Sunday, October 20, 2013

Review: Amazon Kindle Paperwhite

Review: Amazon Kindle Paperwhite

Review: Amazon Kindle Paperwhite

Introduction and design

Ask anyone who's read one of our thirteen page reviews and they'll tell you, staring at a screen can be murder on the eyes. After a while, even a gorgeous, pixel dense HD display can make you want to spray your eyeballs with the garden hose.

That's the beauty of Amazon's Kindle Paperwhite. Its e-ink display is a half step between paper and screen, giving you the convenience of an ebook ecosystem with less wear and tear on the old optic nerve than an iPad 4 or Nexus 7.

It manages to be a more pleasant reading experience than your average display, all while having a subtle backlight and jaw dropping battery life: this new Kindle Paperwhite can go weeks without a charge.

Then again, so could last year's model. This new Kindle Paperwhite is an incremental update, a bit like going from the iPhone 4 to 4S, only without something as fun as talking to Siri.

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite

On the outside, the two models are almost identical. Internally, the hardware has been given an uptick, and the uneven backlight, which left dark spots on the bottom of the original model's display, is completely fixed.

This has all been done without any markup in price on the WiFi model. A WiFi version of this new Kindle Paperwhite is still just $ 119 (£109.00) for a model with "special offers," (aka ads on the lock screen), $ 139 for the ad-free model. The 3G versions, however, have been bumped up ten dollars each, going for $ 189 (£169.00) and $ 209, respectively (last year's models were $ 179 and $ 199).

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite

The Kindle Paperwhite is the best ereader on the market, bar none. If you need, or even want, an ereader, this is the one to have. The question is, do you need, or even want, an ereader?

The Paperwhite an admirably focused product. Unlike jack of all trades tablets, which will leave you wanting for a keyboard should you attempt some actual productivity, the Paperwhite does one thing and it does it very well. Reading a book on this device is simply a plea sure; voracious readers willing to forgo the artisanal qualities of a paper text will adore it.

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite

However, for the gadget head who already has a tablet, is it worth dropping more money, and packing yet another device in your bag? The answer lies before you, so read on, and keep some Visine handy.


The overall build of the Kindle Paperwhite has always been quite diminutive, even when compared with little guys like the Nexus 7 or the iPad Mini. It's just 6.7 x 4.6 x 0.36 inches.

Your average tablet customer might feel cheated, since there's only 6-inches of screen real estate. That was our reaction when unboxing the device, but quickly realized that this is actually a fantastic size for an ereader. Even if your grip isn't terribly big, it's easy to hold in one hand for an extended period of time.

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite

At a glance, Amazon's new Kindle Paperwhite is nigh indistinguishable from last year's model. It's built from the same soft touch plastic, comes only in black and bares a Kindle logo below the screen.

However, the new Paperwhite has an improved display with a more even backlight, and better contrasts. Also, if you're looking for a quick way to tell the model years apart, the new one has an Amazon logo on the back, while the old one says Kindle.

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite

The Paperwhite is still very light, weighing just 7.5 ounces (213 grams). You can hold the Paperwhite between your thumb and forefinger with ease. It's even easier to hold in one hand than your average paperback book, since there are no pages or front cover to pin back as you read.

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite

Some might complain that the Paperwhite hasn't dropped any weight since last year's model, but it's something of a moot point in our eyes. If it got any lighter it would be at risk of being swept up by an errant breeze. It's still small enough to toss in a bag on impulse, in hopes of finding some spare time to read.

On the rear of the Paperwhite you have one large Amazon logo. The backing is the same material as the front, with no extra grip. Amazon and other third-parties make a lot of nice ca ses for the Paperwhite. The device is the tiniest bit slippy, and you might consider picking one up if you're going travel with it or plan to throw it carelessly in a bag. A drop can give the Paperwhite an unsightly scuff.

