With so much attention showered on color tablets these days, it's refreshing to see dedicated electronic readers get some love. So while Amazon.com has certainly pushed the latest iterations of its Kindle Fire tablets, the Internet retailer also is shining the light on the dedicated Kindle Paperwhite e-reader that starts shipping Monday. The shine is coming right back at you (in a good way).
Paperwhite is the first conventional E-Ink-style Kindle with a built-in reading light. It leaves a glowing impression.
I felt that way upon seeing Paperwhite in early September at the Los Angeles press gathering where it was launched along with the Kindle Fire HD tablets. And I feel that way now that I've had a chance to read on the device over several days.
Not only does Paperwhite let you read in a dark bedroom, say, without having to switch on a lamp and disturb your sleeping partner, but you can also make out the screen in broad daylight.
The front-lit technology inside the new Kindle does a splendid job of distributing that light uniformly across the 6-inch screen. You're certainly aware of the light but hardly distracted by it.
Paperwhite starts at $119 for a version with ads or what Amazon refers to as "special offers." It costs $139 without those offers. A step-up model with free 3G cellular access that would let you search for and purchase eBooks when you're out of reach of Wi-Fi costs $179 (with ads) and $199 (without ads). To be sure, that's expensive compared with the entry-level Kindle without a light -- now down to $69 with ads.
But the higher cost doesn't appear to be slowing sales. Amazon says that due to heavy demand if you order a Paperwhite now it won't be shipped until the week of October 22.
Amazon is by no means the only company to put a light inside an e-reader, much less the first. Barnes & Noble actually delivered the Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight months ago, a decent contender at the recently-discounted $119 price, matching the tab on the entry Paperwhite. Coming soon is another e-reader with an integrated light, the Kobo Glo from Kobo.
For now though I give the nod to the Kindle. On Amazon's reader you can't actually turn the light off, though you can tap the touchscreen and drag your finger along a slider to raise the brightness or lower it to a level where you can barely detect it.
It may sound counterintuitive, but Amazon actually advises you to use a low brightness setting for dark rooms and a higher setting when the room is well lit. As with the Nook with GlowLight, you must manually change the brightness level, since neither can adjust to the ambient light automatically. Just four LEDs (light sources) are in use by Paperwhite to illuminate the entire screen.
Amazon claims up to two months of battery life, assuming you leave the brightness level at the default setting, turn off Wi-Fi, and read about 30 minutes a day. I obviously haven't had the new Kindle long enough to test that assertion, but battery life is really not much of an issue on popular modern E Ink readers, anyway. I never even bothered to charge it after it arrived and it's still going strong.
Minor quibble: Though you can charge the Paperwhite with the supplied USB cable by hooking it up to a computer, an actual AC power plug is a $10 accessory.
Unlike the LCD displays on many computers and tablets, Amazon says, the light on Paperwhite projects toward the text on the page where it is guided under an anti-glare layer. You are not blinded. I had no trouble making out the screen in direct sun.
Bookaholics will appreciate just how nice the high-resolution 6-inch grey-scale screen is. Fonts are especially sharp and crisp. Amazon says a couple of the typeface options--Baskerville and Palatino, if you're keeping score--weren't possible on lower resolution displays because their thin stems wouldn't render well.
The capacitive touch-screen technology on Paperwhite is responsive. Page turns are quick, though some people might prefer physical buttons to touch as on some older Kindle models. I'm not one of them.The device is slim and light -- 7.5 ounces on the Wi-Fi only model, slightly heavier with 3G. I could easily read holding it with one hand.
It has 2GB of internal storage but no slot for adding extra memory, as on the Nook with GlowLight. Still, you have enough storage to hold up to 1,100 books, on top of free cloud storage for your Amazon content.
I especially appreciate the new Time to Read feature. If you're lying in bed wondering if you have enough stamina to finish a chapter or the entire book, the Kindle can help you make that determination. By detecting your reading speed, it can display how much time is left in the chapter and/or how much time in the book.
Another helpful feature is called X-Ray, a boon for folks who read lengthy books with numerous characters, fictional or historical. By summoning X-Ray, you can easily find and jump to passages in the book where the character is mentioned. In some cases you can get more detailed descriptions from Wikipedia or Amazon's owned community-powered encyclopedia, called Shelfari. I relied on X-Ray reading Stephen King's 11/22/63.
As with other Kindles, you have more than 1.5 million available books in the Kindle Store, including 180,000 Amazon claims as exclusive. You can share highlighted sections of books on Facebook and Twitter. You can tap a word for its definition or to translate it to or from English and several foreign languages.
Amazon has brightened the picture for readers with Kindle Paperwhite--quite literally and in more ways than one.
The bottom line
Amazon Kindle Paperwhite
www.amazon.com. $119 for Wi-Fi only with ads or $179 for Wi-Fi and 3G with ads.
Pro. Built-in light lets you read in the dark or bright sun. Excellent screen. Time to Read feature and X- Ray.
Con. Some people may prefer buttons to touch-screen. AC adapter is accessory. More expensive than models without light.
By Edward C. Baig