Hands-on review: Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (2015)

Hands-on review: Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (2015)

Introduction and key features

Editor’s note: We’ve spent time with the new Kindle Paperwhite running early build software, which is why this is a hands-on review. Once our unit receives the final software update we’ll put it through its paces again and give it a star rating.

Amazon’s most popular ereader, the Kindle Paperwhite, has evolved yet again with the 2015 version (or the "All-New" version as Amazon’s calling it) offering an improved 300ppi display, a new Bookerly font and a new typesetting engine, designed to improve character spacing, typography and page layouts for a more pleasant reading experience.

The pixel boost puts its resolution on a par with the Kindle Voyage, which is still the flagship Kindle despite not having been updated yet this year. But with a starting price of £109.99 (US$119) the Kindle Paperwhite (2015) is far more affordable than the extravagant £169.99 (US$199) Voyage.

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (2015) review

The Paperwhite’s price goes up to £119.99 (US$139) if you want it without adverts and up to £179.99 (US$209) for a version with 3G and no adverts, but that’s still well below the equivalent £229.99 (US$289) Voyage model.

On the other hand you can get Amazon’s most basic Kindle from just £49.99 (US$79), but with a screen that’s almost twice as sharp and has a built-in light, the company is clearly hoping buyers will continue to see the value in its Paperwhite model.

The Kindle Paperwhite (2015) might not have a new name but it does have some new features and improvements that are worth highlighting, in fact in theory it’s quite a big improvement over the previous model.

Crystal clear screen

Probably the biggest improvement in the new Kindle Paperwhite, and the biggest reason to consider upgrading to it if you already have an earlier model, is its 300ppi screen.

That’s up from 212ppi on the previous model, and it makes a big difference. Text is sharper, making it less of a strain to read, which if you tend to spend hours getting engulfed in a good book is a very important factor.

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (2015) review

It also means it’s more comfortable to read tiny fonts if your eyes are up to it, making it feasible to fit more words on each page.

Amazon even goes so far as to call it print-quality, which I can just about believe. Pixels are almost imperceptible, and with the built-in light the reading experience is if anything superior to reading off a printed page, particularly when the lighting is otherwise sub-optimal.

Bookerly font

Amazon has created its own typeface, called Bookerly, and it’s making its ereader debut on the new Kindle Paperwhite, though it’s not an entirely new thing as it’s already available on Amazon’s Fire tablets.

It’s been inspired by existing typefaces, particularly Palatino and Caecilia, but it’s designed for use on digital screens, with the aim of helping users read faster with less eyestrain at any type size.

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (2015) review

While that could all easily be dismissed as marketing nonsense I have to admit to being a fan of it. It’s far from game-changing, but it’s slightly easier to read than Baskerville, more modern and elegant than Futura and less harsh than Helvetica, to name three of the alternatives offered by the Kindle Paperwhite (2015).

It’s not a reason to buy the new Paperwhite over any other Kindle, as they’ll likely get the Bookerly font in a software update anyway and the difference it makes is marginal and in part surely comes down to personal taste. But it’s a nice font, I like it and I plan to stick with it.

Top-notch typesetting

Amazon has also outfitted the Kindle Paperwhite (2015) with a new typesetting engine and this changes things in ways which are both subtle and significant.

The sharp screen and useful built in light of the Kindle Voyage – and to some extent previous generations of the Kindle Paperwhite – in many ways replicate and even improve on the experience of reading a printed book, but typography has always been a weak link.

It’s more obvious in some titles than other (and to some readers than others), but previous Kindles have been known to lay out words, paragraphs and even whole pages in an awkward manner.

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (2015) review

It’s often as simple as slightly awkward spacing between letters and words, leading to too much white space, or words and paragraphs being broken up poorly. It can be distracting, and even if you don’t notice it there’s every chance it’s slowing down your reading.

The new typesetting engine aims to fix all that, as well as making larger font sizes more readable with reduced white space and no more broken sentences. It also adds drop caps where applicable, which previously were often absent from ebooks.

It’s a huge step towards fixing one of the biggest problems Kindles still have, and while it currently only works on a subset of Kindle books, that subset numbers at over 500,000 with more added all the time.

Design and screen

The new Kindle Paperwhite doesn’t really look any different to the old Kindle Paperwhite, which is to say it’s not much of a looker at all, with a plain black plastic shell, broken up only by Kindle branding below the screen on the front, Amazon branding on the back and a micro USB port and power button on the bottom edge.

The bezels are fairly sizeable but that’s no bad thing here, as it gives you somewhere to rest your hands without obscuring the screen – or worse, accidentally turning the page.

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (2015) review

It’s a plain design but it feels solid and well built. At 169 x 117 x 9.1mm it is, as Amazon loves to remind you, smaller than a paperback, while the Wi-Fi + 3G model that I tried came in at a surprisingly weighty 217g.

I say surprising because it’s heavier than it looks, not because it’s in any danger of actually weighing you down and if you opt for the Wi-Fi version it’s a slightly daintier 205g. It’s certainly small and light enough to hold comfortably with one hand.

