Why Does the Kindle Feel So Much Heavier Than the Nook?

As someone in a mixed marriage — that is, in our home we read on Kindles and Nooks (and also an iPad) — I got a laugh out of the following e-mail. It’s from a Buenos Aires reader named Pablo Untroib:

Hi guys, read your 1st book and I’m on my way to finish SuperFreakonomics, today it happened something that I thought you would be interested. First a little introduction:

Two months ago I purchased a Nook simple touch e-book reader, these gizmos aren’t that popular here in Argentina compared to USA, so my wife’s 1st reaction was, why you spent money on that thing? So I loaded it with some books, she likes and not a day passed then she said: this Nook is mine, you should get a new one for yourself. Strategic error on my side, I should had purchased two to start with, anyway, a month passed and a friend brought me a second Nook from USA.

After that day, my wife evangelized about the e-book reader among her friends. So intense was the campaign that when a new birthday was about to be celebrated, the group of friends decided to gift an e-book reader to one of her friends, since her friend does not read english, I suggested my wife to purchase a Kindle touch since Amazon Spanish books selection is far greater than Barnes&Noble.

Fast forward to this morning and the Freakonomic moment:

Today my wife brings the Kindle home so I can help her load some books, so the birthday present can be used right off the box. When she handed me the Kindle, I handle it for the 1st time in my life and my first comment was: its heavier than the Nook isn’t it? yes, I noticed exactly the same, she replied. Then I went to work where I have a precision scale, to my surprise the Nook weighed 209 grams and the kindle 209.7 grams. 

Pablo continues:

I assume it’s pretty impossible for two persons to accurately weigh only 0.7 grams difference by hand.

Why our perception was so off the scale to be sure of the “difference”? 

Can it be that we wanted it to be heavier, less comfortable to use, to unconsciously validate our choice of reader?

I love Pablo’s questions and especially that he bothered to weigh the two devices to check his gut instinct. How many times do we all assume that our gut instinct is right without whipping out the scale (or the calculator, or whatever instrument of measurement is appropriate)?

So what is the explanation? In addition to Pablo’s idea, at least two possibilities come to mind:

  • This is the endowment effect in action, leading Pablo to assume his choice (the Nook) is superior simply because it is his. One problem I always have with this explanation is that many of us also experience a “grass-is-greener” effect, whereby the thing we don’t possess — in Pablo’s case, the Kindle — appears more desirable simply because it isn’t ours.
  • Is there something in the physical design of the Nook and the Kindle — color, materials, typography, etc. — that makes the Nook seem lighter than it is and the Kindle seem heavier?

Would love to hear your thoughts.

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  1. Chad says:

    Have not handled both myself, but another possibility is that more of the Kindle’s weight is near the outside making its moment of inertia higher. Basically, the Kindle might feel harder because it is harder to turn/manipulate, not because it is actually heavier. The real test for weight would be hefting the two, but at the end of the day, if the Nook feels lighter because it is easier to manipulate then that is really all that matters, not the actual weight.

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    • Jack says:

      I was thinking much the same thing. If more of the Kindle’s mass is in outer edge, it would exert noticeable leverage if held by one hand. I haven’t handled one so I can’t be sure but it seem like a plausible reason.

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      • Steve Bennett says:

        Similarly, if something in the design makes you tend to pick up the Nook closer to the centre, and the Kindle closer to the edge, the same would apply. It’s really difficult to accurately judge weight of objects with low density, because you get thrown off by all these little factors. Try estimating the weight of an empty cardboard box sometime…

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      • JBP33 says:

        It would make more sense if the weight was more evenly distributed in the nook. The leverage effect doesn’t happen if the weight is symmetrical.

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  2. Steve Nations says:

    I wonder if the distribution of the weight is different, and that causes a different perception of the overall weight.

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  3. Phil says:

    If most of the weight in the nook is located directly under your hand, but more the weight of the kindle is located far from your hand — like at the top edge of the device, assuming you hold it near the bottom — that would account for the difference in feel.

    Like putting the fat kid in the middle of the see-saw, instead of the end.

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  4. Dave says:

    Could it be a matter of mechanics/leverage? I would think that the center of gravity in a handheld device could greatly affect how it feels to hold. For the lightest feel you’d probably want most of the weight as close to the palm as possible (I haven’t tested this).

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  5. Daniel says:

    If you read reviews on cNet, especially for wireless phones and tablets, they talk plenty about balance. Weight distribution in the devices is very important.

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  6. Wayne says:

    It’s probably a factor of simply having larger dimmensions. Even if both devices are balanced across their own weight, the physically larger dimensions of the Kindle will make it have a greater leverage effect when held in one hand thereby feeling heavier.

    So, did it feel heavier when they just held them flat in their hand, or was it heavier when held from the side like when reading? I’m betting option two.

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  7. KevinH says:

    It could also be the physical distribution of mass in the device. If the design of the nook places the heaviest part of the device in the right spot it will feel easier to manipulate and could therefore feel lighter.

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  8. Dan says:

    It looks from the pictures that the Nook is larger. Much of what we naturally perceive as weight is affected by density. If 2 object weigh the same, but one is smaller, it will “feel” heavier.

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    • Neil (SM) says:

      I think the zoom is different on the two images above. They are roughly the same size — the kindle is about a quarter inch longer but the nook is that much wider :

      According to the specs listed on BN/Amazon sites:

      Nook simple touch = 6.5 x 5.0 x 0.47 inches
      Kindle touch = 6.8″ x 4.7″ x 0.40″

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      • Jeff R says:

        Based on these dimmensions the Nook has a density of .84 g/cc and the Kindle .99. That’s proabably significant.

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