Amazon’s Kindle screen failure and warrantee woes

Kindle WTF

Not cool.

I finally got around to calling Amazon about this. They claim it’s “impact damage not a manufacturing defect” so I have to pay $200 to replace it. “Amazon trains us, we’ve seen a lot of reports of just this sort of thing, and they say when we see diagonal damage, this is caused by impact and we don’t replace it. If you had horizontal or vertical lines it’s a failure of the circuitry and that’s a manufacturing defect.”

Let me be the first one to call bullshit on this.

The when and where of failure

Up until this point, I carried the Kindle every day. I typically read on average maybe 500 pages/week on the thing. In this case, I was taking the Kindle on a flight.

Obviously the Kindle was a carry-on along with my notebook computer (having gotten my notebook stolen in 2003, I never am far from it). Also because this happened to me and that happened to Matt, I don’t check my Nikon camera.

So this means that the entire kit goes with me in my Think Tank Urban Disguise 50 messenger bag. If you’ve ever had occasion to put a MacBook Pro and a Nikon D3 into one of these you’d see that the only place safe to place the Kindle and not break it by introducing twisting forces from the camera is on the outer zip pocket. That’s exactly where I placed it, in the Amazon Kindle leather cover, of course.

I used the Kindle right until I got to the airport, put it away until I landed after which I noticed the photo above. It’s been like that ever since.

So what happened?

My suspicion is that it broke because in the requirement to lay your bags flat to go through airport security. The thing was being jostled on the rollers and might have been pushed against the plastic container boxes when the security dude pulled the bags through to hurry us up. That would be the most vulnerable moment because the only thing protecting the kindle at the time is the padded leather cover and some ballistic nylon.

While I carried the Kindle on a daily basis, it is effectively padded, not just by the cover, but also because it is placed between a notepad on one side and a MacBook Pro on the other—both having the property of being flat and much larger than the kindle. It isn’t going to get any torsion and any impact would transfer to the plastic frame instead of the screen.

So why am I calling bullshit?

Because there was no impact. The most likely scenario is a severe torsion with one point against the frame and the other one source against the screen itself (instead of the frame). If I had to guess, I bet one of those from above points was the last “a” in Agitha.

What does impact damage look like?

Like this. Notice that the shape is very similar but occurs in the corner. Why in the corner? Because that Kindle, unlike mine, was f—ing dropped and fell on that corner. Note that that person’s Kindle was replaced for free even though it was f—ing dropped!

You know what a circuit failure looks like?

Like this. Note that my Kindle was looking like that for about a month before this happened, but only in very bright sunlight when walking to work. I never did figure why that happened and it’s somewhat ironic to find that I was losing all contrast on an eInk display in bright bright light. (Yes, I read on my walk to work. Yes, I ran into a couple parking meters a couple times—hurts like hell, but not as bad as ramming head first into a street light pole.) Hmm, maybe circuit failure is a feature, not a bug. :-D

But when you get right down to it, there is no such thing as “impact damage” and “circuit failure” because all Kindle screen failures are going to look like a bit of both. If you look closely at my Kindle failure above you can see a very strong horizontal region as well as a number of faded horizontal smears (looks like bad toner) in addition to the large asymmetric “tear.” Or, how can you explain the reversed diagonal “tear” in this Kindle that was never used?

The answer is that there’s no difference between impact and torsion, between screen damage and circuit failure other than the location. The entire circuitry apparently is not designed to survive any flex or any impact. My guess is there are a lot of bugs in the eInk technology specification vs. it’s capability under typical use.

Okay what am I going to do

I don’t know really.

Consider that I’ve been using Mac laptops since 1992. I’ve owned eight of them in those 16 years and all but one has been for an AppleCare replacement. I’m that hard on my equipment! Note, I don’t drop the computer, I just wear my stuff into the ground. I walk, cycle, and carry electronics every day for 16 years. Similarly my Leica has three lenses, two of which are broken (neither were dropped). I have a broken Leica flash now (never dropped). I have three broken Nikon lenses now (though, in this case, one of those three was dropped). I’m tough on my crap because I carry it every day and use whatever I have lying around as a weapon to fend off angry hordes of Ruby on Rails developers.

