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Summary:

I spent a week testing Amazon’s new e-reader, the Kindle Paperwhite, which starts at $119. The verdict: The front-lit screen improves the reading experience all day long, not just at night, making this a big step up from the Kindle Touch. Here are my review and video.

Jeff Bezos and Kindle
photo: Getty Images / Spencer Platt

When Barnes & Noble announced the front-lit Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight in April, the company stressed the e-reader’s usefulness for reading in bed while your partner sleeps beside you — which seemed like a niche use. At the launch of the front-lit Kindle Paperwhite, though, Jeff Bezos said Amazon “figured out early” that most people will want to leave the Paperwhite’s light on all the time. In other words, the light’s not just a gimmick, it’s an upgrade.

After a week of testing the Kindle Paperwhite, I agree with Amazon: I found myself turning on the light regularly, at various levels of brightness, not just at night. It just makes the Kindle that much more usable and convenient: On a dim subway or in a badly lit room, you can read comfortably.

I found the Paperwhite — which starts at $119 for the ad-supported, WiFi version and will ship toward the end of October if you order it today — to be a huge improvement over my Kindle Touch. Here’s my video review:

Here are a few more details on things that I liked and didn’t like:

Likes

  • The Paperwhite feels great right out of the box. It’s smoother and easier to grip than the Touch. The screen feels better, too —  it has a pleasantly grainy (for lack of a better word) feel as you swipe your finger down it.
  • It’s faster. The touchscreen is quicker and more responsive (see my video for an example of this). On the Touch, I sometimes tap twice because the screen is slow to register that I’ve touched it. The Paperwhite still doesn’t offer iPad-like quickness, but its response time is a big improvement over the Touch
  • The screen has a higher resolution and better contrast (even with the light off), which makes type easier to read. There are new fonts and, because of the higher resolution, you can read comfortably at a lower type size on the Paperwhite than on the Touch.
  • The Paperwhite’s upgraded software is great. Watch the video for a few examples of how it differs from the older software on the Kindle Touch, but I like that “cloud” has replaced the confusing “archived items” and that books are displayed by their covers rather than in a list of text. I asked Amazon if we can expect the software upgrade on older Kindles, but a company spokeswoman wouldn’t share details about upcoming plans.
  • PDFs are easier to read. If you email PDFs to your Kindle often, you know that screwy formatting can make them annoying to read. This is improved on the Paperwhite and Amazon confirmed it’s “working hard to continue to improve performance and usability for PDFs.”
  • The light is wonderful (though I wish it were a little easier to adjust; see below). When the light’s on, the LEDs are faintly visible at the bottom of the screen, but I did not find that bothersome.
  • Amazon shipped my Paperwhite review unit with a review case, too — the $39.99 Kindle Paperwhite Leather Cover. Like the newer iPad cases, this cover is magnetic. When you close it, the Paperwhite goes sleep; open the cover and it wakes back up. This is very convenient. If you don’t want to pay $39.99 for a case, wait, since I’m sure other manufacturers will release competing, cheaper magnetic Kindle cases soon.
  • I have absolutely no problem with the ads on my Touch or on the Paperwhite I tested. They’re almost completely nonintrusive and they don’t show up when you are reading. If you’re in the market for a new Kindle, buy one with ads and see if they bother you; if you don’t like them, you can pay to turn them off). ou might as well order the cheaper model and see if they bother you.

Dislikes

  • I love the light but wish that it adjusted automatically depending on the brightness of a room. Failing that, I wish there were brightness controls on the side of the Paperwhite (where the volume controls are on the iPad) so that you could adjust the brightness as you read. Since you can only access the brightness controls through the touchscreen, you have to interrupt your reading to adjust the light.
  • I miss the physical home button — the Touch has one but it’s gone on the Paperwhite. Instead you have to tap the top of the screen and then press the home icon. I’m used to reading on the Touch and kept automatically tapping the Paperwhite’s logo (where the home button is on the Touch). I get that this is a touchscreen device, but just a couple buttons would actually make things easier.
  • This has been written before, but it’s annoying that Amazon continues to sell the power adapter separately ($9.99). If you already have an adapter for an older Kindle, though, it will also work with the Paperwhite. (Meanwhile, Barnes & Noble dropped the price of the Nook with GlowLight to $119 today and is sure to note that the power adapter is included.)

