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Kindle Paperwhite e-Reader (2018)
Gadget Reviews

Kindle Paperwhite e-Reader (2018)

Waterproofing, audiobook support and double the memory make the 2018 Paperwhite a worthy upgrade of the best Kindle.

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With Kindle Paperwhite e-readers Amazon does something they seldom do: they boast. For a company that’s becoming one of the world’s largest, most bizarre providers of everything from teleconferencing chat devices to voice-controlled microwaves it’s always helpful to remember where it all started: books. Long before Alexa became your digital best friend, Jeff Bezos’ dream of delivering printed books right to your doorstep begat one of the greatest success stories in modern times, one solidified by the arrival of the original Kindle e-reader back in 2007.

Which brings us to the 2018 Kindle Paperwhite e-Reader, which Amazon happily calls their “most popular Kindle,” and it’s easy to see why. Superficially, it’s only a slight upgrade over their 2015 model, recycling much of the same design, tech and performance, reducing those things that needed reducing while adding features that needed adding. And yet it still feels like a solid upgrade, especially for those wanting the best value for any single-use reading device.

It’s not the cheapest Kindle, nor is it the most feature-packed. The Kindle Paperwhite is compromised without feeling compromised, an amalgamation of features that matter without the luxuries that really don’t. Mercifully, we’re past the point where there even needs to be an argument for their continued existence: book enthusiasts want the advantages of carrying entire libraries without the distractions of browsing, text messaging or the brain-rotting influence of social media. Digital e-readers let you do all this and more by simply doing less… it’s a paradox you can fall in love with, and the new Paperwhite is pretty easy to love.

TL;DR

If you already have the previous 2015 Paperwhite and are curious how the updated version stacks up, here’s all you really need to know: the 2018 Kindle Paperwhite is a smidge thinner, a smidge lighter, had double the internal memory at 8GB (or quadruple at 32GB), has waterproof protection and comes with audiobook support via Amazon’s Audible service. If all this sounds great, skip to the end and just buy the new Paperwhite already. You’ll love it as much as you love the one you probably already have. Likewise, if you’re perfectly content with the current model there’s little incentive here to upgrade – unless you’re wanting the aforementioned improvements.

Design: Seems Familiar

You’ll have to squint real hard to see the physical differences between the 2018 Kindle Paperwhite and previous models because, to be honest, there aren’t many. Design-wise, this is the same basic slab we’ve come to know and love in virtually every other tablet and/or e-reading device since the beginning. You’ll get a svelte rectangular plastic with dimensions that are practically the same: 6.6″ x 4.6″ x 0.32″ (versus 6.7″ x 4.6″ x 0.36″ of the 2015 model), with a corresponding drop in weight to just 6.4 oz (from 7.2 oz). It certainly feels thinner and lighter, which is great as you’ll be holding the thing for hours.

The biggest, and most welcome, design change is the screen is now completely flush, flat and smooth, no longer recessing into the bezels. I hadn’t realized how much the older design bugged me until I started cleaning this newer screen with single wipes; crumbs, lint, dirt, hairs, etc. no longer get ‘stuck’ in the sides and easily disappear. As before, the only physical button is the tiny power/standby button on the underside. Another small, but welcome change: the return of the white “kindle” logo on the bottom. You want to let people know you’ve got the real thing, right?

One thing that hasn’t really changed is the Paperwhite’s razor-sharp 6-inch E Ink Carta touchscreen, which still sports the same 1440×1080 and 300 ppi resolution as the previous model. Some may be a little disappointed that Amazon hasn’t upgraded some fundamental odds and ends like the pricier Oasis models have, especially with ambient backlighting or other fancy features. Keep in mind they also haven’t “upgraded” the price that much, either, so you’re still getting a best-in-class screen here.

There’s still the same five LED backlights to brighten up the reading area, though they appear to have been arrayed better as maximum backlighting seems more uniform than before. Some users complained the previous model had darker ‘spots’ near the bottom of the screen, which also don’t appear here. On the subject of lighting, there’s still no auto-brightness functionality, and no blue light filters (or any help to alleviate eyeball strain like we’ve seen on recent Kobo models) whatsoever. Of course, as a native E Ink device eyestrain really isn’t that big an issue, but every little bit helps.

