Enhanced Native Kindle 2 Fonts

Throughout all this testing, my goal has really been to see just how clear we could make the fonts display on the Kindle 2. Originally, I suggested rendering the standard fonts either bolded or using no font-smoothing. Well, I finally got the opportunity to use the actual native Kindle 2 fonts for my experiments, rather than fonts taken from my desktop computer.

This is really exciting as it is a much more accurate representation of what Amazon is likely to do. As I noted elsewhere, Amazon's standard serif font is really quite beautiful and well suited for the Kindle 2. However, for some people, it's just a little thin and renders in reduced contrast at the smaller sizes, as shown in the microscope images below.

 It is obvious that the small font is not being rendered black and lacks contrast for diagonal and thin lines.
Whether you like the original font or not, it is undisputed fact that it does not render with maximum contrast.
 So what happens if you replace the original font with a slightly tweaked (bolded) version of the original?
You get this beauty. While it looks a bit chunky under a microscope, it's very attractive when viewed small.
 How about a full page displayed with these fonts?   
This is shown at essentially the same resolution as the Kindle screen
 Clearly, the contrast in the second image is substantially better. With an increased contrast, one can read the Kindle 2 in lower light or in a smaller font. 

One critical aspect that is often overlooked is that you are viewing this page on a self-illuminated display. We perceive things somewhat differently on these displays than the same thing displayed on a reflective screen like the Kindle's. Problems with contrast are exacerbated.

My specific recommendations to Amazon are as follows:

  • Provide a user option that allows normal or enhanced display.
  • In normal display mode, everything displays as it does now. In this way, current users will not be surprised or penalized by a change in the default behavior.
  • In enhanced display mode, plain serif fonts will render using the current bold font. Bold text will be displayed, as shown above, in a font style slightly bolder than the existing bold font. This preserves the look of documents. Likewise, italicized serif fonts will be rendered in bold italics and what should be bold italic will use a new font that is bolder than the existing bold italic font.
  • No change made to the sans-serif fonts. Those are currently rendered dark enough.
The benefit of this enhanced rendering option is that it uses the existing font that Amazon has already licensed. All they need to do is add one more pair of fonts to the system that is extra bold.
This would also allow them to render text above a certain size (size 4, for example) in the default fonts because those fonts are already dark enough.

For the DIY'ers out there interested in replicating these experiments...

There are some clever people out there who have figured out how to put code onto the Kindle 2. The guy who made all this work possible in the first place was Igor Skochinsky. His blog has lots of technical information that others are using to further modify their Kindle 2 units.

Building on Igor's work, Andrei Pushkin developed the "font hack." I discovered his web site and used those tools to experiment with the fonts on the K2. 

In conjunction with his code, I used the powerful FontCreator to manipulate a variety of fonts in order to create one that satisfied my Kindling needs. This is a great little font editor that lets you resize, bold, italicize and otherwise manipulate fonts. So you can load up fonts from your PC, and edit them so they look just right for the K2. It takes some experimentation, but when done, it works well.

Disclaimer: I just used these tools to experiment on my own unit. I don't encourage others to do so as incorrect use can lead to a "bricked" Kindle. This almost happened to me once when I copied the wrong file to my Kindle! Of course, you also must keep in mind that Amazon undoubtedly frowns on such things, so, as they say proceed at your own risk!