As I noted above, if you order it today the Kindle Paperwhite will ship toward the end of October. Those who pre-ordered it when Amazon announced it in early September, though, may have received shipping notices today and will get their new Kindles in a couple days.

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  1. For the video review you should have used a tripod, I don’t like shaky cam.

    1. Laura Hazard Owen Jason Monday, October 1, 2012

      Thanks — will use tripod next time!

  2. Two big problems for me.

    1. No more text to speech. I Like to use it on long drives.

    2. Much lower memory. I know many people just keep a few books on their Kindle at a Imelda. However for me, one of the attractive points of an ereader is that I can carry around my entire library in one small device.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Michael! One note on storage: It has 2 GB, which can hold about 1,100 ebooks. Amazon also lets you store all Amazon content in the cloud for free so if you had more ebooks than that, you could download and archive as needed.

      1. I appreciate your response. Unfortunately, capacity is still a problem for me. The touch has 4GB. Of the 2GB on the PW, only 1.3 GB is available. I have over a thousand ebooks. Many are fom Amazon, but not all. Finally access to the cloud requires a cellular connection in many places. I dropped 3G for wifi going from a kindle 2 to a kindle keyboard. This would mean I would need to pay much more to get the 3G version for everywhere access to my cloud.

      2. P.s. regarding my previous reply. I do believe you can add personal documents/books to your cloud by emailing them to your Kndle account. It not only puts them on your kindle but adds them to the cloud. Unfortunately this doesn’t work that well for my workflow.

    2. I’m sure the drop in memory is disappointing to many. But I think you are a corner case in terms of it having an impact on daily use. The Kindle is heavily geared towards leisure reading. And for that primary use case, 1,100 books of on device storage is plenty. Overkill in fact. Put another way, at a reading rate of 1 book a day, that’s 3 years of reading material. Or 1 year’s at 3 books a day. At a much more realistic rate (yet still aggressive) of one book a week, that’s 21 years worth of books.

      When making the decision to drop the memory size, I’m sure Amazon looked at usage statistics and found that a vast majority of users where not even close to the 4GB memory threshold. And I suspect a vast majority were not close to using 1/2 the memory (the 2GB size in the new Paperwhite). And those that were, likely were not actively accessing most of the titles on the device. As such, the cloud based solution works to satisfy the small niche of users with large libraries, especially given the increase of WiFi accessibility today. ANd for those users with large libraries on the move, the 3G version is the offered solution. So I think you personally end up in a *very* small segment of users: a large library that requires regular on device (i.e. non-cloud) access. Even then, is the non-cloud access a true requirement, or a perceived requirement? Does the 3G access not satisfy the use case, albeit at a higher cost? It does suck when you fall into a ultra small niche of users. But it is reality. So you may have to pay a higher cost (to get 3G), but at least there is an option. It *really* sucks to be in a niche of users where there is no solution.

      As to why the decision to drop the memory was made, my educated guess is that it was a technical design decision that also had some marketing and pricing considerations. The added light comes at a cost of energy use. A major selling point of the Kindle is long periods or use without needing to recharge. Adding the light, even with its super energy efficient design, adds to the power consumption of the device. Less memory requires less energy to access and maintain. So by robbing Peter (memory) they could pay Paul (light). Given the following two options:
      1) Long battery life with 21 years worth (1,100) of books on the device and unlimited books on the cloud
      2) Shorter battery life with 42 years worth (2,200) of books on the device and unlimited books on the cloud
      I am sure option 1 would be picked hands down by at least 99% of users. And it is a stronger marketing position.

