Amazon Kindle Paperwhite Review: The Best E-Book Reader?

Frontlighting, Examined

E Ink, Revisited

At its core, the Paperwhite remains an E Ink-based e-book reader. So, page refresh times are still significantly slower than what you’ll ever see on a tablet’s LCD.

Kindle Paperwhite: E Ink Demonstration, Still Slow

E Ink employs charged microscopic capsules in order to generate images. So, the screen's refresh rate directly correlates to the time it takes to charge electrodes and move the capsules. This process isn't measured in single-digit milliseconds, as it might be on a tablet. Rather, the latency is quantified in the hundreds of milliseconds.

Paperwhite: What’s Different?

For starters, the Paperwhite employs a capacitive touch sensor, as opposed to the previous Kindle Touch's infrared sensor. This improves response times noticeably. Back in January of last year, we benchmarked screen refresh rates on the Kindle Touch and found them to be about 50-100 ms slower than the non-touch version and older Kindle Keyboard. The capacitive sensor yields a substantial speed-up; we can't detect a noticeable difference in the delay.

Perhaps more important, Amazon adds LED lights to the Paperwhite, allowing you to read the display in the dark. Backlight might be the wrong term to use, though. While tablet screens and computer monitors are illuminated by LEDs that emit light out towards the user, the Kindle Paperwhite shines light back down towards the screen. Ergo, the Paperwhite’s backlight is actually a frontlight.

The clip below is an excerpt from Amazon’s official Quick Tour video, which gives a breakdown of this technology:

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite: Technology Explained

In the next video, Amazon employees talk about the challenges they faced designing the Kindle Paperwhite.

Kindle Paperwhite — A Look at the Technology Inside

It was actually very hard: We had to spend many hours in dark rooms to pick LEDs. We looked at samples and looked at for this batch here these are the best LEDS to match the characteristics of a white, very neutral color. We spent a lot of time looking at how many LEDs to put in, how hard to drive them, how bright we could get it without impacting the battery life. You don’t want someone to have to [consciously] manage their light, and say, I’d really like to have the light on but that’s gonna hurt my battery life.

In a nutshell, Amazon combined the extremely power-efficient characteristics of a non-glare display with a touch-sensitive screen, and managed to tack on illumination for good measure. This is nothing short of a tremendously impressive feat.

To be precise, the Paperwhite’s display employs a light guide that sits atop the capacitive touch sensor. The guide is made of a transparent material, and light from white LEDs enters at the bottom edge of the display, bouncing along nanoimprinted channels within the guide. Amazon says it operates in much the same way as a fiber optic cable, though the company doesn't share much more detail than that.

The nanoimprinted channels are responsible for an even distribution of light across the entire display. Because the LEDs provide the strongest illumination towards the bottom edge of the screen, the criss-cross pattern of these channels becomes denser towards the upper edge, intensifying the output to maintain even distribution of brightness throughout.

Create a new thread in the US Reviews comments forum about this subject
This thread is closed for comments
56 comments
Comment from the forums
    Your comment
  • Stimpack
    I've been contemplating whether I should buy the Kindle Fire or the Paperwhite for a couple of weeks now. While this summation of the Paperwhite and its features helped shed some light (heheh.) on its selling points, I still feel no closer to a decision.

    Nevertheless, it was an entertaining read! In fact, it's made me register an account here. I can't wait to read more articles like this. Fun stuff!
    4
  • slomo4sho
    I am still waiting for a Kindle with SD or mSD expandability.
    1
  • kartu
    slomo4shoI am still waiting for a Kindle with SD or mSD expandability.

    It's called "Sony Reader T2". It runs Android. And it's rooted.

    And you are not bound to Amazon's store with it, even non rooted you can burrow books from electronic libraries and read common formats like EPUB.
    -4
  • Mark Matthews
    Typo on the top of page "results" page...
    worth should be worse
    3
  • Mark Matthews
    dirtyferret
    ive read several books on my kindle fire HD, often for hours at a time, and never had an issue with eye strain or battery life. In fact i prefer reading on the kindle HD then a regular book.


    The one advantage of e-ink readers like the traditional kindle, is you can read it in daylight. I have an iPad and spend a lot of time chilling on the back deck during the summer, and I have to go through a lot of seating arrangements to minimize the glare so that I can see the iPad. Ordering a new Kindle just for this purpose.
    3
  • ubercake
    I like my Paperwhite. It's really easy on the eyes and does not have all the distractions of a tablet. When I want to read, I use this. It's great under sunlight, but does in fact have a sort of mild glare under artificial overhead lighting conditions. Nothing bad, though. You can just tilt it a little one way or another to elimnate the glare. What is especially great is when it's dark and you're a passenger on a car ride. You can continue to read. The lighting is great and doesn't fatigue your eyes like an LED or LCD screen.

