Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (2013) eReader Review
Amazon rolls out a new version of its flagship eReader, and it's still king.
Recommendations are independently chosen by Reviewed’s editors. Purchases you make through our links may earn us a commission.
Meet the New Paperwhite
Ah, the perennial release of the Kindle eReader. It must be nice to sit at the top of a locked-down category, but Amazon updated its Kindle Paperwhite (MSRP $119) anyway, with minor tweaks here and there. Honestly though? It's still one of the best, and that has mostly to do with the software that supports it—though the unique ability to read at night is nothing to downplay either.
In a product category where specs don't matter much and performance isn't an issue anymore, features rule. In this regard, there is simply no comparison to the Paperwhite, and that will remain the case for quite some time.
If you're a bookworm looking to leap from the printed page to modern times, the Kindle Paperwhite remains the best way to do so, starting at $119 for ad-supported models, and $139 without. Once purchased, you'll have a dependable and loved device to curl up with in darkness or light.
If you've seen one eReader, you've basically seen them all at this point. Like the Kindle Paperwhite, they're boring looking rectangles that are extremely light and most commonly wear one button. For the Paperwhite, this one is at the bottom right next to the microUSB slot. For those of you terrified of dropping your new companion, the case is coated in a grippy, slip-resistant material to give you something easy to clutch onto while using.
Where the Paperwhite differs is the screen. Unlike most other eReaders, the Kindle Paperwhite has a backlit eInk screen that is just fantastic. Not only do your books look like the actual printed word, but now you can read them in the dark—something that other eReaders can't do.
A capacitive touchscreen allows control of reading eBooks with the same gestures you'd have if you had actual pages in front of you, with an addition of menus. However, the switch to a digital reading device allows other activities as well, such as the use of social media accounts and sharing titles over WiFi.
Brilliant, in more ways than one
Using the Kindle Paperwhite is a fairly unique experience, given that many other eReaders don't have a backlight. This is one of very few eReaders that will work well in both low light and bright light due to the nature of the eReader's design.
E-Ink displays like the one found on the Paperwhite use ambient light to show an image, exactly like ink on paper. Though it's easy to see in bright light, an absence of ambient light will make the screen impossible to see, unless you have another source of illumination—which the Paperwhite has. By using the backlight, you can curl up in bed and read your favorite novels without skipping a beat—a fantastic ability to have, and it solves the worst problem of eReaders.
Though many people treat eReaders much as they would traditional hardbacks, the fact of the matter is that the Kindle is much more than that: This eReader has the support of the largest online vendor of eBooks, and it wields built-in options that most people associate with phones and tablets. It's the 21st century—and as devices like these expand horizons, reading can be very different now than it used to be.
Don't understand a word in a book? Just touch the word and find out, the definition is right there waiting for you. Need a bigger font size? Change it in the main menu. Want to tweet a quote from your favorite novel? Just hold a finger down on the sentence in question and social media integration lets you share it on the web, right from the Kindle. Just to show you that it works, I did it myself just now:
Now to dig into the services—Amazon has a lot to offer if you have both Prime and the Kindle Paperwhite. You can buy books, rent textbooks, borrow/lend your favorite novels, and even download titles for 30 days at a time from the absolutely gargantuan Kindle Lending Library. You can even download War and Peace over WiFi in under 4 seconds, so you'll never wait long for your content. If you grew up on Reading Rainbow, you don't have to take my word for it: This level of support will never leave you bored. There is also a 3G version for those of you who like to travel, and are willing to shell out a little more.
Like a printed page, but not.
If you're making the jump from buying paperbacks to snatching up eBooks, I won't lie and tell you that the transition will be easy. The screen's appearance is a bit jarring if you've never seen it before, because it looks like a printed page—until you "flip the page" and your brain screams, "Ink doesn't DO that!"
The screen is a wonderful bit of technology called "eInk." Basically, a grid of electrodes manipulates a huge array of microscopic spheres; each sphere has a black side and a white side, which the electrodes flip at will, in order to display your eBook. The coolest part? It's actually ink that you're seeing, so pages of eBooks look like printed pages. Genius.
This Kindle really is virtually identical in every way to last year's model, save for a bit faster processor, so we know that it works great for reading eBooks. The screen is crisp, the battery holds a lot of juice (if it's anything like last year's model, it'll last well over 24 hours), internet features are an interesting addition to the activity of reading, and the coating on the front kills most reflections easily. It's the archetypical eReader, and that's really all it's designed to be. The Kindle goes anywhere, and can do everything a book can do, and more. When you do need to charge, just leave the Kindle plugged into your computer with the included USB cable and you'll be ready to go shortly. It may have a small battery, but it takes what seems like eons to drain it.
Many people might wonder or get frustrated by a new product that doesn't have a bump in specs, but with an eReader, there's no need. Really, as long as you're holding this thing over 16" away from your eyeballs, you won't be able to see individual dots on the screen (as it's over 212 DPI), and what else can you ask for? What matters for an eReader's performance is quite pedestrian, so if you came looking for me gushing about specs you'll have to be disappointed—this isn't a muscle car, it's an eReader.
Want the hard data? Head on over to the Science Page for our test results.