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (2015) review

With its recessed display and plain design, it’s got none of the style of the Kindle Voyage, but that’s OK, as all it’s meant to be is a window into your books. If you want to add a little style, Amazon also offers a fairly attractive form-fitting leather cover with a metal clasp.

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (2015) review

Like other Kindles there’s no microSD card slot, but there is enough storage built in for thousands of books, and if you have more than that there’s also cloud storage for any books purchased from Amazon.

Display and reading

A Kindle is only as good as its screen, and this is one area where the Kindle Paperwhite (2015) really excels.

Its 300ppi display really is a step up and it makes ereading a more pleasant experience than ever, and of course the built-in light has made a return too, ensuring you can comfortably read even in dark environments.

The act of reading is much the same as ever. A tap on the centre or right of the screen will turn to the next page, which it does quite speedily, while a tap to the far left edge will turn it back one and a tap on the bottom left corner will let you switch between viewing the estimated time left in the book, or in the chapter, or the page or location you’re on.

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (2015) review

Finally, a tap near the top will bring down a menu bar which lets you customise the reading experience. This allows you to quickly change the brightness, search for something in the book, jump to a specific chapter, or change the font, text size, margins and line spacing. You’ll find the new Bookerly font here, though the Kindle Paperwhite (2015) defaults to it anyway.

I talked about this in the key features section, but in short it’s a good font. It looks attractive, doesn’t seem out of place in a book, and importantly it’s easy to read.

There are seven other font options though if you’re not a fan of Amazon’s creation, and text can be made very large, which could be handy if you don’t have the best eyesight.

Other Kindle staples are also only a tap away. There’s X-Ray for example, which lets you explore the "bones of a book," as Amazon puts it, to learn more about its characters and themes.

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (2015) review

If you’re ever unsure of what a word means when reading you can just long press it to get a definition. You can bookmark pages, highlight text, read in landscape view and enable Word Wise to see definitions of unfamiliar words above the words themselves, so you don’t even need to look things up.

There’s a lot here and most of it’s useful, but it’s no surprise as Amazon has been improving its Kindle software for years.

Despite all those years of work, the actual typography has always left much to be desired. Perhaps the single biggest issue was Amazon’s insistence on keeping the margins straight. That might not sound like such a bad thing, but it meant that gaps between words could be uneven and sometimes ludicrously large, especially when using a larger font.

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (2015) review

Thankfully Amazon has finally fixed this. You can see what I mean in the image above. On the left is how it was and on the right is how things are with the new typesetting engine, though currently not all books are supported by it.

The improvements go beyond word spacing though. Character spacing has been tweaked too. Rather than having an equal gap between each letter it now looks at pairs of letters and ensures they’re spaced in such a way that they fit better together.

Page layouts have been improved as well, for example with the addition of drop caps, while text and images conform more faithfully to the layout of printed books.

All of this makes reading on the Kindle Paperwhite (2015) faster, easier and more pleasurable than ever. But if you’re stuck on an older Kindle there’s no need for jealousy as the new typesetting engine and Bookerly font will be coming as a software update to other recent Kindles.

Store and battery life

Store

The Kindle store is packed full of content, with millions of books available, though actually navigating it is easier from a computer than the Kindle Paperwhite (2015) itself, with its greyscale display and slightly slow to respond touchscreen.

The good news is that you can easily send a book straight to your Kindle when shopping on another device, though. Still, if you do want to shop on the Kindle itself that’s an option, and if you go for the 3G version you don’t even need a Wi-Fi network.

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (2015) review

Prices are generally pretty competitive too. You’ll know what to expect here if you’ve owned a Kindle before, but books are rarely more than about £5 (US$8) and can often be picked up for as little as around £1 (US$2), especially if you get them in one of the many Kindle store sales.

Battery life

Having had the Kindle Paperwhite for just a few days during my hands-on time, it’s not easy to give the battery an accurate appraisal just yet, especially given that this is a device which can supposedly last for weeks on a single charge.

However, that’s an estimate which seems to assume you don’t read for long each day and don’t leave data connections on.

That said it certainly doesn’t seem lacking in life. After almost three days it went from a full charge to a half full indicator (sadly it doesn’t get more precise than that).

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (2015) review

That doesn’t mean you can only expect a week out of it though. In order to test the Paperwhite out the screen was inevitably on a lot of the time. I spent around four hours actually reading and lots more time testing out the various functions. The brightness was also more than half way up at all times, Wi-Fi was on most of the time and when it wasn’t 3G was.

So I don’t think that’s too bad a showing and it seems fairly comparable to my first generation Kindle Paperwhite, despite the fact that this one has a far sharper screen. If you’re only reading for on average half an hour a day or you keep data off and the brightness lower I’m sure you probably could get weeks out of it.

The competition

The Kindle Paperwhite’s main competition comes from, well, other Kindles, with the basic Kindle and the Kindle Voyage offering cheaper and more expensive alternatives respectively.

But there are a few rival brands trying to make a dent in the market, with Kobo and Nook in particular both offering a range of alternative ereaders.

Amazon Kindle Voyage

Amazon Kindle Voyage

The new Kindle Paperwhite matches the Kindle Voyage’s resolution at 300ppi, so there’s now less reason to choose Amazon’s premium model, but there are still a few reasons for the Voyage’s higher £169.99, $199 starting price.

