Review: The Kindle Paperwhite (Compared to the Kindle Touch)

It took about a week from when I bought my first iPad until I realized I would likely never buy a physical book again.

The iPad was to books what my first iPod was to music. It had been years since I’d bought a physical CD — all my music lives in iTunes and comes from the iTunes music store. So too would it now be with books. The convenience of being able to buy a book with a few taps, have it download instantly, and add it to my small-but-now-growing digital library was just too awesome of a perk.

My enjoyment for reading digital books evolved even more when, last year, I purchased my first Kindle. My reasoning for buying the Kindle Touch was mostly business. I wanted to review it, to get some experiential knowledge of what e-ink was like, and I wanted to compare the size and weight of the Kindle Touch to the iPad.

It took all of 10 minutes of reading on the Kindle Touch for me to regret the money I’d spent in the iBookstore up until that point. For long-form reading, the Kindle was obviously leaps and bounds better than the iPad, and now I was thinking about all the digital books I had bought on the iBookstore and how they were no good on the Kindle. The few books I was currently in the middle of reading on my iPad I bought again on the Kindle store and the rest is history.

Reading a book on a Kindle truly is a more enjoyable and relaxing experience than reading one on the iPad. There are the obvious, tangible advantages: the Kindle is easily held for long periods of time with one hand and the e-ink display is easier on the eyes. But there are also the less obvious, intangible advantages: when you’re holding a Kindle there are no other apps, no other options of things to do, no distractions sitting impatiently behind the text before you, no notifications, or any of that.

The Kindle is a single-serving device. It’s meant to offer all the niceties of reading print, enhanced by all the luxuries of a digital device. It’s as light as a paperback book, the screen looks like printed ink on paper, but it can hold a massive library and you can buy a book with just a few taps without even getting up from your chair.

The only significant quibble I had with the Kindle Touch was its non-illuminated display. I do most of my reading in the evenings on the couch and/or in bed. Often when reading in bed the lights are out, and thus I’ve become a regular user of the Kindle app for my iPad.

Which is why, when the Kindle Paperwhite was announced, I ordered one immediately.

What’s Great

Not all the gadgets I buy to review continue to get used after I’ve written about them. But my Kindle Touch proved to be something I use all the time. After a month with the new Kindle Paperwhite, I consider it to be superior to its predecessor in every way.

The Kindle Paperwhite

For one, the Kindle Paperwhite just looks cooler than the Kindle Touch. It’s the most attractive Kindle to date. The front of the bezel is a semi-gloss black plastic with nothing but the Kindle logo centered in silver.

The Kindle logo used to be on the top-most bezel, and on the bottom-most bezel is where there used to be a Home button. The Kindle logo has now been moved to the bottom and the Home button has been removed. It’s obvious that Amazon was going for ultra-simplicity in the design of the Paperwhite; it’s a shame they didn’t remove the front logo altogether.

(I will say that the missing Home button hasn’t bothered me one bit. It is quite easy to get to the Home screen through the software menu, and for how infrequently I visit the Home screen of my Kindle I’m fine with an even simpler front bezel design.)

On the bottom edge you’ll find the only port and the only button: a micro-USB port and the power/wake/sleep button. On the Kindle Touch, the very bottom also sported a speaker. I never once used that speaker except during testing, and so I’m glad to see Amazon removed it on the Paperwhite.

The back of the Kindle is black and sports a matte, slightly-rubbery, grippy plastic which bends around the side and top edges and meets the front bezel with a single seam. There are no screws or clips on the whole device. It’s lightweight, easy to hold, and built very well. It is the nicest non-Apple “tablet” I own.

But the refinements to the hardware are only the beginning. The higher-contrast screen with its higher DPI looks better than previous Kindles. And, best of all, the screen is now illuminated. This was the whole reason I popped for another Kindle despite the fact I had a perfectly good one that was less than a year old. Because, as I mentioned above, the Kindle Touch’s lack of an illuminated screen was actually a hindrance to me using it as often as I wanted to.

Moreover, the Paperwhite’s screen itself sits closer to the rim of the bezel. Or, put another way, it’s not sunken down into the device as much. And even the touch responsiveness is faster. Perhaps this is due to hardware upgrades to the internals, or perhaps it’s due to the software that the Kindle Paperwhite is running. It’s probably a combination of both.1

In addition to being more responsive, the new version of software running on the Paperwhite is easier to use. The new cover view on the Home screen is so much nicer than the list view. Also, you can now view the books you have on your device and all the books you’ve ever purchased, but that are in the cloud and not currently downloaded.

All these little changes really add up to a great device. But, of course, the Kindle Paperwhite is not perfect.