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite

On the bottom you'll find a charging port and the power/lock button. The Paperwhite charges through microUSB, and while you will find a USB cable in the box, there's no AC adapter or wall plug in the box.

Amazon did the same thing with last year's Paperwhite. It's an odd, kind of cheapskate decision, but at least you can charge it with the plug for the smartphone you more than likely own, or just hook it into your computer. Also, you won't even need to charge the Paperwhite more often than every few weeks. More on that in the Charging and Battery Life s ection of this review.

The new Kindle Paperwhite is well built. Just like the original model, it feels solid and minimal, with zero fat on its frame. Anyone who's struggled with the bulk of a tome like Gravity's Rainbow, Infinite Jest or a meaty biography will love being able to hold this ereader above them while lying in bed, without fear of having their face smashed should they begin to nod off. Yeah, we've all been there right? Right?


Amazon's Kindle Paperwhite is built around getting you to your books, and letting you buy more books, quickly and easily. Since you order it through Amazon, it comes pre-registered to your Amazon account, unless you designate that the purchase will be a gift.

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite

It's a simpler interface than your average tablet. If yo u're used to a Nexus 7 or an iPad, it'll feel stripped down. That's a appropriate though, and also necessary, given the benefits and limitations of the e-ink screen.

Home screen

On first boot, you're lead through a brief tutorial before landing on the home screen. This is is divided into two feeds: a list of your books and documents, and then a promotional stream of titles recommended to you by Amazon, which can be disabled.

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite

That first feed can be sorted to show all your books and documents, or to show just books, periodicals, documents and active content. By default, it'll show your most recently accessed titles, and a little status bar below them to show your reading progress. You can giv e it a swipe to see the rest of your library.

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite

Amazon's feed shows a varying selection of titles the mega-retailer would you like you to browse. Things like Best Books of The Month, Top-Rated Kindle Singles are often showcased. According to Amazon, they're at least partially based on your browsing and purchase history, but to us they never felt particularly personal. They're basically just clutter stealing screen space from own library, so its best to disable them in settings and let your own books take over.

If you didn't pay extra for the version without "special offers," you'll see an Amazon banner ad at the bottom of the screen. Ads also serve as your lock screen

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite

Those lock screen ads are tasteful and Amazon varies them enough that they can be a bit of an amusing surprise. You do end up with a few romance novels and goofy looking fantasy books on there though.

The ads aren't intrusive, but they do make the Paperwhite feel somewhat impersonal. It doesn't feel as "yours" as a decked out Android or iOS tablet. There's a real lack of customization compared to those devices, but the no-nonsense reading crowd likely won't be bothered by it.

Also, those ads and "offers" can be removed at any time if you pay that twenty dollar difference. It's nice of Amazon to give that option, and we therefore recommend that shoppers buy the cheaper "with ads" version, and pay up later if they feel the need to.


Diving into the reading experience on the Paperwhite, pa ges are turned by simply touching the right or left side. Touching the rightmost two-thirds of the screen advances, tapping the remaining left portion of the screen goes back. Swiping left to right or right to left on any portion of the display also moves the pages back or forth.

The swiping, combined with the small size of the Paperwhite, makes one handed operation quite comfortable. You can hold this thing in one hand and just swipe away, it's a very comfortable reading experience for the hand as well as the eyes.

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite

There's a small delay when you turn a page, a slightly smaller one than on last year's Paperwhite. This is thanks to an upgraded processor, but it's hardly noticeable unless you use the two side-by-side.

The whole screen still refreshes when you advance a page, like a brief snowstorm in an Etch-a-Sketch. That's the nature of the e-ink display. It's odd the first few times you see it, but it quickly becomes white noise in the otherwise pleasant Paperwhite experience.

The text size is generous and quite legible by default, but can readily be resized with a two finger pinch. Obviously, bigger text means more frequent page turns, but it's well worth the ease of reading. If you have difficulties with your sight and need enlarged print, this feature alone should put the Paperwhite on your must buy list.

