Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (2012) review

5 out of 5
£109

For

Light so you can read in the dark, Wi-Fi and 3G for downloading books, easy to use, touchscreen - so no buttons, big choice of books, great battery life

Against

Locked-in to Kindle books

The biggest issue with the Amazon Kindle and its E-Ink technology is that while it's fantastic for reading on the beach, in broad daylight, or lasting for what seems an eternity on a single charge, try to read it in bed and you'll struggle without some light.

Not any more. The Amazon Kindle Paperwhite adds a light to the screen that allows you to ditch the torch or bedroom lamp and still read in the dark. But is it really that simple? We've been doing a spot of late-night reading to find out.

Design

At just over 9.1mm thin and weighing 213g, Kindle Paperwhite is thinner than the A5 Moleskine that it apes. Gone is the grey, in is a simple, matte black design that is soft to the touch and rounded where possible.

The soft-touch exterior is very comfortable in the hand, although we would still recommend you put it in a case to protect that screen - we've lost count of how many smashed Kindle screens we've seen.  

The front is dominated by the 6-inch Paperwhite display that offers a 212ppi resolution and a 16-level greyscale range that is crisp and clean, although not quite as sharp as the iPhone Retina display. 

READ: Kindle 6-inch (2012) review

Gone are the buttons found on other Kindle devices. This is an all-touch-screen affair, with only one button on the device, the power button.

The Kindle Paperwhite is charged with a Micro-USB cable, either via your computer or a charger, but it is worth noting that Amazon doesn't include a charger in the box.

Like your phone, everything is controlled via the very responsive screen and that makes for a considerably easier control experience.

Paperwhite bright

The key feature - and the main reason to buy the Kindle Paperwhite over the cheaper standard Kindle - is the ability to read in the dark. The technology is very simple. Unlike a backlit tablet display, according to Amazon: "[The] Kindle Paperwhite guides light towards the surface of the E-Ink display from above so that the light never shines directly towards your eyes, allowing you to read comfortably without eye strain."

In practice the technology works very well. The light is spread evenly across the screen and you aren’t going to spot dark areas when it comes to reading. If you look very carefully you can see from where the light is emitted, but only if you are specifically looking for it. In normal use, you simply won't notice.

Understanding that there are different levels of darkness in which you might want to read, the brightness of the Paperwhite screen can be adjusted accordingly. There are 24 levels that you can set with a scroll of your finger. Full brightness is very bright - but not overly so, and it won't hurt your eyes - and setting the dial to zero turns it off completely. We've found ourselves reading with it set just above the half-way mark when all the lights are out.

Changing the setting is instant, and very easy, and we've found ourselves slowly increasing the brightness as the evening sun dips away.

Amazon claims that even with the brightness set at 10 you'll be able to get almost 28 hours from a single battery charge. Using Wi-Fi or 3G will change the battery's performance, of course, but to help, the Kindle turns off automatically if left untouched for a set time. We've been reading for about 30 minutes a day for around a week with varying brightness settings for this review and have yet to worry about charging it.

Getting books

If you aren't familiar with the Kindle it's probably worth a quick recap. The concept is simple. You buy a Kindle, get an Amazon account and then buy books from Amazon's store to read. Some are free (Frankenstein and Dracula for example), others will cost the same as regular books on the high street, while some are sold as loss leaders - we bought the new Ken Follett book, Winter of the World, for 20p. You buy the book you want to read, download it to the device and then start reading. Electronic delivery via Amazon's Whispernet service is included, and brilliant. 

While you are reading the book in question it is stored locally on the device, but is also automatically synced to other Kindles, or to the Kindle app you might have installed on your phone as well.

The idea is that, whatever device you have, you can always access your book and always at the right place.

READ: How to choose an ebook reader

Managing your collection on the Kindle Paperwhite is as easy as it sounds. There are Cloud and Device tabs so you can see what you've got in your library locally and afar, and buying new books is incredibly simple, because it taps into your Amazon account that already has your credit card details.

Press the shopping cart and you are only ever a couple of clicks away from reading something new, and downloading a book takes seconds.  

Sharing books

Amazon has confirmed that with the introduction of Kindle Paperwhite in the UK the company is also bringing the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library. With an Amazon Prime membership, Kindle owners will be able to choose from more than 200,000 books to borrow, free of charge - including all seven Harry Potter books - as frequently as a book a month, with no due dates.

With an annual Prime membership for just £49, the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library is included at no additional cost. Books can be borrowed and read on all Kindle E-Ink and Kindle Fire devices, as well as the new Paperwhite.

We haven't been able to test this feature because it isn't currently available in the UK, however for many it sounds like a perfect way to get access to a load of books, on what is effectively a subscription of £1 a week - even if you ignore all the other benefits of Prime.

That's pretty compelling stuff, and we'll make sure we give it a good test when it launches at the end of October and update this review with our thoughts.

Reading books

Opening a book you've purchased or borrowed is as easy as pressing on an image of the book cover. With no buttons, all you have to do is touch the screen to turn the page. Touch on the very left of the screen and it sends you back a page. A tap at the very top of the screen displays the menu to expand your options further, touch virtually anywhere else and it sends you forward.

The menu allows you quickly to change the brightness, go back to the home page, go to the Amazon book store, search for a keyword in the book you are reading, and pull up a further menu with more choices such as andscape mode or changing certain settings.

You are also able to change the font, font size, go to a specific chapter, access Amazon's X-Ray feature if the book supports it or Share what book you are reading with Twitter and Facebook.

If all those options sounds baffling, they shouldn't: the layout is easy to understand and for the most part you won't really need to bother with them on a regular basis.

The controls are incredibly easy and you'll pick them up within a couple of page turns.

X-Ray

The new model features something Amazon calls X-Ray, previously found on the Kindle touch, which allows you to see all the passages across a book that mention ideas, fictional characters, historical figures, places or topics of interest, as well as more-detailed descriptions from Wikipedia.

It's a neat idea, allowing you to search for key characters and see where they pop up in the story, but in reality we doubt you will use it unless you get bored, or are a student.

You are locked in

When it comes to cross-platform capabilities there really aren't any once you step out of the Amazon Kindle ecosystem. You can load up the Kindle Paperwhite with your own PDF files by dragging and dropping them on to the device when connected to your computer, but you'll have no control over them once they are on the ebook reader. PDFs can be pinch-to-zoomed but it isn't a nice experience.

You won't be able to take your Kindle books with you if you leave the Amazon Kindle ecosystem for a competing device, so that's also something you should bear in mind.

Verdict

There is no doubting that as a reading experience the Kindle ebook readers are great. Whether you are looking at the Paperwhite or the standard Kindle you'll be happy.

On the question of whether you need the Paperwhite technology - that comes down to where you mainly read. If the answer is on the train, then the bright lights provided for you on the 16:35 out of Waterloo will always be more than enough not to have to bother with the extra light Paperwhite provides. If, however, you are a bedtime reader, or the mood lighting in your lounge isn't that bright, this is a must. It will save you having to switch the bedside lamp on, lighting up the rest of the room, or buying one of those naff cases with a torch built-in that hangs over the screen.

If you're worried that will do your eyes in, don't be: it is a very pleasant experience, and one no matter what pulp fiction you are reading, you will no doubt enjoy it a great deal.