Print in your palms
Just like it was last year, the Kindle Paperwhite is the eReader to beat. A great backlit screen that allows bookworms to carry their literary adventures well into the wee hours of the morning is everything one could ask for in an eReader. For that, $119 is a small price to pay.
Sure, Amazon didn't really add much of anything to the eReader, but that's expected—there's not much to fix but software. It certainly takes a bit of getting-used-to, but for the most part the Paperwhite is about as good as it gets for an eReader.
If you're ready to make the leap from printed page to electronic books (or want to throw someone else in the deep end), there is no better device with which to do so than the Amazon Kindle Paperwhite. It's an iterative release, but Amazon's newest eReader gives you much more than a book reader—it gives you access to a huge library of content to be bought, borrowed, and shared. This is one of the most versatile eReaders out there, and definitely a great value.
In all honesty, the Kindle Paperwhite is the archetype of an eReader—Amazon didn't have much of reason to update it from last year's model. It's perfectly fine the way it is, and still an eReader juggernaut. However, if you're flustered at the lack of a spec-bump: Don't be. This is still a brilliant device in more ways than one.
No upgrades necessary
So in the review I mentioned that this screen might as well be "retina" because you can't discern the pixels at a normal holding distance. Even if you think the Kindle Paperwhite's point density of 212 DPI (1024 x 768 dots) is low for a mobile reader, I'm going to posit that it's quite fine for reading purposes. Despite my childhood habit of passing in math tests without showing my work, I'm going to do exactly that right now.
Reading a spec list of any given screen lends itself to a fallacious association of "more = better" in the pixel department. However, there's another element that needs to be considered, and that's basic trigonometry. If you have a mobile phone on you, turn that sucker on and bring it close to your eyeball. See those pixels? Now move it to arm's length—can you still see 'em? The answer I'm looking for is "no," and if you can, it's time to get a new phone.
Anyways, the point of this exercise is to illustrate that the distance between your eyes and your screen is important when trying to determine if the pixels are dense enough that they can't be discerned from a distance. This is why 1080p HDTVs are mostly technically "retina" displays, even though their resolutions are typically smaller than the best tablets, and why the best tablets typically have an enormous resolution. The closer the distance to your eyes, the more pixels per inch of screen area are necessary to make an image that looks more or less "real."
So now the math—there are a couple things we need to know: that someone with 20/20 vision can resolve an image of 1 arcminute (1/60th of a degree) on their retina, and the trig necessary to calculate that. It's important to define terms here, so here goes: in the equation shown, (a) is the visual angle, (D) is the distance from the eye to the screen, and (S) is linear size of the viewed object—in this case it's the pixel spacing. We can use the resulting value to figure out the size of the image on the retina. In this case, we're most concerned with how far away you need to hold the Kindle Paperwhite from your eye until you can no longer see the individual dots.
Using everything we know about the Kindle's screen, we calculated that holding the Paperwhite roughly 16" away from your pupils will result in an image made up of dots less than 1/60th of a degree on your retina—smaller than the visibility threshold of 1 arc minute. If you have 20/20 vision, you won't be able to see the individual squares without some help.
Mobile technology is bumping up against the point at which major breakthroughs in pixel density are really not all that important, and the Kindle Paperwhite is a great example of this—Amazon didn't upgrade the Paperwhite's screen, and they really didn't have to. It's great the way it is, and that won't change for a long time.
Watch as monuments and civilization crumbles long before your battery runs out
I feel like a broken record in saying this, but eReaders typically do extremely well in terms of battery life, but the Paperwhite deserves special mention. Because backlights absolutely chew through power reserves, it's a very special device that can run with one on full blast for just over 24 hours.
At a certain point, I have to call the battery tests and stop the lab experiments simply because it takes too long. Honestly, even if on paper the newest Kindle's battery life is nothing to write home about compared to other eReaders, the Paperwhite's estimated operation time is still fantastic. Just be sure to keep an eye on how much you use that backlight.
As I mentioned before, you don't really need that backlight unless you are reading in the dark. If you turn it all the way down and disable WiFi, you will have an extremely difficult time running it down to 0%. Even if you bring it on a trip with you and forget to bring the USB cable to charge, it will take weeks of intermittent use to drain a full battery—this is perfect for travelers and bookworms alike.
This tablet doesn't shine (and that's a good thing)
Reflectivity is also important when choosing an eReader, but this one manages to keep its shininess in check. If you take this outside, you can expect 12.1% of all light hitting the screen to reflect, but only 1% of it heads directly back at your eyes. In short, the Paperwhite has an extremely effective glare-reduction strategy.
Additionally, the reflection pattern isn't very sharp, meaning the glare itself won't be distracting—you won't see light bulbs or other clear reflections in your screen. This is a huge plus, because the introduction of glare is a really annoying thing to deal with when reading books, but the Paperwhite does a fairly good job of downplaying an overabundance of ambient light.
Practically speaking, this will work well both at the beach or at home in a pillow fort. Barring the Sun going supernova, you won't have much of a problem with glare or outside light.
Get Reviewed email alerts.
Sign up for our newsletter to get real advice from real experts.