Amazon has a new 2018 Kindle Paperwhite - the company's most popular ebook reader - which offers front illumination on the display to make it easy to read in any conditions.
The previous design of the Kindle Paperwhite was announced in 2015 so has had a rather long life. While there isn't a huge change in the position, functionality or specs of this new device, there are some subtle changes.
New flatter design
- 167 x 116 x 8.2mm, 182g
- Flat display
- IPX8 waterproofing
The previous Kindle Paperwhite had a pronounced bezel to it, framing the display, but also forming a physical barrier around the edges. It's rather dated in design and while it has never been excessively chunky, the new design is all about slimming things down.
Importantly, the display now loses the pronounced bezel, so it's now a flat finish. Amazon hasn't completely removed the border, but then you still need some space to grip the Kindle without turning the pages (which happens through a tap or swipe on the display). The result is that it's easier to swipe, as you don't hit the edge anymore, and it's also easier to wipe clean, as the bezel no longer traps sand or grime around the edges.
Some might say that compared to the latest smartphones the look isn't hugely progressive, but it retains a 6-inch screen like the majority of other Kindle devices and we feel this is a good size.
Since the launch of the 2015 Paperwhite, Amazon has launched a couple of top-tier devices in the Kindle Oasis. The premium reader is a radical change of direction in terms of design, but the new Paperwhite doesn't adopt all of those elements. The Oasis offers physical buttons as well as touch, while the Paperwhite is touch only. We actually like the buttons on the Oasis, it's easier to turn pages, but given the £110 price difference between models, the Paperwhite is definitely better value for money.
The rear of the new Kindle Paperwhite is a rubberised non-slip finish; the Kindle has for a long time stuck to black plastics and there isn't a huge change here, but one of the important changes is the introduction of IPX8 waterproofing. This means that if you're caught in the rain and your bag leaks, or you drop your Kindle in the pool, then it won't get damaged and that's not something to be dismissed.
The new Kindle is lighter at 182g for the Wi-Fi version compared to 204g before and that's a weight you'll feel with prolonged reading. The optional cover can add 119g to that weight, most of which is protection for the display at the front - but it's worth having something to avoid scratches on the screen.
Overall, these are welcome design refreshes, but if you already have a Kindle Paperwhite that works perfectly fine, there's no real reason to update it.
An E Ink display with better illumination
- 6-inch, 300dpi E Ink display
- Laminated for scratch resistance
- Front illumination
The Paperwhite is all about the illumination on the front of the display. This is radically different to the display on a tablet, because it's just lighting the surface, so you can read the monochrome E Ink in the dark. Because it's not using LCD technology, it's very economical with power, giving you about 6 weeks of use - according to Amazon's stats.
In use, the battery life is mostly dictated by how many page turns you make and how frequently you're accessing information online, as well as the display brightness. Take the Kindle on holiday and spend hours reading on the beach, you'll probably have to charge the battery after a week. Causally read in bed at home to help you to sleep, and it'll last weeks between charges. Needless to say, in the week we've been reading the new Paperwhite, we've not managed to deplete the battery - but having used the previous version extensively, we know this to be the case.
What you don't get is any update from the micro-USB for charging and there's no quick charging technology. While this might add cost, it would be a convenience feature, as the Kindle takes a couple of hours to fully charge. The use of a legacy connection will mean hanging onto an old charger or cable if you have moved on to a modern Android smartphone - at least you don't have to use it very often on the Kindle.
There are now five LED illuminators and they cast the illumination across the display nice and evenly. The display remains the same size as it was before - 6 inches on the diagonal - the only larger device is the second-gen Oasis which is 7 inches. But then you don't need a huge display - it's about the same size as a traditional paperback. As with the old Paperwhite, it's 300dpi - so perfectly sharp for the job it's doing and the only real difference we spot between the old and new versions is that our old Kindle shows the wear from a couple of years of reading.
There's no auto adjustment of illumination as you'll find in the new Oasis (and the now defunct Voyage), so adjustment is manual, taking a couple of taps to turn it up or down. To be honest, that should suit most people fine, but if you're reading in daylight, you might as well turn the illumination off, because you won't need it.
Illumination is where the Paperwhite wins over the basic Kindle, as you can easily read in the dark with needing a light or a torch.
New features, same feeling
- Quick access to font presets
- Bluetooth support for Audible books
One of the new additions launching on this Paperwhite is shortcut access to different profiles. The Kindle offers a range of different fonts, sizes and spacings. Rather than having to manually change this for each reader, you can easily make presets and then access them on the fly.
It's perhaps a little niche in terms of usability - if it's only you using your Kindle, you might never make any changes after the initial setup to your preferences. Amazon suggested that if you're sharing reading, perhaps with a child, then that makes it easy - perhaps making the text larger for a younger child to read themselves, before switching to a denser view for reading to them.
Having used the Kindle for a number of years - and font changes and sizes have always been possible - the addition of these presets doesn't really add anything to the experience for us.
Perhaps a bigger addition is compatibility with Audible. Audible is Amazon's audiobook company and in many cases you can buy both the written and spoken book at the same time. Kindle, through WhisperSync, will let you jump from one form of the book to another, with the Kindle Paperwhite now offering Bluetooth so you can connect to speakers or headphones.
It's an interesting addition, but we suspect that many would use a smartphone for Audible rather than the Kindle. Still, it's there if you want it.
There's also a slight refresh to the home screen environment, but as far as we know, this will be updated on older devices too, so everyone will get it. What doesn't change is the relationship that the Kindle has with the Kindle Store and your libraries.
Kindle Store could do with a refresh
The great thing about the Kindle is not only the ability to store lots of books, but the ability to access lots of new reading material. The seamless interaction with the Kindle Store makes it easy to buy more content. But it's an experience that's been rather static for some time and we feel its here that Amazon could be improving the user experience. This isn't something that affects this new model, more of a reflection on all Kindles.
Amazon offers a range of different ways to buy content - you can buy it direct, or you can get access to various reading subscriptions. There's free books available with Amazon Prime (if you're a subscriber) and there's wider access via Kindle Unlimited, which is more like having access to a library. In the latter cases you're borrowing digital books and essentially returning them when you're finished.
Over time you'll read a lot from a mixture of source - free, purchased, and even in real life. Some of these books will be stored on your Kindle (those you buy and download), some will be logged and returned (from subscriptions sources) - but it's not always easy to see what you've read when you're browsing the store.
So it feels like there's an opportunity to enhance the user experience around the store. We'd love to be able to pick up the Kindle and be able to see where we are in a series, like Jack Reacher for example. All the books have similar names, the plots are basically the same and it's easy to get lost.
We'd also love a segue into the real world and be able to log books that you've physically read too. There's Goodreads integration into the Kindle, but we just want one port of call to keep track of things. Then that pile of Jack Reacher novels that Aunty Mabel gave you for Christmas can be logged as read too, so you don't buy them in digital format again.
The Amazon Kindle Paperwhite is still the best Kindle to choose. It gives you that important illumination over the basic model, without the cost of the Oasis. For many people, this will be the model to pick.
The refreshed design helps keep the Kindle Paperwhite moving forward and the waterproofing will be great for those who like reading in the bath or at the pool.
There are some areas where the user interface could be improved to make buying and managing your books better, but as far as the reading experience goes, it's hard to beat the Kindle Paperwhite. This isn't a showy device, it's an understated companion and while it doesn't feel like a book or smell like a book, it gives you convenience and access that's hard to beat. We still love it.