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite

Font size can also be tweaked in the toolbar, which is summoned with a touch at the top of the display. Here you have quick access to the home screen, a back function, backlight adjustment, the Kindle Store and some settings op tions.

Settings allows you to change the orientation of the page, from portrait to landscape and vice versa. The Paperwhite does not reorient when turned, like most tablets.

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite review

In settings you can also toggle on and off reader highlights, which shows passages that other customer have highlighted. It's a bit disorienting that they're shown by default, but it's easy enough to disable.

As with any tablet or ereader, a dictionary definition and is only ever a touch away. The Paperwhite also boasts Wikipedia search, which covers any blind spots the dictionary may have very well.

You can create your own bookmarks, notes and highlights, and share them on Twitter and Facebook. However, there's no quick way to email a passage or notes, or label your bookmarks, which seems like an a feature students would love to have.

Note taking on the Paperwhite is bit of a pain anyway. The onscreen keyboard is designed well enough, but there's a bit of delay when inputting text. This is the same e-ink related delay you experience when turning pages, but it's far more noticeable when typing, and keeps the predictive text lagging behind. Punching in more than a word or two is a chore.


The Amazon Kindle Paperwhite's chief claim to fame is it e-ink screen, and deservedly so. This screen uses minimal power to display black and white text and images.

Amazon likes to say that to the human eye, reading on the Paperwhite is the same as the printed page. That's a bit lofty, but it is an all around excellent reading experience.

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite

It 's the first to use e-ink's Pearl 2 display and it's incredibly easy on the eyes. It's totally non-reflective, so you won't catch light or your own image in the display.

Most importantly, it can be read easily in two places where laptop and tablet displays routinely washout or strain the eye: in direct sunlight or low light.

The fact that it's so good outside, combined with its diminutive size, make it the perfect device to toss in a bag for a trip to the park. It's light and versatile enough that we enjoyed keeping it in our backpack, just in case we found a few spare moments to digest a chapter.

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite

In total darkness a backlight keeps the Paperwhite readable. If you've ever flipped open an iPad in the dead of night, only to have your retinas briefly seared before the brightness dialed down, know that that won't happen here.

The Paperwhite's brightness is manually adjustable on a 24-point scale. The default is 16, a mild amount of lighting perfect for average indoor light or a slightly cloudy day outdoors.

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite

Because the Paperwhite has no camera or light sensor, which other devices use to regulate their screens, all backlight adjustments must be made manually. However, we only ever needed to do so in extreme lighting conditions.

It's possible to read the Paperwhite in an pitch black bedroom, without disturbing someone sleeping next to you. Reading by lamp or natural light is always more comfortable than a device's backlight, but the Paperwhite easily bests other tablets or computers in this regard.

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite

The display also fixes one irksome error of last year's Paperwhite. The first Paperwhite suffered from a slightly uneven backlight, which produced dark spots at the bottom of the screen.

This blemishes were easiest to see in the dark. Luckily, they appeared at the bottom, where there was no text, but it was an annoying flaw that kept the device from seeming truly premium.

That's not a problem here though, and the result is the most comfortable, readable screen we've seen yet on an ereader. It also sports improved contrasts compared to last year's model.

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite

However, you have to weigh all that easy on the e yes goodness against the fact that this is a small, black and white screen. That means that comics, and other publications that rely heavily on images, won't be much fun on a Paperwhite.

If you're a big graphic novel reader, or plan to share a lot of heavily illustrated children's books with a little one, the Paperwhite is not the right device. However, were you to purchase a title on your Paperwhite, only to discover that it's full of illustrations, you would be able to access it on your computer, iOS or Android device. The wide compatibility of Amazon's Kindle ecosystem is a decent consolation prize.

