Kindle Paperwhite is a big step forward for e-ink readers (Review and video)

Gigaom

When Barnes & Noble announced the front-lit Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight in April, the company stressed the e-reader’s usefulness for reading in bed while your partner sleeps beside you — which seemed like a niche use. At the launch of the front-lit Kindle Paperwhite, though, Jeff Bezos said Amazon “figured out early” that most people will want to leave the Paperwhite’s light on all the time. In other words, the light’s not just a gimmick, it’s an upgrade.

After a week of testing the Kindle Paperwhite, I agree with Amazon: I found myself turning on the light regularly, at various levels of brightness, not just at night. It just makes the Kindle that much more usable and convenient: On a dim subway or in a badly lit room, you can read comfortably.

I found the Paperwhite — which starts at $119 for the ad-supported, WiFi version and will ship toward the end of October if you order it today – to be a huge improvement over my Kindle Touch. Here’s my video review:


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Here are a few more details on things that I liked and didn’t like:

Likes
  • The Paperwhite feels great right out of the box. It’s smoother and easier to grip than the Touch. The screen feels better, too —  it has a pleasantly grainy (for lack of a better word) feel as you swipe your finger down it.
  • It’s faster. The touchscreen is quicker and more responsive (see my video for an example of this). On the Touch, I sometimes tap twice because the screen is slow to register that I’ve touched it. The Paperwhite still doesn’t offer iPad-like quickness, but its response time is a big improvement over the Touch
  • The screen has a higher resolution and better contrast (even with the light off), which makes type easier to read. There are new fonts and, because of the higher resolution, you can read comfortably at a lower type size on the Paperwhite than on the Touch.
  • The Paperwhite’s upgraded software is great. Watch the video for a few examples of how it differs from the older software on the Kindle Touch, but I like that “cloud” has replaced the confusing “archived items” and that books are displayed by their covers rather than in a list of text. I asked Amazon if we can expect the software upgrade on older Kindles, but a company spokeswoman wouldn’t share details about upcoming plans.
  • PDFs are easier to read. If you email PDFs to your Kindle often, you know that screwy formatting can make them annoying to read. This is improved on the Paperwhite and Amazon confirmed it’s “working hard to continue to improve performance and usability for PDFs.”
  • The light is wonderful (though I wish it were a little easier to adjust; see below). When the light’s on, the LEDs are faintly visible at the bottom of the screen, but I did not find that bothersome.
  • Amazon shipped my Paperwhite review unit with a review case, too — the $39.99 Kindle Paperwhite Leather Cover. Like the newer iPad cases, this cover is magnetic. When you close it, the Paperwhite goes sleep; open the cover and it wakes back up. This is very convenient. If you don’t want to pay $39.99 for a case, wait, since I’m sure other manufacturers will release competing, cheaper magnetic Kindle cases soon.
  • I have absolutely no problem with the ads on my Touch or on the Paperwhite I tested. They’re almost completely nonintrusive and they don’t show up when you are reading. If you’re in the market for a new Kindle, buy one with ads and see if they bother you; if you don’t like them, you can pay to turn them off). ou might as well order the cheaper model and see if they bother you.
Dislikes
  • I love the light but wish that it adjusted automatically depending on the brightness of a room. Failing that, I wish there were brightness controls on the side of the Paperwhite (where the volume controls are on the iPad) so that you could adjust the brightness as you read. Since you can only access the brightness controls through the touchscreen, you have to interrupt your reading to adjust the light.
  • I miss the physical home button — the Touch has one but it’s gone on the Paperwhite. Instead you have to tap the top of the screen and then press the home icon. I’m used to reading on the Touch and kept automatically tapping the Paperwhite’s logo (where the home button is on the Touch). I get that this is a touchscreen device, but just a couple buttons would actually make things easier.
  • This has been written before, but it’s annoying that Amazon continues to sell the power adapter separately ($9.99). If you already have an adapter for an older Kindle, though, it will also work with the Paperwhite. (Meanwhile, Barnes & Noble dropped the price of the Nook with GlowLight to $119 today and is sure to note that the power adapter is included.)

As I noted above, if you order it today the Kindle Paperwhite will ship toward the end of October. Those who pre-ordered it when Amazon announced it in early September, though, may have received shipping notices today and will get their new Kindles in a couple days.

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