Name: Amazon Kindle Paperwhite
Type: Touchscreen E Ink eReader with built-in light
Specifications: Click here for full specs
Does the inclusion of a built-in light make Amazon’s latest Kindle E Ink eReader, the Paperwhite, their best yet? Or do a few omissions over earlier models drag it down? Read our full review to find out!
It’s been just six short months since Amazon introduced their first touchscreen eReader, the Kindle Touch, in the UK, but the launch of the new Kindle Paperwhite sees the Touch sent away for an early retirement, pulled from Amazon’s online store. Does the Paperwhite improve upon its most recent predecessor enough to justify yanking the market leading dedicated electronic reading device so quickly from sale? Yes, and comprehensively so.At first glance, the Paperwhite seems almost identical to its predecessor. Light and perfectly pocketable at 16.9cm x 11.7cm x 0.91cm and 222 grams in weight for the Wi-Fi and 3G version (it’s a marginally lighter 213 grams for the Wi-Fi only version), it’s design again is dominated by a large touchscreen that measures 15.5cm on the diagonal. It sits slightly higher in the device’s chassis than with the Touch which is great, as the screen in the earlier eReader sat so low in the device as cause shadows to be cast around the edge of the screen. The casing, which features a slightly rubberised feel for improved grip and a little protection from bumps and drops, is now a dark charcoal shade, which makes the screen seem brighter by comparison, and has well-sized bezel that makes the Paperwhite very comfortable to hold in one hand around the edge without activating touch features.The headline feature here is the Paperwhite’s built-in light however.Sitting invisibly around the inner edge of the bezel, it bathes the E Ink display in a cool white light, adjustable by 25 different brightness levels through a menu option. Paper-like E Ink screens have always been far more comfortable to read over long periods of time than back-lit LCD tablet screens whose brightness can cause eye strain, but for late night reading (as with a standard paper print book) E Ink displays are difficult to read without a light source. The Paperwhite then represents the best of both worlds; you get a comfortable daytime reading experience with the light dialled down, and the ability to keep reading into the night with the built-in light turned on.
Even with the light turned on and dialled up to its maximum intensity, the Paperwhite feels more comfortable to read than a tablet device. Though retaining the grey-hue of all E Ink screens with the light turned off, with the Paperwhite’s light turned on, electronic eBook pages feel closer to the off-white colour of most printed paperbacks. For the most part, the light source is distributed evenly around the screen, though the lower down the brightness scale you turn the light, the more likely you are to experience slight shadowing on the lower edge. It’s hardly noticeable in our opinion, and a fair trade for a comfortable late-night reading experience.The actual E Ink screen itself is improved over previous models too. With 62% more pixels than the Touch and with a new pixel density of 220ppi, the Paperwhite’s screen is notably sharper, especially at larger font sizes, and offers an improved contrast ratio.
But along with the excellent addition of a built-in light, Amazon have also pulled a few features from the Paperwhite, and these namely come in the form of audio support. Gone are the built-in speakers found in previous models, and along the bottom edge now sits only a microUSB charging port and a power button. No headphone port this time sadly. This means that audiobook lovers will miss out on hearing their favourite tales spoken aloud, while those with visual impairments can now longer make use of earlier model’s text-to-speech features. The Paperwhite also doesn’t come with a wall charger, but instead ships with a microUSB charging cable to plug into your computer. A wall charger, if needed, has to be bought seperately. It’s a shame to lose these features in a device that now sits as Amazon’s premium dedicated eReader.Storage space is also down from 4GB to 2GB. With larger audio files and MP3s unsupported by the Paperwhite, this isn’t too much of a loss; you’ll still get enough room for around 1,000 eBooks on the device, enough for a lifetime of reading for most people. If you still need more space (which is possible if you read lots of large PDF files, which are supported natively by the Paperwhite) Amazon offer free cloud-based storage of any files bought from their store.Considering you’re using an E Ink touchscreen, Amazon’s touch-based Kindle software is far more comfortable to use than it has any right to be. Instead of using the sometimes-clunky Infra Red touch system found in the Kindle Touch, the Paperwhite now uses a capacitive touch hardware system. This results in a far improved response to touch inputs, and while you wouldn’t want to be tapping out lengthy documents like you would on a physical laptop keyboard or even a tablet display, the little text input or page scrolling you’ll be doing on the Paperwhite is a far more pleasant experience than on any previous touch-based eReader we’ve used, from any brand.
Navigating books via the touchscreen is simple and comfortable. A large section of the right hand of the screen is dedicated to going forward a page, with a thinner strip down the left used for going backwards a page. A simple tap on either section or swipe across the page will activate the respective page turn, which happens almost instantly.To achieve this speedy page turning, Amazon have tweaked the way that page turns work on the Paperwhite, performing a “full” refresh of the E Ink screen (which takes a fraction longer and causes the screen to flash black momentarily) only once every five page turns. This can sometimes result in a slight ghosting effect being left over from a previous page, but its only really noticeable when you get really close to the screen, making the fast page turns worthwhile. Either way, if you’d prefer a full refresh on every page, you can set the Paperwhite to do so in its settings area.
