By now, it's pretty clear that Amazon is betting big on eBooks – and not necessarily just for eBook readers, but for colour tablets, smartphone apps, and browser-based reading as well. Nonetheless, for many folks, an eBook reader is still the best choice. It's distraction-free, easy to hold and use, and lasts for weeks on a single charge.
The new Amazon Kindle Paperwhite, updated for late 2013 and priced at £109 for the Wi-Fi version, is the best eBook reader we've tested, and our new favourite over last year’s Paperwhite. Amazon gets so much of the experience right in this sixth-generation model that it's an obvious upgrade from any older eBook reader without edge lighting, and possibly even some with that feature.
On the surface, the Kindle Paperwhite looks very similar to last year's version. It measures 117 x 9.1 x 169mm (WxDxH), and weighs 206 grams; the dimensions are the same, but it's 7 grams lighter.
It's still housed in a soft-touch rubberised coating that feels nicer than the finish Barnes & Noble uses with its eBook readers. The old Kindle logo on the back panel has been switched out for the more recognisable Amazon logo.
Otherwise, the bottom edge features the same microUSB charger port, status LED, and power button as before; there are no other hardware controls.
The 6in display delivers a reasonably sharp 212 ppi and 16 levels of grey, and Amazon has tweaked contrast levels once again. But the real story is the upgraded edge lighting. Unlike last year's model, you don't see any blooming along the bottom edge of the screen, and the light is just brighter this time around. Amazon also claims to have improved touch response by 19 per cent, though the older version was still pretty accurate in my experience.
The Kindle Paperwhite hooks into 802.11b/g/n networks, and a 3G cellular option is still available for a hefty £60 extra – that model weighs a touch more at 215 grams. Charging is easy with the bundled microUSB cable, and takes about four hours. However, there's no included AC adapter – you'll need to use a PC. (My Windows 7 PC helpfully says "Device driver not installed successfully" whenever I plug in the Paperwhite to charge it). Amazon sells a small USB-compatible AC adapter for £13, as well as a £31 leather cover with a magnetic clasp that wakes up the device when you open it.
Interface and reading
The Home button brings you to the home screen (unsurprisingly). A top row of icons contains Home, Back, Light, Cart, Search, and Menu buttons, the latter of which drops down extra options for creating collections, syncing, and changing settings. You can also toggle between displaying all of your books in the cloud or just the ones on the device. The cover-based interface is easy to get the hang of, and you can flip back and forth between the cover display and a list view. In typical Amazon fashion, there are suggestions for buying additional books along the bottom of the screen.
Once you select a book, you can start reading. The reading interface looks and works almost the same as on the previous Paperwhite. Most of the right-hand side of the display, all the way down to the bottom edge, acts as a giant page turn button. A small portion on the left steps back a page, while an inch-deep bar across the top brings up a two row Menu bar. The first row contains the same icons as on the home page. Beneath the first row are buttons to adjust the font, go to a specific page, bring up X-Ray for more information on a topic, Share to FaceBook or Twitter, and Bookmark pages.
Reading is a delight. Aside from the much brighter display, the best thing about the new Kindle Paperwhite is how fast it is. Loading books and turning pages feels quick, and makes the old Paperwhite model seem oddly sluggish. Amazon also reduced the frequency of full-page screen refreshes, from once every six page turns, to whenever an internal algorithm decides it's necessary to preserve font sharpness.
Kindle Page Flip
Along the bottom of the interface is a new bar with Kindle Page Flip, which makes it much easier to scan through books using a slider. It's not the slider – it's the large thumbnail preview of each page as you go through which makes the process about as close to flipping through a real book as you can get on a screen. I still find it frustrating to pick up an eBook reader and look for a specific chapter, or refer back to something. This does seem to help, although nothing will beat a real book in that regard. It's still easier to scan through real paper pages for big areas of white space that signify the start and end of chapters.
You can now navigate between multiple bookmarks in a book, again with preview thumbnails. Tapping on a footnote now shows you the actual footnote itself in a pop-up window. Tap on a word, and you get a single window with Dictionary, X-Ray, and Wikipedia tabs. The X-Ray tab is context sensitive; you can tap on a word like "windows" and the Paperwhite can figure out if it means windows in a house, or Windows as in Microsoft’s OS. The context sensitivity doesn't carry across to the Dictionary and Wikipedia tabs, though.
A new vocabulary builder tracks a history of words you've looked up in the past, and offers to teach them to you with a flash card-style interface. Once you know a word, you can tap "Mark as Mastered," which then removes it from the vocabulary builder. Amazon is also planning numerous upgrades by the end of the year. For example, one major goal is Goodreads integration, now that Amazon owns the company.
Otherwise, Amazon's Kindle book store remains chock full of suggestions, top lists, daily and monthly deals, and other discovery options. You can browse and buy over two million books right from the device. It's also easy to subscribe to newspapers and magazines, much more so than with any other eBook reader, and anyone with an Amazon Prime subscription can borrow from a bank of around 350,000 books in Amazon's store for free. There are also smartphone and tablet apps for all major platforms, plus Cloud Reader, which lets you read from your book collection in a browser tab on a PC or Mac. Amazon's ecosystem is the best in the business for book lovers.
In addition to the two native Kindle protected formats AZW and AZW3, the Paperwhite supports PDF, MOBI, TXT, PRC, DOC, and DOCX files. Notably absent from the list, as usual, is EPUB, which limits your public library and Internet sharing options; this is still where Barnes & Noble and Kobo can pick up some buyers over Amazon.
There's 2GB of internal storage, with room for about 1,000 books; unfortunately, there's no memory card slot, so you can't sideload PDFs or other files easily, either. You can connect the Kindle Paperwhite to a PC or Mac as a USB mass storage device, so it's not like you're only stuck with Kindle Store downloads. There's still no headphone jack or Audible support, which will also disappoint audiobook fans.
The Kindle Paperwhite 2013 is our new favourite eBook reader – it’s quite simply the best on the market. The one caveat is that the 3G version isn’t so hot, as it’s disappointingly expensive at £60 more than the base Wi-Fi model. It’s true that the Paperwhite 3G is easier to use, because you don't have to log onto Wi-Fi networks wherever you are in order to shop for new books or look up Wikipedia searches – but the asking price of £169 puts you within striking distance of excellent colour tablets like the Google Nexus 7 (and indeed Amazon's own upcoming Kindle Fire HDX, which should hopefully see a UK release before too long).
As for other E-Ink-based eBook readers, the Kobo Aura HD delivers sharper fonts with many more customisation options, plus a slightly larger screen size, although it doesn't match the Paperwhite on overall usability or its ecosystem.
The Barnes & Noble Nook Simple Touch GlowLight is a more tempting option, particularly now that it has been slashed in price down to £49 (it was originally the same price as the Wi-Fi Paperwhite, £109). So if you want a bargain, that’s the obvious choice, but the Nook’s hardware design is clunky in comparison to the Paperwhite, and the first-generation edge lighting is dim and visibly uneven.
Manufacturer and Model
Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (2013)
117 x 9.1 x 169mm (WxDxH)
Monochrome E-Ink touchscreen
PDF, MOBI, TXT, HTML