      Also, when engineering a device like this, they are working on *very* tight margins trying to hit a *very* specific price point. There is no wiggle room. A $119 device will massively outsell a $121 device with slightly better features. The spread is even greater when talking about a $199 (the 3G ads free version) vs a $200 device. It’s a marketing/psychological fact. Even purchasing on extreme bulk, an extra 2GB would add $5 (likely a bit more) to the device. That may not seem like much. But it would push the device over that psychological price point affecting sales. There is already a belief that Amazon is selling these devices at cost or at a loss in order to make money on selling content (the razor blade or ink jet business model). Given they are selling millions of these devices, an extra $5 loss per unit adds up very quickly to the $20-$30 million level. Even if the extra 2GB cost $1, it is a several million dollar decision.

      As for the dropping of TTS, in my humble opinion, that was purely a money making decision. They want to sell the “Whispersync” narration add on to the books you buy. They might have also found that TTS was not a highly used feature and saw it as a way to reduce the device’s cost. I personally found it a bit lacking to be able to listen to and understand a book. Mostly in terms of phrasing. This is most evident with dialog. It was almost impossible to follow back and forth dialog since you didn’t know when one character stopped and the other responded. (Spacing in the text provided such when reading.) The sentences ran together. And while there are better TTS engines out there, they would likely add cost to the device. And improving would undercut the sale of the Whispersync narration add-on. I’d love to see a much better quality TTS on the device. But I doubt that will ever happen.

      1. Hello Mark, your comment is very insightful but is a bit misleading towards the end concerning text to speech: the Whispersync feature is actually nothing to do with narration; it simply logs whereabouts in the book you are and syncs it across your ‘devices’ (I am yet to understand why the word ‘whisper’ is relevant to such a feature). While I agree that text to speech was a nice option to have, I agree with you in that the voice could be distracting and was most noticeably unaccomplished in extended sections of dialogue. However I am nevertheless disappointed that they did not choose to expand the language choices for text to speech: it would have been exceptionally useful to students and passionants of languages like me.

        In the end I think it is most likely that the inclusion of a speaker was not financially or logistically economical. The LED lights they have installed within the lower part of the device meant that if they wanted to maintain the attractively small size of the Kindle they needed to make some sacrifices, the obvious two being the speakers and the home button. There simply isn’t space for everything.

        I imagine that in the future an improved Paperwhite will be released which could be a little bit bigger but include these lost features, and, we can hope, external buttons to control the brightness of the LEDs, as this excellent review suggested. In the meantime they have either yet to develop a model which could satisfy both these dimensional and the spacial requirements, or they are keeping the technology for an improved version, which they could market and sell as a new model once again (and naturally make more money in the process).

        While I’d like to wait and see what future improvements we might see, I’m far too excited to be able to finally read my Kindle at night time, and this alone, as Amazon most probably foresaw, has sold this Kindle hands down to me and to millions of other people around the world. Now I just need to sit out the wait until November 12th, when it will be despatched to addresses in the UK!

  3. Richard Handford Thursday, October 4, 2012

    Any chance of a 3G version?

    1. Yes, there is a 3G version, which also has WiFi.

  4. The omission of text-to-speech is a big step backward for accessibility. Amazon should have taken the opportunity to improve the TTS, by incorporating better voices than the Nuance Vocalizer ones that apparently came with other Amazon devices. I have PC TTS software which uses Ivona voices, which are the most natural sounding ones I’ve come across, better than Acapela and much better than Nuance. A big fail for Amazon.

  5. Christopher Glenn Wednesday, November 7, 2012

    What is the power implications of the light? The benefit of the unlit Kindle is weeks on one charge.

    1. Christopher, Amazon says that the battery life on the Kindle Paperwhite is the same with or without the light on — 8 weeks assuming 30 minutes of reading a day. The company says this is possible because the LEDs don’t require much power. I didn’t test the device for long enough to test battery life but I don’t think it should be a major concern if you are considering buying one.

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