One caveat: as slight as these design changes are, they still impact the shape enough to require buying entirely new outside protection as your old Paperwhite cases/covers won’t fit. Shocking, I know. Thankfully, your pals at Amazon have a suite of options ranging from leather to water-safe plastic at the ready to help keep your new Kindle stylishly safe and dry.

Under the Hood

Connectivity is either through the single micro-USB port for charging or local transfers or wirelessly via super-secure WiFi and/or 4G LTE services (see below for details), though WiFi is still limited to 2.4GHz bands only. The Paperwhite now supports native Bluetooth connectivity for audiobooks, also matching both base and Oasis Kindles. We’ll come back to why this is both a blessing and curse (though mostly blessings) later, but just know you can now pair the Paperwhite with compatible headsets, speakers or even your vehicle-of-choice to help make those long commutes a little more bearable.

One of the biggest – and certainly most noticeable – upgrades the 2018 Paperwhite received was its internal memory, which gets a massive boost. Base storage is now 8GB, doubled from the previous 4GB, while options exist for an even beefier, more audiobook friendly 32GB. We don’t ordinarily see this size outside of Japan (hello, manga!) so it’s always nice to have more options to take everything with you.

Also, if you want the new Paperwhite with Amazon’s famous ‘free’ WiFi + 4G LTE connectivity you’ll have to choose the 32GB version, an upgrade that also ticks the price up to $249 (though, as a bonus, this also negates the ‘Special Offers’ ads on the lockscreen). It’s also a smidge heavier – those antenna radios add an extra 0.4 oz to the weight – but somehow you’ll manage. I have faith in you.

Battery life remains, not surprisingly, incredible. Amazon promises weeks on a single charge, and while results will vary depending on your usage (both in standard reading or with backlighting levels) it’s easy to imagine going an entire month without needing to recharge – just like previous models.

Kindle Software: Personalized

Another area where Amazon has tweaked more than changed is with the software experience itself, which gets a slight, but welcome, refresh in several key areas. While the interface is largely the same the software update allows you to customize and save unique user presets for fonts, page locations, orientations, margins and other settings directly from the reading pane. For those of you with multiple readers using the same Kindle (which I’m assuming is a great many) this is a godsend feature, and should get plenty of usage.

Generally, however, the reading experience on the 2018 Paperwhite remains unchanged. Which means it’s fantastic. You’ll get the same basic page controls, swipes, highlights, notes, definitions, Wiki entries, and other single-tap or long-press menus that have made the Kindle experience so successful. Amazon’s Whispersync functionality remains unmatched, allowing you to circulate bookmarks, notes and other data across pretty much every device out there. Other features like Word Wise and X-Ray are present and available for you to ‘enhance’ both your book trivia and word knowledge, though I’ll admit I rarely use either.

It’s worth mentioning these changes also apply to the previous model as well, so you holdouts don’t have to feel entirely left out. Amazon may be a huge conglomerate with designs on controlling every aspect of your life, but nobody ever accused them of not caring about software updates.

Kindles are compatible with a wide range of formats, though can’t best the “kitchen sink” approach of rival Kobo e-readers for all-inclusiveness. Also, while Kindles play nice with many library-lending tools and formats like OverDrive actually using these services can be trickier than necessary – another area where (most) Kobo readers have Amazon beat. None of these quibbles are deal-breakers, though, but you should be aware that choosing a Kindle over the competition requires accepting the rules Amazon enforces.

Still, most Kindle users will probably be just fine living in the Amazon bubble anyway as it includes just about everything under the sun. If you need to sideload your own formats, however, there’s native support for AZW3, AZW), TXT, PDF, MOBI, PRC, HTML, DOC, DOCX, JPEG, GIF, PNG, PMP and Audible’s AAX. You’ll notice the incredibly popular EPUB format isn’t on the list, not a surprise. Using software like Calibre or easily found website conversion tools help cover any missing gaps, so chances are you’ll be fine.

Waterproofing: Splish Splash

Amazon may be late to the waterproofing game, but they’re quick learners. Another feature the new Paperwhite borrows from its pricier, curvier Oasis cousin is perhaps the single most requested since the dawn of digital e-readers: waterproofing. Again, this is an area where Amazon’s fiercest (and let’s face it, only) rival Kobo forced its hand with their  innovations over the years. If you ever wanted proof that competition serves the public best, look no further than the great Kindle vs. Kobo e-reader wars.