For one thing it has an ambient light sensor, ensuring the built in light is automatically adapted to provide the optimal brightness for your surroundings, which is handy and you can always turn it off if you and the Kindle disagree about what the optimal brightness is.

It’s also got physical forward and back page buttons as well as the standard touchscreen ones and it packs a slightly more premium build. None of these are particularly essential features, but if price is no object the Kindle Voyage is undeniably still a better ereader than the Paperwhite.

Amazon Kindle

Amazon Kindle

With prices starting at just £49.99, $79 the basic Amazon Kindle is a truly entry level ereader. It has a touchscreen, but it’s nowhere near as sharp as the Paperwhite’s display and there’s no built in light, which are two major marks against it.

If money’s tight or you don’t expect to use it much the Amazon Kindle is absolutely fine. It’s brilliantly good value, has the same impressive library as the Paperwhite and a similarly long-lasting battery. It’s also expected to get updated to support the new typesetting engine.

But if you’re an avid reader you may find yourself craving the improvements offered by the Kindle Paperwhite (2015) and spending more money in the long run.

Nook GlowLight

Nook GlowLight

If you’re not sold on Kindles or want something in between the basic Kindle and the Kindle Paperwhite the Nook GlowLight could be for you.

It has a built in light of its own and a large selection of titles on its store and yet it comes in a little cheaper than the Kindle Paperwhite (2015) at around £80, $99.

But with a laggy interface and a lower resolution 212ppi screen it can’t quite match Amazon’s latest. At around £30 cheaper it doesn’t have to but I’d still be inclined to say the Kindle Paperwhite (2015) is a better buy if you can stretch to it.

Kobo Aura H2O

Kobo Aura H2O

At around £140 the Kobo Aura H2O is a fair bit pricier than the Kindle Paperwhite (2015), almost rivalling the Kindle Voyage. But it’s got a trick up its sleeve that neither of those devices can match, namely the fact that it’s water and dust proof.

How important that is will largely depend on how likely you are to read in the bath or on the beach, but I’d wager that it’s a useful feature for quite a lot of people.

Other than that, it’s a standard yet fairly accomplished ereader, with a bright screen, a well-stocked store and good battery life, but its screen isn’t quite as sharp as the Paperwhite’s.

Early verdict

I’m a big fan of the previous Kindle Paperwhite, so there was never much doubt that I’d like this one, since it’s essentially the same thing again, but with a better screen and some software improvements.

The real question is simply whether that’s enough to justify a new model, or to tempt anyone who’s resisted the Paperwhite in the past.

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (2015) review

We liked

The new 300ppi screen is far and away the best and most vital feature of the Kindle Paperwhite (2015). While the previous generation display hardly seemed lacking in clarity the new one is sharper and your eyes will thank you for it, especially if you like to use small font sizes.

The new typesetting engine is a big improvement too. Along with the attractive Bookerly font it makes things that little bit more readable, though both of these things will be coming to other recent Kindles as a software update, so don’t ditch your old model on the strength of them.

Other than that it’s the same Kindle Paperwhite as ever, with the same interface and features. If you’ve owned a Kindle before you know what you’re getting here and if not, know that no one has cracked the ereader like Amazon.

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (2015) review

We disliked

The Kindle Paperwhite (2015) is great, but it’s not much of an upgrade over the old one. The only major change is the screen, while the remaining headline features will come as a software update to other recent Kindles.

Amazon is coming pretty close to creating a perfect ereader, so it’s inevitable and not that much of a problem that many things will stay the same year after year, but it does mean the new Paperwhite is overfamiliar if you’ve used any recent Kindle.

And there are some things that we’d love to see change for the better. A more premium design would be nice for one. The Kindle Voyage goes somewhat in that direction but there’s room to go further.

Or if not more premium then how about waterproof? The Kobo Aura H2O is, and if you like to read in the bath or by the pool, it’s a good insurance policy.

As good as it is the Kindle Paperwhite (2015) seems like a fairly conservative upgrade.

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (2015) review

Early verdict

While the new typesetting engine and Bookerly font are great additions to the Kindle Paperwhite, they’re going to be added to the Kindle Voyage, basic Kindle and previous generation Kindle Paperwhite too, so they’re not really reasons to choose this over any other Kindle or to upgrade to this.

That leaves the improved 300ppi screen as the main upgrade and it really is a big one, making text and images sharper than ever. If you read a lot then there’s every chance you’ll spend more time looking at this screen than even your phone, so it’s important that it’s sharp and clear.

The upgrade also puts it on a par with the sharpness of the Kindle Voyage, giving buyers one reason fewer to opt for that while retaining the previous Paperwhite’s starting price of £109.99 (US$119).

In short, it seems to be the best Kindle Paperwhite yet and quite possibly the best value ereader on the market.

It’s still lacking a few of the Kindle Voyage’s extras, but it’s got the core features that you need – a touchscreen, a sharp display, a built-in light and a massive library of books. It’s a device that might not need upgrading for years yet it still comes at a fairly reasonable price.

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