There’s a new Kindle Paperwhite out, and it’s just like the old one except for a high-resolution screen. Nobody was really expecting it to happen: after all, before this update, Amazon had a pretty simple, almost Apple-esque breakdown of its Kindle e-readers. There's the low-end Kindle at $79, with a boxy body and no backlight (seriously, don't buy this one). There's the high-end Kindle Voyage with a high-contrast "micro-etched" glass screen and an adaptive light sensor at $199 (quite pricey). And then there's the Kindle Paperwhite; at $119 it lands in the sweet spot of features and price.
But the new Paperwhite upends that calculus by giving a 300-ppi screen to the midrange device without raising the price a single dollar. It was already our pick for the best e-reader you can buy, and now it's doubly so.
Unless you are incredibly finicky about the technology of your e-reader, there's just not much reason to spend the extra $80 to get the Voyage. The Voyage gives you improved contrast, quasi-button zones for turning pages, an adaptive backlight, and 12 percent less weight than other Kindles, but I don’t really think those things add up to being worth the extra cost. Plus, all three Kindles are functionally identical; the basics of the Kindle are the same across the entire lineup.
And the basics of the Kindle are really well established by now. Amazon has been steadily increasing the feature set over the years without letting any of those new bits get in the way of the Kindle's "one job" of undistracted reading. The latest software update, which will come to all three Kindles in the coming weeks, brings a new font and better text layout that’s more readable. You still can't left-justify the text, but the line spacing and hyphenation is much more sensible now. It’s a good update, though I do think that Amazon is being a little over-aggressive at trying to get you to sign up for Kindle Unlimited.
The screen on the new Paperwhite is simply lovely. It's still a plastic, capacitive touch screen, but the sharper text is much easier on the eyes. If I'm being finicky I could point out that it has slightly less contrast than the Voyage and the backlight seems to have just a slightly bluer tint than the last Paperwhite. But even pointing out these incredibly subtle differences feels like I'm straining to offer distinctions where no meaningful differences exist. If you already have a Kindle, you really don't need to upgrade to the Paperwhite.
And that's the hardest part about reviewing the Kindle Paperwhite: it's a single-use gadget that achieves its single-use quite well. This is Amazon's game to screw up, and it hasn't. How do you even review a Kindle without getting into the weeds of typography or measuring screen brightness in terms of nits (quite literally nit picking)?
I could wade into the old battle of paper vs. dedicated e-readers vs. tablets, but we all know the story there. I'm on record as a person who thinks paper is a superior technology to ebooks for some uses: academics and long-term archiving, to name two. I sometimes wish that the Paperwhite was a little better for note-taking and could serve as a more general purpose device in the way a tablet can. I could even dig into the fact that I still feel like Amazon makes me feel like I'm renting access to the books I buy on Kindle because everything is laden with DRM and lives inside Amazon's slightly unkempt walled garden for books. I could go on an extended rant about how putting DRM on a book is probably the most pernicious thing we could do to future humans who will want to understand our culture.
I could do all of those things, but the truth is that Kindles are nice and this particular Kindle is the nicest one yet for the price. They're good for reading books as long as you understand that you're accepting Amazon's rules for doing that. Once you get that, the Kindle is limited, you can accept or reject those limitations as you will. My proclivities and preferences tell me to reject them, but I don’t: I’m a heavy Kindle user, and I’m happy to have a device that makes reading easier for me. I have 244 books in my library now, and I’ve read nearly all of them.
So yes, this is a short review. It's a Kindle. It does Kindle things. The Kindle Paperwhite is the best e-reader for most people by a wide margin.
Photography by Sean O'Kane.
All image comparisons set with the same font (Caecilia) since Bookerly isn't yet available for the 2013 Kindle Paperwhite. The new Kindle Paperwhite won't ship with the software update to start, and Amazon says it will be coming to all three Kindle models in the coming weeks.