    Cloud sync is great too for those times when I don't have my Kindle with me. I can pick up my phone with my Kindle app and start reading right where I left off on my Kindle and vice versa.

    Also, the battery lasts significantly longer (we're talking months of daily reading) if you just shut off the wireless connection when you're not downloading any books or sync-ing to the cloud. If you leave the wireless connection on full-time, you need to recharge after about 4 weeks.
    3
  • tridon
    I really fell in love with the graphs over Display Performance that showed the differences between the Kindles. Please use this the next time you review a Kindle as well. It would be valuable extra information when deciding whether or not to buy a new version a year or two :) It will be very interesting to see if the Paperwhite has improved the clearness in a year.

    Great article! *thumbs up the article*
    2
  • tridon
    StimpackI've been contemplating whether I should buy the Kindle Fire or the Paperwhite for a couple of weeks now. While this summation of the Paperwhite and its features helped shed some light (heheh.) on its selling points, I still feel no closer to a decision. Nevertheless, it was an entertaining read! In fact, it's made me register an account here. I can't wait to read more articles like this. Fun stuff!


    If you plan to read a lot where there is natural light (in the sun or shadow outside or near windows, etc) I would really recommend the Paperwhite. Just my personal preference. My eyes are really having a hard time reading on a tablet under such conditions. If you mostly read where you can control the lightning condition the Paperwhite would still be easier on the eyes, but there is no longer a real problem reading on the tablet =)
    2
  • Anonymous
    I've being using 3 models of kindle. The back light on the latest one is great but the touch screen... ARG, my god, a pain in the but. Get me simple buttons, I miss my buttons SO MUCH.
    If you are using your tablet to read, not comment, not surfing the web, not playing, reading, all you need is a previous/next page. The touch screen is not flawless, it will not work then you will skip 3 pages. Then you'll put your kindle on the coach and something will touch the screen and...

    Bring back the button please!
    3
  • shadowfamicom
    hadignyI've being using 3 models of kindle. The back light on the latest one is great but the touch screen... ARG, my god, a pain in the but. Get me simple buttons, I miss my buttons SO MUCH.If you are using your tablet to read, not comment, not surfing the web, not playing, reading, all you need is a previous/next page. The touch screen is not flawless, it will not work then you will skip 3 pages. Then you'll put your kindle on the coach and something will touch the screen and...Bring back the button please!


    Yes I am really pretty sick of the lack of buttons in favor of touch screens. Part of the reason I never really used a first gen iPod touch that someone gave me. If I am walking and have my MP3 player in my pocket... I want it to have buttons, for switching songs and volume up and down. Don't even get me started on phones without physical keyboards.
    3
  • ubercake
    Anonymous said:
    I've being using 3 models of kindle. The back light on the latest one is great but the touch screen... ARG, my god, a pain in the but. Get me simple buttons, I miss my buttons SO MUCH.
    If you are using your tablet to read, not comment, not surfing the web, not playing, reading, all you need is a previous/next page. The touch screen is not flawless, it will not work then you will skip 3 pages. Then you'll put your kindle on the coach and something will touch the screen and...

    Bring back the button please!

