Sunday, December 23, 2012

Review: Kindle Paperwhite

I got the new Kindle Paperwhite at release through pre-order and I have been putting off this review for quite a while. But with this procrastination, I have developed a better sense and feel for all the aspects of this device. A postponed review is usually better than a hurried one. Is the Paperwhite worth it? More importantly, is it the right Kindle for you? I will answer both these questions in this article.

Last year, Amazon split the Kindle line into two. The Keyboard (which is still available today at $139) was succeeded by the 4th-gen Kindle that sold for $79 and the Kindle Touch, the more “premium” device with a touch screen and a slightly higher price. The Paperwhite succeeds the Touch version, while the regular Kindle has been slightly updated to 5th-gen ($69) and is simply called the “all-new Kindle”.

I updated to the Wi-Fi only version of the Paperwhite with Special Offers from my beloved 3G Kindle Keyboard (called Kindle 3 when I got it).

The hardware

Amazon has sold quite a number of Kindle Paperwhites since its release. What is so special about it? It’s all in the screen.

The Kindle Paperwhite comes with a USB cable and that's it. You charge it from your computer. If you want to charge it from a wall socket, make sure you get the adapter. However, you can use most phone charging adapters if you have one that charges from a wall socket through USB. Keep in mind that you will be charging the device every month or two.

With the Paperwhite, Amazon has made what we can inarguably call the biggest leap in screen design. This version of the Kindle e-reader line is called the Paperwhite because of the technology inside (or above) the screen that makes the screen look really white and even closer to paper.

E-ink has always been a technology that was aiming to visually emulate paper for book-lovers. It is different from LCD in many ways. There is no backlight and the images or text on the screen are made using tiny ink-like particles inside the screen. Technicalities aside, this screen looks very close to paper, (traditionally) cannot be used in the dark without an external light source and doesn’t have any glare from the sun.

Kindle Paperwhite comes with not a backlit, but a front-lit display that lets you read in the dark, gives you no eye-strain and looks more like paper (or glowing paper, if you want) even in light. There is a nano-layer on top of the screen that points light onto the text rather than in your eyes. You may or may not notice this when reading in the dark, but after you read for about ten minutes in the dark, you will find that you don’t get the eye-strain that an LCD screen on an iPad or a Kindle Fire gives you after the same duration of reading.

Apart from this, the screen is now a capacitive touch screen instead of the one with the infrared detector on the Touch. This makes for a less sunken-in screen.

The battery lasts for two months with wireless off, screen light on and half an hour of reading each day. If you read for an hour a day, the battery lasts for a month. Either way, this is very impressive, considering that these figures assume that the light is on all the time. In my experience, this is very true. However, I haven’t done a true test, as I like my books synced across devices and I leave the wireless on. I charge once overnight in more than a month. But I generally read less than half an hour a day on the Kindle device itself.

The experience

First of all, I’d like to say that I am extremely happy with this e-reader. It’s a really cool device. It’s lighter than the Keyboard, and it is fairly noticeable. The standard 5th-gen Kindle is a lot lighter than the Paperwhite, although this Kindle is not particularly bulky or heavy by any stretch.

The device feels quite comfortable in the hand in most positions. The bezel width is great for comfortable holding. However, when lying in bed, holding it with one hand by the side bezel without placing a finger on the screen is very very annoying (although there is a way to hold it by the screen without interacting with it, which I will teach you in a moment). Most of the weight of the device is concentrated at the bottom, making the bottom slightly heavier than the top. Therefore, holding it by the bottom bezel is fun, especially in landscape mode. However, I cannot find a way to orient the screen in a way that I can hold it by the bottom bezel with my right hand (this was possible on the Kindle Keyboard).

The bezel is somewhat a fingerprint magnet, but not as much as some other reviewers on the Internet seem to suggest. Although I dislike fingerprints and oil on my devices, this bezel is not in the least annoying to me.

The back of the device has an ever-so-faint rubberized texture to it, which makes it easy to hold and hard to accidentally drop. However, the back is quite plain. Unlike the Barnes & Noble NOOK, it does not have a depressed back that feels good in your hand. This is far from a deal breaker, though.

