Introduction and Design
To say that Amazon has been the single most powerful catalyst in the e-book revolution would not be an exaggeration. Before the introduction of the Kindle, many who adored the printed page universally scoffed at e-book readers, claiming that such devices would never replace the traditional reading experience.
But Amazon’s hardware has been a real game changer, enough to force even the most ardent ebook critic to admit that Amazon’s take was genuinely impressive, perhaps begrudgingly.
Yet in the recent years, the competition has become quite stiff. Mostly in the form of Apple’s iPad, which offered the same functionality and form factor, but the ability to do much more. Even Amazon itself has tried producing a similar "do everything" machine, the Kindle Fire HD, which relies upon the Android 4.0: Ice Cream Sandwich operating system.
But what about those who have no need or desire to watch movies, listen to their MP3 collection, and play games? What about those who just want to snuggle up with a good book, even if its just ultimately ones and zeroes?
Leave it to Amazon to change the game again. The latest device in the traditional Kindle line, the Kindle Paperwhite, is easily its best effort yet. Five years of refinements and improvements are clearly evident, resulting in what might be the finest pure ereader in the market today, even if it’s not 100% perfect.
It comes in at just £109, which is again an impressive price for some top-end kit; yes, it’s pricey compared to some e-readers, but there’s no doubt this is one of the best.
First impressions of the any new piece of hardware, while not indicative of the overall experience in the end, will contribute significantly towards toward one’s overall opinion. We’re happy to report that it’s all smiles when one unboxes and handles their Paperwhite for the very first time.
The WiFi only unit, which we’re reviewing here, weighs just 213 grams and measures 16.9 cm x 11.7 cm x 0.91 cm, so it’s a bit thinner than the previous Kindle model, the Kindle Touch. On a purely visual level, the Paperwhite appears to have quietly take design cues from both its predecessor and its Android driven cousin, the 7-inch Kindle Fire HD, mostly due to its sleeker, simpler profile.
Indeed, it’s by far the best looking traditional Kindle we’ve ever designed. Even those who have been turned off by previous models should have very little to complain about here. The slightly garish physical keyboard from earlier modes has become a thing of the past. It also drops the rather subpar cursor pad from previous generations as well.
Instead, the front of the device sports a smooth, black matte plastic bezel, with just the Kindle name on the bottom, in white. The edges are comfortably rounded, which is nice since your hands will be rubbing against them quite a bit. Due to its low profile on all counts, the Paperwhite is a joy to behold, and seems expertly designed to fit in one hand.
Again, the device is effortless to hold, thanks to a rubberized plastic coating. It allows for easy gripping and simply cannot slip out of one’s hand, no matter how sweaty your grip becomes. There’s an immediate impression that the Paperwhite is a device that’s suitable, and comfortable, for all situations.
Amazon has produced protective cases for the Paperwhite, but it would be purely for decoration with this latest Kindle. The overall construction is rock solid and withstood quite the pounding, while showing zero wear and tear in the end.
The Kindle Paperwhite’s main attraction is its display. Like all of Amazon’s ebook readers, it uses E Ink, which provides some real advantages over devices like Apple’s iPad 4. The non-reflective screen can be read in direct sunlight, and it makes extended periods of reading easier on the eye.
Yet the Paperwhite’s screen is unlike those of previous Kindles models. First there’s the increase in resolution. The previous model, the Kindle Touch, had an impressive 167 ppi (pixels per inch), which the Paperwhite manages to best with 212 ppi. Text, no matter the font, no matter the size, simply looked crisp, clear and incredible.
As impressive as high-density screens like Apple’s Retina display might be, the Paperwhite is easier on the eyes. It simply does an excellent job of mimicking actual paper.
Another distinguishing feature is the front lighting, which is quite different from the traditionally backlit solutions. The screen is actually comprised of three separate layers: the first is the actual E Ink display, and directly on top of that is the capacitive touchscreen. On top of that is the fiber optic-like system that illuminates everything below.
Simply put, this is best E Ink display of the market today. There has also never been an e-book reader display that is so pleasing to the eye.
