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Kindle Paperwhite review

Amazon's fastest, most feature-packed e-reader hits a crowded market with a few new moves under its belt

Gallery Photo: Amazon Kindle Paperwhite review pictures

I was looking forward to the review of the Kindle Paperwhite for one simple reason: I would finally have an excuse to read more. You see, in the hectic day-to-day of running The Verge, I simply don't get enough time to read books. Sure, I joined our Book Club and reread Ubik (that was easy: I'd read it!), and I do tend to start a lot of novels and non-fiction — but lately finishing anything I pick up has been a challenge.

The Paperwhite seemed ideal for me for a number of reasons. It offers far fewer distractions than a tablet, it's backed by Amazon's massive ecosystem, and most importantly, it packs the company's latest E Ink innovation: a glowing, front-lit display. Yes, the eponymous Paperwhite screen — an innovation inline with the Nook Simple Touch's GlowLight display. But better, or so Jeff Bezos claims.

So, I curled up with the Kindle Paperwhite and put it through its paces. Is it the best e-reader ever? Does the display dispatch the nearest competition? And most importantly — did I finish any books I started? If you want to know the answers, read on for my full review.


Video Review

Video Review

Hardware

Hardware

There's a lot of Kindle Fire HD DNA here

If you've seen more recent models in the Kindle family, the new Paperwhite version won't come as a total shock from a design standpoint. I am happy to report that Amazon has skewed this version's styling towards the newer, simpler profile of the Kindle Fire HD — meaning what you essentially get is a black rectangle with rounded corners, wrapped in soft-touch paint.

The Paperwhite is thinner than its touchscreen predecessor (the Kindle Touch), and the display is less sunken into the plastic surrounding. The backplate of the e-reader eschews the two-tone, beige and silver profile from that model for a much more sophisticated solid black. From the back you could easily mistake it for a small Fire. The device comes in a $119 version with Wi-Fi only, or a 3G-equipped model for $179 (I tested the latter).

The device is incredibly comfortable in hand. The size and shape feels close enough to an average book that it's not jarring, and for the amount of technology packed in, it's relatively light and thin. The weight doesn't differ from the previous model (0.47 pounds, or 0.49 pounds for the 3G model) and it's actually a little heavier than the GlowLight, but if you can detect the 0.06 pound difference, you're a lot more sensitive than I am.

I used the Paperwhite with Amazon's leather case accessory some of the time I was testing the device, and the combination of the sleeker size with the leather and felt cover definitely contributed to a feeling of "realness." Maybe it's some ethereal or ephemeral feeling that only a traditional book lover can grok, but the Kindle Paperwhite is just... nice. Nice in the way books are nice. It may be the most comfortable e-reader I've ever used.

There are a couple of drawbacks here when it comes to hardware, however. For starters, the Paperwhite doesn't provide any audio out and has no headphone jack — so gone are the text-to-speech and audio playback options you had on the last version. That's also a little disappointing given the new listening options Amazon has added for the Fire HD, which gives you the ability to switch to text-to-speech on a book that you're in the midst of reading when you can't focus on the screen. The device also has less storage than the Touch, reduced from 4GB to 2GB. Finally, the device doesn't ship with an adapter for charging — you either have to use your computer, an adapter you already own, or shell out $10 for one from Amazon (though you can also charge it by plugging into your computer).

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Display

Display and light

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The big show here isn't really the look and feel of the hardware, of course. The reason you're even considering a Paperwhite right now is most likely related to the new display.

As with previous models, the Paperwhite utilizes an E Ink screen, but the difference here is that the entire display is front lit with a soft, blue light that can be dimmed using onscreen controls. This screen is also higher resolution than previous models, making images and text crisper and clearer.

So how does it look? In my opinion, it's one of the best E Ink displays on the market, and might possibly be the best thanks to that new lighting. Unlike Barnes & Noble's GlowLight screen, the Paperwhite's light is uniform and well distributed. The GlowLight produces an uneven light, which can be distracting, while Amazon's display seems to be lit equally on all sides. There are some minor discrepancies towards the bottom of the screen (especially at lower light settings), but they weren't nearly as distracting as what competitors offer. Additionally, the operation of the light is easy to get at, and works smoothly when dimming.

The higher resolution of the display is also a noticeable improvement. Text and line art look extremely crisp on the screen, and even detailed images like panels in a comic book popped. I will say, though, that my eyes seem to be getting used to LCD screens for reading — like the new iPad display or the Nexus 7 — and I found myself longing for the brightness and crispness of those devices. That's not a knock on the Paperwhite screen, which is excellent, but perhaps a sign of my quickly-changing habits.

A final note: a lot of people will be wondering if this kind of screen can be too bright to read in a dark room, and I'm happy to say that given the granularity of settings on the brightness control, reading on this display was completely comfortable in any environment I put it in.

Software, battery

Software, performance, battery

A more tablet-like operating system
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Amazon has given the Kindle Paperwhite a new OS, which feels much more like a tablet operating system as opposed to the neutered and plain OSs on past devices.

When you wake the Paperwhite, you're now prompted to swipe across the display to resume your session. Once you hit the homescreen, it's much closer to what the Kindle Fire offers than the company's previous e-readers. Your recently read items are shown in a gesture-friendly carousel across the top of the display, while recommended items sit beneath them. At the very top of the screen is a general menu with buttons for going home, back, adjusting the display light, hitting the store, or searching. There's also a dropdown menu that allows you to dig deeper into settings and other options.