What’s Not So Great

  • No Page-Turn Buttons: I have never actually used a Kindle that had the physical page-turn buttons, but I suspect I’d love them. And why shouldn’t this version of the Kindle have them?

John Gruber, in his review of the Paperwhite wrote:

To remain relevant in an iPad (and Kindle Fire) world, a single-purpose device like the Kindle Paperwhite needs an obsessive focus on the reading experience. Page-turning buttons would make that experience better.

Another disadvantage of the Kindle Paperwhite’s lack of physical page-turn buttons is that you cannot rest your thumb on the screen. If you tap the screen on accident you end up turning the page. If you leave your thumb resting on the screen then you end up highlighting a word.

In the countless hours I’ve spent reading on my Kindle, a touch screen seems so obvious. It makes highlighting passages and looking up definitions a breeze, as well as navigating the Home screen and other menus. The inability to rest my thumb on the screen is only an issue when reading while lying down on my back. And so to me it’s worth having the touchscreen of the Paperwhite than the non-touchscreen of the Kindle 5 (especially since the Paperwhite now has a crisper, illuminated display).

Ultimately, my ideal Kindle would be smart enough to know when I’m resting my thumb on the screen and when I’m trying to highlight a passage or define a word. And it would have physical buttons for turning pages.

  • The Illumination Spotlights: By far, my biggest complaint agains the Kindle Paperwhite is with the way the lights illuminate the bottom of the screen. Underneath the bottom bezel of my Kindle are four LED lights, shining upwards to light up the screen. Yet they shine like spotlights, and it’s not until about 3/4 of an inch up the screen that their light beams blend into one another and you get a soft, even lighting.

The Kindle Paperwhite

This is common. All the Paperwhites have it and nobody likes it. The darker your reading environment, the more pronounced the uneven lighten is. It’s unfortunate for sure, but it is what it is and by no means is it a deal breaker.

The Kindle Paperwhite

  • Text alignment: Nearly all books are aligned with full justification. I say nearly all because the Tom Clancy book I’m reading right now actually has a ragged-right text alignment; surely it’s not the only one. Kindle books are notorious for having odd typos here and there (like the numeral “1” in place of a capital “I”). And so, in a way, it seems like we’ve just come to expect sub-par layouts with our Kindle books. But why should we?

There’s no reason Amazon can’t offer ragged-right text alignment. I second John Gruber’s vote for Amazon to hire a world-class book designer and put him on the Kindle product team.

  • Poor Access to Previously-Highlighted Passages: I highlight passages like it’s my job. It’s how I revisit a non-fiction book. Unfortunately, there’s no great way to access my highlighted sections of a book other than within the Kindle itself.

Right now, the only way I know of to get a highlighted passage from my Kindle to my Mac is to share that passage via Twitter and then copy/paste the passage onto my Mac. It’s unfortunate that I cannot access my Clippings via the Amazon website, nor can I email a highlighted passage to myself.

Update: Thanks to everyone who has let me know should show me all my highlighted passages. Alas, it lists nothing for me. I’ve contacted Amazon Customer Support to see about that. In the meantime, I also learned that if I plug my Kindle in and put it in USB mode then in the device’s Documents folder there is a My Clippings.txt file. (Thanks, Scott!)

The Kindle Paperwhite

  • Special Offers: I suppose technically the special offers are not that great. But for me it’s not worth the $20 to get rid of them.

Last year I bought the version of the Kindle Touch with Special Offers and I never paid the $20 to turn them off. The ads don’t bother me much — I usually just have the Kindle resting face down — and there have been a few times where there’s a deal that I’m actually interested in and I get a book for a buck, or something like that.

The End

The Kindle is in the same category of gadget as my Apple TV. Both are great gadgets that I use often and seem like a steal at their relatively inexpensive prices.

The Kindle Paperwhite has a lot going for it: the e-ink screen, million-year battery life, illuminated display, improved software, the iOS Kindle apps that sync with my iPad and iPhone, and the lightweight yet rugged build of the device hardware. The biggest compliment I can give the Kindle is that thanks to it, I read more books and I read more often.

  1. Amazon seems to have shown their hand with future Kindle updates in that software and hardware updates are coupled together. The most recent version of the Kindle Touch software is version 5.1.2; the Paperwhite is running version 5.2.0 which (in addition to support for the illuminated screen and the missing home button) sports a refined menu a Home screen layout.

    I emailed Amazon to ask if the Kindle Touch would get the 5.2 software update but I got a non-reply about how Amazon has made no announcements for future firmware versions of the Kindle.

Review: The Kindle Paperwhite (Compared to the Kindle Touch)