While the page turn delay has improved a smidge from last year's model, entire display still has to refresh in order to show something new. This includes turning a page, or even scrolling down a menu. Given that, it's really best for the slow and steady turn of the page, not flicking rapidly through a document

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite

If you buy a Paperwhite, you do so for one reason: to read text. If you do so, you'll be wholeheartedly satisfied with the display's gentle treatment of your eyes. If you try to stretch it beyond that, you'll be disappointed, but make no mistake, this is the best e-ink display out there.


The Kindle Paperwhite doesn't have apps like an Android or iOS device, but Amazon has brought more to the Kindle reading experience than a massive library of affordably priced titles and an easy to read screen. It also puts more information about your reading material at your fingertips than most formats.

Kindle Store

Amazon's book selection for the Kindle is second to none. The company claims close 2 million titles, and you'd be hard pressed to think of one that it doesn't have in some form or another. Also, while far from DRM-free, Amazon's digital books are far less restricted than ones from Apple's App Store, which can only be read on iOS or OS X devices. You can read an Amazon book on Android, iOS, Windows or Mac devices through the free Kindle app.

It goes without saying that the Kindle Store is very well integrated into the Paperwhite experience. It's at a touch without being in your face - once you disable that Amazon Recommends feed on the homescreen, anyway.

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite

The store's search is powerful, to the point where you can be incredibly sloppy with your spellings and still find what you're after. That's nice because as we've discussed, the typing experience isn't the best.

Once you've selected a book, one touch buying is fully integrated, and the option to cancel a purchase is immediately presented, in case you've made a costly slip of the finger, or suffer split second buyer's remorse.

We do wish that there were some kind of warning for titles with lots of photographs or illustrations. There have been a few times where we've regretted buying a Kindle ebook instead of physical copy, once we opened it and saw all those pictures in grainy black and white.

The Paperwhite's display just isn't that great when it comes to images. However, the fact that you can get a sample of a chapter or two, from any book in the store, offers a good chance to see if you'd be better off reading on an iPad, or opting for a print copy.


X-Ray exposes the bones of your text, providing a character breakdown of any book you're reading. Can't remember where old so-and-so came from? No problem, just highlight his name for a quick breakdown of his (spoiler-free) biography and first appearance. It's a phenomenal feature for dense titles; it's like getting a free, bare bones CliffsNotes with every book.

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite review

However, there's an obvious dearth in quality, and accuracy, with titles that have professionally managed X-Ray info, and ones that are cobbled together by an automatic scan of the book. A big series like Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings has a phenomenally succinct X-Ray info, but a book like The Disaster Artist, which chronicles the production of the infamous cult film The Room, was less accurate, but still useful.

For example, in The Disaster Artist, X-Ray mixed up the character of Johnny with a single mention of the actor Johnny Depp. So instead of a character bio, it gave an entry from Depp's Wikipedia page. However, it correctly identified Tommy Wiseau, The Room's infamous director, and provided a helpfu l excerpt from his Wikipedia page, with the a link to the full entry a touch.

Experimental Browser

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite review

Yes, the Paperwhite can navigate the web, albeit badly. The aptly named Experimental Browser is available from the settings menu, and it does indeed look like something that's still going through trials in the lab. It's fun if you'd like a glimpse of what the web would look like were it served up on newspaper.

It's a curiosity and nothing more. The Paperwhite's need to refresh the entire page when scrolling, combined with its slow typing and colorless display make it a pretty atrocious web experience for anything other than glancing at a Wikipedia page.

Fortunately, browsing the web isn't what the Paperwhite was designed for, so we're more than willing to le t this one slide. Just keep this in mind and don't expect to catch up on your TechRadar reviews on this ereader.

Vocabulary Builder

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite review

In addition to Wikipedia search, the Kindle Paperwhite has a built dictionary. It can offer a definition of a highlighted word, even without an internet connection.

Whenever you look up a word, the Paperwhite squirrels it away in the Vocabulary Builder. This is basically a grid view that allows you to refresh your memory of words that previously mystified you.