Amazon even admits this is a common failure…well multiply that by 10 and you have me.

If this happens, there is no way a Kindle 2 is going to survive the way I use it, even if I never drop it. I wouldn’t mind paying $200 every couple years for a replacement, but another $200 after 90 days?!?

So I don’t know. If I get a replacement, it’s going to have to sit at home like my desktop computers (which almost never fail), which sort of ruins the point of owning one.

Hopefully future designs of the Kindle or competitors will fix this. Too bad I already have too much stuff locked behind Amazon’s DRM. Publishers better wise up to this reality or they’ll find Amazon Kindle in the same position the Apple iPod is now.

Off to cancel my New Yorker subscription now.

The moral

The net result is don’t believe the reports on the internet about Amazon’s generous Kindle warrantee. It’s bullshit. The truth of the matter is that I suspect that if the damage occurs within a small window of purchase, they replace it no questions asked. After that, it depends on who is on the other line if you can get it replaced.

Update

Because this seems to be a popular article, I thought I’d update things.

First, the same Kindle was replaced free later simply by calling again, this reinforces my above point that I find the inconsistent policy a worrying Amazon business model (from the comments below you’ll see similar inconsistencies and that it is a constant source of consumer frustration).

Second, because it was obvious that there is no such thing as impact vs. “electronic” damage, I stopped using my Kindle 2 and sold it to someone who can use it better. I use Amazon’s Kindle app on my iPad now, which corresponds to a reduced purchase rate through the Kindle store. So it goes.

Third, about some of the other damages I suffered over the years that I mentioned:

Crush strain on my MacBook Air under AppleCare ended up with a one-time full replacement recently. Apple re-iterated that they would not being doing this again and that it was not their policy but they replaced it anyway. I found out the reason for the damage was that there seems some manufacturing variance on the screen edges so by squeezing different models (at Apple Stores) you will see that they exhibit differing results to the sort of strain. The solution was to not accept a new model until it didn’t act that way. It’s been almost a year now and my amount of traveling has gone up by 5x since that incident and I haven’t had a problem with the new laptop. Caveat emptor but Apple’s policy is remarkably consistent and has been in the 25+ years I’ve used Macintosh products (which was the point of my article).

Of the two Leica lenses and a flash I mentioned. Cosina-Voiglander took one back and determined that it was impact damage that caused the aperture failure, which I find believable (I didn’t drop it, but I was pretty sure I bumped it against something during an expo—or rather, something bumped me). It was repaired with a minimal fee which was waived because my Voigltander dealer, Cameraquest, owed me a favor when I corrected a $1100 mistake in my favor on a previous order. Zeiss corporation took the other one back and determined it was a manufacturing defect and immediately sent me a new one (really, unbelievable customer service! Kudos to Zeiss USA).

Leica took the flash back and determined that it was not a manufacturing defect (I have since deduced the issue was flashes do not have limiter circuits on them and it probably failed due to overuse). It was replaced at a discount. I think I had the nearly-same failure with an Olympus flash (I’m not sure, it was borrowed from me and returned to me failed), and they wouldn’t do a warrantee repair but were willing to replace at a discount. Unfortunately their discounted price was well north of what it would cost new on eBay—and besides, I never wanted the flash anyway which is why I was lending it out. A Nikon SB-800 failed in the same way, Nikon determined that besides being out-of-warantee the flash failed due to overuse in succession and kindly sent me a highlighted copy of the manual page noting that particular failure mode possibility as well as repaired it for a fee much south of any replacement cost.

With the Nikon lenses, there ended up being four, two due to being dropped. Of them, the third party lens was repaired by the party that borrowed the lens, the other three were out of warranty (and two were impact damage, the other was damage due to the TSA so it wasn’t a manufacturing defect). I had all three repaired for a fee much south of any replacement cost.

