The e-reader arms race moves at a glacial pace. Barnes & Noble does one thing, Amazon follows. Amazon adds a feature and, slowly but surely, B&N adds the same thing. While the Kindle itself has been updated five times since 2008, it seems like it’s been around for decades and has only just now gotten much, much better.
The latest e-ink Kindle, the Paperwhite, is a beautiful device, plays catch-up, and arguably surpasses the Nook Simple Touch with Glowlight. The device is as small and compact as the previous Kindle and yet is more completely featureless. Like the Nook Simple Touch, Amazon has eschewed all front buttons for a very usable touch interface. To start the device, you tap a small button on the bottom and then swipe to unlock. This two-step process ensures the device doesn’t wake up in your bag.
The real magic comes in the new “paperwhite” backlit display. Like the Nook Simple Touch With Glowlight, this device glows ethereally through the front of the screen offering a uniform brightness with the barest bit of dark mottling at the edges. You can change the screen brightness and even turn the light off entirely. Amazon has also improved the battery life, claiming eight weeks of use even with the light on (compared to the Nook’s month). While I wasn’t able to test the battery life this time, it’s clear that this thing holds a charge for a good long while, as the needle hasn’t moved in the battery meter in the week I’ve used it.
The best thing about the display is that it essentially turns completely white – hence the paperwhite – when the backlight is on. The page, then, is white rather than grey. Because the light is adjustable, you can read at night without waving to wake your neighbor with a bright tablet screen and, more importantly, you can read in the dark without a booklight.
The Paperwhite costs $179 for Wi-Fi/3G and $119 for Wi-Fi only. It costs $20 extra to remove special offers from the lock screens, though I doubt you’ll notice.
This Kindle maxes out at 2GB of storage (the Nook has 2GB of internal storage and a microSD slot) and mounts on your PC or Mac as an external drive, allowing you to sideload docs and mobi files. You can also connect wirelessly to Wi-Fi or cellular WLAN.
Improvements to the interface include a higher resolution screen with clear greyscale images as well as a “time left in chapter” readout that tells you how many more pages you should turn before turning in.
Should you buy this e-reader? If you’re in the market for an Amazon-branded e-ink reader, this is definitely the one to get. Whether you chose this or the equally excellent Nook comes down to the number of books you own on each platform. At this point, B&N and Amazon are playing a numbers game. The devices are approximately the same – hence the glacial pace of evolution, all things considered – and I can find little that an average user would miss in the Nook that can be found here. To be fair, the Paperwhite does have an absolutely beautiful screen when backlit and it looks almost perfectly white while the Nook still has a tinge of grey.
My recommendation, as well, is to pick up the 3G version, as it makes it easier to grab books on the go than the Wi-Fi-only model.
I’m a fairly loyal Kindle user (my wife is a Nook-head) so I would lean toward the Paperwhite in recommending a device. However, I’m wildly impressed with the simplicity and beauty of this device. If ever there was anything similar to the fabled Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, this is it. Except for the notable lack of the Don’t Panic logo, we are well on our way to existing in a paperless future for better or worse.