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Install a darker, more readable font on the Kindle 2

In case you haven’t heard about it, there’s been some controversy from people who have had both a first generation and second generation Kindle, complaining that the Kindle 2’s text doesn’t appear as crisp and dark on the screen, making reading more difficult in low-lighting situations. The problem isn’t a problem with the Kindle 2’s screen (which is actually better than the screen on the first generation Kindle), but instead Amazon has added font-smoothing to the Kindle 2 because its better screen can handle such things as font smoothing. Unfortunately, the font smoothing decreases readability.

This forum thread has quite a bit of discussion of all of the above, as well as a link to a petition you can sign if you are so inclined, asking Amazon to improve the fonts on the second generation Kindle. Even better than all that, Ted Inoue has a set of installers for different custom fonts that he’s designed to rectify this issue (as well as an uninstaller), so that you can change the fonts on your Kindle 2 if you would like a little more contrast when reading in lower lighting situations.

I just installed the Arial Round Narrow font on my Kindle 2, and here’s some comparative screenshots.

First, the Kindle 2 displaying the first all-text page from today’s New York Times in the default font:


Second, after the installation of update_arialRndNrw_install.bin here’s a screenshot of the same all-text page from today’s New York Times:


Now, you’re probably thinking “ok, cool you can change the fonts, but honestly the first one doesn’t look any lighter than the second one, really.” Well, true, but that is because these were screenshots and don’t represent the difference of the two fonts being displayed on the actual screen with font smoothing. It’s not that the black in the middle of each character is any blacker, it’s that the edges get slightly blurred / smoothed by the display, so the more rounded default font blurs a bit more than the straight boldness of the arial font.

You can find actual comparison shots of the different fonts on the screen below the download files on this page.

In any case, this hack is as simple as downloading the font file you want to use, putting it in the root directory of your Kindle 2 via USB, then dismounting your Kindle 2, hit Menu, then Settings, then Menu, then Update Your Kindle and simply wait for the update to apply and your Kindle 2 to reboot. Don’t try to reset your Kindle during this process. Once it’s done, you should have a new font. Check it out. If you don’t like it, just use the uninstaller file and follow the same process as above. Easy.

UPDATE: I uninstalled everything and then installed the bolded version of the default font using update_Droid_fonts_install.bin. Here’s a screenshot of that one:


I should also note that even after you run the uninstaller, there are several extra files in the root directory of your Kindle, including: font.properties.new, font.properties.orig, font.properties.prerestore, font.properties.restored, netfront.ini.new, netfront.ini.orig, netfront.ini.prerestore, and netfront.ini.restored. So if you run this hack then uninstall it to send your Kindle in for repair or something, make sure you remove those extra files too.

Another Update: If you install this hack, the next time Amazon releases an official update you will have to uninstall it in order to perform the update. Version 2.0.3 update works with it, so just uninstall the hack, run the official update, and then reinstall the hack.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Ted Inoue 4/27/2009, 2:42 pm

    Nice posting. A couple minor, but important additions.
    The reason that the screen grabs from the Kindle look good on a computer monitor is that the contrast of a monitor is much better than the E-Ink display. Black, or pixel value '0' on an LCD display is really close to no light coming from those pixels. White, pixel value 255, is quite bright. That contrast can be hundreds or thousands.
    The E-Ink display, and printed pages for that matter, work on reflected light where black just corresponds to the darkest splotch of E-Ink (or real ink). White is the highest reflected brightness. The contrast ratio of E-Ink is specified at 7:1. Newspaper is only 10:1.
    That's part one of why pictures, like those above, don't represent what's actually visible on the Kindle's display.
    When the Kindle takes the pixel data and puts it on the screen, it is in fact an essentially exact representation of the screen grabs, shown above. The font smoothing occurs prior to it being rendered into the “frame buffer”, so we can't blame the difference between the screen grabs and the visual display on that.

    If you look at the pixel data, whether from the pictures above, or on the Kindle screen, you see what's shown here:
    (top picture)
    The original fonts as rendered contain gray pixels, not black. And, where they are black, there are only single black pixels, surrounded by lighter gray or white pixels. The combination of these effects is what leads to the perception of fuzzy fonts. The eye wants to see a sharp dividing line between black and white, which we see as “high contrast”.

    In the bolder fonts, you'll note that there are often two dark pixels adjacent to one another. These form large enough dark details for the eye to clearly see the “black”. This is especially true for those with less than perfect vision. Single pixel sort-of-black, surrounded by sort-of-white, results in truly poor contrast and the resultant eye-strain that's been reported.

    Finally, keep in mind that there are different sharpnesses of Kindle screens. If you look at a single black pixel on an excellent K2, you'll find a clearly defined black square. If you look at that same pixel on a not-so-good K2, you'll find a square with fuzzy boundaries. That significantly exacerbates the problem and is largely responsible for the disparity in opinions on the Kindle fonts. People are comparing apples and oranges.

  • C.K. Sample III 4/27/2009, 2:52 pm

    Cool. Thanks for the detail and thanks so much more for releasing these fonts. I wasn't disliking the default font on my Kindle 2, but I absolutely love the Bold Narrow Native font now that I have it running on my Kindle 2. I can read at a whole size smaller, which equals fewer page turns, which should equal longer battery life.