The goal was to ensure a reading experience with minimal eyestrain, even in the dark. Amazon has met this challenge handily. With 24 levels of brightness to choose from, no matter how sensitive to light your eyes might be, the Paperwhite can be adjusted for your best possible reading comfort.
Yet it’s not absolutely perfect. Some might see the Paperwhite’s 2GB of storage as a bit of a step back, since past models had 4GB. However, when you consider that this reduction is probably how the device achieved its minuscule form factor, and that the Paperwhite can still hold around 1,100 titles, it’s not much of a sacrifice.
More irritating are some lighting irregularities near the bottom of the screen, which creates slight dark spots. We personally had no issues with the matter, but did notice them when using the Paperwhite in low light situations. They were hardly distracting, and since it was at the very bottom of the page, it never disrupted the actual text.
Yet enough people have complained for Amazon to issue a statement, in which they stated that their hardware is not defective, just not 100% perfect. A few might take issue, but probably the same amount of people who feel that 1,100 books makes a low-capacity ereader.
There’s no doubt the non-uniform glow is disappointing, as the thought of a pure white display would be stunning; in reality it doesn’t really matter in day to day use though, so we would barely even call it a negative.
Charging and Battery Life
Of all the traditional ebook readers that Amazon has produced, the Kindle Paperwhite has the least amount of buttons: just one, at the very bottom. There you’ll find the on/off switch, the status light, and micro-USB port for charging with a PC.
This is where in which the first serious omission is found: the lack of a headphone port. This means no text to speech functionality, which might be a flat out deal killer for some, if not many.
The reasoning for this is to keep the Paperwhite as light and small as possible; Amazon has already explained that the audio chip required, or even just a headphone jack, would compromise such goals.
The Paperwhite ships with a micro-USB cable (which is white, an odd choice since everything else is all black), so it can be charged by connecting with a computer. This is a bit inconvenient if you’re traveling and don’t have your laptop handy. Though Amazon does sell an AC adaptor for a reasonable £9, the "sold separately" attitude is a bit annoying.
Thankfully, the Paperwhite’s battery performance lives up to the fine tradition that previous Kindles have established. Amazon claims that a single charge can last upwards of eight weeks, and with moderate use, the device can certainly hang in there. Various tests under an assortment of circumstances proved Amazon’s jaw dropping claims to be true.
Though one does have to be mindful of usage to get peak performance. The new screen is quite sexy, but does take a toll on battery life, and so does keeping WiFi on. In the case of the latter, the solution might seem simple enough: just keep it off at most times, but that’s easier said than done.
For starters, many users might want to have their last read page synced across all their devices, so having a consistent connection is nice. If you’re upgrading from a previous Kindle, you’ll be amazed how quickly the battery drains with everything turned on… but in reality, it’s still going to be weeks at a time you can use it, even with the backlight.
Getting to storage size, consumers may scoff at the Paperwhite’s mere 2GB of storage. However, when you consider that, according to Amazon’s estimates, that’s enough room for 1,100 titles, we there’s more than enough for the most avid of readers. Still, the last Kindle had 4GB, so this can be seen as something of a step backwards.
Interface part one
The operating system that drives the Kindle Paperwhite is quite a departure from previous Kindle devices. Like the overall physical design of the Paperwhite hardware, it takes various cues from the Kindle Fire HD.
Since there are no physical buttons, navigation primarily consists of screen swipes and other gestures. Tapping on the right of the display will turn the page forward, while tapping the left most portion of the screen will turn back the page.
Topping the upper portion of the screen is the Kindle toolbar, which on a purely visual level, is much like the upper portion of a web browser’s window or many desktop application interfaces.
When inside a book, you have four basic tools. First is Fonts, where you can choose the size of the type, and as well typeface, from six options in total. Line spacing and margins can also be adjusted. It’s worth noting that the menu appears like a pop up window that you’d find in Windows or OS X, right down to the X in upper corner, which can be used to dismiss the tool and get back to your book.
Next is the Go To menu, which allows you to navigate various portions of a book and jump between sections in a quick manner, depending on how the book itself is laid out.
X-Ray lets you explore the "bones" of a book, as Amazon puts it. It’s essentially a more robust, in-depth version of Go To, it goes beyond the book itself. Selecting X-Ray provides a list of all the noteworthy characters, places, phrases, even themes contained on a single page, in a chapter, or the book as a whole.
