In our world of smartphones and tablets, is there still room for e-readers? Well, they may not be as sexy, powerful, or versatile as iPads, Galaxies, or HTC Ones. But then again, sometimes there's a lot to be said for a product that does one job very well. Join Gizmag, as we review Amazon's latest e-ink reader, the 2013 Kindle Paperwhite.
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Before I picked up the latest Kindle Paperwhite, it had been over three years since I'd spent much time with an e-reader. I usually have a steady stream of smartphones and tablets flowing in and out of the office, so I didn't have much need for a product that can only do what one single app on those devices can do. Want a Kindle? Open the Kindle app on your favorite mobile device, and – voila – instant e-reader. Or at least that was my thinking.
But if you spend a lot of time reading books, I still think e-ink readers do that job better than anything else (even better than physical books, if you ask me). They may be less powerful than full-fledged tablets, but their simpler hardware also makes them lighter in hand. They might have black & white screens that are only good for text and the occasional image, but they also look good in direct sunlight. They don't play Grand Theft Auto or Flappy Bird, but you also only have to charge them once every week or two.
If you decide that you still have room for an e-reader, then the Kindle Paperwhite is a great option. It only weighs 207 g (7.3 oz), which is 37 percent lighter than the latest iPad mini. It's very comfortable in hand, with a decent amount of side bezel to wrap your thumb around. Its 6-in display, the de facto standard for e-readers, is still a pretty ideal size for digging into a book. And though text doesn't look as sharp here as it does on high-end smartphones and tablets (it packs 212 pixels into each inch), I think it still looks plenty crisp when you hold it at a typical distance. Contrast is also improved over the 2012 model, with text popping very nicely.
As its name suggests, the Paperwhite has a frontlit display that gives you a whiter background than you'd find on older e-readers. On this model that lighting is very evenly lit; I didn't notice any areas where the light bled or was more or less intense.
You can easily adjust the screen's brightness from anywhere, from a drop-down toolbar menu. Turn it off and you'll have what amounts to an old-school Kindle without any lighting. Crank it all the way up, and it's bright enough to read anywhere. Keeping it somewhere in the middle pumps out less light, but also helps to give it that white-paper look.
That front-lit screen does take a toll on battery life. On older Kindles, I could read for weeks without even dropping it on a charger. On the Paperwhite, if I keep the brightness at a very high level, I can drop it down about 20-30 percentage points in one long day of reading. That might not sound like much, but when you're used to eight-week uptimes, that's shaving a decent amount off of that. With that said, battery life still isn't much of a concern – and it still easily outlasts tablets with full-color LCDs.
The newest Paperwhite has a 25 percent faster processor than its predecessor (it's clocked at 1 GHz). And this Kindle is pretty zippy: quite the improvement over the last e-reader I owned, back in 2010. The screen also no longer has to refresh every time you turn the page, which drastically cuts down on that weird inverted negative flash thingy (that's the technical name, I'm told) that you get from e-ink screens. Pages turn almost instantly, and when you do get the occasional screen refresh, it happens so quickly you might not even notice.
Of course you're locked into Amazon's Kindle ecosystem, but I (and countless other readers) usually get my e-books from there anyway, so not a problem for me. To get the best price on the device, you'll also have Amazon "Special Offers" on your lock screen and at the bottom of the home screen. You can turn them off anytime by paying US$20, but I haven't yet felt the need to do that: I don't mind seeing new e-book suggestions, even if they are sponsored.
Speaking of suggestions, the Paperwhite now has Goodreads integration on board. If you aren't familiar, Goodreads is a social reading service that lets your friends (as well as the company's algorithms) suggest new books you might like, based on ratings you give to books you've already read. I have a habit of blazing through a book, then not finding anything else to read for a few months after that. If you're like me, and wish you could have a steadier stream of reading material, then Goodreads can be a handy ally.
There isn't much else to say about the 2nd-gen Paperwhite. If you're looking for a dedicated e-reader – a pretty big "if" these days – then you're getting the real deal from Amazon's latest. It's comfortable to hold, great in all kinds of lighting situations, and plugged into Amazon's terrific Kindle store. For long-form readers, this is still the best way to get lost in a book ... without that nagging temptation to jump onto the web or into a round of Fruit Ninja.
The 2nd-gen Kindle Paperwhite is available now, starting at $120 with "Special Offers." For more on the latest e-readers, you can check out our eReader Comparison Guide.
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