The Kindle Paperwhite is probably the most-praised – and one of the most popular – ebook readers. Amazon didn’t need to change it, but it has given the Paperwhite a minor refresh. It has a faster processor and a new light for its screen. If you own a Paperwhite already, you don’t need to upgrade to this version. But it remains the best ereader for the majority of people.
The design of the new Paperwhite is just like the last. It’s made of matt, soft touch plastic and is narrow enough to grip in one hand. Unlike the latest tablets, the Kindle isn’t obsessed with reducing screen bezel, though. Amazon has kept enough to give your thumb somewhere to rest.
It feels great, and at 206g, it’s still significantly lighter than a tablet. The one obvious design change is that he logo on the back has changed from 'Kindle' to 'Amazon'.
Like the last Kindle Paperwhite, though, there are several features missing that were present in previous Kindles. There’s no headphone jack and no internal speaker. These were always secondary features at best, but their omission means you can’t listen to music with this ebook reader, or use the voice synthesis feature of the old keyboard model.
This let you turn books into audiobooks. And while it was a neat extra to try out once or twice, we’re yet to meet someone who routinely used it.
The Kindle Paperwhite also lacks a memory card slot, and has relatively little internal storage. There’s 2GB, just over half of which is accessible. This may not sound like a lot, but it is enough for hundreds of books and newspapers.
Without a card slot or headphone jack, the only socket on the Kindle Paperwhite is a microUSB port, used to charge the battery and transfer ebooks. Contrary to what some believe, you’re not tied to the Kindle bookstore with an Amazon reader – you can transfer your own ebooks by hooking the ereader up to a computer.
The one serious limitation is that the Kindle Paperwhite doesn’t support the popular EPUB format, probably the most popular ‘standard’ for the online distribution of ebooks. If you have your own collection of ebooks, changing their format is easy – there are websites that’ll do it for you – but it does rule out being able to borrow books from public libraries. These schemes use the EPUB format in the UK.
Amazon does offer its own lending service direct from the Kindle bookstore, but you need to be an Amazon Prime subscriber. This costs £49 a year, but also gets you free deliveries for other Amazon orders.
Coming back to hardware, perhaps the most important change in the 2013 edition Paperwhite is in its screen. Both the screen and the light that illuminates it have been changed, but there are no spec changes to speak of.
The 2013 Kindle Paperwhite has a 6-inch 1,024 x 768 resolution E-ink screen, just like the last version. It’s a new generation of screen, though, called Carta. Its main improvement is contrast, making print appear blacker than before.
Carta is a marginal improvement over the previous-gen Pearl screen, but you would have to have previous experience of Kindles to really appreciate this. As an E-ink display, whites and blacks are both much greyer than they’d appear on a high-quality LCD or AMOLED screen.
Still, the reading experience Carta offers is fantastic. If you’re convinced you only need a tablet or phone for your ‘digital’ reading, we recommend trying out an E-ink ereader.
The Kindle Paperwhite light has had significant improvements, but again they’re things only previous Paperwhite owners will truly appreciate. The first-generation front-lit screen was slightly uneven, with a clear brighter area where the side-firing LEDs are. Amazon has fixed this, resulting in almost perfectly even light dispersal. It's excellent. Some rivals are slightly brighter, but we're yet to find a normal situation in which we needed even the Paperwhite's top brightness setting.
Like the first Paperwhite, the light comes from in front of the screen rather than behind it (like an LCD screen), making it much less fatiguing than a tablet display.
Intended as a minor update rather than something truly different, the new Kindle Paperwhite has an interface very similar to that of the last one. It’s fully touch-based, as this ereader doesn’t have any of the physical buttons of the cheaper £69 Kindle.
As the Paperwhite is fairly advanced in some respects, it’s slightly less technophobe-friendly than the early Kindles. It’s down to the dynamic approach to cloud storage. From the home screen, you get easy access to your entire Kindle library – not just downloaded ones. It’s kept within a separate tab, but the divide between on device and Cloud storage is not something every gran has gotten to grips with.
Cloud storage is particularly handy if you buy the 3G Kindle, letting you download books from your library, more or less wherever you are in the world. The 3G version is significantly more expensive than the Wi-Fi-only model, though, at £169 rather than £109.
There are a few new software bits added too – most notably Vocabulary Builder and Page Flip.
Vocabulary Builder keeps track of every word you’ve looked up while reading, acting as a way to keep track of words you need to school up on. It shows up as a separate ‘book’ in your library so isn’t integrated in a particularly clever way, but this also stops it from cluttering up the interface.
The other new extra is Page Flip, which lets you look through a book without losing your page. A few extra software bits are planned, including separate profiles for kids, but they’re not here yet.
For more about the interface, read our 2012 Paperwhite review
The best things about the new Kindle Paperwhite software are those that were present in the last-generation model – top of the list is the way the Kindle book delivery system works. You can buy books directly from Amazon.co.uk and have them delivered directly to your ebook reader (sync’d over Wi-Fi or 3G). Browsing for books is still, in our opinion, better on a computer.
The new Paperwhite does try to improve performance a bit, with a 1GHz processor used in place of the 800MHz one from the last-gen model. Speed is still limited by the refresh cycle of E-ink screens, though, meaning that as with the other improvements, the speed increase will only really be appreciated by current ebook reader owners. It does ensure that the Page Flip feature works snappily, though, letting you fly through pages at quite a pace (it doesn’t use full-page refreshes so isn't slowed down much by the E-ink tech).
If you’re after an ebook reader, you don’t already own a previous-gen Kindle Paperwhite and you don’t mind losing out on EPUB support, this the device to own. It doesn’t have significant enough upgrades to make owners of 2012 Paperwhites get rid of their Kindles, but it is probably the best ereader out there for the majority of people.
There are cheaper options available, such as the £69 basic Kindle and the bargain-tastic £49 Nook Simple Touch GlowLight. But they're simply not quite as good.
The 2013 Kindle Paperwhite is not all that different from the previous model, with a better processor and slightly improved screen. It’s enough to make this the tablet to buy if you’re not upgrading from the previous Paperwhite, though.