DISCLAIMER: This review is based on about 30 minutes of use with the Paperwhite back in early September, and about 3 hours of use last week with a prerelease unit. 3G was not enabled and I have not been able to evaluate integration with the Kindle store yet. I will update my review once I receive my unit tomorrow and can register it.
The reading experience on the Paperwhite is excellent. The Paperwhite is much more enjoyable to use than the Kindle Touch or the Kindle Keyboard, thanks mostly to the display (more on that below). The Home button from the Touch has been removed, and you now navigate to the menus by touching the top of the screen. Like the Touch, there are no physical page turn buttons. If you want to advance the page, you either swipe, or press the middle/right hand side of the screen (most of the display area is set up to advance the page). To go back a page, you press anywhere on the left 20% of the screen. To access the menu, you press the top 10% of the screen. Contrast for the display can quickly and easily be adjusted with two taps, so it can be brightened or darkened without a lot of menu navigation. There are still eight font sizes like previous generations had, but instead of just three typefaces, you now have six (Baskerville, Caecilia, Caecilia Condensed, Publisher Font, Futura, Helvetica, and Palatino). Publisher Font lets you use the book publisher's embedded font. None of the books I have tried out yet have this option, but I can see how it can provide them with a lot more flexibility. The additional fonts, along with the ability to adjust line spacing and margins, make it much easier to read books that a publisher formats poorly to begin with (as anyone who struggled with the early edition of 'Game of Thrones' can attest to).
The menu system is a bit improved over the Touch. Instead of the basic list display for your books, Paperwhite now includes a graphical display of your book covers (like the Kindle Fire) in addition to the traditional list view. This is a great feature that should have been included with the Touch. Cloud integration is very easy as well. If you have more than 1,000 books, just store some on your free Amazon Cloud drive. Downloading them to the device is very quick and simple. The Paperwhite comes with Kindle Collections which allows you to organize and store your books more easily and put them into genres or collections by author/subject.
This is where the Paperwhite really shines. The display is absolutely beautiful. I never had a problem with the display on any of my previous kindles, and always thought there wasn't much room for improvement, but you can really tell a difference when looking at the two side by side. Kindles all use E-Ink displays to mimic printed text. The Paperwhite has an improved e-ink display, which is sharper, has improved contrast and resolution, and uses front-lit technology with its built-in light. Images look much sharper, which shouldn't matter too much since most people don't use their kindles for images, but the text looks much better as well. The resolution has increased from 167 pixels per inch (PPI) and 600x800 resolution on all previous models to 221 PPI and 768 x 1024 on the Paperwhite. The lighting is nothing like a traditional back lit screen, like you would see on the iPad or Nook. It is very even and doesn't hurt your eyes at all. I could stare at the display for hours as easily as reading a book. Reading in bright sunshine is no problem and even improved over the Touch. The best part is, you don't need to order a separate light for your Kindle. Unless I am outside or in a bright room, I always use the Amazon cover with built in light for my Touch, which I would prefer not to do, because it adds weight to the device and doesn't feel as comfortable as holding a bare kindle without a cover. Additionally, I had to make sure I slept on the left side of the bed (the direction the light faced) because the light was so incredibly bright that it would make sleeping difficult for your partner if you slept on the right. External lights also only focuses on the top of the screen, and get dimmer as you read down. With Paperwhite, the screen is uniform and easy to read. It may sound like the glow could get annoying, but it is very pleasing to the eyes and easy to read from. I cannot emphasize enough how brilliant the screen is and encourage you to find a display model to look at if you're on the fence about it. I've used the Nook Simple Touch with Glowlight and the Paperwhite display blows it out of the water.
The Paperwhite is a tiny bit smaller and thinner than the Touch, but not by too much. Users of the Touch should not have any problems, but if you're coming from the Kindle Keyboard, it will probably feel a bit awkward to hold it with one hand for awhile, because you don't have as much surface to grip since you can't touch the screen. To understand what I'm talking about, try holding a paperback book in one hand, but only let your hand touch the outer 3/4" of the front of it. You can see in the ads and videos that users are just barely gripping the outside of the Paperwhite so their hand doesn't get in the way of the screen. This is actually a fairly awkward way to hold the Kindle for any significant length of time, as users of the Touch may recall (I can guarantee you that girl laying on the ground reading and just barely holding onto the corner with her thumb did not hold it that way for long). You eventually get used to it, but you still have to shift your hand every once in awhile because it gets uncomfortable. This is one instance where a smaller bezel isn't necessarily better. However the main advantage the Paperwhite has over the Touch is it now has a rubberized back (like the Kindle Fire) compared to the smooth back of the Touch. With the Touch, you had to rely on your palm and thumb to support it. With the Paperwhite, your fingers don't slide off so easily and can assist to support the back. Although this sounds like a small issue, anyone who has tried to hold a Touch with one hand for more than 30 minutes will appreciate this. So it's easier to hold over the touch, but the Kindle Keyboard is still the most comfortable to grip.
Kindle Paperwhite now has a capacitive touch screen. This is almost worth the upgrade alone. The Touch used an IR-based touch screen. So it would register any movement as a touch, even if it wasn't from your body. I would frequently be reading in bed and move to get more comfortable, and the sheets would hit the display and cause it to skip to the next chapter. So then I would have to bring up the menu and go back. I was always careful about closing the cover when I moved to prevent an accidental "touch." I've always been very satisfied with the speed of the page turns on the Touch and never had a problem with it, but this has improved as well, and page turns now register a bit quicker. It is too quick for me to measure the increase, but I think most people will see a noticeable change in response and appreciate it. It is very easy to type with the built in keyboard, so you can easily search for phrases or navigate to something specific in the book. Flipping pages is very quick, but not as quick as with an iPad and there is a very slight lag, pretty much on par with the Kindle Touch. I doubt many will notice this or be bothered by it unless you are flipping very quickly through pages or if you flip through about a dozen pages at once (it can then take a couple seconds to catch up).
