Hands On: Amazon's Kindle Paperwhite (Review)

Kindle Paperwhite 2 - P 2012
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Kindle Paperwhite 2 - P 2012

The company's new ereader featuring "front light" technology improves on the industry's dominant device.

Amazon's Kindle Paperwhite, the newest version of its popular ereader, is easily the best one the giant e-tailer has built.

Start with the new frontlit paperwhite display, which cures the long-standing frustration with trying to read a Kindle in the dark or in low light.

According to Amazon, "Front Light" technology positions the led lights down and toward the screen.

Traditional backlit LCD screens push light up through the display. 

The new tech supposedly reduces eyestrain while providing a brighter and more efficient light.

On top of that, the ereader utilizes the new paperwhite display, which has a resolution of 212 pixels per inch, offering 62 percent more pixels in total and 25 percent more resolution.

What does this mean in the real world? An amazingly beautiful screen that makes reading a pleasure no matter the light.

Anyone who ever struggled with an older Kindle (or for that matter any earlier generation ereader) will marvel at the brightness of the screen. 

Suddenly, reading in bed is a pleasure not a complicated chore that involved either positioning your Kindle under a bed lamp or clipping on an awkward mini-light.  

The new system is so well designed that even when the light is on you can read outdoors in the light and have an excellent experience. 

Most people will probably set the light at a comfortable level and then never fiddle with it again. In two weeks of daily use, I only rarely changed the setting, even as I moved from bedroom to office to outside at a coffee shop. 

Front lighting alone is a compelling enough innovation to warrant upgrading to the Paperwhite from an earlier generation Kindle. 

If you're already a Kindle user, I highly recommend springing for the upgrade. You won't regret it.

Amazon is certainly pricing them right–the base wifi-only model is just $119 with special offers (ads), $139 without.

Those that want to upgrade to the 3G model (meaning instant downloads anywhere there is cell phone service) will pay $179 and $199 to lose the special offers.

The tester unit came with special offers and to be honest its not that bad.  The ads only show up on the home screen. I find the ads anywhere from inoffensive to mildly interesting–I actually downloaded samples for a couple of the books that were advertised.

The cheapest legacy Kindle (without Front Light) is $69, practically a steal, but anyone who doesn't pony up the extra $50 to get the new lighted screen is a fool. 

The new model feels heavier than it appears when you pick it up–possibly because its so small it is easy to be fooled about the weight. Still at 7.5 oz, the Paperwhite weighs the same as the Touch and is three ounces lighter than the original Kindle.  And in truth, any thought about weight fades away after a little use.

The Paperwhite features a nice soft touch, slightly rubberized back that is comfortable to hold and has just the right amount of grippiness.

 If we have one complaint about the new Kindle it is the touch screen technology.

For the most part it works great: Pages turn with a swipe; menus pop up when you touch them (thought occasionally it does require two tries).

We're not opposed to touch, but sometimes it would be nice to have forward, back and a home screen button to press. Swiping can feel like a chore, especially if you're reading with one hand and a button push would be more efficient.

Doing away with buttons altogether is Steve Jobs-like fetishization of form over factor that feels more like the ill-fated button-less iPod shuffle than the elegant iPhone.

Amazon's updated the software as well.

Two cool new features are "time to read," which estimates how much longer it will take to finish a chapter or the book, and "x-ray," which allows readers to dig deeper about characters, historical events, topics--even tapping into Wikipedia and Shelfari (Amazon's community encyclopedia).

 A neat aspect of "time to read" is how it learns from the user and adjusts the time estimates based on a user's speed.

One deficiency of the Kindle software is the inability to sync magazine subscriptions across devices, similar to the way books are synced.

Right now, my kindle seamlessly syncs books to my iPad, Kindle Fire and iPhone. In fact, that syncing is so smooth and effortless, it is easy to take it for granted. 

Magazines and newspapers don't work the same way.  Reading The New Yorker or The New York Times on the Kindle is actually quite pleasurable---better than on a tablet in many ways. But because The Times and The New Yorker uses separate apps it doesn't appear possible to sync subscriptions to the Kindle.

I actually added a second New Yorker just for my Kindle, which is a frustrating and money wasteful workaround.

Yet overall, Amazon has the best ebook storefront on the market. Searching and buying for books, even from the Kindle, is straightforward and easy.

My experience with their customer service has been excellent. I broke a Kindle by stepping on it, which they replaced no questions asked. A corrupted copy of A Casual Vacancy was automatically updated a few hours after the error was discovered. 

Amazon continues to refine its ereader in ways that improve on an already useful device. I suspect that there will always be a place for dedicated ereaders in the market.

Even with an iPhone and iPad, I often prefer to read on the Kindle and at this price, it is cheap enough to get as a "plus-one" device.

Marred by just a few small flaws, the Kindle Paperwhite is a winner.