It’s easy to forget that Amazon once was just an online bookstore. The Kindle is now such a ubiquitous eReader that’s also easy to forget it is Amazon that makes it.
While the company is so much more than books now, its Kindle line remains the go-to eReader range for casual and avid readers alike. The Paperwhite isn’t the cheapest or dearest in the range but it marries good design, fair price and a much-needed backlight to make it the best Kindle for most people.
What it is, why it matters
The Kindle Paperwhite is Amazon’s mid-range eReader. The Kindle Oasis is now the flagship at a mighty £269, which makes it just about the most important member of the entire eReading fleet. The Paperwhite sits between the entry-level Kindle and the Kindle Voyage. (See also Kindle Papwerwhite vs Kindle Voyage comparison.)
For the uninitiated, an eReader is a tablet intended purely for reading eBooks. Unlike a standard tablet almost all eReaders have e-ink rather than backlit displays. These look like paper and can be read for a long time without developing eyestrain. They can also be read in direct sunlight without reflection. Amazon’s Kindle eReaders are the most famous and popular of the eReaders on the market, and the Paperwhite is the top of that particular range.
The best tablets are thinner and lighter than a paperback, and have luminescent displays so that you can read in the dark without putting on the light and disturbing your partner. And, to make it all worthwhile, an eReader can store thousands of books, and access hundreds and thousands more, needing a charge only once every few months or so. So they need decent storage and connectivity options.
The Kindle Paperwhite satisfies all of this and more. But it doesn’t come especially cheap in some options.
Price and availability
The Kindle Paperwhite is available from Amazon (who’d have thought?) from £109.99 in the UK in black or white. This price is £50 more than the entry-level Kindle, a decent device in its own right but lacking a backlit screen.
There are actually four price points for the Paperwhite though, as you can pay £119.99 for it to not have adverts on the lock screen.
I personally would do this as I balk at lock screen ads on a device I have paid for, and it annoys me Amazon squeezes an extra tenner out of you for the privilege.
Should you not want to rely on a Wi-Fi connection for all your book downloading and syncing, there’s also a £169.99 version that has free, global 3G connectivity. This is actually amazing, meaning you can download books anywhere in the world where there is a 3G signal, completely free (apart from the cost of the books, obviously).
Pay an extra £10 for no ads on this model and you have yourself a £189.99 Kindle Paperwhite. This is the model I was sent for review, but most buyers will be perfectly happy with the Wi-Fi only, ad-screen £109.99 model, because the essential reading experience on both is exactly the same.
Design and build
At this price, then, we expect the best. And by and large we get it. The 2015 vintage Kindle Paperwhite is a thin and light black slab, with roughly the footprint of a paperback book, but much thinner and lighter. To be exact it measures 169 mm x 117 mm x 9.1 mm, and the Wi-Fi and 3G model we tried we weighed at around 219g. The Wi-Fi-only Kindle Paperwhite is a few grammes lighter.
That 9mm thickness is enough to make the Kindle Paperwhite comfortable to grip. This is helped by the slightly rubbery feeling of the Paperwhite’s back, offering additional grip. And, of course, it is light. I read on this Kindle for hours, lying on my back, and never once felt uncomfortable.
And I also put the Kindle Paperwhite through the mill, somewhat. It lived in the bottom of my work back, amongst the detritus, keys, smelly gym kit and discarded tech that I consider my critical work-related kit. Two weeks on and there is the odd faint smudge on the back cover, but nothing that doesn’t quickly rub away with a finger. The Kindle Paperwhite is built to last.
It’s not a thing of beauty. But that is okay. The Kindle Paperwhite is good at what it does. Its ugliness stems from the thick black bezels that surround the display. If this was a smartphone you would be annoyed by the wasted space, but in my use I found the Paperwhite to be the right size to hold and use. And the pixels didn’t bother me when I was using it to read.
This, ultimately, is the critical aspect of any eReader. What is the screen like, and how does it feel to read, read, read?
Technically, the Kindle Paperwhite has a 16-level grey scale 6in Paperwhite display with Carta e-paper technology and built-in light. It has a very detailed eReader resolution of 300 ppi, as well as what Amazon calls ‘optimised font technology’.
In laymen’s terms that means it is an e-ink display that is backlit and super sharp. It is a beautiful reading experience, and when I was reading in bed next to my sleeping wife (and intermittently sleeping baby daughter), the backlit screen was great too. Clear, comfortable, but adjustable so that I could find a light that was not too bright for me or my bedroom partners. Indeed, my one complaint was that by default the backlit screen was too bright. You could use that thing as a torch.
Reading outside in direct sunlight is also great. A real advantage of this kind of eReader over a general tablet. And the Kindle’s fonts are truly excellent, in the sense that – again – the reading experience is so comfortable.
So far so good. But you are paying a premium for the Paperwhite’s 300 ppi display. Given that you can pick up a more bog-standard Kindle for £59 – albeit one without a backlit display – is the premium model worth the premium fee? Certainly I would pay extra for the backlit display, and at £109 the Paperwhite is a good deal. But it has to compete with the Nook Glowlight, a backlit eReader that is lighter than the Paperwhite – and cheaper. I am not personally sure that the 300 ppi resolution makes it worth the upgrade. Although Amazon’s unsurpassed library, and the feature set, may be. On which…
As well as that unsurpassed high-resolution 300 ppi display and the built-in adjustable light, the main features are Amazon’s millions of books in its store, and the fact that you can hold thousands of books on the Kindle itself. Amazon has built-in some additional software features.
Without leaving the page, you can query words you don’t understand in order to build your vocabulary and learn about characters within books. To be honest, although these features work well in my experience, I don’t have much use for them. You may!
Battery life and connectivity
As I mentioned earlier a key advantage of a dedicated eReader is the long battery life. Amazon claims that a single charge will last up to six weeks, and charges via USB in around four hours. That battery life claim is based on half an hour of reading per day with wireless off and the light setting at 10. Battery life will vary based on light and wireless usage and – reader – it does.
I found that I had to charge it around once every 10 days. In once case, after a week. I commute for two hours every day and read for most of that, and I tend to read for half an hour or so in the evening. The backlight is on at least once a day, and I never got around to switching off the wireless. All of these things will have legitimately hurt the battery life, but they are also part and parcel of using a well-loved device.
Clearly 10 days is not six weeks, and I will admit to being mildly disappointed with the battery life. Irrationally so, because a week is a long battery charge, the Kindle warns you in good time, and there are myriad USB chargers at home. I can happily read in bed attached to a charging plug. I suspect slightly less than stellar battery life is a direct result of that amazing display resolution. Honestly, I would rather better battery life. See also: Best eReaders 2016/2017.