Vocab Builder is divided into two sections: Learning and Mastered. Recently defined words land in Learning. Once in Learning, words can be marked as Mastered, or simply deleted, if you're sick of them mocking your ignorance. Mastered words are still tracked, while deleted ones are gone forever.

This feature is a bit buried, you can only find it by opening the settings menu while in a book, then scrolling down to Vocabulary Builder

Charging, connectivity and compatibility

Battery life

When the original Paperwhite was first announced, its most trumpeted breakthrough was incredible battery life. Amazon claimed it could go up to eight weeks without a charge, and holds fast to this on the new model.

On everything from laptops to smartphones, manufacturer battery life claims are generally a bit inflated. We imagined the fine print would read, "if you stay off the web, keep the brightness to the lowest setting and do nothing but compose email."

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite

Amazon is not fibbing when claim truly impressive battery life, but using WiFi or dialing up the brightness will definitely take a bigger chunk out of your charge than that eight week claim is estimating.

Still, with services like WiFi and 3G disabled, you'll be able to get close to that two-month claim. In the two weeks we had device, we didn't need to charge the Paperwhite once, and that's with leaving WiFi on the entire time.


Like pretty much any tablet not made by Apple, the Paperwhite charges via microUSB. A cable of decent length is included in the box. A compatible 5W AC adapter, however, is not.

We're not sure why Amazon does this. Perhaps it's trying to brag about the Paperwhite's battery life, and it's own shipping speeds? "By the time you realize we haven't given you a plug, you'll still have time to order one, fill a cart for super saver shipping and wait for it to arrive. That's how power efficient this device is.

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite review

Even though you can charge your Paperwhite with any old smartphone plug or USB port, it's an irksome decision. Especially since a 5W AC adapter pops up as a suggested accessory, and Amazon wants $ 15 for one. That's a rip off. Opt for generic, people, and Amazon, just put one in the box.

As far as internet connectivity goes, the standard model has WiFi that supports all your standard 802.11b, 802.11g, or 802.11n. Unless your router is carved out of stone, you won't have any trouble getting online.

There's also a model with 3G, through AT&T's HSDPA or EDGE/GPRS networks. Even though there's no monthly fee for the service, just an upticked initial cost, it strikes us a waste of money.

Since web surfing is best avoided on a Paperwhite, all its good for is delivering an ebook the very second you decide you want it. Are you really that impatient? I certainly hope not. And are you ever really that far from a WiFi signal? I certainly don't think so.

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite

Also, to get the most out of your Paperwhite's battery, your WiFi should be off most of the time anyway, so 3G really seems superfluous. However, if the $ 40 if nothing to you, you might as well spring for it so you can get the most out of it whilst reading on your yacht, as you light your cigars with $ 100 bills.


Amazon would very much like you to buy your books from them, thank you. That's probably why the Paperwhite does not support EPUB, the most popular free ebook format on the web.

That's not to say that you cannot read an EPUB title on your Paperwhite, it'll just require some work. There are lot of programs out there that will convert the title into a format Amazon accepts, though it occurs with varying degrees of ease. You may not always be happy with the results, either. It can take some finagling to get the margins and font size to an acceptable standard.

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite review

The same goes for PDFs. While the Paperwhite has native support for Adobe's PDF ubiquitous document format, the results aren't always pretty, or legible. Margins are often massive, fonts faint, and the result isn't always worth bother.

Also, the Paperwhite gives you only 1.25GB of available storage, and you'll be surprised how quickly a few image heavy PDFs can fill that up.

However, Amazon has a lot of user friendly ways of delivering this non-Amazon content to the Paperwhite. Your device has a unique email a ddress, and to send a compatable document to it, you simply email it as an attatchment. Just make Paperwhite entry in your address book, and you can easily zip these documents off. There's also a Send to Kindle app, which works much like Pocket or Instapaper, for reading a web article on your Paperwhite, without using the clunky browser.

Bottom line, Amazon's Kindle Paperwhite works best with ebooks bought from Amazon. Surprise, surprise. Reading anything else can often be chore of converters and compatibility errors. It's possible, but not for the easily frustrated or non-tech savvy.


