David Zax

A View from David Zax

How Good Is the Kindle Paperwhite?

The reviews are in: very good indeed.

  • October 4, 2012

The Kindle Paperwhite has been landing in the hands of reviewers everywhere, and the consensus is this: the product is very good indeed. In its category, says Bloomberg, “the Paperwhite lays fair claim to the title of best-in-class.”

First, a quick reminder on what the Kindle Paperwhite is. It’s a six-inch monochrome E Ink reader, weighing about 7.5 ounces. It’s got space to store about 1,100 books on the device. And the $119 device (or $179 if you want 3G) is the first Kindle with a built-in light.

Let’s see what the reviewers are saying, component by component. First, take the screen. The screen has higher resolution than its predecessors, crisply rendering text and art. The Verge calls it “one of the best E Ink displays on the market,” or possibly “the best thanks to that new lighting.” Amazon says the pixel count is up by 62 percent. A number of reviewers agree that the built-in light feature outstrips that of the Nook with GlowLight from Barnes and Noble. Though the Paperwhite’s screen is lit continually–it can be manually adjusted depending on ambient light–Amazon says that you’ll still get two months of battery power assuming 30 minutes of reading a day.

It’s worth dwelling for a moment on that lighting technology, the most novel feature here. Engadget takes a nice look at the tech, and provides comparison photos of the Paperwhite with and without the light at the top setting. Essentially, there is an optical fiber that is laid across the display; a nanoimprinted light guide helps provide the even distribution of light that so many reviewers are marveling about.

This recent video from Amazon shares more info about that tech.

Another cool feature reviewers are loving is the novel software that comes with the new Kindle. As a lifelong self-flagellating slow reader, I’m personally most interested in the “Time to Read” feature Amazon has put together. As your Kindle learns your reading habits, it can give you a personalized estimate of how long it will take you to finish a given book. I’d love to compare my number with that of my friends to get a real sense of whether I’m actually as slow of a reader as I think I am.

Since your only real competitor here is the Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight, Mashable’s table comparing specs is particularly useful. Despite the assertions of some reviewers that the Paperwhite is a hands-down winner, there are some meaningful differences you might want to check out. Though the Paperwhite wins in some categories–pixel density, by far, for instance–there are some aspects of the Nook that remain appealing–its in-store support at B&N stores, for example, and the fact that it’s marginally lighter.

Ultimately, your decision may come down to which ecosystem you’re betting on, or which you’d rather support. Publishers have made the case that people concerned about the book industry ought to be shopping at Barnes and Noble more often; I’ve chronicled my own anxieties surrounding my Amazon addiction (I own a Kindle, and have long ordered books on Amazon) and have since signed up for a B&N membership that enables me to have books delivered for free overnight to my home in Brooklyn, which I’ve made distressingly ample use of (see “What the Nook Means”).

I’m all for preserving a balance of power in publishing, but the Paperwhite’s specs and enthusiastic reviews are compelling. To win over users like me who are rooting for B&N to stay afloat, but still take their gadget purchases quite seriously, the Nook’s next iteration had better match or exceed Amazon’s latest offering.

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