Amazon Kindle Paperwhite review
Screen size: 6in E ink mono touchscreen, Screen resolution: 1,448x1,072, Storage: 2GB, Size: 169x117x9.1mm, Weight: 205g (3G: 217g)
Last year's Kindle Paperwhite update was more substantial than many that have gone before it. While Amazon is often happy to change the chassis colour, maybe tweak some fonts or add a faster processor, the current Kindle Paperwhite, or Paperwhite 2015 if you prefer, had its display upgraded from 212 to 300 pixels per inch. That put it alongside Amazon's flagship Kindle Voyage in terms of resolution and largely rendered the more expensive model redundant in my eyes.
As far as I can tell this is exactly the same 6in E ink Carta display as used in the Voyage, but costing just £90, that's currently £80 less than the Voyage. That may sound like an incredible deal but there is competition, with the Kobo Glo HD using the same display and currently on sale at £90 from John Lewis. That puts Amazon and its rival roughly level pegging when it comes to displays and prices.
Kindles has trailed behind its rivals when it comes to eReader interfaces. Numerous devices, some with touch and some without, and with widely varying processing power meant you never quite knew what to expect when you picked up a Kindle. That’s now fixed, with Amazon releasing a new interface, which is available on all models dating back to 2013.
The new interface has a much improved homescreen. Top-left is a small area for what you’re currently reading, with three books shown. Beside this is an area that lists samples you’ve downloaded, books in your Amazon wishlist and titles taken from the GoodReads service - if you use it. Below is the usual recommended titles, ie. adverts for books Amazon thinks you might like.
The menu icons and text at the top have been refined and look sharp and modern. There’s easy access to the few settings people really use, airplane mode, screen brightness and sync. It’s an improvement on digging into the old settings menu.
When actually reading there’s been a number of improvements. For starters Amazon’s much-improved new typesetting engine is finally here, more on that below. Amazon has also added the OpenDyslexic font, which should be applauded. Plus there’s the option to completely remove reading progress if desired, for a cleaner-looking page layout.
Other new features include the ability to share excerpts from a book directly to Facebook or Twitter. Your Kindle adds a link to a sample of the book that anyone can read in a browser without having to login or have an Amazon account at all.
— Seth Barton (@SethBarton1) March 2, 2016
Text here is noticeably crisper than on the old Paperwhite, and way-way ahead of the current Kindle, at just 167ppi. All recent Kindles (back to 2013) now have Amazon's new Bookerly font, which is designed specifically for eReaders. It's less chunky looking than the old default Caecilia font, and has some finer touches that become apparent at larger sizes.
The new font is an improvement, but there's still issues here. With higher-resolution screens and better contrast, I'm now happy to pack more words onto a page. However, Amazon's font size options are still pretty limited, even after the recent update, with only eight sizes in total and only two I'd consider. It needs to introduce finer graduations, so you can choose the exact size you want.
^ Amazon has updated its text handling but the miserly eight font sizes remain
Amazon also has a new typesetting engine, which is designed to solve the long-running issue of its eReaders justifying text across a whole line. Words used to line up with the start and end of every line, with extra spaces littered throughout the text to achieve this, often a lot of them. The new typesetting is more like a real book, with overrunning words split by hyphens across two lines. It looks better and I find it easier to read.
However, ePub readers such as the Kobo Glo HD, are still more refined and flexible. With more fonts, more font sizes, font weight tweaking, the ability to use custom fonts from ePub eBooks and text justification options – these eReaders are well ahead of Amazon, which is only now beginning to catch up.
The current Paperwhite looks almost identical to the first two models, dating back to 2012. There are some small changes to logos, on the front a black logo replaces the silver one and on the back the shiny logo is replaced by a matt one. The rubbery rear panel is a little more matt in its finish and a little more fingerprint resistance. These are all minor details though, with the basic curved-off all-black design remaining intact.
The ageing design means the Paperwhite is bigger than its main rival, the Kobo Glo HD. The Kobo is as thick, but is slightly narrower and much shorter. The difference aren't huge but the team agreed that the Kobo felt more comfortable held in one hand. Compared to the basic £59 Kindle, it's around the same size and a touch heavier, but the rubberised finish is infinitely preferable to the cheap-feeling plastic box of the entry model.
I expect Amazon to come out with a new design for its biggest-selling eReader later this year. It's incredible in this day and age that a now four-year-old design still stands up today, a testament to the simplicity of the Paperwhite. Arguably, given the current model's success there's no great need for a replacement, but even shaving off a couple of milimetres here and there would be appreciated.
The 300ppi display is very sharp, in fact I can't see anyone ever needing more pixels than this from a 6in eReader – Apple for example has marketed screens as being 'Retina Display' at far lower pixel densities. Contrast could be improved in future I suppose, but it really is an easily readable display. Amazon is still using a slightly textured finish to the screen, it feels like running your finger across a coarse piece of paper, I prefer the smooth finish on the Kobo Glo HD, but it's really down to personal preference.
^ Here's the Kobo Glo HD, the old Paperwhite and the new one, in that order
For those coming from a pre-2012 Kindle, the built-in light (which looks like a backlight but is technically more of a sidelight) is as much of a boon as the increased resolution. As well as being able to read in the dark (a feature that has killed off paper tomes for us), it also improves contrast in almost any lighting conditions. The light is consistently even, at maximum brightness I could discern just the subtlest shadow at the bottom edge of the screen but it's not an issue in general use.
^ With the sidelights turned up full they all look bright and clear (old Paperwhite, new Paperwhite, Kobo Glo HD) - click to enlarge
As a simple upgrade to the old Paperwhite, one remaining annoyance is the lack of an ambient light sensor. This means you have to set the brightness manually, which feels decidedly retro when every phone and tablet around does so automtically. The Voyage does have a light sensor built-in and very handy it is too, even dimming further ever-so-slowly as your eyes adjust to the dark, but it's not enough to justify the extra price.
Finally, it's worth noting that as usual there are both Wi-Fi and 3G models available. With the increased proliferation of Wi-Fi and smartphone-created hotspots I'm not sure who really needs the 3G version and at £150 it's an expensive convenience. Both models are available for £10 less if you're happy for Amazon to advertise to you on the lockscreen, Amazon calls this 'With Special Offers'.
For most, the key question will be whether the 2015 Kindle is worth upgrading to from their current model. The new Paperwhite is certainly a step up from the old one, but it's not enough to justify an upgrade. Those with older, unlit Kindles should seriously consider buying this new one, it's far cheaper than the top-of-the-line Kindle Voyage, yet the only real downside is the lack of a light sensor.
If you're buying an eReader for the first time, the Paperwhite is still the obvious choice. However, the Kobo Glo HD is smaller, smarter-looking, has better text-handling and an equally great screen. If you're set on Amazon then the Paperwhite is the way to go, but if you want to keep your options open when it comes to booksellers then the Glo HD is arguably better.
|Screen size||6in E ink mono touchscreen|
|Weight||205g (3G: 217g)|
|Battery life||Six weeks at 30mins a day|
|Networking||802.11n (3G optional)|
|eBook support||ePub, Amazon|
|Other file support||Kindle Format 8 (AZW3), Kindle (AZW), TXT, PDF, unprotected MOBI, PRC natively; HTML, DOC, DOCX, JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP through conversion|
|Warranty||One year RTB|
|Price SIM-free (inc VAT)||£120|