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Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (2018) review: the new best-seller

Just add water(proofing)

It’s been over three years since Amazon upended its product lineup when it added its highest-resolution display to its most popular Kindle, the Kindle Paperwhite. The Paperwhite has long been the “default Kindle,” the one that’s inexpensive, yet good enough to satisfy most people’s e-reader needs. And now, Amazon is back with another update to the Paperwhite that brings features like waterproofing and Audible audiobooks from a high-end sibling (in this case, last year’s Oasis), along with a slightly tweaked design and a $10 price increase.

The new Paperwhite is still a Paperwhite, with all the pros and cons that come with it. Except now you can also take it into the bath.

Good Stuff

  • Waterproof
  • Great display
  • Weeks-long battery

Bad Stuff

  • No physical buttons
  • USB-C is a no-show
  • 2.4GHz Wi-Fi only

On the outside, the updated Paperwhite looks a whole lot like the 2015 model, and if you’ve used a Paperwhite anytime within the last few years, you’ll know what to expect.

The biggest hardware change is that the display is now flush with the glass, instead of in a recessed alcove, bringing it in line with the higher-end Kindle Oasis. Amazon also says that the lighting is improved, with an additional LED for a total of five (for reference, the high-end Oasis features 12 LEDs, plus an adaptive light sensor for automatic brightness adjustment). The default storage has been doubled to 8GB, though now there’s a 32GB option, and the hardware itself is just a little thinner, lighter, and smaller than the old model.

But otherwise, it’s the same old Paperwhite: the screen is still a fantastic 300ppi, six-inch E Ink panel; the back is a soft, grippy plastic; and the battery life, practically endless.

But the two headline features that really make this an upgrade over the 2015 Paperwhite come straight from last year’s second-gen Kindle Oasis: waterproofing and support for Audible audiobooks. The key difference? At $129 for the entry-level Paperwhite, it costs nearly half of what the pricier Oasis does, putting what was already Amazon’s best-selling Kindle at near feature parity with its most premium model.

Amazon says that the new Paperwhite is IPX8 rated against “accidental immersion in up to two meters of fresh water for up to 60 minutes.” Seeing as it’s currently November in New York City and bringing the Kindle to a beach or a pool was sadly not an option, I had to do some more mundane tests like dipping it under a faucet and in a nearby fountain. (As expected, the Paperwhite held up fine.)

Waterproofing is where one of the Paperwhite’s flaws comes into play, though. Unlike the Oasis, with its physical page turn buttons, the only way to interact with the Kindle is with its touchscreen — the same touchscreen that goes absolutely haywire from an overload of constant inputs when it comes in contact with water. Now, Amazon has prepared for this with a software option that disables the touchscreen entirely, save for page-turning swipe gestures, but physical buttons — either the pressure-sensitive pads of the old Voyage or the actual buttons on the Oasis — seem like a much better solution.

The audiobook support is also identical to the Oasis — you can listen to your Audible library over a connected pair of Bluetooth headphones. And if you own both the ebook and audiobook versions of a title, you can seamlessly switch back and forth between versions at the push of a button — Amazon will even sync your place. It’s the sort of thing where Amazon’s sheer dominance of the digital book industry becomes apparent: when I set up the Paperwhite, it was already populating itself with Audible books I didn’t even remember I owned.

The new Paperwhite is also plagued by a few issues that have dogged the Kindle lineup for years: Amazon still only offers support for 2.4GHz Wi-Fi, which is increasingly frustrating given the new support for audiobooks that can only download over Wi-Fi. And while it’s not really a surprise given the rest of Amazon’s lineup, the new Paperwhite charges by Micro USB instead of USB-C — particularly disappointing considering that it’ll likely be another three years before Amazon updates the Paperwhite again. Fortunately, charging it is still just a once every few weeks affair.

As for actually using the new Paperwhite, well, it’s a Kindle. The software has been ever so slightly tweaked — there are some new options for preset text settings that you can customize and save, which are nice. But otherwise, reading on the Paperwhite is just as good of an experience as reading on the last Paperwhite, or really any other Kindle. It’s still a magical concept to be able to carry an entire library around with me in my back pocket, but that’s all you can do with it, for better or for worse. It’s a bespoke device built for a single purpose: reading, and Amazon seems content to keep it that way.

At the end of the day, the biggest question with the Paperwhite isn’t if it’s the Kindle you should buy, because with the price point, screen quality, and feature list that it has, it’s impossibly easy to recommend it if you’re looking to buy a Kindle today. Between the screen, waterproofing, built-in light, and improved design, it beats the $79 base model by a considerable margin. And unless you’re truly enamored with the Oasis’ unique design and slightly larger display, there’s just simply not enough there to justify the $120 price difference.

If you already own a 2015 Paperwhite, or the since-discontinued Voyage, things are a bit trickier. The new Paperwhite is still very much a better Paperwhite, though, and not a replacement for a much-loved Voyage. Compared to the new model, the Voyage is slimmer, features those capacitive page turn buttons, and has an automatically adjustable backlight — if you’re someone who felt that the Voyage’s features were worth an extra $80, the added Audible and waterproofing might not be enough to sway a new purchase.

And if you’re already someone who owns the current Paperwhite, the question then becomes whether or not the waterproofing, audiobook support, and the various other smaller improvements are worth the upgrade, and that’s going to depend a lot on how you use your Kindle. But odds are, come next summer, you’ll be seeing a whole lot more Paperwhites by the pool.

The new Paperwhite, like the other Kindles before it, is the latest refinement of a formula that Amazon has been iterating on for more than half a decade now. And even if the latest improvements have been slow to come (Amazon’s nearest competitor, Kobo, has had waterproofing for years), it’s the gradual addition of genuinely great changes that make the existing hardware better to use.

Forget being a jack of all trades, the Kindle is content mastering one. And while there are still lingering issues here and there, the new Paperwhite is probably the closest Amazon has come to achieving that goal.

Correction: The Kindle Paperwhite (2018) is rated IPX8 waterproof, not water resistant.

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