The Kindle Paperwhite

This month I received my Kindle Paperwhite e-reader, the fourth Kindle I’ve owned and the best thus far. I love the “electronic ink” screens since they are easier on my eyes for extended reading than the backlit displays on my iPhones and iPads, and the convenience of having many books available to read in a small package, with no need to prop open the pages for reading, means I always try to read a book on a Kindle unless color illustrations are its major focus.

Generation 1 2 3 5
Purchased in… June 2008 February 2009 September 2010 October 2012
My Cost $360 $360 $139 $139
Resolution 600×800 (167 ppi) 600×800 (167 ppi) 600×800 (167 ppi) 758×1024 (212 ppi)
Connectivity Cellular Cellular WiFi WiFi
Major Improvements Improved forward/back buttons; 16-level grayscale instead of 4 Further button refinements; better contrast with Pearl display Front lit; improved contrast and resolution; improved battery life
My Review Kindling Kindle 2: Evolutionary, Not Revolutionary The Case of the Crashing Kindle This post

I skipped the fourth-generation Kindle Touch, since the display improvements were minimal and I was quite content with my third keyboard model and didn’t see much added value in a touch screen. I discarded the defective Amazon case, skinning my third Kindle with an attractive vinyl overlay on the front and back and carrying it around in a soft BUILT sleeve.

But the fifth generation Kindle Paperwhite brings a front-lit display with improved resolution, so I decided to upgrade again. I again face the choice of a WiFi-only or WiFi with Cellular model and opted again to save money by getting the WiFi-only model, plowing $40 of the $50 savings into the ad-free option, which provides attractive “off” screens instead of displaying ads when you turn the unit off. I’ve been using the $139 ad-free WiFi model for  over a week now, so I am ready to share my impressions.

The Paperwhite (left) is smaller but sturdier than the Kindle 3

Smaller Size but Similar Heft

My first impression of my new Kindle was surprise at its seemingly diminutive size. It is only slightly narrower than my third Kindle, but the loss of the keyboard makes it shorter, which made it seem smaller than I had expected it to be. The weight is down from 0.54 pounds (2.4 newtons) to 0.49 pounds (2.2 newtons), but the decreased size disguises the reduced weight in the newer unit’s slightly greater density, amplified by a more rigid body.

Sturdier Feel

Overall the new unit feels sturdier and less likely to bend and break. It is the best casing thus far. The first Kindle had a weird shape with horrible large side buttons which were too easily triggered, while the second one had much better buttons, but the case did show marked signs of wear after a year of use. My Kindle 3 was known to pop open at the seams on occasion when flexed, and the Amazon add-on cover was useless since it would change the pages or crash the Kindle when closed and transported. I could easily snap the Kindle 3 back together without any annoyance, but the new unit feels much more substantial. It fits down in my old Kindle 3 BUILT soft sleeve for travel. I don’t intend to put a skin on my Paperwhite since the back is now a matte soft-touch plastic and is comfortable to the touch, providing a good grip.

The Touchscreen

Tap zones on the Paperwhite

The Paperwhite is only available in a touchscreen version, and I was leery of that. I don’t enjoy having to wipe off the screens of my iPhone and iPad, which easily smear, but thankfully I have yet to encounter annoying smears on the Paperwhite. I had wondered how responsive the Kindle’s touchscreen might be compared to the Apple products, but the inherently slower speed of the e-ink display, although much faster than previous generations and far less annoying, disguises any lag.

Losing the hardware keyboard is no great loss since interacting with the touch screen controls is fast and easy. However, I do miss the dedicated hardware forward and back buttons on the sides of the unit. It isn’t hard to tap the right spot on the Paperwhite to change pages (and I do mean “right” when advancing a page, and that is not completely comfortable for me as a southpaw), but I liked the old way I could grip the bezel and just click the buttons underneath my grip to change pages without moving any fingers. The new bezel is wide enough for comfort, but I wouldn’t want it to be any narrower.

Frontlit Display is a Big Improvement

The Paperwhite has a front-lit display with several white LEDs at the bottom of the screen shooting light through waveguides across the screen. The text area is lit evenly enough for my taste, although you can easily perceive where the lights are because of uneven lighting at the bottom of the display below the text. This is not annoying in use, and the lights greatly increase the perceived whiteness of the background and improve the contrast of the display. You can adjust the light level and turn it off, but the screen looks far better with having it on all of the time. I found a single light level which is comfortable for me both in a lit and an unlit room. And reading the Kindle in the dark is a new experience, since all of the previous models relied on ambient illumination.

The frontlit display is a big improvement

Silence, Please

My earlier Kindle had speakers and text-to-speech recognition, so it could read a book to me if the book’s publisher didn’t disallow it. But I almost never used that feature and won’t miss it, and I’ve never used a Kindle to listen to music or audiobooks since I always have my more capable iPhone at hand (with improved ear buds on the new iPhone 5).


I’m getting used to the changes in the interface design because of the touchscreen. When selecting something to read, the Paperwhite defaults to displaying the covers of books instead of a text listing, but I was able to switch it back to the list view, which I prefer. I leave the WiFi on all of the time, whereas on my Kindle 3 I would always manually turn the WiFi on and off to improve battery life. Thankfully the Paperwhite’s long battery life withstands both the frontlit display and always-on WiFi with aplomb and I have yet to recharge it despite hours of reading. This means WhisperSync can keep my Amazon-purchased books in sync across devices – when I’m not carrying my Kindle on the road I can instead read with my iPhone’s or iPad’s Kindle app, and those apps and the Paperwhite keep the books in sync when I switch devices, so I don’t have to hunt for where I left off. This was true for the Kindle 3, but didn’t work in practice because I kept its WiFi shut off.


So I’m very pleased with my Kindle Paperwhite, and the only change I would make, if I had my druthers, would be having dedicated page change buttons on its left and right sides. I’ll send off my Kindle 3 to a new life somewhere, as I did with my earlier Kindles. Unlike most electronics when they become obsolete, I can’t stand to throw away a Kindle – it would feel just as wrong as throwing away a good book!

About Granger Meador

I enjoy day hikes, photography, podcasts, reading, web design, and technology. My wife Wendy and I work in the Bartlesville Public Schools in northeast Oklahoma, but this blog is outside the scope of our employment.
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2 Responses to The Kindle Paperwhite

  1. HI Granger! I’ve had a Kindle Keyboard for a while too and I’m pretty happy with it – but the reviews for Paperwhite have been so good, I’ve been starting to think that I’m missing out. I think I’d terribly miss the page change buttons too though. I too am a southpaw and like to use the left page turn button.

  2. Pingback: Honeymoon, Day 2: Downtown Portlandia | MEADOR.ORG

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