I am a ridiculous fan of e-readers. I can’t explain how much I love them, and why everyone else should. They’re nowhere near to being the destroyer of reading – far from it! If anything, they’re the modern saviors of reading. Think about how much kids love technology – what better way to get them to read than with non-eye-destroying technology?
And for those of us who want to keep reading through their upper-20’s and 30’s and beyond, it’s a great medium. I can buy books cheaper, store more longer, and read at a faster pace than I ever did with paper books. And remember, there were other forms of writing and reading before the bound book, just like e-reading is the new form.
Enter the Kindle Paperwhite, the newest iteration of e-ink e-readers from Amazon. It touts itself as the end-all be-all of e-readers – e-ink technology, touchscreen, and built-in light. But does it live up to those expectations?
External aesthetics and quality
The Paperwhite has an incredibly simple and minimalist design.
The front is almost completely taken up by the screen, with a pretty small bezel around it, and the text “kindle” just below. The back also sports the “kindle” text (slightly larger), with the traditional device information at the bottom. The very bottom of the Paperwhite contains the only connections and buttons on the entire device – the micro USB connection for charging and connecting to computers, a small charging light, and the power button.[pullquote align=”right”]The Paperwhite has an incredibly simple and minimalist design.[/pullquote]
The material itself is similar to that in the Kindle Fire HD 8.9″ device. It has a solid feel to it, yet the device is so small and light it doesn’t feel cumbersome – a great mix.
Overall, it feels like a device you can easily carry around and hold, yet you wouldn’t be scared if it fell off the bed while reading (obviously, not a recommended test!).
The specs are on-par with a typical, modern e-reader:
- 6-inch, 212 ppi display with built-in light
- 2 GB internal storage (1.25 GB usable; free online storage for Amazon content)
- File compatibility: AZW3, AZW, TXT, PDF, MOBI (unprotected), PRC natively; HTML, DOC, DOCX, JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP with conversion
- 8-week battery life (half hour of reading/day, wireless off, light at 10)
- 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi
- 7.5 ounces
For the most part, the lack of EPUB compatibility is the main complaint against Amazon’s e-readers in general. For someone like me, who focuses on one ecosystem for each type of function (Google for online, Amazon for e-reading, etc.), this won’t be an issue at all. However, if you like to mix between e-reader ecosystems (for example, between Barnes & Noble and Amazon), you need to be aware of that difference.
When you first start up the Kindle Paperwhite, you get a tutorial on how to use your new e-reader. While the tutorial on the Kindle Fire HD 8.9″ was a bit simpler (less steps, for one thing), the Paperwhite’s tutorial has a decent amount of instructional screens. I wouldn’t necessarily call it a negative, since it’s all useful and relevant information. However, it does take a couple minutes to get through.
After going through the tutorial and using it for a few weeks, I’d summarize the User Interface (UI) like this: touch is your friend. Use touch to navigate the menus. When you’re reading a book, touch up top to get relevant options; touch to the left to go back a page; and touch anywhere else to go forward. You also have the option to swipe back and forth to change pages.[pullquote align=”right”]Touch is your friend.[/pullquote]
For me, this was a huge leap from where I came from. On the Kindle Keyboard (Wi-Fi) I also own, you have to use the little buttons on the bottom for everything. There’s a Menu button, Home button, buttons for all the letters of the alphabet, buttons on each side for page turning, etc. It’s not necessarily confusing, but it’s a waste of space. I’ve completely embraced and love the touch system on the Paperwhite. It’s much, much simpler – just touch where you want, and it responds.
Overall, I have no complaints with the UI and touch system on the Paperwhite. The tutorial is a tad long, but it’s useful in that it familiarizes someone like me (coming from a previous Kindle version) with touch on an e-reader.
- Kindle Singles
- Kindle Serials
- Games and Active Content
- NY Times Best Sellers
- Kindle Owners’ Lending Library
One thing to note: when you choose an item in the Store, you can immediately check if it’s X-Ray enabled by looking just below the purchase button.
I read a number of books on the Paperwhite, including Ender’s Game, Earth Unaware, and Ender in Exile (yes, someone’s getting ready for the Ender’s Game movie later this year). Overall, the experience was great.
The standard experience was well above par. It was easy to navigate while reading using touch, adjusting the brightness was straightforward, accessing your content was pretty easy, and finding new content was simple. As far as the brightness goes, when researching the Paperwhite I noticed some comments on not being able to completely turn off the brightness on earlier versions. This was not the case in my experience. I was able to go all the way down to no brightness at all, usually an undesirable effect. Perhaps the firmware on the Paperwhites has been upgraded to allow this, as some suggested. Regarding accessing your content, it took me a little bit to get used to collections on the Paperwhite. I was mostly used to seeing a list on my Kindle Keyboard, but seeing the cover images looked better on the Paperwhite. However, it took me a few tries to figure out what layout I wanted and how to arrange it.
The “special” experience when reading books, X-Ray, worked well, but I didn’t use it much. X-Ray on the Paperwhite essentially works just like the Kindle Fire version – open a book, click on X-Ray, and it shows you a list of characters and how often they appear on the page, chapter, or book as a whole. You can then see a summary of the character, other books they appear in, and where they appear elsewhere in the book. It’s a nice feature, but I tended to not utilize it much except for this review.
I really liked how newspaper reading was laid out. After subscribing and opening the current edition, you’re presented with a square view of four tiles: four titles and images from the first four articles. You can click in the top area and choose to view the articles in a list, you can go to the next page of articles, or you can choose one and start reading.[pullquote align=”right”]I’ve never used a device that truly put itself out of the way so that the user could focus on experiencing the content…You pick it up to read the book, not to check the device itself out.[/pullquote]
The articles are laid out just like the paper version – a title, an image, a quote, and then the article itself. If you prefer non-paper newspaper reading (online or e-reading), this is a nice medium, because it takes out any ads you would normally see on a website.
