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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  9. rehajm says:

    I wouldn’t entirely discount the proposition that they actually CAN distinguish a .7 gram difference between the two readers. They have obviously spent countless hours holding them in their hands and become extremely familiar with them- what seems like an immeasurably small weight difference might be noticeable . For example I would note on more than a few occasions NBA players have come out for pre-game warmups and told a referee the basketball hoop was not at the correct height, then have it be off by a half an inch when measured.

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  10. Blaise Pascal says:

    The Nook is 10mm wider and 2mm thicker, for the same mass, making it significantly less dense (about 20% less dense).

    My sense is that our perception of how heavy something is is often a comparison with how heavy we feel it should be: big things should be heavier, so we discount that automatically. The Kindle is smaller than the Nook, so we think it should be lighter, but it isn’t, so it feels heavy.

    I have both 3rd and 4th edition Kindles, and the 4th edition feels heavier than the 3rd, despite being smaller and lighter.

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    • Roger Dooley says:

      I agree, Blaise. It’s like the old joke, “Which is heavier, a pound of iron or a pound of feathers?” When I first picked up my iPad2, it felt heavy – not because it was heavy in absolute terms, I’m sure, but because its density was unexpectedly high.

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  11. johnson says:

    It should be fairly easy to set up a blind test of this effect: have a friend put both devices in blank manila envelopes and number them 1 & 2 without you seeing which is which. Then, grab a hold of both devices (one at a time, please), and try to ascertain which is which purely based on weight (i.e. try to avoid identifying them through the envelope, by assessing differences in physical size, etc.)

    My hypothesis? After 10 attempts by 2+ different people, you’ll have reached a blind identification ratio of 50% or so… 😉

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  12. Steve says:

    What about the possibility of conflict with our physical perception of each device. The nook, being made of darker colored materials, just looks heavier to me. Perhaps when I pick it up, it just seems lighter than I expected it to be. The kindle, being made of a lighter colored material is perceived as being lighter in mass and so the opposite effect occurs. Is that possible?

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  13. Shaina says:

    I think the Kindle looks like it would be heavier because it appears metallic while the nook appears more plastic and plastic is typically lighter than metal.

    I am a kindle user partially because I got a kindle 6 months before the first nook was even released and because I like the 3G connection. I like to think that the kindle is better because it is what I have, but I’m also curious about the nook and wish I could play around with one. It’s feeling a lot like the Blue Ray/HD DVD and VHS/Betamax battles. I find the lack of compatibility between kindle, nook, ibooks very annoying.

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  14. Corwin Delight says:

    It’s tough to tell from the pictures, and I don’t have either of them myself, but does one of them have larger dimensions?

    In particular, I’m reminded of an exhibit at our local science museum that consists of a large 1’x1’x1′ block of foam and a small metal slug. When you hold them each in one hand, the metal slug feels much heavier, but when you place them on a beam balance across from each other, the foam block obviously weighs more.

    In this case, if the nook is larger(and thus, less dense) then it could just be a perceptual error in our brains causing us to think that it weighs less.

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  15. Vlado says:

    Fun post. I have a kindle touch (7.5oz) and a kindle keyboard (8.5oz).
    When I first got the kindle touch my first reaction was similar to Pablo’s – I thought that the kindle touch was heavier than I anticipated and was quite puzzled.

    I came to the conclusion that it has something to do with the thickness of the device and the width of the edges around the screen. The kindle touch is thicker, and the edges around the page where your thumb goes are narrower than on both the kindle keyboard and on the nook. Basically the kindle touch is a little bit more difficult to hold in your hand if you are using your thumb to hold the device in place, and the pressure on your thumb is more concentrated.

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  16. Littauer says:

    I’ve never used either so this is (semi-informed) speculation.

    This sounds to me like a weight distribution issue. If the Nook’s battery is on the same side Pablo and his wife grip it by but on the opposite side in the Kindle it’ll feel heavier because the hand will have to work harder to keep the e-reader level.

    This is the kind of industrial design issue that Jobs was so fanatical about. You may not be able to articulate WHY you don’t like a product but you don’t like it all the same.

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  17. Idea says:

    They have the weight distributed differently. Different inertial moments. Harder to turn or move one in certain ways, even though they are the same weight.

