Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (2018) – Making an excellent device almost perfect


Stuff has been recommending Amazon’s range of Kindles to anyone who would listen for years. Sometimes even to people who won’t listen, because… well, they won’t bloody listen. And the Amazon Kindle Paperwhite is the e-reader that we’ve probably recommended most, thanks to its combination of pricing, features, and that excellent side-lit screen.

But there have been a few things missing from the Paperwhite that have since been added to far more costly versions of Amazon’s devices like the Oasis — waterproofing and Audible integration, specifically. Now, thanks to 2018’s upgrade, the Kindle Paperwhite includes those two superpowers in its arsenal in addition to a month-long battery life, decent storage capacity and the ability to read when Eskom decides that you don’t deserve any lights.

Which means that, for rather little additional cash, you can read in the bath or at poolside (or even at the beach, though you’ll have to deal with the sea-sand yourself — we, and Amazon, make no promises there) without fear of drowning your device during a James Patterson or Richard Castle marathon session. All while retaining a price that starts around the R3,250 mark.

Design and screen: Feeling flush

Kindle connoisseurs, those who have been following the range since its inception, will notice the major design change right off the bat. Previous versions of the Paperwhite have used an inset screen — a panel that dips below the wide bezels that make up part of the Kindle’s body. It’s changed here, with Amazon opting for a display that combines screen and bezel into a single, flush surface.

The upshot? Besides looking slicker, the new screen is also easier to keep clean. Not that you should be eating spaghetti and meatballs over your Kindle but these things do happen. The screen is also scratch and shatter resistant, in case you like your redesigns a little more utilitarian.

The new display, as attractive as it is to read, does tend to gather fingerprints on the non-print section — it’s the darkness that shows them up. And the almost soft-feeling plastic rear also shows enough fingerprints to keep a crime-scene investigator very happy indeed, but that issue can be solved by putting the Paperwhite into a case. We were going to do that anyway, shatter-resistant screen or not.

Another item that has changed from the last iteration Paperwhite is the heft — 2018’s model is a little lighter and thinner than before. The difference is slight, but it’s definitely there.

What hasn’t changed is the lack of buttons. You still power it on using a single physical button and then do all your interactions with the touchscreen. Swipe, if you like pretending it’s a real book, or prod the edge of the reading area to move forwards or back, if you’re in a hurry. The screen is also the same — a 6in, 300PPI panel that looks equally good in direct sunlight (with the added benefit that it won’t blind you the way a real book will) or in total darkness. As for the darkness, Amazon’s added an extra LED to the panel to help keep the lighting more even.

Features: Water’ll we do about it

But it’s really time for something new here and this is what Amazon has delivered to the 2018 Paperwhite: IPX8 waterproofing, the sort of thing you’ve been getting used to from smartphone makers and competing e-readers (from the likes of Kobo, especially). That doesn’t mean you can read novels at the bottom of the pool (how would you sip coffee?), but it does mean that if it tumbles over the side you won’t have to resort to replacement.

Does it survive a ducking? Yeah, it absolutely does. The new Paperwhite shrugs off splashes and even immersion, but we’d be remiss if we didn’t point out that we didn’t leave it in the drink too long.

The other all-new feature? Audible, with support for Bluetooth headphones. If you’re keen on getting some culture in your life but want to rest your eyes at the same time, you can pair a set of Bluetooth headphones to the Paperwhite and have Stephen Fry re-re-re-re-read the Harry Potter books to you if you like. It’s headphones only, though — the 2018 Paperwhite doesn’t have any speakers to er… speak of.

The Kindle will even keep track if you’re swapping between written and audio versions of the same book. And, since audiobooks take up more space than ebooks, Amazon’s doubled storage from 4GB to 8GB as a default. There’s also a 32GB version of the reader for the truly voracious but you’re looking at nearly doubling the price for one of those. If you’re all about Audible, though, the move makes sense.

Software: Been here before

Used a Kindle before? Then you’d know exactly what to expect from the interface. Everything is touch-based and follows the layout you’ve seen in Kindles from way back before the screens were touch-enabled.

If you haven’t used one previously, this means that you can get to your library, the Kindle Store or the settings easily from the home screen. Users can opt for a list-based or book cover view, arrange books by author, how new it is, title, arrange items into collections… it’s handy all-round. Users also have ebook and Audible recommendations based on what they’ve read before.

There are quick menus for airplane mode (which we constantly use to stretch the already-lengthy battery life), fonts and spacing, and even the ability to make profiles — say, for reading in total darkness or at midday. There are also a bunch of settings that you might have some fun exploring, as well as a web browser that you will probably never, ever use. We hope.

Battery and performance: Going long

A Kindle is a bit like a Harley Davidson — if you’re expecting it to move fast, you’re doing it wrong. The Kindle interface has always been a laggy experience, with some screens loading like a modem-fetched web page in 1996. Typically this is seen when turning it on and while typing (assuming you do any on here). But actual reading almost benefits from this — the slight lag is faster than the gap you would get turning an actual page but still feeds the illusion that you’re staring at a dead tree while intentionally hallucinating.

We’ve briefly mentioned the battery life and Amazon says that nothing’s changed from the last Paperwhite. We found it about on-par, though we’d expect intensive use of Audible and Bluetooth will shrink usage times. Not that it matters much, it takes weeks to run the Kindle down even if you’re reading for several hours a day and most users will find themselves looking at a month (or even two, if you just leave it on standby for a while) between charges. That’s not as convenient as a printed book but a short trip to the charger will keep you going for another four weeks or so.

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite Verdict

The last Paperwhite was the perfect reading device until Amazon came out with the Oasis, but that upgrade came at a substantial (and literal) price. This upgrade on the already-amazing e-reader adds in a selection of overdue features — features we’ve been asking for for ages but we can’t be too mad about the wait now that we’re here.

Not that we actually want to make use of the main change to Amazon’s Paperwhite for 2018. The online retail giant can tell us they’ve made their Kindles waterproof all that like, we’re not going to be putting that to the test unless we absolutely have to. And… we had to, here, but we still wouldn’t recommend doing the test on your own. Save it for emergencies. That said, reading in the bath is now a far less stressful endeavour. Yes, we used to use the non-waterproof versions in the bath as well.

Do you need a new Paperwhite? If you’re rocking the old version and don’t use it in the bath, then probably not. But if you like living dangerously, or are just dipping your toe in the e-reader waters for the first time, then Amazon’s new waterproof wonder is worthy of consideration. You might think that it’s just another way to consume media but it’s much, much more. Though we have been saying that ever since Amazon’s first e-ink devices launched.

Buy one? If you and yours can’t get enough of the written word, then absolutely. It helps that it now supports the spoken word with its Bluetooth and Audible integration as well.

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  1. Pingback: Kindle now displays cover art on the lock screen thanks to a new update » Stuff

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