Choosing a particular phrase or word provides additional background information. In the case of characters or locations in non-fiction, Wikipedia will be referenced. If not, curated information from that particular book’s Amazon-selected expert handles the embellishment.
This feature does not use the web for reference; instead it refers to an additional file that comes with X-Ray-supported titles. As a result, when pulling up info, it’s instantaneous, and no internet connection is required. That means you don’t need a constant WiFi signal to use this feature, it just needs to be am X-Ray compatible title.
At this point not a whole lot of books support this new feature, but hopefully the numbers will grow over time. It’s a great tool for keeping track of extended casts of characters.
Finally there’s the Share button, which allows you to share portions of a book with other users. To select a word, simply hold your finger on it. Immediately, a pop will appear, asking if you’d like to highlight it. Here one can also find the definition of the word, provided that a dictionary is loaded on the device (there are countless free dictionaries provided by Amazon, but none are pre-installed; they must be downloaded first).
When it comes to adding a personal message, the on-screen keyboard will appear. It is here, along with the navigating the new operating system as a whole, in which Kindle veterans will note how much snappier everything moves along. While there is still a delay between action and result, it’s nowhere near as slow and pokey as with the first generation of Kindle devices.
Though many who are used to more modern mobile operating systems, like iOS 6 or Android 4.1, might find it a bit of a culture shock. A few things feel like they should be faster, more immediate. However, given how little you’ll interact with the operating system, compared to an iPhone or Android tablet, this is a minor inconvenience.
The only issue is when it comes to typing; there is a tendency for the Paperwhite to miss a text input, which will require you to go back and try again. Simply typing a tiny bit slower will solve the problem. Basically, if you don’t type like you’re hurriedly texting a friend, but simply making a notation, there won’t be problem.
Interface part two
The very top of the Kindle Paperwhite toolbar has options that provide consistent controls, in or out of a book. First there’s the Home button, which provides an immediate exit from a book to the launch page. Upon turning the Kindle Paperwhite on, this is also where everyone will start.
At the upper left of the launch page are two sections, Cloud and Device. Cloud is your entire Amazon library. As noted, in addition to whatever books you might already own, you’ll find a variety of dictionaries for download.
To navigate this portion of the Paperwhite, simple taps will not do. Instead, you’ll swipe back and forth, like on an iOS or Android device. Upon getting all the way to the beginning of a sub-section, the Back button comes into play. It’s a bit jarring, this little navigation inconsistency (simply tapping the Home button will suffice in most occasions), but it’s nothing earth-shattering, and we got used to it quickly.
Next to the Back button is a light bulb icon that allows you to adjust the screen’s brightness. As noted previously, there are 24 different levels, which should insure a comfortable degree of illumination in almost any circumstance.
The only quibble here, and it’s a minor one, is how there’s no immediate on/off, or toggle options. But again, the Paperwhite’s OS is so snappy that the omission is not a true issue. Dragging your finger down your slider works well enough.
Then we have the Kindle Store button. Here you can browse books, newspapers, magazines, and more. It’s easy to make purchases directly from within the device. The layout is similar to the experience of shopping with Amazon on the web. Any purchased material shows up in the Device immediately.
The Kindle Store is the device’s killer app, and is even more impressive than the Paperwhite’s advanced display. There’s simply more reading material here than on any competitor’s marketplace.
Right next to the Store button is the universal search function. When inside a book, it can be used to search for specific words and terms, though outside, in the main screen, it can search across all the items in your library, provided that they are installed on your device (meaning items in the cloud but not synced to the device will not appear). Inside the store, it can be used to look for all things within Amazon’s ecosystem.
Finally we have more advanced options, including settings and sync related options. One can find special offers in the Kindle Store, as well as a means to organize one’s library, by placing them in Collections. Though the most interesting item of them all is the Experimental Browser.
Experimental is putting it mildly. It’s designed to serve up popular portals, often mobile versions, as well as full pages properly, but it’s very tough to navigate, and is the only time in which the Paperwhite feels as if its over extending itself.