The screen is not glossy, in order to reduce the glare in sunlight as much as possible. In fact, it has a weird texture to it. I find lightly touching the screen fun. Although it was probably not intentional, it feels like plastic that has been slightly (and not so effectively) textured to feel like paper.

Like the Kindle Touch, the screen on this device fully refreshes (flashes black) every few page turns (5 or 6) or when you open menus, look up a definition, highlight etc. There is minor ghosting of text until the page refreshes. However, if this does annoy you, you can change the setting to make the screen refresh on every turn.

Kindle Paperwhite has a feature that lets you see how much time you have left in the current chapter or the entire book based on your reading speed. Occasionally, it may be slightly inaccurate or jumpy based on the length of the book and any inconsistencies in your reading speed. Originally, I had imagined that this feature would be annoying to me because the time would always be in the corner of the screen and it would get a wrong estimate of my speed if I lay my Kindle without reading. However, this is a non-issue because firstly, you can tap the time until it simply displays the current location number. Secondly, it actually does not nag me and I enjoy the feature. Even if I don't read for a while and don't put my Kindle to sleep, the time left may be inaccurate. However, after reading through a few more page turns, it gets right on track. I'm guessing it displays the time based on your current reading speed.

Special offers

I would highly urge that you get the special offers version. Here's how the ads work: Never does an ad disturb you while you are reading. The special offers are only displayed at the bottom of the home screen and on the entire screen while your Kindle sleeps (instead of a screensaver). The ads are actually good. Sometimes they are deals and discounts on MP3s, while usually they are discounts on books, DVDs and other stuff. The ad-supported version is actually a win-win in my opinion. You get a cheap Kindle and you get some sweet deals.

In case you don't like the ads, you can always pay $20 to get rid of the ads. You can subscribe again, but you can't get the money back. There is no reason not to initially get the Kindle with special offers.

Is it for you?

The Kindle Paperwhite is recommended for everyone (especially if you read in the dark or at night) unless money is an issue or if you just don't want to spend $119 on an e-reader. Even in the day, the light makes the Kindle look very impressive. I would call the screen magical-looking, even. You can always turn the light off if you don't like it.

The $69 Kindle does not have a light, first of all. Secondly, there is no 3G model on the cheaper model. If you see yourself wanting to buy books or sync reading progress on the go, you might want the 3G functionality on your Paperwhite. This service is free of charge and Amazon covers it for you. Since I come from a 3G Kindle and because I read on other devices as well for convenience, I often feel the lack of 3G. But if you will exclusively read on your Kindle device and occasionally buy books, the Wi-Fi model is a no-brainer. If you don't have wireless Internet in your house, you can also transfer books over from a computer directly.

The cheaper model does not have a regular keyboard. If you take lots of notes in your books, you may want to go with the Paperwhite model because it has a full touch keyboard and you don't have to use a four-way button to navigate and use a keyboard to type. The keyboard on the Paperwhite may not be super-accurate for fast typing like on a tablet, but it is usually a pleasure to use.

Keep in mind that the cheaper Kindle is a lot lighter than the Paperwhite. While the Paperwhite is not particularly heavy by any stretch, the $69 Kindle is definitely lighter. The screen on the Kindle Paperwhite is also significantly sharper than the one on the cheaper model. Seriously, this makes a great difference when you're reading text on it. Upgrading from a previous Kindle to this model, which is the first with a high-res screen, I instantly noticed the difference. The number of pixels per inch is a lot more (close to iPad's Retina Display) and text is unbelievably crisp (probably more than a real paper book.

Many people don't understand that Kindle Fire devices are not e-readers. They are media consumption tablets for those who use Amazon's entertainment services. Do not get a Kindle Fire if you plan to only read books on it. It does not have an e-ink display that is good on your eyes (although you can read on it). Similarly, don't get a Kindle Paperwhite or other e-reader if you want to watch movies or listen to music using it.