When in a book, hitting the top area of the screen brings up a control panel. Here you have options to change between six different font styles, eight different font sizes, three different line spacing and margin settings, 25 levels of brightness for the built in light, as well as options to jump to specific pages or chapters in a book, visit the Amazon eBook store, access a landscape reading view, book descriptions, author details and more. These options are neatly housed in intuitive subcategories, meaning it’s easy to find the option you’re looking for and keeping the interface from getting too cluttered by keeping icons to a well-selected minimum.If you’d like to look up a definition, you can hit the search button in the top menu area, which brings up a responsive software keyboard overlay on top of the book. Alternatively (and more intuitively) you can long press on a certain word, and a short dictionary definition will appear, with the option of jumping to a more comprehensive definition within the built-in dictionary. Hitting the “More” button also gives the option of checking out any related Wikipedia pages if you’re within range of a Wi-Fi connection, or have bought the premium 3G option. It makes reading more challenging texts a real joy, knowing that the answers to your word-meaning questions are a single press away.
Making highlights and notes works in a similar way by long-pressing on a word and then dragging across the area of text you’d like to highlight. You can even add a note to highlights, and all your annotations are logged in a separate “My Clippings” document stored in your library. If you chose to connect a Twitter or Facebook account to the eReader, highlighting a passage also gives you the opportunity to share your favourite quotation online on the social networks.Also housed in the top area is the much-touted X-Ray feature, described as an “enhanced” reading experience by Amazon. In certain eBooks, the X-Ray feature highlights key characters, locations or terms within a book, and jump to passages where they are mentioned. We’d imagine it to be particularly useful when reading an educational textbook, but at the time of writing very few eBooks seem optimised with the feature, meaning for the majority of your purchases you’re unlikely to have this feature.
Getting books onto the Paperwhite is easy, thanks to the eReader’s deep integration with Kindle’s online eBook store, which is the largest digital book store around, housing over one million books, as well as offering subscriptions to Kindle optimised versions of many newspapers, magazines and blogs.The store can be accessed from the homescreen, which as well as showing a swipeable row of your library of books (which can also be popped into a list if that’s more convenient) also has a row of recommended titles based on what you’ve previously bought. The store can also be accessed through a shopping trolley icon within the top menu area of an eBook. The store is neatly broken down into genres for browsing, or can be searched for a specific title. New releases are highlighted, as are the regular deals that Amazon offer. Tied to your Amazon account and associated credit card, you can conceivably switch on the eReader, search for a book, purchase it with a single tap and be reading it on the Paperwhite within a minute. If you opt for the 3G version, which offers a lifetime’s worth of free mobile data, you can even do this when out and about, waiting for a bus or lining up at the supermarket check out. It’s great, and with books significantly cheaper than their print alternatives (not to mention the thousands of free books on offer through the store) it offers great value.If you’ve already got a collection of eBooks downloaded to another, older Kindle, they can be put onto the new device at no extra cost. Also, if you’ve got a library of eBooks stored on a computer, they can easily copied over to the Kindle via USB, providing they’re in Kindle Format 8 (AZW3), Kindle (AZW), TXT, PDF, unprotected MOBI and PRC formats. HTML, DOC, DOCX, JPEG, GIF, PNG and BMP files are also supported, though you’ll have to fiddle with them a little bit, using Amazon’s conversion instructions. The Paperwhite is recognised by a computer as a removable storage device, and it’s simply a matter of dragging a supported file into the “documents” folder that’s found on the Paperwhite. Each Kindle is also assigned it’s own email address, and sending a document to it can send the attached file wirelessly to the eReader. There are also plug-ins available for Windows and Mac OS X operating systems from Amazon that let you right-click a file and send it straight to the eReader. Whichever option you choose, it’s a simple process. We’d also recommend the Calibre eBook management software; it’s free, and lets you take full control over how to get files onto your Kindle, no matter what the format.
Battery life is excellent too. A full charge, even with Wi-Fi constantly connected and the built-in light blasting out at full brightness will last around a week and a half. Amazon state that with Wi-Fi switched off, the light at a third of its maximum brightness level and an average of 30 minutes reading a day, you’ll get eight weeks per charge from the Kindle Paperwhite. Though we didn’t have our review sample long enough to confirm it, that claim seems to tally up with our own observations of the device’s battery life, which is great.
The Amazon Kindle Paperwhite is, without doubt, the best eReader ever made. The legibility of the E Ink screen on Kindle devices has always been far ahead of the competition and is far easier on the eye for extended reading sessions than backlit tablet devices. The one reading advantage tablets used to have was during late night sessions thanks to their back-light, but the Paperwhite again bests them thanks to its adjustable built-in light; even with it on, it’s still a more comfortable reading experience than with a tablet. eBook pricing from the Kindle book store is affordably low, and the touchscreen software is far more useable than it has any right to be, given the E Ink screen. It misses a perfect score for dropping the headphone jack, which audiobook enthusiasts will sorely miss. But apart from that omission, it comfortably sits at the top of the pile as the eReader leader.
By Gerald Lynch | October 25th, 2012