When it made the 2012 Paperwhite, Amazon built the best ereader on the market. Now in 2013 its gone and improved on an already standard smashing design. Great ease of use, impressive battery life and a well rounded ecosystem make it the only pure ereader worth owning.

However, close to perfect is not perfect. There's still a flaw or two worth mentioning, but if you want one, this new Paperwhite is simply the best ereader on the market. Just don't expect to do anything more than eread with it.

We liked

The Paperwhite is a perfect size. If you're coming from a Nexus 10 or an iPad, or even a seven incher like the Nexus 7 or iPad Mini, it'll seem small out of the box. Spend some time with it, however, and you'll agree, it shouldn't be any bigger.

As it is, it's easy to hold with one hand, and so light and thin that you can keep it in your bag without a second thought, just in case there's time to read. The simple page turning interface works flawlessly, and it's just a tad faster than last year's model.

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite review

Speaking of last year's model, gone are the annoying dark spots near the bottom of the screen. They were really only visible if you read in low light, but never should have been an issue and marred the experience over all.

Amazon's ereader has a nice and simple interface that makes it easy to buy and read books, or get a little more information on what you're reading. Dictionary definitions and Wikipedia blurbs are only ever a long press away, and the store easy to navigate, and will instantly and easily forgive an accidental purchase.

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite review

The battery life may fall short of the eight weeks Amazon is cla iming, with WiFi and all, but it's still brag worthy. Expect to go weeks without a charge, or months if you keep WiFi or 3G use to an absolute minimum.

Finally, Amazon's library of books is huge, and priced very competitively.

We disliked

There's still a bit of delay when turning pages. It's a tiny bit less than on last year's model, but if there's one place where would've wanted a noticeable improvement, it's here.

The lack of EPUB support is annoying, mainly because it forces you to use third-party converters to read titles Amazon probably isn't selling anyway. The Paperwhite is also hit or miss as far getting PDFs to format legibly goes.

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite review

The ads on the lock screen and home screen make the device impersonal, and can sometimes be embarrassing. Goodness forbid anyone on the train thinks you're reading Promise Me Heaven, the story of Lady Catherine Sinclair, who will "do whatever necessary to save her family from financial ruin - including marrying the town's most eligible bachelor for money." Yes, that's a title that popped up for us.

Overall the recommendations don't feel tailored to our tastes, and Amazon has made some poor choices about what to leave on by default. We don't need to see a recommendation stream on the home screen or what other readers have highlighted unless we ask to, thank you very much.

Also, it's a pretty cheapskate move to leave an AC adapter out of the box, then offer one as a $ 15 accessory. We don't care how long the battery lasts, that's highway robbery.

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite review

Because i t's a small, black and white screen, the Paperwhite is not the way to read comics or heavily illustrated titles.

Finally, although we did not test a 3G version of the Paperwhite, that sort of connectivity on an ereader seems pretty pointless. You're paying $ 40 extra to get books instantly, no matter where you are, but how often are you out of WiFi range, and can you really not wait to get home to buy a new book? Your money would be better spent removing the ads from a WiFi model, or on just buying more books.

Final verdict

Do you want an ereader? A device that lets you read an ebook in any lighting condition? Then buy the Paperwhite.

Don't get it if you're expecting even a fraction of the versatility of a true tablet, like the Nexus 7 or an iPad. This is a device for reading, and reading only, and it does that very, very well.

It's light, easy to use and has battery life worth bragging about. Amazon could stand to be a little friendlier to o ther ebook formats, but it's actually one of the best ecosystems to invest in, since the Kindle app can be used across iOS, Android and Windows devices.

The Paperwhite is still the finest ereader on the market. Buy the WiFi version with the lock screen ads (which you can always pay to remove should they bother you much). Your eyes will thank you, and so will your wallet.


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//PART 2