Lost in all the excitement around Amazon's new Kindle Fire HDX tablets is a new version of the firm's Kindle Paperwhite eBook reader. Released earlier this week, the 2013 edition of the Kindle Paperwhite differs from last year's version in only very subtle ways. So this will be a short but sweet overview.
I wrote about the original Kindle Paperwhite last year in my cunningly-titled post, Amazon Kindle Paperwhite. Everything I wrote then still applies, as this "new" Kindle Paperwhite is just a minor, minor revision of the original device. Rather than cut and paste from my earlier work, I'll just summarize it like so:
Always-on backlit display. The "white" in Kindle Paperwhite comes from the lights that power the screen. This has always worked pretty well, and it works a bit better in this version, so I'll discuss this further below.
Multi-touch interface. The Kindle Paperwhite uses a multi-touch interface and has no hardware buttons aside from the power switch. It's easy to get used to, but works differently than the multi-touch interface used by all other Kindle tablets and apps. This can be confusing if you read on multiple devices as I do.
Pretty much text only. As a traditional eBook reader—i.e. not a multi-function tablet—the Paperwhite works best with purely text-based books and periodicals. Which is fine, since more complicated presentations—many magazines, all comic books and graphic novels, and other Kindle content—isn't compatible with the Paperwhite anyway. Newspapers continue to work very well with this device, and I've really come to like the device's periodical display.
Identical form factor. To be clear, the "new" Paperwhite uses the exact same body as the previous version, so all accessories—including the handy Amazon cover I've been using since last year—continue to work just fine. It is the same dimensions, weighs the same, and looks the same as before.
So the main selling point of the Kindle Paperwhite is of course the Paperwhite display, which works perfectly well in literally any lighting condition: Full dark, bright daylight, whatever. Amazon says it spreads light across the screen nearly evenly, but that wasn't strictly true of the firs-gen version: Each of the two devices I bought had streaky-looking shadows at the bottom of the screen.
With the new version, those shadows are gone, and the light display is indeed even and not muddy anywhere in anyway. It is in other words as perfect as such a screen can be, and thanks to a few other improvements, it's clearly a superior version of the Paperwhite display. Amazon says that the screen has been contrast, with "whiter whites and blacker blacks," and that's true, though it's subtle. It's clear, crisp and clean.
Amazon also claims that the new Paperwhite is 25 percent faster than its predecessor, and this, too, is a bit subtle: Books open a bit more quickly and pages turn a hair more quickly, though I feel like these are areas that were already working fine.
There is one major software update, which I believe will be available to owners of the previous-gen Paperwhite: When you bring up the menu while reading (by tapping near the top of the screen), there's a new Page Flip menu at the bottom. Tap that, and can easily jump to the next or previous chapter, or flip ahead in a smaller version of the book to see how far you are from the end of the current chapter. It's a neat little feature that overcomes some of the complaints readers of traditional books have made about Kindle.
And... that's about it.
If you're an existing Paperwhite user, there's no need to upgrade, since the differences are so minor. And certainly many people have turned to multi-function tablets, like those in Amazon's Kindle Fire line, iPads, or other Android devices, instead of sticking with a traditional eBook reader. The Kindle app in those products benefits from additional features, too, like supporting color, different book and periodical types, and more. But if you're a heavy reader, as I am, you can't beat the Kindle Paperwhite. And I still use mine, every single day, to read two newspapers and various books.
The price is affordable, too. The base Kindle Paperwhite costs just $120, though it comes with unobtrusive "Special Offers" (read: ads), and the 3G version starts at $189. I've been using the base version since last year and wouldn't give it up for a tablet. It's just a lot easier on the eyes.
The Kindle Paperwhite is recommended for anyone who loves to read.