Overall you can see the policy differs from company to company as well as the particular results. Other than Amazon, no company pronounced knowledge of the problem before examining it as a return beforehand. Nor did any, other than Amazon, have an inconsistent policy from any other customer’s experience with them.

(Later-dated comments on this thread show that Amazon is slowly settling on becoming more consistent in their return/replacement policy. The policy seems to be much harsher for recently purchased Kindles—I suspect it is because they’re much cheaper than when I owned one.)

42 thoughts on “Amazon’s Kindle screen failure and warrantee woes”

  1. Kindle2s are going for about $300 on ebay. I suppose you can get the replacement and sell it to minimize your loss.

  2. You speak the truth. My Kindle I screen is failing after something like 18 months. I called Amazon and they were happy to replace — for $190!!!! I have probably $100 in books on it, and I love carrying the equivalent of a library around with me so I puckered up and bought it. But I am not happy. David Pogue, say something!!

  3. Exactly the same problem– big stripe down the middle of the screen. I've had it for about three months. But I just called Amazon and they're going to overnight me a replacement, no questions asked.

    Is it possible that you said something to tick off the guy who took your call?

      1. Trashman
        I called for my daughters Kindle
        after i loaded some new books for Christmas
        the next morning it did the Kindle screen line trick
        purchased Dec 3 2010
        found with the bird and line screensaver Dec 20 2011
        I can get a new one for 65 plus shipping
        aprox cost 80 a year plus books.
        does a Kindle fly as far as a Frisbee,

  4. I think there is a serious design failure in the kindle which no-one really wants to admit to at Amazon. I only bought my kindle six months ago and I have already had it replace twice because the screen has failed. I don't want continual replacements, I just want Amazon to sort this out.
    Like the author, I have had many other laptops etc. and this is the first time I have had issues like this, so it is hardly rough handling.

    1. The thin body makes it vulnerable to forms of torsion strain. Also, they use plastic instead of glass (iPhone, iPad) which makes it vulnerable to impacts (laptops are shut during transport, protecting the screen). What is clear to me is that case doesn't protect it very much to these sort of problems.

    2. I do agree, my kindle screen failed after the first six months, I am in my second kindle now, and afraid to have this problem again. I am poring over the internet to find tips so as to avoid this, but nobody knows anything. Subject is failure and replacement. Thing is I love the kindle !!. I live in Latin America and even though Amazon sent it to me for free, custom duties and internal handling fees amounted to around $ 120 dollars.

  5. I just called customer service, my offer uber generous, they'll send me a refurbished unit for 89.00 "plus shipping and handling, of course". They wont extend this monetary premium towards a new Kindle, though. Thanks so much. This customer will shop elsewhere.

  6. I got my first Kindle last summer. I got screen like the one shown here in early January. Amazon replaced my unit although it took about a 10 days after Amazon said I should get the new one in 2 days. Today the new got the same problem. Amazon claims I should have a new one tomorrow. I've never dropped either of my units and I've always used the Belkin case they sold me with the first one when I carry it.. I wonder if the Book Nook or the Sony readers have this problem.

    REK

    1. Just wanted to say that my son and I both have sony e-readers, have had them for 9 months. I love the design of these, they are fantastic and very sturdy too. No issues with them at all. Two weeks ago I bought my son a Kindle because at the moment we just cant get the range of books he wants for the sony – and the Kindle screen is broken already. I think he leant on it slightly when getting in the car. We heard a crack and the screen was f****d. yet he has carried his sony round everywhere for months with no problems. On the upside, Amazon are sending out a replacement for nothing – but dont want to be doing that every 2 weeks!

  7. My Kindle has a screen issue almost identical to the one in the picture above. I called customer service, and after less than five minutes, I had a replacement Kindle on its way. "Carlos" from Costa Rica said it would be here in Montana in less than two days. I'll have to send my faulty one back using the prepaid shipping label they sent via email. Crappy problem, but good solution. I wonder if all you folks above didn't help pave the way to better service on this issue. If so, thanks!

