When Amazon rolled out its new Kindle models back on September 6, there was — understandably — so much buzz at the new Kindle Fire HD models that it would have been easy to overlook the “monochrome” ebook reader, the Paperwhite. Well, I’ve been a Paperwhite review unit since Wednesday of this week, and I can assure you that this new Kindle should not be ignored. I’m impressed, and I am *almost willing and ready to say that the Paperwhite is the best pure ebook reader yet released by Amazon or anyone else. (*My one gripe may just be a personal idiosyncrasy of my own, so I am willing to discount and get to it later in this review, and I may even outgrow it.)
You can order a Paperwhite unit now on the Amazon website for shipment in late October, and there are two basic choices: a $119 wifi only unit and another, for $179, that offers a choice of wifi and 3G connectivity. At those prices the Paperwhite comes”with special offers,” but you also have the option of paying an extra $20 for either Paperwhite model “without special offers.”
At 7.8 ounces, or 7.5 ounces for the wifi-only model, the Paperwhite feels great in the hand and is the same weight as the Kindle Touch 3G from 2011 and about an ounce lighter than its predecessor in Amazon’s evolutionary tree, the Kindle Keyboard 3G that was introduced in the summer of 2010 and remains available. The processor is the fastest yet on a dedicated ebook reader, the connectivity via wifi and 3G are great, and with wifi turned off the battery and power management allow for an amazing 8 weeks of battery life with the light on.
That’s all well and good, but where the new Paperwhite really hits a home run is right where we, as readers, would want it to smack the ball: with an unparalleled visual reading experience.
Millions of us may have gotten used to the charcoal-on-gray visuals of previous eInk Kindle displays, and even convinced each other that they’re better for our sleep rhythms than a cup of warm milk before bed. But I’m here to tell you that visual reading experience with the new Paperwhite display is not just a home run, it’s a walk-off grand slam, due to the combination of gorgeous hand-crafted font and font size choices, heightened resolution provided by 212 PPI pixel density compared with 167 PPI on previous eInk Kindles, and a patented new technology that distributes light far more evenly than we generally experience with ambient light and, in the bargain, allows for a vastly improved capacitative touch experience.
That Paperwhite “lighted screen” far surpasses the “light in the corner” experience of the Nook’s Glow units and the “I can’t read this by the pool” experience of the iPad. It renders the display so beautifully in all environments, from bright sunshine to a totally dark room, that nobody will ever have reason to complain about contrast on the Paperwhite. This very simple image of the several current monochrome models side-by-side illustrates the point we are making about contrast far better than words:
We’re keeping this initial review relatively brief so that we can focus on other new Kindle features in coming days without wearing out our welcome, but the bottom line is this: if there is a place in your home for a dedicated Kindle ebook reader, the Kindle Paperwhite will probably meet your needs better than any other dedicated ebook reader on the market. We know that millions of our readers have already invested in earlier Kindle models or in the dazzling new Kindle Fire HD models, but given the fact that Amazon has a no-questions-asked 30-day-return policy, it may be worth your while to order the Kindle Paperwhite now so that you can test-drive it in late October and thus be in a position to make an educated decision about whether it belongs on your 2012 holiday gift list, either outgoing or incoming.
*So, what’s my gripe with the Paperwhite? I have to admit that I’m disappointed that there is no audio on the Paperwhite and, therefore, no text-to-speech. I suspect that I’m somewhere in the top 1/10 of 1% when it comes to how much Kindle reading I do in all forms (including manuscripts that authors and publishers send in for prospective Kindle Nation Daily sponsors), and it frankly is a huge help to me to be able to use text-to-speech to expand my reading time to time when I am doing my daily walking or falling asleep at night. I’ll continue to rely on my trusty Kindle DX and my relatively new Kindle Fire HD for text-to-speech, and I will just have to see where that leaves my new Paperwhite on my Kindle lineup. And I should be clear that the fact that I am personally disappointed about the omission of audio on the Paperwhite doesn’t mean I would quarrel with Amazon’s call on this, because I suspect both that the tradeoff allowed Amazon to keep the Paperwhite weight and price down and also that it may enhance adoption, for instance, in secondary school classrooms and libraries.