose Droid Sans for a history book about the Navy in WWII. Ugh. I checked the view-inside option for the paper version of the same book, and I found that the designer chose Goudy Old Style. I would've been fine with that for the ebook. I have no idea what they were thinking.

I wasn't looking for trouble when I started reading a book with this face, but after a while I felt something wasn't quite right. I squinted to look at the page slightly out of focus and noticed the dark caps. Since then, I've finished that book and started another. I've become less distracted by the color and don't notice it as much as when I first started using this face.

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