  8. my screen has both vertical and diagonal ‘tearing’, it has never suffered impact in any way, shape or form and I have been using it heavily since I got it wait for it, 12 DAYS, not good enough amazon.

  9. All kindles are shit i am on my 6 kindle but amazon keeps semding me new ones for free but i am going to get an ipad because all i did to my last one wass put it on my side table and went to bed when i woke up it was missing the top half of the screen i read a book a week so i always hate having to wait 2 days for replacement

  10. You broke the thing. And now you're writing a snarky article insinuating that Amazon is somehow screwing you over? Just buy a new one. You should be thanking Amazon for making such a great device.

    1. I guess you missed the part where my girlfriend called and got a replacement for the exact same Kindle that they wouldn’t replace. Or the point where nearly everyone has gotten a replacement for the same damage or less (because it isn’t damage). Or the point where Apple replaced a much more expensive MacBook Air where there actually was screen damage (due to crushing). Or the part where one user has to pay $80 for a replacement and another user gets five replacements for free. All showing that the big issue here is that there is a double standard.

      But no matter, I guess it could be worse. I could be a corporate tool who enjoys sucking Jeff Bezos’s cock by trolling on blogs by leaving comments bitching people out for Amazon’s own failure.

      In any case, it doesn’t matter much to me since I don’t own a Kindle anymore. I use the Kindle app.

      1. Not surprising you got rough treatment off the Amazon guy. You sound like a bit of an abrasive asshole. No offense. Each to their own and all that.

        1. I am an asshole, I admit—though maybe not so much of an asshole that I’d say “no offense” when I clearly mean offense. However, the words I use to some Amazon troll here on my blog are different than the ones I use over the phone to some poor underpaid customer support rep.

          As far as Amazon is concerned, asshole or not, I’d expect their much-vaunted customer metrics and tracking would know that I have been an Amazon customer since the mid 90′s, an Amazon Prime customer since its inception and had consistently spent several thousand dollars on their website annually for (at least) four years or so (at the time) to know that haggling with me over a what was clearly a manufacturing defect (according to their own policy no less) was probably not the best idea.

          And whether or not they want to haggle, having an inconsistent policy on returns is really dumb business.

          No matter. Amazon is going to figure this out on their own. The arc of clue is long but it does bend toward the obvious.

  11. Amazon customer service hast been unbelievably generous and helpful with all of my Kindle issues. i love my kindle, but I am on #6 in 7 months! I carry the kindle in a cover in my purse or leave it my bed. All 5 kindles have died the same way— suddenly there are lines on the screen.

    I am just now starting to get annoyed about this, but appreciate the excellent customer service at Amazon, each and every time I call.

    1. That’s a lot of Kindles! I’m glad you love it. I hope they don’t keep dying.

      My thinking is the e-Ink technology is a bit flakey and the Kindle being a bit flexy pushes those tolerances to limits that it shouldn’t be near. :-(

  12. Same here. I got the kindle in L.A. on a business trip and returned to Asia where I live and work. After a week of being back here the screen developed an ominous shadow descending from the top that has made several lurches downward. What a piece of garbage. Since I live in Asia, I can either mail it back to America, or make a youtube video where in Ancient Greek fashion I launch the f%$ker like a discus into the setting sun over the Sea of Japan.

  13. I have a 4 week old Kindle that has not been used yet other than to set up the wirless network, it was sitting on the bedroom draws and when I went to use it it has the same issue, there is no way it can be impact as we have been away and it has not moved from the spot I left it.