The new Paperwhite meets the minimum rating for IPX8 waterproof protection, meaning it’ll survive in up to 2 meters (roughly 6 feet) of freshwater. That distinction is important as both salty or chlorinated water is corrosive to the device, a real bummer as Amazon humblebrags that it’s “beach, pool or bath” friendly, though anything other than clean fresh water requires a thorough cleansing before its ready for use again. Choose your aquatic literature carefully.

Having spent the last few years with waterproofed e-readers, however, I’m convinced this feature isn’t intended for real-world usage but as insurance. Don’t believe me? Go ahead and read other reviews of this (or any other waterproofed e-reader) and you’ll see what I’m getting at. Tech reviewers have to practically invent ways to get their Kindles wet in order to “test” the waterproofing features: faucets, buckets, waterfalls… how is any of this useful to the real-world scenarios that have ruined lesser devices? I’m talking pools, oceans, bathtubs – and yeah, let’s not forget the toilet – where even the most heroic bags of white rice couldn’t save the day.

Submerging the Paperwhite in water, especially warm or hot water, causes the screen to go wonky and become unresponsive, though it never outright crashed like Kobo readers often do. In practical terms a waterproofed e-reader seems best suited for those ‘accidental’ times it might get a little wet, like getting caught in rain storms (purse or backpack) or the occasional drop in the most embarrassing of places.

Audible Audiobooks: Sounds Great

The 2018 Paperwhite’s single biggest upgrade is only an upgrade to the Paperwhite lineup as both the cheaper stock Kindle and pricier Oasis models have enjoyed audiobook support for some time. But it’s now available for the most popular Kindle, meaning even more users can experience the synergy of both the world’s largest ebook and audiobook stores on a single device – without having to resort to fancier tech like smartphones or tablets. For the most part.

Browsing the Audible store is just as easy as browsing the standard book store, as is downloading and listening to your selection. This feature is especially useful if you’ve got an Audible subscription, which not only makes pricing more affordable but Amazon keeps track of everything you’ve purchased in one easy collection, including books and their increasingly impressive Audible Original collection. The player is easy to use and very responsive, even on the E Ink touchscreen.

I also want to stress that the Paperwhite, or any Kindle dedicated e-reader, doesn’t support Amazon’s multi-format Immersion Reading experience. This is where you could switch between ebook or audio versions of the book (provided you buy both) seamlessly using Whispersync, or even use both at the same time for simultaneously narration. It’s a cool feature that works, ironically, best on non-Amazon devices like iOS and Android but is noticeably absent with the Kindle.

As appreciative as we are that you can finally listen to your Audible collection with a Kindle, how hard would it have been to allow the use of standard headphones through the micro-USB jack via adapter? I know it’s possible because Amazon already makes this adapter, but it only works with VoiceView audio for text-to-speech output and not Audible support. Confusing, I know, but still disappointing for those who prefer non-Bluetooth headsets or speakers.

It should go without saying that if you plan on listening to lots of audiobooks on the Paperwhite go right for the beefier 32GB version instead, a quadruple the memory for about 30 bucks more. Word on the street is that you can also sideload your own audiobooks, but unlike the process of converting personal ePub files into Kindle-friendly formats, this appears to involve a lot more work.

Conclusion

It’s been a good three years since Amazon last updated their Kindle Paperwhite hardware, practically an eternity in technological terms, but that doesn’t mean Bezos’ company hasn’t addressed some of the last model’s biggest concerns. In every way that matters, the 2018 Kindle Paperwhite reflects the current state of e-readers in a world oversaturated with smartphone and tablet options by offering readers a definitive e-reading device without breaking the bank. The recent Kobo Forma is a great example of misjudging both the market and its audience by attempting to upscale the experience but forgetting to upscale the device. The Paperwhite has no such ambitions, focusing on what’s essential to the reading (and listening) experience for the masses. It breaks my bourgeoisie heart to say it, but with the Kindle Paperwhite it’s never been easier to rage for the machine.