It’s really not worth the bother, although if you’ve ditched the smartphone for some reason and simply MUST get online, enjoy feeling like you’re using a dial-up browser while wearing a blindfold.
There are several different versions of the Kindle Paperwhite. The one tested was the Kindle Paperwhite 3G, which costs £169.
In some countries, such as the US, there are options to buy and ad-supported version… thankfully we’re spared such a travesty in the UK.
3G is unlimited (within reason, although you’d struggle to download too much using it) meaning you can get hold of a new book without Wi-Fi whenever you’re on the go. We found the 3G to be excellent in nearly every scenario, and even when it dipped to EDGE, things still downloaded without an issue.
It uses Vodafone’s network to chuck books and newspapers down to the Paperwhite, so if you know you’re in a Voda blackspot for the times you’d want to be buying new books, steer clear of this version. However, the chance to get daily content for free when on holiday is worth the £60 extra in our opinion.
The WiFi model costs £109, which will probably be OK for most people; after all, most will download books at home and read on the bus or train – but with no extra cost for data we like being future-proofed, even for the higher cost.
Unless you are downloading a new book literally every five minutes and absolutely cannot stomach ads in any form or fashion, the most expensive version might seem a bit excessive, but we love choice.
Hands on photography
When Amazon introduced the Kindle into the virtually nonexistent ebook reader landscape five years ago, it changed the way many of us view and consume literature. It’s nice to know that, despite all the stiff competition, that Amazon has not lost focus on what established this booming market, and that’s an electronic reading that’s awfully close to the paper experience.
The Amazon Paperwhite is an experience that is built upon impressive hardware and respectable software. While not quite perfect, it is without question the best pure e-book reader you’ll find right now.
The physical design of the Paperwhite feels like a true evolution of the Kindle family. Whereas the previous models felt like a work in progress, the Paperwhite feels complete. Not only does it look sharp, but it feels great in the hand.
The most impressive aspect of this latest Kindle is the screen, which is the absolute best in its class. The increase in resolution and adjustable levels of brightness results in a display that is the most eye-catching and functional of its kind, bar none.
Helping things along is an operating system that longtime Kindle users will love, due to all the advances, especially in terms of speed.
The Paperwhite’s slim form factor and rubberized plastic body make it easy to grip and a pleasure to hold. It’s durable, and weighs next to nothing. That, combined with its incredible battery life, make it an excellent ereader for travelers.
Last, but certainly not least, is Amazon’s massive and still growing library of e-book titles. You’ll never run out of things to read, and it’s doubtful that you’ll find them cheaper anywhere else.
Almost every aspect of the Paperwhite is a hit, but not quite everything. Some of the omissions, like the lack of a headphone jack, prevent it from achieving ultimate ebook reader status.
Bibliophiles who want text-to-speech will have to pass on the Paperwhite. Additionally, the lack of an AC adapter just feels silly. At worst, it might result in customers paying an additional shipping fee if they fail to realise it’s sold separately, as £9 doesn’t really break the bank, and the option is pretty clear to buy it on the website.
Despite how wonderful the display is overall, those dark spots near the bottom were disappointing. Thanks to the format of Amazon’s ebooks, they never obscured the text, but they mar what would be an otherwise perfect screen.
The storage space does seem a bit paltry compared to other devices, but given that the Paperwhite can still fit over a thousand books, it gets a pass.
Finally, brand new users might have a hard time coming to terms with the Kindle OS; the smart phone-esque gestures help, but the pokey typing speed might annoy those who are used to an interface that’s a tad bit more responsive.
Minor issues aside, Amazon’s Kindle Paperwhite is more aces than not. It has the same primary advantage of every Kindle and Amazon device: the largest selection of digital reading material anywhere. That alone puts the Paperwhite among the best devices of its kind.
With a wonderful physical design, a legitimately impressive screen, an operating system that gets out of the way, and the largest selection of digital reading material anywhere, the Amazon Paperwhite is the best pure e-book reader currently available.
It might not let you to visit Facebook, send Tweets, watch YouTube, or download the latest Kanye West album, but it displays ebooks, and in the absolute best manner possible. If that’s all you’re looking for, you can’t go wrong with the Paperwhite.
By Matt Hawkins, TechRadar