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. 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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  2. 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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  3. 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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  4. 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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  5. 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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  6. 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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  7. 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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  8. 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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