Review: Amazon Kindle Paperwhite really shines

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Paperwhite’s design panache


Physically, the new Kindle Paperwhite shares many similarities with the Kindle Touch: Both e-readers weigh 7.5 ounces (0.47 pound), and they have almost identical dimensions, differentiated by a mere tenth of an inch in height and width, and a rounding error in depth. The Nook with Glowlight is very close to the Kindles in weight, at 6.95 ounces (0.43 pound).

I found the Paperwhite pleasant to hold in one hand, and its rounded edges helped make it comfortable to grip.

As on the Kindle Touch, you get 2GB of storage aboard the Kindle Paperwhite. There’s no MicroSD card slot, however, unlike on some competing e-readers. And finally, the Kindle Paperwhite lacks the audio jack found on last year’s Kindle Touch, so you should look elsewhere if you want audiobook or text-to-speech support.

When you power on the Kindle Paperwhite, you’ll see Amazon’s dramatic (and overdue) overhaul of its Kindle e-reader home screen, the company's most significant redesign of this feature in years. As a result, the snappy home screen finally catches up to the more visual presentations that rival e-readers offer, though Amazon’s unwelcome penchant for sending you directly to its retail store comes through clearly in this redesign.

Along the top of the display sit a basic navigation bar (with buttons for home, back, light, and Kindle store access), a search bar, and a context-sensitive menu drop-down. Below that, the home screen displays three items (sorted by your choice of recent, title, author, or collections; and segmented by your choice of all items, books, periodicals, documents, or active content). By default, the display shows items' covers, rather than a simple text-based list. The bottom half of the home screen is devoted to a scrollable carousel of store content that leads lead you into the store with a single tap. At the bottom is the current “special offer” advertisement, unless you pay to turn it off.

The new Kindle Paperwhite's home screen.

The Paperwhite’s menu items shift contextually. While reading a book, you can jump directly to an author, shift to landscape mode, sync to the farthest page you've read elsewhere, add a bookmark, or view notes and markings.

For all the changes that Amazon made to Kindle’s software, however, I still don’t like the fact that most in-book navigation is handled at the top of the screen, instead of from the bottom, as on competing e-readers. But at least Amazon has moved a bunch of actions—such as changing fonts, going to a specific location, accessing the X-Ray feature for dissecting and parsing books, and sharing content via social media—from the bottom of the screen to the top; but you still have to move your hand to the top of the screen just to activate the on-screen menus.

Navigating the Kindle remains a bit unusual, too. As on the Kindle Touch, the top inch or so of the 6-inch display is reserved for accessing menus or the toolbar with a single tap. Below that, Amazon divides the screen into regions: A half-inch-wide strip running the length of the left-hand side is for tapping to return to the previous page, and a larger area to the right of that strip is for advancing to the next page. As a result, you can turn pages without having your finger precisely aligned on the right-hand edge of this screen. The arrangement works well and is amenable to taps from either hand.

Amazon’s new Time to Read feature, which gauges your reading speed and then estimates how long it will take you to read or complete a given chapter, appears as a pop-up along the bottom of a page. Though it’s a nifty idea, I found its initial estimates to be wildly inaccurate. Maybe it just needs time to get to know me better.

In-book navigation remains a sticking point, too. You first tap the main menu, then tap Go To, and then select from among cover, beginning, end, and page/location. Unlike some of its rivals, the Paperwhite lacks a slider to help you see where you are in a book at a glance.

Like its predecessors, the Kindle Paperwhite won’t display books in the ePub file format, but it handles Amazon’s format, as well as text, PDF, unprotected Mobi, and PRC. In addition, the device can convert files saved in other formats, such as HTML and DOCX, if you email the files to your Kindle. (If you have lots of ePub-formatted books, you can use a free tool such as Calibre to convert them to Mobi format.)

Finally, Amazon remains the only e-reader manufacturer that still offers a 3G version. You can use the 3G service globally at no additional charge for downloading books, which makes the $179 Kindle Paperwhite 3G a great choice for frequent travelers, or for anyone who values the connectivity convenience. For either the 3G model or the Wi-Fi model, you must pay $20 extra to ditch the ads.

Bottom line

With the Kindle Paperwhite’s integrated illumination and dramatic software redesign, Amazon has meaningfully improved the everyday experience of using its top-tier Kindle. Though the nontouch Kindle is now available at a bargain price at $69, the $119 Kindle Paperwhite offers greater flexibility and easier navigation—advantages that you’re likely to appreciate in day-to-day use. If you’re already committed to the Kindle ecosystem, this is a worthy upgrade. And if you’re new to e-readers, you'll find that the Paperwhite offers serious competition to Barnes & Noble’s $119 Simple Touch with Glowlight.

This story, "Review: Amazon Kindle Paperwhite really shines" was originally published by TechHive.

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At a Glance
  • The new Kindle Paperwhite is a dramatic update inside and out, one with fully redesigned software and an appealing integrated light that makes the Kindle more usable in any environment.

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