In case you're not already aware, "blue light" at night is bad for you. (Blue light has "very short wavelength, and so produces a higher amount of energy," according to BlueLightExposed.com.)
Amazon has a potential solution in its "Blue Shade," a clever new feature designed to let you use its devices in bed at night without affecting sleep. Blue Shade works well, but it won't give light sleepers carte blanche to read whatever they want before turning in.
Blue light and electronics
Electronic device screens, such as those on tablets and smartphones, emit blue light, and it can be stimulating, interfere with melatonin levels, and make it harder to fall asleep. Penn State and Harvard scientists found that people who use ereaders before bed take nearly 10 minutes longer to fall asleep, and their sleep quality is worse than those who read printed material.
A number of tech companies, including Asus and ViewSonic, recently started to address the blue light issue in their latest products. Google added a "night light" feature to Google Play Books that's designed to filter blue light. And Amazon also joined the anti-blue-light brigade with a new Blue Shade filter built into its Fire "Bellini" OS5.
Blue Shade 'sufficiently' suppresses blue light
The new Fire OS feature lets you adjust Amazon device screen color settings and brightness levels. Using Blue Shade, "the blue wavelength light (from the device screen) is always sufficiently suppressed," according to Amazon.
I tested the feature on the company's new Fire 8 Reader's Edition ($250), a tablet designed specifically for readers, the people who are most likely to curl up in bed with devices that bathe them in blue light.
It's easy to turn on the feature; you just swipe down from the top of the tablet screen and tap the Blue Shade icon. You can adjust the filter by going to the tablet's Settings > Display > Blue Shade.
Effectiveness of Blue Shade depends on what you read
Turning on Blue Shade at night helped me relax before bed. However, the first night I used the feature, it also gave me license to do what my doctor strictly warned against: check email, surf the Web, or install apps before going to sleep. I can't do any of that with an actual printed book. And all the activity made it hard for me to shut my mind down and fall asleep.
That's not Amazon's fault, of course; it's mine. The experience served as an important reminder that it's not just how you read at bedtime, it's what you read. Ideally, I might turn on Blue Shade and read something that's not too stimulating — say, a novel that's not a thriller or mystery, or a non-fiction book that's not work-related. It's also a good idea to read only one thing, instead of jumping from Web page, to app, to novel, as I did.
Pros and cons of Amazon Fire 8 Reader's Edition
Amazon Fire OS5 Bellini, based on Android Lollipop, is currently only available on the company's fall 2015 Fire tablets with 7-, 8-, or 10-inch screens. The OS update, including Blue Shade, is supposed to be coming soon to older Amazon tablets.
The Fire 8 Reader's Edition is a great tablet for readers. It's compact, the 8-inch screen is a nice size for reading, and it weighs just 11 ounces. The Reader's Edition includes a year of Kindle Unlimited, Amazon's Netflix-like subscription service for ebook lovers, which otherwise costs $120. Amazon also throws in an attractive, chestnut-brown cover that retails for $80 and bends slightly to prop up the tablet.
Unfortunately, Fire 8's screen is reflective, so it doesn't work as well in bright sunlight as some dedicated ereaders. The Reader's Edition Fire 8 comes with just 8GB of storage, but it supports microSD cards up to 128GB. Amazon says the tablet's battery lasts about 7 hours, which seems about right in my experience — though that's significantly less than the "weeks" of life Amazon says you get from its Kindle Paperwhite.
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