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More than Skin Deep

During this time, I also looked for other ways to improve the look of the Kindle. One of the fundamental complaints about the K2 is that the screen looks dark gray. Remember, the E-Ink display is rated as 40% reflective for a "full white" display while paper is about 90% reflective. The white plastic is brighter still.

In psychology 101, we all learned about optical illusions. Our visual system alters images. What we perceive is not a simple representation of reality. Instead, it is what our brain needs us to see, in general, in order to navigate around this complex world in which we live.

Have you ever noticed that things look essentially the same whether you're in a dimly lit room or a brightly lit one? The physical brightness and the colors do vary but we perceive them the same. This visual consistency, simply put, prevents us from getting terribly confused by our surroundings changing under different lighting conditions.

I wondered if I could use this effect to make the Kindle look better. If you look at the Kindle 2, it is a pretty device - shiny and white, sleek and modern. It has a bright white case surrounding a gray screen. Unfortunately, Amazon set themselves up for a disappointing user experience by using this combination - the screen always looks dark gray relative to the whiter, more reflective bezel. It must because the screen reflects about half as much of the light as does the white plastic.

Take a look at this illusion. It dramatically demonstrates how an object of constant brightness is alternately perceived as lighter or darker based on its surroundings. Based on the psychology of perception, the Kindle's bezel should be darker  (i.e. less reflective) than the screen so as to make the screen appear as light as possible. While this is an optical trick, the effect is real. Design must take advantage of our visual perception.

For best results, one would use black flocking paper. This is like black velvet - it traps light so that minimal amounts relfect back to the eye, and provides a rich, black background.

Fortunately, there is at least one company, DecalGirl, that manufactures 'skins' for the Kindle 2. I purchased a black one, called Kindle 9000 that truely enhances the reading experience on the Kindle 2. In fact, I consider this inexpensive purchase to be the single most valueable accessory for my Kindle. Without it, the Kindle screen appears a muddy gray under normal room light. With it, the screen looks almost paper white. It's an amazing transformation..

Note that these skins are shiny, so they aren't perfect. But they are far better than the standard white plastic case.

This is a challenging comparison on a screen like this. Also, note that the skinned Kindle has my font enhancement applied, so it makes the comprison diferent.

The key thing is, this is a real psychological effect. The screen will look brighter against a dark background. Almost every person who has tried this has been happy with the results. One or two people noted that they preferred the white background, so your milage may vary.


Click on the image to watch an animation that alternates between the two versions for comparison.

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