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Kindle Paperwhite e-Reader (2015)
Gadget Reviews

Kindle Paperwhite e-Reader (2015)

A fantastic screen and unlimited reading options make this the best dedicated E Ink e-reader for the money.

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The single most disappointing thing about Amazon’s Paperwhite family of E Ink e-readers is, to be honest, the name itself: Paperwhite. You’d be forgiven for accidentally mispronouncing the Paperwhite as Kindle Paperweight, as I’ve done many times when talking about it, especially if you consider the connotations of what such a device signifies in these days of homogenized technology.

A paperweight, in the parlance of these internet times, has come to signify one thing: a useless gadget, whose only purpose is to lay on your desk, slablike, holding down miscellaneous paper and whatnot. What a shame, as the 2015 Kindle Paperwhite e-Reader is anything but useless, easily the best all-around value of any dedicated E Ink e-reader you can buy – for any amount of money. Which is great because it’s not even the most expensive one out there.

There’s a variety of different Kindle e-reading options out there, but in the land of E Ink readers only three need apply: the standard (i.e. cheaper) Kindle, the deluxe Kindle Voyage (i.e. pricier), and the middle-child of the bunch, the Kindle Paperwhite.

Still, many people question the need for a single-use device in these days of multitasking smartphones and tablets. Why get one device that can only do one thing when you can simplify with a device that can do everything? What silly person would ever willingly give up their direct feed into social (and often superficial) lifelines? You won’t get Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Angry Birds, or the like. OK, you will get Goodreads (and, much to my dismay, an ever-encroaching lurch towards social networking), but it’s hardly the endless stream of bloatware found on a typical full blown phone or tablet.

This is a place where actual ‘reading’ means more than just scanning status updates and other life-draining distractions. We’re talking reading actual pages – lots of them – in succession. That’s right, fellow book snobs. Actual books, magazines, graphic novels, and so much more. Without apology.

And you’ll be in Reader’s Heaven here. Thanks to Amazon’s catalog of digital books there are millions of available options out there, and not just those from Bezo’s bread and butter laboratories. Kindles support digital lending libraries, cloud services, popular user-defined sites like Goodreads, NetGalley, and many others. Drag your own book or compatible file into the Kindle folder on your desktop and the options are truly endless.

Blue Lights and Eye Strain

There’s also the issue of eye-strain, especially with research suggesting that most phones and tablets emit harmful Blue Light rays, which some studies indicate may suppress the secretion of melatonin, which may disrupt our circadian rhythms and possibly contribute to certain types of cancer, diabetes, and other health-debilitating illnesses. Nasty stuff and highly speculative, but one result from heavy use of smartphones, tablets, and even computers is irrefutable: eye strain.

There’s been a rush of apps and software fixes to market recently, all hoping to protect glazed over eyeballs from melatonin-robbing blue rays. Amazon was the first major player to address this issue head on, updating their Kindle Fire tablet lineup with their ‘Blue Shade’ filter last year, and Apple will reportedly add the feature in some future iOS update.

Does it help make those offending screens easier to look at? Yes. The downside is that it also makes your screen look like orange mush. The research on standalone e-readers isn’t clear, but anyone who’s ever spent time using both devices will tell you that dedicated e-readers are much easier on the old peepers. The Paperwhite, with its illuminated backlight and tablet-like options, may eek a few steps closer to tablet-territory itself, but it’s still an E Ink e-reader.

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Design and Tech Stuff

For a device designed to become an intimate gateway to a literal world, it’s critical that you feel comfortable holding, touching, and interacting with the thing. If you’ve seen any of Amazon’s most recent Kindle e-readers – or pretty much any other 7” non-Apple tablet over the past few years, you’ve seen the Kindle Paperwhite. A few things to keep in mind: this Kindle doesn’t support audiobooks (Audible or otherwise) and it’s not waterproof, so tub-readers may want to soak that up.

It’s a smaller, nondescript rectangle that packs its e-reading pleasures in a plain 6.7″ x 4.6″ x 0.36″ frame that will be instantly familiar to Kindle enthusiasts the world over. A mere 7.2 oz (205 grams) means it’s definitely lightweight, though another unfortunate irony from the naming scheme is that the Paperwhite is actually a smidge larger and heavier than its pricier cousin, the Kindle Voyage, again by a smidge.

Apart from the two familiar Kindle logo (on front) and Amazon logo (on back) the only interruptions to an otherwise solid bezel are the micro-USB port for charging (FYI charge brick not included) and data-transfer and small Standby button underneath the bottom. Online connectivity is handled via WiFi (or free 3G if you opt for the pricier model) connections, and there’s no headphone jack because there’s no sound output.

Not to engender a tech review, but female readers are clearly the target demographic with most e-readers, hence the Kindles’ slightly smaller sizes. I’ve handed the Paperwhite over to female friends, much like a newborn baby, and watched as it was passed around with approving nods that a company like Amazon would cater to those with smaller hands. I even let some of my larger-pawed male friends fondle it, too, and they found the size acceptable. In truth, the Paperwhite’s length and width is approximate to most mass-market softcover books (thickness, of course, is less than a pencil), so if you’re happy with those glued stacks of paper, you should be happy with the size here.

Another victory for common sense and good design: the Paperwhite employs a rubbery matte body, one that does yeoman’s work hiding smudges, hairs, and fingerprints. It’s far from perfect, but rubbery matte translates to zero glare and reflections (on the bezel).