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  18. David says:

    Balance them both flat on a pencil laying flat to see their balance point is, my guess is that the nook is maybe more bottom heavy compared to the kindle.

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  19. Tom says:

    It could be weight distribution (as others have said)
    Density and expected weight (as others have said, and reminds me of the trick question “Which is heavier, a pound of lead or a pound of feathers?”)

    But it can also be material, as in touch sensation. Most probably comparisons where made using one hand, and the effect might be that you have to hold on harder to a more smooth material making you feel like your holding a heavier item and not just holding on harder to compensate is sliding out. (which can be increased with the effect of weight distribution)

    Although I would expect 1 and 2 are more probable (as people have said..)

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  20. Eric M. Jones. says:

    I quit taking Lipitor because it ruined my ability to detect different weights. To be clear: I couldn’t tell with any precision just by hefting it, how much a box weighed.

    My carpenter told me a similar story: He couldn’t feel the real weight of a hammer in his hand.

    We both stopped taking it for this reason.


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  21. Dan B says:

    The Nook is more ergonomically shaped then the Kindle in my opinion. There’s a nook in the Nook for fingers to rest in, making it easier to hold.

    I’m a Kindle owner, btw.

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  22. Lakshmi says:

    A Hypothesis: Nook’s bezel is larger, giving a larger area to hold it by while holding it by the bezel. Kindle’s bezel is narrower. Maybe it is not the 0.7 grams he is sensitive to, but the substantial increase in the pressure on the hand due to a narrower bezel?

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  23. BikerDad says:

    I don’t have an e-reader or tablet, so I what I’m offering is a hypothesis only:

    Balance point. The balance point (due likely to the placement of the battery) of the two devices could be different.

    A second possibility is simply that one is physically and/or visually smaller than the other, and thereby “seems” denser.

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  24. M.M. says:

    It’s obviously because, as any fashion maven knows, black is slimming. Duh.

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  25. Philippe says:

    They could put them in two identical boxes and make it a blind comparison.

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  26. ryan says:

    Leon Festinger said it best, cognitive dissonance.

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  27. PEU says:

    Thanks for publishing my story, later that day I handled both readers to a (non teachie) friend who never handled an ebook reader, I asked him which one was heavier and after a few up and downs with his hands, handling them on one hand then the other (he was really trying to find a difference) his opinion was that both weight the same, I told him that he was almost correct, had a few laughts and continued with our chat.

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  28. Matthew says:

    My guess would be density. The two differ in total volume by about 1.2 : 1, or 20%, which is more in line with something I’d expect someone to notice by feel.

    Wild evolutionary-biology guess here: most things we evolved to identify come in non-quantized amounts (e.g., water, meat, plant matter), so identifying not-quite-right densities would be more important than identifying not-quite-right amounts. In this case, brains correctly identified that nook-stuff and kindle-stuff weigh 20% different.

    I’ve personally experienced this with my iPhone 4 (feels heavy) and a big paperback book, or a pair of jeans (feels light).

    I haven’t touched the two, but I also wonder whether tactile clues make some difference. A metallic case might register as heavier than a plastic one, because your brain infers density from materials on the surface (see above). This is certainly a much wilder guess, as I don’t even have a supporting anecdote, and haven’t touched the two objects in question!

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  29. txzhou says:

    My guess: After long time using Nook, the owner is used to hold it so he/she knows how to locate fingers in most efficient pattern. When he/she first time holds a Kindle, he/she hold it in a similar pattern, but it is simply not the best way to hold Kindle.

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  30. wes says:

    Trained in architecture, I learned early about the human body’s ability to measure. Climbing stairs, your body gets into a rhythm with each step higher. Then you trip on the front edge of one of the steps. Measure the step you tripped on and compare it to the others. You will find it is taller than the others by just a couple millimeters.

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  31. Pablo says:

    As there isn’t an answer to settle the matter yet, I’ve chosen a Sony Reader instead.

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  32. shrubber says:

    One possibility is that the Kindle is longer than the Nook (Kindle dimensions are 6.8″ x 4.7″ x 0.40″ and Nook’s are 6.5″ x 5″ x .47″). It’s not much of a difference, but when holding the device vertically, the extra length could give a greater perception of weight because you have to use more force to keep it upright. I find the same thing when I use my iPad in landscape mode vs. portrait mode.

