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Amazon Kindle Paperwhite Review: Sandy Berger Dives Deep

I have reviewed just about every Kindle e-book reader since the first one back in November of 2007. Amazon has done a great job of making each Kindle better and better. So when they announced the Paperwhite Kindle I was anxious to take a look.

Image Credit: Amazon

With other companies giving their products cryptic names like X214 and T6181, I was impressed with the naming of this product. Paperwhite seems to say it all. It gives the expectation that this e-reader is like reading a real book. I took an in-depth look to see if it meets that expectation.

The Paperwhite is a very slick looking, thin device with a black matte finish and a 6″ E Ink screen. The device feels good in the hand and at less than eight ounces, it is very light. This Kindle has only one button, a power button on the bottom. It has one micro-USB port next to the power button. Its touch screen is much more responsive than the touch-screen Kindle. Also, in side-by-side comparison with older Kindle readers, the print is clearer and crisper. While many other e-ink devices have an 800 x 600 screen, the Paperwhite has a 1024 x 768 resolution. This allows the Paperwhite to offer several new fonts, including two serif fonts. There are now six typefaces: Baskerville, Caecilia, Caecilia Condensed, Publisher Font, Futura, Helvetica, and Palatino. Like older Kindles, you can also adjust the size of the text. There are eight size choices.

The Kindle Paperwhite is a monochrome reader based on the e-ink technology. Readers of this type are much easier on the eyes than those with computer-type backlit screens like the iPad or the Amazon Fire. The two biggest drawbacks of these readers are that they need external lighting, like a lamp at night, and the background gray rather than white. For the Paperwhite, Amazon followed the lead of the Barnes and Noble Simple Touch with GlowLight. They added tiny LED lights to make the screen not only readable at night, but also closer to the white of a paper book.

Amazon’s technology is slightly different from that used by Barnes and Noble. Here is a graphic that explains the technology used in the Paperwhite.

Image Credit: Amazon

The Amazon Kindle website states the following: “We worked on Kindle Paperwhite for over two years to perfect the uniformity of the built-in light, flattening out a fiber optic cable into a sheet, and nanoimprinting to ensure perfectly even distribution of light.”

Unfortunately, my eyes tell me that Amazon only partially succeeded. They were able to light the screen and to get the page much brighter and whiter. Although not yet really as white as paper, the Paperwhite is the whitest that I’ve seen in an e-ink reader.  Yet, there is a real problem in the distribution of the light.

The Paperwhite has four LED lights at the bottom of the screen. These lights create a shadow which can be seen as four gray blotches at the bottom of the screen, as shown below.

Image Credit: Amazon

On the Paperwhite that I reviewed these blotches extended all the way through the middle of the last line of text when reading a book and were visible even with the brightness turned down. Although some users have said that they could easily overlook these blotches, for me, this was a deal-breaker.

Amazon talks about the uniformity of the built-in light, and this is a fairly obvious abnormality.  I checked some other Paperwhite and found that they all showed this abnormality, some slight less than mine, but still very obvious. The Paperwhite also has a subtle blotchiness to the entire screen, as shown below, and if you look closely you can even see a slight ghosting of the lines of text. Amazon says that this is normal and even shows the pictures used here on their website in an area explaining the problem. However, none of the pictures in the general area of the website show the blotches.

Whether or not these bother you when reading will be an individual decision.

Image Credit: Amazon

Unlike some previous Kindle readers, the Paperwhite has no speaker or headphone jack. (This has also been eliminated in the non-touch Kindle 4 that now sells for $69). That means that you cannot use it for music or audio books. Removing the ability to play music is no great loss for most people, but the loss of all audio is major. Without audio you cannot download audio books and you cannot use the speech-to-text options. On top of that, the new Immersion Reading feature available on Kindle Fires and older audio-capable Kindles cannot be used on the Paperwhite. This feature lets you synchronize Kindle text with Audible audio books. On a Kindle with audio, you can have the book read to you while the text is highlighted on the screen. Because of the lack of audio capabilities on the Paperwhite, you cannot use Whispersync for Voice, which lets you seamlessly switch between listening to the Audible audiobook and reading the companion Kindle book right where you left off. This is an outstanding feature available on the Fire and older Kindles, but not on the Paperwhite.

The Paperwhite does have Parental Controls and a new feature that lets you easily share passages with Facebook friends. It also has X-Ray, a new feature that shows an overview of all the passages in the book that mention major characters, places and topics. Like other Kindles, you can highlight passages, take notes, look up the meaning of words, and see what others are highlighting. Like previous Kindles, the Paperwhite also has an “experimental” web browser. While previous web browsers were fairly unusable, the browser in the Paperwhite is actually pretty decent. You won’t want to put up with the e-ink flickering page refresh for very long when browsing, but in a pinch, it can be used to check webmail or to Google for some needed information.

The Kindle Paperwhite starts at $119 (with ads) for the Wi-Fi model. The WiFi+3G model is $179. As with other Kindle products, you will see ads as your screensaver unless you pay Amazon an additional $20 to turn them off. They will not, however, interfere with your reading in anyway.

Although this Kindle has no removable storage, the Paperwhite has 1.25 gigs of storage which is enough to store over 1,000 books. Amazon also lets you store your books in the cloud and download them to your device as needed. As with previous Kindles, downloading a book is fast and easy.

The Kindle Paperwhite supports Amazon’s AZW and Mobi formats and can also display PDFs. Google’s large library of free books is in the ePub format, but these can be easily converted to a format that the Paperwhite can handle using a program like Calibre.

Amazon has succeeded in adding new technology while keeping the long battery life that Kindles are known for. Amazon estimates the battery life to be about eight weeks with one hour a day use.

Specifications

Technology: Eink
Price: $119
Manufacturer: Amazon

Bottom Line

Although the Kindle Paperwhite has great screen clarity and lets you read in a dark place, there is a price to pay for these. Amazon says they are normal, but the screen blotchiness and the four gray blemishes at the bottom of the screen are obvious and distracting. This greatly detracts from the goal of making the reading experience more like reading a paper book.

Removing the audio capabilities allows the reader to be thinner and lighter, but at a great cost to those who love audio books, who are used to using speech-to-text, or who want to take advantage of Amazon’s Whispersync for Voice.

If you are willing to overlook these problems and omissions, you will be happy with the Paperwhite. Otherwise, follow my lead and take a pass on this one.

Pros

  • Excellent text clarity
  • Thin and light
  • Lets you read in dark places
  • Responsive touch screen
  • Excellent battery life
  • Useable Web browser

Cons

  • Four blotches at the bottom of the screen
  • Blotchiness of screen background, especially at full brightness
  • No audio support

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