While in books, you can touch the top of the screen to bring up that persistent menu, and you can also use swipes or taps to move between pages. Long presses on text allow you to select sections for highlighting, notation, or sharing, and single presses on words will grab you definitions. There's a contextual menu here for making font changes; the company has added lots of new typefaces and generally made it easier to tweak the display to your liking. Instead of physical buttons for turning pages, you utilize the screen by swiping or tapping on the left or right side. Some people may find this jarring, but it seems completely natural to me (though I have been doing a lot of reading on tablets which use the same gestures).

Amazon also provides X-Ray functionality on the Paperwhite, which has limited use but is fun to peruse when you get bored with the book that you're reading. You can also search the web and Wikipedia from within books, and Amazon has introduced translation in a handful of languages (via Bing).

The company includes its "experimental" web browser here as well, which is actually capable of rendering standard webpages with some decent results. I wouldn't recommend using it for any serious browsing, but in a pinch it works surprisingly well.

There's one other thing worth mentioning; perhaps due to that faster E Ink display (or just simply good software), I actually found using the onscreen keyboard for notes and searching to be a relatively painless experience. In fact, once I got used to the pace of the screen updates, typing in even longer notes wasn't much of a problem. There is the occasional missed letter if you move too fast, but overall I was impressed with how usable the keyboard is on the Paperwhite.

In general, performance on the Paperwhite kind of surprised me. Compared to previous Kindle models and the rest of the competition, this reader just seems blazingly fast. I know that's hard to imagine for E Ink, but while using the device I was consistently impressed by how snappy and responsive it was, never pausing, stalling, or blanking as I moved from function to function.

Battery life

Battery life on the Kindle Paperwhite more than lived up to Amazon's promises. In the week that I've been testing the device, I haven't put the reader on a charger since the day I received the unit in the mail. Keep in mind, I'm putting the Paperwhite through its paces more than an average user would — including lots of network use on 3G and Wi-Fi — and I'm still blown away by how much juice it has as of this writing. Perhaps I'm jaded because of poor smartphone and tablet battery life, but when you don't even have to think about charging something you use every day for extended periods, well — it seems a little magical.

Ecosystem

Ecosystem

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It would be foolish not to mention the Amazon ecosystem in this review — that vast library which ultimately may be the thing that makes many buyers decide on this device versus the competition. Perhaps it goes without saying, but Amazon continues to stand above the competition in terms of selection, whether its Barnes & Noble, Apple, or Google. It wasn't often that I searched for a book that wasn't available — and Amazon has even extended the Paperwhite's library by offering children's books and comic books for the grayscale display.

Additionally, the platform agnostic nature of Amazon's offerings make purchasing a Kindle a far easier decision than some devices in market. Knowing that I can continue my reading on pretty much any any other gadget with a screen is a pretty great byproduct of Amazon's desire to try and be everywhere that you are.

Amazon's content selection is still its biggest advantage
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Wrap-Up

  • Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (2012)
  • Amazon Kindle Paperwhite 3G
The Paperwhite is an excellent reader, probably the best I've used

Amazon has pioneered e-readers in ways that few other companies have or could. The Kindle Paperwhite is the successor to a long line of innovative and daring products that seek to move book reading into the new century — and it's a terrific product. I was truly delighted while using the device, and for a moment at least, actually envisioned a future where something like the Paperwhite was the only way that I read books. That was a weird moment.

The Paperwhite is an excellent reader, probably the best I've used. Between the new display, the improved software and performance, great battery life, and Amazon's massive book selection, there's not much here to complain about. Some may nitpick the lack of a charger or the fact that you need to pay to opt out of advertising on the device — and those are negatives to be sure — but the overall picture is very clear. Amazon wants to make great reading devices for the masses, and with the Paperwhite, they just took the game to a whole new level.

GOOD STUFF

  • Terrific looking display
  • Amazon's ecosystem is outstanding
  • Performance is snappy

BAD STUFF

  • Opting out of ads costs money
  • No charger included
  • 3G option is pricey

THE BREAKDOWN

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
  • Design 8
  • Software 9
  • Display 9
  • Performance 9
  • Battery life 9
The Paperwhite is an excellent reader, probably the best I've used

Amazon has pioneered e-readers in ways that few other companies have or could. The Kindle Paperwhite is the successor to a long line of innovative and daring products that seek to move book reading into the new century — and it's a terrific product. I was truly delighted while using the device, and for a moment at least, actually envisioned a future where something like the Paperwhite was the only way that I read books. That was a weird moment.

The Paperwhite is an excellent reader, probably the best I've used. Between the new display, the improved software and performance, great battery life, and Amazon's massive book selection, there's not much here to complain about. Some may nitpick the lack of a charger or the fact that you need to pay to opt out of advertising on the device — and those are negatives to be sure — but the overall picture is very clear. Amazon wants to make great reading devices for the masses, and with the Paperwhite, they just took the game to a whole new level.

GOOD STUFF

  • Terrific looking display
  • Amazon's ecosystem is outstanding
  • Performance is snappy

BAD STUFF

  • Opting out of ads costs money
  • No charger included
  • 3G option is pricey

THE BREAKDOWN

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
  • Design 8
  • Software 9
  • Display 9
  • Performance 9
  • Battery life 9
The Verge
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