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  33. Simon says:

    The nook has a skinnier edge (thinned out at the edge), like the new Ipad compared with the 1st gen Ipad. It looks thinner, and I reckon we let our eyes convince us more than we’d admit.

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  34. nbcin says:

    When judging between a thick square (Nook ST) vs thin rectangle (Kindle Touch)…the fat square will be more likely to have an even weight distribution, especially when held at the awkward angles we often read at. The ideal form would be a fat circle (or a perfect square, I am using “square” only as a contrast to the longer long edges of the Kindle Touch).
    Other idea 1: The NST has smoother softer edges due to the plastics used. (I have one and I think it is very light.)
    Other idea 2: Dense = heavy = sturdy (iphone4 feel), non-dense = light = comfort (NST feel)

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  35. Carl C says:

    Human senses are actually quite good at comparisons.

    While it may be impossible to measure weight to within a few grams, almost anyone will be able to tell which object is heavier. The same is true with brightness, tempo, temperature, etc. Absolute measurements are inaccurate, but comparative judgements are dead on.

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  36. Nello says:

    It never ceases to amaze me that they kind of person who writes, “have not handled them both” then keeps on typing as if they have something useful to say.

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  37. nachman ziskind says:

    … I remember (in the 60’s? 70’s?) Chrysler consistently being told that their cars had slower acceleration than GM/Ford cars. Chrysler engineers swore up and down that it wasn’t true, that they measured all of them constantly, the Chrysler was no slowpoke.

    A bit more engineering research uncovered the culprit: the return spring on the accelerator pedal on Chrysler cars was stiffer than the competition, therefore the pedal was harder to push, ergo it seemed slower.

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  38. Jeff says:

    It could be that the Nook has wider edges around the screen, with what I assume to be gripping ridges molded into it. Aso, I can’t confirm, but have been told that the nook is a wee bit thicker than the kindle. It also appears bigger. I think that when you combine those things, you get a nook which looks bigger, making you expect it to be heavier, which in turn would make it feel lighter — a feeling that would only be enhanced if the Nook is easier to grip due to thickness, extra thumb or finger space, and ridges and whatnot. So I guess I’m going with your second hypothesis.

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  39. Mike H says:

    Fact : If two things have the same mass, the smaller one always feels heavier.

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  40. Nick Pappas says:

    First, I have held neither device, but I have noticed that the human mind is easily confused by the density of an object. If two objects have the same weight, we will generally perceive that the object occupying less volume is heavier. This can be best experienced by an experiment. Take two bricks of identical weight, and place one in a large box (2 or 3 cubic feet). secure that brick so that it doesn’t move in the box. Now ask someone to lift the brick, then the box. They will swear that the naked brick is heavier.
    In your picture, the nook appears to be less dense.

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  41. nicholasjh1 says:

    I don’t know if it’s the picture, but the kindle also appears slightly smaller (by way of smaller bezel, not screen), which would make it denser….not sure how you would notice this, except in rotating it, but it’s a possibility… my eye caught the post below and noticed that someone has already mentioned this…

    Also, if the kindle is smaller across, and they were both holding it with 2 hands, the angle of their arms could have been different, which could have caused a difference. haha, I just read that everyone thinks its mechanics/inertia.

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  42. Lloyd says:

    I suggest a combination of:

    1) Name:
    “Nook” sounds kind of frivolous and “light weight” to me – sort of homey like “nook and cranny”.
    “Kindle” sounds more a bit more dynamic – perhaps invoking fiery imagery.

    2) Origin:
    Amazon is a real heavy weight company
    Barnes and Noble are pretty big too of course, but not such a global player I think

    3) Design:
    The Kindle has a squarer more formal look. It reminds me more of a laptop which I expect to be a bit heavier.
    The Nook is rounder and looks a bit more like an item of household goods – perhaps a place mat or some other similarly light weight item.

    One could test at least two of these ideas fairly easily.
    1) Try presenting subjects with no knowledge of e-readers with a “Nook” and a “Kindle” but swap their names over. then ask them what the weigh.
    2) Try presenting subjects with no knowledge of e-readers with a “Nook” and a “Kindle” telling them the Nook was made by IBM and the Kindle by a local company.

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