I haven't been able to run reliable testing on the battery, but Amazon's claim of 8 weeks battery even with the light on seems to me to likely be fairly accurate given my limited use of it. Even previous Kindle generations have had amazing batteries so this has never been a problem for me in the past.
The Kindle Touch came with some new features, but I never really used any of them too much. Paperwhite has several new features that make reading a more interactive experience (if you want it to be):
- Built in Dictionary - Long press a word for about 2 seconds and you get an instant definition. I use this feature all the time and it is one of my favorite advantages of the Kindle over a traditional book.
- Time to Read - By far my favorite new feature. Previous kindles provide a percentage or a visual indicator of how long a book is. Paperwhite still does that, but also tells you how many hours/minutes you have to finish a book or a chapter, by calculating your average reading speed, and constantly adjusting it. I do not know if it calculates this amount based on the number of pages in a book or the number of words, but it proved to be incredibly accurate, and I had to stop looking at it because I found myself trying to "beat" it. A very fun feature and fairly useful for deciding if you have time to finish a new chapter while waiting for your plane to board or before going to bed. You can just tap it and it will switch to the percentage + the confusing "location" view instead. Some books will display Real Page Numbers to show you the actual page number that would correspond with a physical book, but none of mine had this feature built in.
- Experimental browser - Kindle's "experimental" web browser is back, and is a little bit improved due to the higher resolution, but I still wouldn't want to use it for graphical-heavy sites. I'm not sure how fast the 3g browser will be but the wi-fi version was decent enough that I could use it in a pinch.
- Social Features - Like the Touch, the Paperwhite has integration with Twitter and Facebook, so you can let people know when you're done with a book, or share favorite passages. I can see how some people might like this, but I would much rather have integration with Shelfari so I can update my account once I've finished a book and rate it. This is Amazon's own service so it seems like they are missing a huge opportunity here to promote it. Paperwhite also lets you leave a rating when you've finished a book. I have no idea what this rating is for or where it goes, but it would be great if you integrated this into product pages and had a "kindle rating" where they aggregated all of the ratings left by kindle users. This would allow people to leave a rating without having to write a long-winded (ahem) review and would also contain only ratings by people who had purchased the book. Probably unnecessary but I really think they could do more with the social features to make them useful.
- Whispersync - I haven't been able to evaluate syncing on the Paperwhite yet, but I have a Kindle Fire, Touch, and Keyboard as well and Whispersync works fairly well to sync all of my books across all devices. If I pick up my Fire to read a few chapters, I want to be able to start at the same place when I pick up the Paperwhite. Syncing is usually accurate but sometimes it doesn't register on one of my devices for some reason.
- About the Author - Amazon has announced this new feature that lets you view biographical information about the author and character summaries at the end of the book, much like a real book. None of my books had this feature yet, but it seems like a great idea to add value to Kindle books.
I buy a cover for all of my kindles, mostly to use the built-in light, but the covers add bulk and make it difficult to carry one in a pocket and add weight to it which makes holding it for long periods a bit frustrating. Amazon's official cover is the Paperwhite Leather Cover), but with the Paperwhite display, I won't be using the cover unless I travel with the kindle. This makes it much easier to hold and feels less like I'm holding a tablet in my hands. The Paperwhite isn't scratch-proof, but it definitely is a bit more rugged than the Touch and I don't think most people will even need a cover for it. I have been able to evaluate the cover and I do think it is better than the one produced for the Touch, but I haven't been able to try one out on the actual Paperwhite so I will provide a more thorough review of that when I get mine from Amazon.
- I love the matte finish on the back of the device, but it does get a bit smudgy from my fingers and You can't really wipe them off without a wet cleaner. The smudging isn't so noticeable that it would bother me though.
- I also actually wish the bezel on the right side was slightly wider and offset a bit. Of course, this wouldn't help left-handed people, but it would make it a little bit easier to hold without having your hand block the screen at all. If you don't use a heavy cover on it, this also shouldn't really be a problem.
- I spent awhile searching for the Amazon Mp3 player before realizing that it and all audio features have been completely removed. The main purpose of this device is to read books, and so I don't fault Amazon for that decision, but I did enjoy cueing up some light classical music occasionally on my Touch and Kindle Keyboard right before bed. This of course means that there is no more text to speech playback of books or integration with audio books. As such, they have dropped the onboard memory to 2GB (about 1,000 books). With integration to Amazon's Cloud service, this should be more than enough for book storage.
- No Power adapter. It comes with a micro-usb charging cable, but you have to have a computer or already own a power adapter from another product to be able to charge it. Amazon did this with the Touch as well and I think it is absolutely ridiculous. I know Amazon wants to charge separately for this but I think not including one is really greedy. If you need one, you may want to buy the Kindle Power Adapter although I'm sure you could probably find a much cheaper one somewhere.
- No Shelfari integration as mentioned above.
In my review of the Kindle Touch, I said that while it was a nice device, I didn't feel like it warranted an upgrade for users of 2nd and 3rd generation kindles. The Kindle Paperwhite is definitely upgrade-worthy for all previous kindle users who read more than a few books a year. A stunning display, better touch sensitivity, and software features that Amazon should have come out with years ago, finally make the Kindle the undisputed leader in the e-reader market. Previously I would go back and forth between my Kindle Touch and Fire when reading books, but the Paperwhite is such a pleasure to use that I can't imagine ever choosing the Fire over it again. If you are an avid reader and have never purchased a Kindle before, the Paperwhite will really give you an appreciation for how far these devices have come.