Kindle Singles are short stories or essays that wouldn’t qualify as a full-length book. Since their experience is extremely similar to reading a traditional book, I won’t go into detail on them here (I looked into them in general, but didn’t read any for this review).
According to the Kindle Store description, “Kindle Serials are stories published in episodes, with future episodes delivered at no additional cost.” One of the serials I viewed in the Store, Midnight Train to Paris, “contains four episodes out of an estimated eight total episodes, and new episodes will be delivered every week.” Again, the experience itself is similar to reading a book.
Games and Active Content
There are a number of basic games available in the Kindle Store for the Paperwhite: solitaire, hangman, word search, Sudoku, brain games, Jewels, UNO, and more.
I bought the Solitaire Collection to check out how games performed on the Paperwhite (keep in mind, the Paperwhite is meant to primarily be an e-reader, not a game powerhouse). Solitaire played very well. There was the expected lag as the screen refreshed to show a card being moved, but overall it functioned in a basic way.
I don’t plan on using the Paperwhite to play many games at all, but it’s nice to know there are multiple time-killing options available on the device.
Reading magazines functions much like reading newspapers – four-pane article view comes up first, you can choose a list view, and all the extraneous content has been removed.
NY Times Best Sellers
This section in the Store is simply a compilation of books from the New York Times Best Sellers list.
Blogs as a section is a newer addition to the Kindle Store. To demo this area I checked out the “Kindle Books and Tips” blog by Michael Gallagher.
Visually, reading a blog functions much like reading newspapers or magazines. Instead of a four-pane view I saw three panes, and once you open an article there are no title images, but otherwise it’s the same reading experience.
Kindle Owners’ Lending Library
The Lending Library is a relatively new, beloved feature for the Kindle line. If you have a Kindle and Amazon Prime, you can choose one compatible book at a time to read for free. The last time I checked the Store, there were 345,274 books available in the Lending Library.
To check out the feature, I borrowed Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone (I still haven’t read them all; might as well start over!). It worked flawlessly – instead of a “Buy for $[x]” button I clicked on the “Borrow for free” button and it showed up in my Home section.
While I think this was a necessary feature to bring e-readers into the 21st century, I’m glad Amazon and Barnes & Noble have embraced it with such large collections available. Being able to rent a book every so often instead of buying everything is a nice feature. However, keep in mind you need Prime in order to access that feature on Kindles.
Audiobooks are missing from the Store, as well as the ability to play sideloaded music. Both were options on my older Kindle Keyboard, so it was puzzling when I noticed they were missing. To be fair, I never really used either feature on my Keyboard, but it seems odd that it’s not present on a newer device.
I would imagine Amazon removed it so the device could function more as a standalone reading device, and to encourage media consumption on their Kindle Fire line. I don’t think the Paperwhite deserves to be docked for that since it’s an e-reader device, not a media powerhouse, but it’s still worth considering. After all, audiobooks are another way to consume book media, and really the only other way. Divorcing the two makes things simpler, but it also makes them more complicated for audio lovers.
As with previous versions, the Paperwhite has an experimental browser built in. It functions as you would assume an e-ink device to in this area: stable yet slow. Sites loaded fine albeit slowly, and the Article view helped take out some of the extraneous pictures.
Considering that I left Wi-Fi on the entire time I’ve been reviewing the Paperwhite, the battery’s done pretty well. After three weeks of usage it had ~10-15% battery left. During those three weeks I’ve probably read ~45 minutes to an hour a day. As stated above, reading for half an hour and without Wi-Fi will get you around eight weeks, so my experience seems to be pretty on-par.
It’s obvious that the Wi-Fi has been upgraded from the Kindle Keyboard to the Paperwhite. On the Keyboard, books would download in 10-15 seconds. On the Paperwhite, all were under 10 seconds and nearly all were closer to five. Obviously differences that small are inconsequential, but it was a noticeable improvement.
Overall, I experienced no issues with Wi-Fi signal.
The feel is where the Kindle Paperwhite truly shines. I’ve never used a device that truly put itself out of the way so that the user could focus on experiencing the content. The Paperwhite is so minimalist that you don’t really focus on it at all. You pick it up to read the book, not to check the device itself out. The second you turn it on you’re immersed in your content, pleasantly reading about Ender and the buggers. Yes, at times I noticed the device, but it was in a “I love how small and simple this is” way – in other words, typical thoughts coming from a reviewer, not an over-infatuation with the device and not the experience.
In general, I pride myself on being very objective. My thoughts may take me in the wrong direction, or I may miss another point of view, but in life in general I try to be an impartial seeker of the truth. (I know, we’ve all heard that before.) I’m not perfect at it, but I strive for it.[pullquote align=”right”]While it may not be the most perfect device ever, it easily deserves to be known as the new standard for e-reading.[/pullquote]
That being said, I think the Kindle Paperwhite deserves a score of 10. Not only does it have everything you expect from an e-reader (e-ink, ease of reading, ease of usage, access to a range of content, etc.), but it gives you some extras that really round out the e-reading experience (built-in light, touchscreen, etc.). Plus, it appears that the only real issues (with the screen or brightness) have been resolved in the newest version.
While it may not be the most perfect device ever, it easily deserves to be known as the new standard for e-reading.
The Kindle Paperwhite is the new standard for e-reading. It combines what you’ve come to know and love in e-ink e-reading with modern technology that allows for ease of use in a variety of situations. If you’re in the market for an e-reader, look no further.