As with any dedicated e-reading device out there, the screen is king. The Paperwhite screen is as good as any I’ve ever seen – and better than most. You’ll be reading on a 6” Carta E Ink HD touchscreen display running at 1440×1080 and 300 ppi (up from previous models’ 212 ppi), the biggest resolution bump in the Paperweight family and comparable with the pricier Voyage’s 300 ppi display.

This doesn’t manifest as a huge difference for most reading, but smaller fonts and graphics look cleaner and more solid than ever before. This also means that annoying glare from room and natural lighting is practically non-existent, with perfect viewing from any angle. The page-refresh flashes, which can annoy some, it’s not a big problem with the Paperwhite and can be (mostly) turned off in the settings. There’s still the occasional flash-refresh, but it’s minimal enough to the point of a non-issue.

There’s a 24-level backlight that does a great job distributing its glow evenly, letting you read better in low, high, or non-existent lighting. It doesn’t auto-adjust like the Voyage, but having to adjust the light to your liking isn’t the end of the world.

Internally, the Paperwhite has a sizable 4GB of internal memory to store as many books and other reading goodies as you like. I know what you’re thinking: 4GB doesn’t sound like much, but when you consider how minuscule book files and formats can be, it’s quite a bit. There’s no expandable memory and all the cloud storage in the world doesn’t help you if you don’t have 3G connectivity (the step-up model has it, but it’ll cost you an extra $70).

Amazon promises an astonishing six weeks of battery life on a single charge (under the right settings, of course) and I believe them; I’ve been using my Paperweight for two weeks solid, with minimal backlighting, and I’ve yet to charge the thing.

Using The Kindle Software

If you’ve ever used a recent Kindle e-reader – or even some of the more capable tablets – than you’ll be at home reading on the Paperweight. Its an entirely familiar, comfortable digital reading experience that Amazon has carefully nipped and tucked over the years to near-perfection, and you’ll have the benefit of this research at your fingertips here.

Let’s just say it: E Ink displays are outrageously awesome for their intended purpose; it’s crystal-clear and better than any of the various tablet choices when it comes to serious reading. There’s no comparison, and when you take into account the potential long term, eyeball-drying health risks.

The same Home, Back, and Search buttons are here. The same Goodreads and Store buttons are here (advertising spam and all), as are the easily-accessible Shop Kindle, Settings and other Kindle-specific options to navigate both the device and whatever you’re reading.

Being a touchscreen and all, you’ll be happy to know that single and long-press touches are all incredibly responsive and accurate; long-pressing words or entire phrases activates dictionaries, notes, Wikipedia entries, highlights, translations, and other familiar Kindle options.

I’m not big on bonus ‘reading enhancement’ features like Word Wise and Notes, but they’re still here and easy to reach. The ‘Experimental Browser’ is still here and it’s still experimental (and not much of a real browser), but if you need a quick Wiki or Google search – and not much else – it does the job.

Of course, the Paperwhite also excels as a digital comics reader – provided you don’t mind your comics in crystal-clear black and white (no color, naturally). Kindle e-readers slightly modify their interface when in ‘comics mode’, meaning you can double-tap zoom in/out out page corners and swipe from page to page. And there’s a caveat: this zoomable interface isn’t available on those books you’ve converted yourself.

True, even an outrageously crisp 6” screen isn’t big enough to really appreciate the most detailed artwork out there, but it’s good enough for most comics, comic strips, and especially Japanese manga.

It’s worth noting that during my extensive testing Amazon issued a major interface upgrade to the Kindle software that adds a new home screen view, redesigned buttons, new arrangement options, tablet-like quick-settings, and Amazon’s proprietary Bookerly font (which is really nice).

Not So Good

As much as you’ll benefit from Amazon’s extensive research into the e-reading experience with the Kindle Paperweight, you’ll also be bombarded with ‘opportunities’ to buy into Amazon’s other area of extensive research: buying stuff. Amazon is, after all, a digital storefront first and foremost; books and other wonderful things are an offshoot of that. The Paperweight, like the entire Kindle line, are mostly delivery systems into that closed ecosystem.

This means that the single most adopted e-book format out there, ePub, isn’t compatible with the most popular e-reader. Bummer. You can, of course,  freely install available software like the popular Calibre program or use online websites to convert your book collection into a Kindle compatible format (most likely PDF or .mobi), or even Amazon’s own ‘send-to-kindle’ method.

Another niggle is how Amazon employs “Locations” instead of actual page numbers on the book you’re reading. While it’s commendable they’ve added several ways to gauge your progress throughout – locations, percentage, time left, etc. – it’d still be nice to see actual page numbers thrown in the mix somewhere. Other digital e-readers feature numbers, or good approximations of ‘real’ page numbers, so it’d be nice to have Amazon include them.

Lastly… as with all of their recent e-readers and tablets Amazon’s annoying lock-screen ads (“Special Offers”) are a constant presence on the Paperwhite. You can remove them by ponying up their extortion fee, which keeps them from showing up like monetized screensavers when you’re not actively reading. A long-press (more like super long-press… like over ten seconds) of the power button lets you shut off the Kindle screen when not in use, effectively putting it in standby, but if you want total seclusion from Amazon’s store get ready to pay. It’s always about the pay…

Conclusion

The differences between 2015 Kindle Paperwhite and last year’s model are minor and probably don’t merit an instant purchase for current owners happy with their current model – it’s an iterative product that’s constantly evolving, after all. But those curious readers who’ve been contemplating a move away from your do-everything phone/tablet to a dedicated, single-use e-reading device simply won’t find a better e-reading experience for the money. If you’re torn between getting a Paperwhite and pricier Voyage, go with the former and use the extra cash to pick up a few good e-books. On Amazon, of course!