Back in the spring, over in the States, Barnes & Noble introduced the Nook Simple Touch GlowLight, the first E-Ink toting eBook reader with edge lighting – which is coming to the UK next month, and we’ve just reviewed the device here.
Once B&N had introduced the GlowLight, it was only a matter of time before Amazon responded. Enter the Kindle Paperwhite 3G, an edge-lit version of last year's Kindle Touch, which has just started shipping in the US. The 3G version is priced at $179, which via a direct currency conversion is £111 – though the UK price will almost certainly differ somewhat from that.
That is assuming the Kindle Paperwhite actually makes it to the UK, as Amazon hasn’t confirmed that the device will travel across the pond yet. Hopefully, it will be on the way, and as with the Kindle Fire – which was US-only to begin with – we’ll eventually see it in this country. Particularly seeing as B&N now has the GlowLight about to come out in the UK…
At any rate, we thought it would be worth evaluating the US version of the Paperwhite ahead of any potential UK launch, so you know what goodies you’ll (hopefully) be getting at some point in the future. So, let’s get on with it, and first off take a look at the key design changes with the Paperwhite.
Design, controls, and cover
The Kindle Paperwhite is now black instead of dark grey like last year's Kindle Touch. It measures 117 x 9 x 170mm (WxDxH), and weighs 220 grams; the model without 3G weighs 212 grams. It's a tenth of an inch shorter than last year's model on both sides, and it's a few hundredths of an inch thinner, but it weighs the same.
The matte, soft-touch finish feels a little more sleek and expensive than the Nook Simple Touch's housing, which is more like low-grade industrial rubber in comparison. And the Paperwhite isn’t as wide as the Nook Simple Touch GlowLight, although the latter is lighter at 197 grams. The image below shows the GlowLight (on the left) next to the Paperwhite (with the latter significantly thinner, as you can see):
There are no hardware page turn buttons on the Kindle Paperwhite, like there are on the Nook Simple Touch. This may be a blessing, though, since the Nook's are tough to press, and complaints about reliability issues with the base Kindle's buttons are cropping up on forums.
The Kindle Paperwhite also drops the Kindle Touch's home button; now it's just a printed logo, and the top edge of the bezel is blank. There's still no AC adapter in the box – you only get a USB cable for charging, although an optional $19.99 (around £12) AC adapter is available. Another omission: The headphone jack, which used to let you listen to audiobooks, podcasts, and music, is gone. So if that matters to you, go with a Nook.
As far as connectivity is concerned, the Kindle Paperwhite and Paperwhite 3G both support 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi hotspots, with WEP, WPA, or WPA2 encryption enabled. When it comes to 3G, as well as functioning in the States, the US 3G model works on many overseas networks, and you never pay for 3G access – but Amazon limits you to either shopping for and buying books, or accessing Wikipedia with it.
Amazon's optional new Paperwhite Leather Cover (pictured above) is priced at $39.99 (£25) and deserves a special mention. In addition to coming in six colours, it has a magnetic clasp that stays closed. Open or close the cover, and it wakes the reader or puts it back to sleep. And unlike Apple's magnetic Smart Cover for the iPad, the Paperwhite Leather Cover completely encases and protects the entire device – front and back. The new cover isn't as soft to the touch as last year's version, but the textured finish should prove much more resistant to scratches and fingerprints.
The new Paperwhite display is a gem – for an E-Ink affair, that is. It still measures 6in diagonally, but with an improved pixel density of 212 pixels per inch. It's also a capacitive touchscreen, instead of the older IR-based panel. It's more responsive to finger touches than the Kindle Touch, but since you're still waiting for the E-Ink to refresh, you won't confuse the Kindle Paperwhite with a glass Android tablet screen. That said, page refreshes are faster and less obtrusive than ever.
So, about the new edge-lighting: It looks great. When placed side-by-side, the Kindle Paperwhite display is brighter and more even than the Nook Simple Touch GlowLight's screen. Our camera expert, Jim Fisher, shot each screen with a Nikon D600 which was set to spot meter on each reader's grey background. With ISO and aperture fixed, the shutter speed difference was 20 per cent, with the Kindle winning out as the brighter screen.
The above image shows the Paperwhite with its light off (on the left) and on. You can choose from 24 levels of brightness, which in real life ranges from barely there, to use-your-Kindle-as-a-torch level. Some minor bleed from the LEDs along the bottom edge is visible, but there's less of it than there is on the top edge of the Nook Simple Touch GlowLight. By almost every measure, the Paperwhite's screen is superior.
User Interface and reading
Amazon finally improved the home screen as well. Instead of the old, boring, inflexible list of books and collections, the Paperwhite displays covers of recently read books and ones Amazon recommends to you. In lieu of the old Home button, there's a Home icon at the left corner of the reworked Kindle toolbar that brings you back to this screen at any time.
As with all recent Kindles, reading is a pleasure. For turning pages, the Kindle Paperwhite's screen is broken up into three zones. The bottom right zone is the largest; tap anywhere there while reading, and you'll advance a page. Tap the slimmer portion to the left, and you'll go back a page. Finally, tap anywhere near the top of the screen, and you'll bring up the Kindle toolbar.