    This is one thing I noticed too going from the keyboard Kindle to the paperwhite. I liked the buttons a lot better on the keyboard Kindle as the touchscreen is a bit laggy. All things considered, though, you can't beat the ability to read in any lighting conditions (no light all the way to direct sun light) with the Paperwhite. The lack of the keyboard is a little annoying, but if you think about how infrequently you use it, it's not so bad.
    3
  • sumludus
    Wow. This entire aritcle is a gigantic advertizement for the Kindle Paperwhite. while I agree that it's the best e-reader on the market, I came to that conclusion after comparing it to the Nook and Kobo, not simply previous generations of the Kindle. Of course Amazon's latest incarnation of the device is the greatest; doing otherwise would not make good business sense. But to call ti the best without the mention of any other brand of e-reader anywhere in the article is worse then simple bad journalism; it's becoming an Amazon shill. Shame on Andrew Ku for his poor reporting, and shame on Tom's Hardware for publishing this disgraceful article.
    2
  • Mickeyblueyes
    I have had 3 Kindles as well as a to be unnamed competitor. I used to swear that I would never give up the "book" for an electronic reader. Now I have a hard time not making that same claim for the Paperwhite.
    What I like. E-ink. This was the whole idea behind the Kindle revolution. Paper quality, no eye strain, read in the sun. Granted I use my iPad for surfing the net, reading news and all around keeping up. However I do notice the eye strain after a while and I just can't get a handle around curling up with my iPad to read a book.
    Adjustable fonts. Made for older eyes. I used to pass up books because the print was too small or the binding had a chance of doing damage if I dropped it on my head while dozing off.
    I do like the touch screen. I guess it is what we get used to. I was forced to use a button Kindle after my Kindle Touch went down. Never really got the hang of it. Almost everything we encounter now is touch so it becomes intuitive.
    The back lighting. Finally!!! I really dont miss looking for a decent hotel room light to read by. I also don't miss my little external light batteries running out at inconvenient times. I don't even have a reading light on my side of the bed anymore.
    Amazon has copyright agreements in many more countries than other makes. In other words in many countries you cannot download a book. Don't take a minimum wage clerk's word on it. We spend a lot of time out of country and it became very clear to us that Amazon by far gave us the most flexibility. A disclaimer. I do not, have not and never will work for for Amazon.. Oh and the customer service is terrific as well.
    3
  • Mickeyblueyes
    Anonymous said:
    Wow. This entire aritcle is a gigantic advertizement for the Kindle Paperwhite. while I agree that it's the best e-reader on the market, I came to that conclusion after comparing it to the Nook and Kobo, not simply previous generations of the Kindle. Of course Amazon's latest incarnation of the device is the greatest; doing otherwise would not make good business sense. But to call ti the best without the mention of any other brand of e-reader anywhere in the article is worse then simple bad journalism; it's becoming an Amazon shill. Shame on Andrew Ku for his poor reporting, and shame on Tom's Hardware for publishing this disgraceful article.
    0
  • Mickeyblueyes
    Um, correct me on this but the title of the article is " The Amazon Paperwhite Review: The best e-reader ever? The question mark allows for discussion.
    2
  • ubercake
    Anonymous said:
    Wow. This entire aritcle is a gigantic advertizement for the Kindle Paperwhite. while I agree that it's the best e-reader on the market, I came to that conclusion after comparing it to the Nook and Kobo, not simply previous generations of the Kindle. Of course Amazon's latest incarnation of the device is the greatest; doing otherwise would not make good business sense. But to call ti the best without the mention of any other brand of e-reader anywhere in the article is worse then simple bad journalism; it's becoming an Amazon shill. Shame on Andrew Ku for his poor reporting, and shame on Tom's Hardware for publishing this disgraceful article.


    I know what you're saying but the thing of it is, there's probably been very little market penetration for Kobo and Nook. It's like including the E-reader I run across at the counter at the drugstore checkout (I don't even know the brand).
    4
  • robj_30
    ubercakeI know what you're saying but the thing of it is, there's probably been very little market penetration for Kobo and Nook. It's like including the E-reader I run across at the counter at the drugstore checkout (I don't even know the brand).


    Are you kidding? The Nook is a huge seller! Barnes and Noble has 600+ retail locations that are all pushing those devices plus a thriving web site and e-book business. Amazon may sell more, but that doesn't mean there isn't competition worth mentioning.
    0
  • gm0n3y
    I agree with sumludus. To have an e-reader review that doesn't even compare against other similar devices is silly. The Kobo Glo is generally considered to be a slightly better device than the Kindle Paperwhite (similar backlighting, faster processor, faster screen refresh, etc). Most people still opt for the Kindle due to Amazon's greater number of books and generally lower prices, but to not even compare the 2 (not to mention the Nook) makes this article largely useless.

    This is basically like having an iPad comparison and only comparing it to the iPad Mini (and excluding the Surface RT, various Android tablets, etc).
    2
  • ubercake
    robj_30Are you kidding? The Nook is a huge seller! Barnes and Noble has 600+ retail locations that are all pushing those devices plus a thriving web site and e-book business. Amazon may sell more, but that doesn't mean there isn't competition worth mentioning.

    I'm all for the competition, but look it up. Barnes and Noble is basically with us still due to last year's cash investment of $300,000,000 by Microsoft (17% ownership in the Nook unit). As far as retail paper book stores, Barnes and Noble is going by way of those paper book stores we've seen precede it into the great beyond. Now that Microsoft has their own tablets, what value does the Nook provide them?

    I wish it were different, but I wouldn't put any money on a company that's still thoroughly invested in old ways of doing things (paper book stores). We saw Borders go away pretty quickly.

    Barnes and Noble is far from the thriving company you make it out to be.
    0
  • denny wheeler
    @ kartu:"It's called "Sony Reader T2". It runs Android. And it's rooted.

    And you are not bound to Amazon's store with it, even non rooted you can burrow books from electronic libraries and read common formats like EPUB."

    Um. Kindle isn't bound to their store. You can load plain text, mobi, some other formats, directly from your pc, and via the email portal, pdf, Word, etc. Not sure about ePub.
    1