5 Oct 2012

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite Review

Last year at this time of year, most of us had accepted that e-readers were facing extinction with the plethora of tablets in the market. We did not expect such a heated race for the best e-reader this year. It is very clear that these companies (Amazon, Barnes & Noble and even Kobo) have taken the right inspiration and have made their e-readers tablet like by abandoning of physical keyboards in favor of touchscreens. This product category has never been more exciting. Back in May, Barnes & Noble captured our hearts with the Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight. Amazon was not far behind, it launched the Kindle Paperwhite last month, the latest addition to a product lineup that has more or less become synonymous with the term "e-reader.".

Although Amazon is placing extra emphasis on the Fire line these days, it is clear that it still has a lot invested in the e-reader fight. The sharpened, illuminated text is impressive, and Amazon has gone so far as to describe this as the Kindle it's always wanted to build. That's all well and good, but how does it compare to similar offerings on the market? Let's find out.


With the launch of the 4th generation of Kindle e-reader, Amazon has gone for a “less is more” approach here. There's a stark minimalism on display here, a single lonely power button nestled on the bottom of the device. We miss the physical page turn buttons that used to sit on either side of the earlier versions of Kindle e-readers. After all, touch is fine for most things, but an E Ink reader can freeze up, leaving the screen unresponsive to touch input. Maybe Amazon will bring them back in the 5th generation Kindle readers, only time will tell.

You'll also notice that Amazon ditched the last-gen model's silver coloring in favor of an all-black design. The bezels on the front are made of the same hard plastic as the previous model, with a soft-touch material wrapping around the back. The material's becoming a bit of an industry standard on these devices, and we can see why: it feels nice beneath the fingers and offers some friction to help ensure you won't accidentally lose your grip. For obvious reasons, Amazon has ditched the metal tabs used for connecting those optional reading light cases. The speaker grills and the headphone jack has disappeared altogether, taking away the dream of multimedia playback and audio books with it.  On that bottom lip, you're only going to find the micro-USB slot and the power button.


Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (Left) and  Barnes & Noble - Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight (Right)

Illuminating an E-Ink display is a difficult task. The most commonly used solution is to use a nano-printed "light guide" — the LEDs sit at the bottom of the device, and a thin plastic screen with tiny patterns etched into it carries the light toward the middle and top of the display. The scores gradually disperse the beams, allowing more light to permeate to the top as the nano guides get further form the light source. This creates an even distribution of soft light, and the whole screen gently glows. It's much less fatiguing than a back-lit screen (like a tablet) and is more comfortable during late-night reading sessions. But, like the Barnes & Noble - Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight, the light source creates a problem: blossoms of LED light appear at the bottom of the screen. It's only annoying at the bottom of the screen, but it breaks up the flow of an otherwise flawless screen.

Amazon has overcome this problem to a certain extent. At that launch event, CEO Jeff Bezos described the four years of R&D that went into the front light technology powering that bright screen, and the results are evident the moment you hold the device in your hand. If you look for it the light appears to be coming from all sides. Look carefully and you'll also see spots at the bottom of the display -- when on a white page, with the light turned up to full blast. Under those conditions, you might notice some unevenness toward to bottom. On the whole, however, the light distribution is far, far more even than on the GlowLight. There are also more pixels for Amazon to work with here -- 62 percent more, according to the company's official stats, and the contrast, too, has been bumped up 25 percent. Of course, even with that hurdle overcome, the Paperwhite does still retain some of the issues we're used to encountering with E Ink displays. For one thing, we did encounter a bit of ghosting with the light on.

Overall, it’s one of the best displays in the e-reader segment in the market.

Software (User Interface):

In default home screen, Amazon's relying heavily on images, taking advantage of that increased pixel count with a row of three book covers, each of which represent your recent picks. Fresh downloads bear a "New" sash and take up a bit more screen area. You'll also notice a small dotted progress bar for a quick measure of how far you've read the book. You can access the rest of your download library by clicking just below these, and you can also mix things up and view by title, author or collections.

While reading a particular book you'll still find the percentage of the book you've read thus far (we still prefer actual page numbers -- though you can access those in the menu), in the bottom-right corner. On the lower left, however, the obscure location number has been swapped out for the new "Time to Read" feature, which is exactly what it sounds like: an estimate of how many minutes it will take you to finish the book. The feature starts with an average number and then adjusts as it learns your reading habits. All told, a terrific new addition to the Kindle

The increase in resolution and pixels means that the company can offer up even more font sizes and styles, making the text readable even at the smallest setting. This latest Kindle features eight text sizes, seven font sizes and three settings for both line spacing and margins. Text size can also be adjusted with a pinch gesture, though the motion is hardly fluid.

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite features eight text sizes, seven font sizes and three settings for both line spacing and margins.


So, do all of these new features add up to the best e-reader out there? In a single syllable: Yes. Amazon was clearly focused on creating the best possible reading experience with the Paperwhite, and it has delivered. The Kindle Paperwhite boasts the best screen we've seen to date on an e-ink e-reader. The built-in light is great for nighttime reading, and the touch screen is a notch above the competition. The battery life is excellent. The new Time to Read feature, which tracks your reading habits to determine how much time it'll take you to finish the current chapter or book, help improve the reader's experience. Not to forget that Amazon's e-book selection still remains best in class.

The Kindle's still leaves us wanting in some areas though. For starters, it's simply not as pleasant to hold as the Nook Simple Touches -- it ultimately sacrifices comfort for some aesthetic niceties. There's also the Kindle lineup's continued lack of expandable storage, though the on-board 2GB might well be enough for you, especially with unlimited cloud storage at the ready. Also an AC adapter isn't included (just a Micro-USB cable for charging).

The bottom line: With an excellent built-in light and Amazon's best-in-class e-book selection, the Kindle Paperwhite rises to the top of the e-reader pack. It's hard not to love the Kindle Paperwhite right now.

The best e-book reader in the market.

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