  14. I never knew kindle was so delicate a little pressure an LO ur screen gets stuck!!! I used to like Kindle but now its deceasing

  15. My kindle screen got the “lines disease” that seems to be SO common. While dealing with customer service I was informed that it was 2 months out of warranty and that I didn’t buy the extended warranty so NOTHING they could do for me. I explained that this was purchased as a gift and when I changed the device to reflect me as the owner THERE WAS NO OPTION FOR ME TO PURCHASE AN EXTENEDED WARRANTY….that didn’t matter. I told them that I had purchased 4 of the kindles for Christmas gifts and all had the warranty…that I would have gotten it if provided or asked. Customer service recognizes my frustration but I’m just out of luck and have to pay $85 for a new one. I will be returning all the Kindles tomorrow !

  16. I have also bought a Kindle that developed a fault just over the twelve months guarantee. Amazon said that it could not be repaired and refused to replace it. Amazon are trying to pretend that it is not a fault and that it is out of guarantee. I have quoted the Sale of Goods Act which says that a guarantee is only the company guarantee but you have much more rights under the Sale of Goods Act which lasts for six years from purchase. They are consistently refusing to acknowledge that.

    When I purchased a replacement (having asked and been told by customer services that it is not a common fault) I was not told at the time that I would have to return my faulty Kindle that I paid £149 for then another £50 to receive a refurbished Kindle. (Is the refurbished one one that someone else has sent back with a screen fault that cannot be repaired?) So in effect I have paid £200 for a “refurbished” Kindle. If Kindle does not have a design fault then where are they getting all the “refurbished” Kindles from to sell for another £50. Amazon have now taken £98 from my credit card that they hold details of because I will not return the faulty Kindle that I paid £149 until they resolve my dispute. I would not recommend anyone to purchase a Kindle.

  17. Right now I currently have THREE broken Kindles in my possession, one of which is mine. One belongs to my gynecologist and the other one belongs to a friend. I will NEVER be buying ANYTHING ever again from Amazon because they said that I would have to pay a greater cost to have my Kindle repaired than it had cost me for the new Kindle. Well Amazon can kiss my a*s.

  18. I am so disappointed with Kindle and will tell everyone within voice range not to buy one until they get this screen thing fixed. Who knew they weren’t good forever…dumb thing.

  19. I am on my 4th Kindle, and it has just had another screen fault identical to the others I have owned, as shown above. I bought a really tough case for it after my 2nd one broke, and keep them safe in my bag when travelling around. My 4th one seems to have somehow developed this screen fault whilst sitting on the side in a holiday flat whilst we were out! Amazon have told me that, since this 4th one is out of it’s 3 month guarantee provided for replacement Kindles, I will not be receiving a replacement unless I pay £40. That is a big discount I know, but why would I pay £40 for something with such an obvious fault in its screen, that you cannot take anywhere for fear that the slightest touch might cause some screen fault? I used to love Kindle but now I would never recommend one, Amazon need to admit to it having a poorly designed screen and sort it out.

  20. I’m on my 3rd Kindle now, which I have, consequentially, just broken. I’m a little reluctant to ring Amazon, because I’m fed up of being told my Kindle is broken due to “impact damage”, when the greatest impact being inflicted on it is the pressure of me sliding and releasing the power switch!
    Having said that, I have grown quite attached to my handy little library. I just wish I hadn’t been 74% of the way through A Game of Thrones when my Kindle decided to give up on me.

  21. I’m on my fourth kindle in two weeks. After initally having my kindle keyboard for a year it delevoped horizontal lines. I returned it and got another, that one had both vertical and horizontal, then returned it and next would restart every few pages and I would have to catch back up to the page I was currently on. Now for the fourth it’s got both horizontal and vertical lines. I’m disabled, I stay home alot. I also homeschool my older son which we use the kindle for. I bought the extra warranty. I’ve had kindle D for one week. They will send me a new one (which they say will be refurbished, wonder if I will get kindle A, B, or C back. I should start signing them to see if I get them back!) They offered an 80% refund to buy a new one, which will then be guarenteed a new kindle. But that means they get more money and I lose money. They already have alot of money and I do not. You’d think a lemon law would apply. I’m going to call BBB tomorrow, but if anyone has any suggestions I’d greatly appreciate it!

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