There are now six font choices with eight size options, plus three settings each for line spacing and margin spacing. The new fonts are an improvement, and help bring the Kindle Paperwhite in line with the Nook and Sony Reader, both of which have offered better font choices for some time. There's also an improvement in sharpness, though it's not dramatic.
The "experimental" Kindle browser is still very limited. One cool upgrade: The Paperwhite now features Time to Read, which estimates how long it will take you to finish each chapter given your usual reading speed.
A few niggles remain. While Amazon finally introduced actual page numbers last year, after stubbornly sticking with its location-based system, they're still not available for many of the books in my collection. I also wish it were easier to organise books. It's easy to create "collections," or groups of books, but they still don't sync properly across devices. If you make a shelf of political non-fiction, you can't view that collection on your Kindle and, say, on your phone.
Storage and battery life
There's 2GB of storage on board, which is down from 4GB on last year's model, and there's still no memory card slot. On board, you get 1.25GB free for user content – good for roughly 1,100 books, according to Amazon. That's also slightly less than before – likely due to the new operating system’s greater memory footprint – and of course your cloud account holds as many Kindle books as you want.
Speaking of which, managing your books in your Amazon account remains needlessly complex. Amazon's interface is sluggish; it takes several seconds and a full page refresh to delete a sample book or free book. The site only displays 15 eBooks on the screen at once, which is a pain when managing a collection of several hundred. On my account, some books showing in the cloud don't appear in the manage window; they're stuck permanently in limbo. Covers don't always display or download properly, and there's no way to replace a cover with a different one if you want, at least without third-party software (and even then, you can't replace it for paid Kindle books).
Account-related gripes aside, Amazon's Kindle Bookstore is still the best there is, at least if you're a fan of Amazon's website in general. There are more lists, more discovery options, more user-created content, more sales, and more ways to buy and download books than anywhere else. There's just more of everything. And thanks to Whispersync, you can synchronise your content across multiple devices, including eBook readers, smartphones, tablets, laptops, and desktops.
Just as with last year's version, the Paperwhite is good for roughly eight weeks of reading on a single charge – with wireless turned off – although Amazon says that's with the front light setting at 10. A full charge takes four hours. At any rate, battery life just isn't a problem with E-Ink e-readers, and the Kindle Paperwhite is no exception.
Pricing is obviously a somewhat tricky issue, given that we don’t know exactly where the UK price will be pitched compared to the US – and Amazon’s device pricing is somewhat deceptive, anyway. In the States, the base Wi-Fi Paperwhite is going head-to-head with the Nook Simple Touch GlowLight, both being priced at $119 (£74 our money). Barnes & Noble just dropped the US price to match the Paperwhite, in fact – previously the Nook e-reader was $139, and indeed, the GlowLight will be £109 when it launches over here. When (or if) the Paperwhite hits the UK, then B&N might adjust its UK GlowLight pricing as it has done in the US. This is all speculation, of course.
And even then, the $119 US price for both these e-readers isn’t quite the full picture, as the Nook doesn’t serve ads, and Amazon does – with the user having to fork out an extra $20 to remove them.
That said, the Wi-Fi Paperwhite is undoubtedly competitively priced in the US, but the 3G version – well, at $179 (£111) and jumping to $199 for the no-advertising model, it begs comparison with 7in tablets like the Google Nexus 7 and Amazon Kindle Fire HD. While the convenience of buying a new book on a beach can't be denied, you're trading that against all the other things a colour tablet can do, such as watching movies, browsing the web, playing games, and running thousands of other third-party apps.
In this respect, the Paperwhite 3G is a pure luxury item which you might pick up if you want the best E-Ink Reader – but know that the money could be better spent on a different kind of device as well, depending on your priorities.
Overall, Amazon has another winner here, and let’s hope the Kindle Paperwhite does come over to the UK before too long. That said, existing Kindle Touch owners will probably pass on this device anyway, as their version has more memory and a headphone jack, and Amazon makes a very nice leather case with an extendable LED light for that model.
The other dilemma is whether to go for the Nook Simple Touch GlowLight, which is arriving in the UK next month, or wait (and hope) for the Kindle Paperwhite.
In terms of a head-to-head comparison, in the Nook’s favour, it weighs a bit less, doesn't serve ads, and comes with an AC adapter, headphone jack, and memory card slot. It also works with the popular ePub eBook format, which Kindles still don't accept.
The Paperwhite is thinner, feels nicer, has a sharper screen with better contrast, and has better lighting – in other words, it's a better eBook reader. If that's your priority, it's tough to go wrong with the Kindle Paperwhite. However, the 3G version falls on the pricey side – although the Wi-Fi model is currently on a direct footing with the GlowLight in terms of US pricing.
The final advantage in favour of the GlowLight is that you’ll be able to pick one up in a few weeks time. The Paperwhite isn’t guaranteed to be coming to the UK at all, much less in a few weeks. Those whose priority is the best e-reading experience in terms of the display will just have to keep their fingers crossed that Amazon already has the cogs whirring on its Paperwhite UK shipping plans.
UPDATE 12 October: Amazon has announced the UK Paperwhite launch, rather surprisingly, for 25 October, with the 3G version priced £169, and Wi-Fi version £109 (the same price as the GlowLight will go on sale for in the UK). See this article for more details.