Going digital with the Kindle Paperwhite

Looking back at Nuketown’s “Technology” category, I’m surprised how little I’ve written about the Kindle Paperwhite, especially considering just how much time I’ve spent using the device.

I wrote about e-readers once — when I got my original Kindle Touch back in 2012. Since then I’ve upgraded to the Kindle Paperwhite (Amazon), which offers a crisper display, backlighting, and a better touch interface than its predecessor. I’ve also read more books on it than I can easily count, and gone from being an avid reader who usually consumes paperbacks to an avid reader who almost never does.

Yeah, it’s been a big change, and one I didn’t see coming.

As I mentioned when I got the Kindle Touch, my primary reason to get an e-ink device was my summer vacation. For the last 10 years my family and I have been spending a week or more with our friends at their Butler Island cabin on Lake Champlain. Butler Island is only reachable by small boat — no ferry, no bridge — and space tends to be at a premium. The Kindle lets me easily bring a half-dozen books on vacation on a device that’s less than 1/8th the thickness of a traditional paperback.

Another attraction was the backlighting. The cabin we stay in doesn’t have power; when the sun goes down I’m reading by oil lamp or candles, and when they’re extinguished, I’m reading by flashlight. That has its own nostalgic charm, but it’s far easier to turn on the backlighting than it is to balance a flashlight and novel at the same time.

Vacation was my original reason for getting a Kindle, but it’s a decision that’s paid off at work and at conferences and much for the same reasons. Some of the books I read can be pretty hefty, and since I walk to work that means carrying the book in my backpack. The same is true on the plane, where space at an even greater premium.

Storage considerations aside, I find e-book reading to be a lot more comfortable than a print book these days because I can control the font. It’s been a subtle thing, but as I get older I’m getting increasingly farsighted. Don’t get me wrong — I can still read the text in a paperback without too many problems, but it does cause more eye strain than it used to. With the eye reader I can bump the font up a notch and read just as comfortably as I did when I was 30.

Device Delving

The Paperwhite was a substantial upgrade from the Kindle Touch. Even without the backlighting turned on, the text was crisper and the contrast better than the entry level Kindle. With the light set to a minimal level — something you’ll want to do even if reading indoors in average light — the contrast is even better. Battery life is a little worse than the Touch, likely because of the backlighting, but it still goes weeks without needing a recharge. On the island I can usually make it through the entire trip without a recharge, and that’s with using the backlighting almost every night.

The interface has evolved several times over the years and it’s pretty easy to page through your library of books. When reading a novel, the features I use most are the dictionary look-ups — great for figuring out that obscure medieval word that found its way into a modern day fantasy novel — and the highlighting.

The X-Ray feature, which lets you select a character or location and learn more about it within the context of that particular book, is cool but unevenly implemented. When done well, it can be a handy way of refreshing your memory about a particular minor character (especially when it’s been a week or three since you last read the book).

The “Whispersync” feature works well — purchased books show up on my Kindle quickly and without any fuss. I’ve had occasional issues with Amazon getting confused about where I am in a book if I’ve been reading on my phone, the iPad, and the Kindle, but for the most part it accurately remembers where I left off.

Like most e-readers today, books you purchase from Amazon include its digitial rights management scheme. This is a sticking point for many of my geeky friends, but I personally don’t have a problem with it. The device works and works well, and I’ve had zero problems getting to my content.

A Few Drawbacks

There are two things about the Paperwhite that I wish I could change: the screensaver and the black matte finish.

By default, the screensaver that displays when the kindle is off is a random graphic image — stacks of books, close-ups of pencils, etc. What I really want is for the Kindle to display the cover of the current book I’m reading or maybe even an option to cycle through the covers of my favorite books. You can do it easily enough if you jailbreak the kindle, but it should be something you can do out of the box.

Another minor annoyance is the matte black finish of the Kindle Paperwhite. The Kindle Touch was grey and it did an admirable job of not showing dirt and finger prints. The Paperwhite, however, tends to pick up grease and sweat from your hands. Perhaps I’m being too picky about this, but it bugs me to see streaks on the Kindle when I’m reading it on a hot, sunny day and — inevitably — start sweating. I’d love to see the Paperwhite offered with a dark grey option, but sadly Amazon only sells it in black and white.

Final Analysis

The Kindle Paperwhite is a solid, dependable e-reader and one that I’d purchase again. Sadly, I’m going to have to do just that, as my old Paperwhite’s screen was some how damaged by children/cats/dogs in my household. I don’t know how it happened, but it was shocking when it did — the Kindle’s taken any number of body blows while on vacation or on business trips and never had a problem. It still works just fine without the backlighting, but my summer vacations and occasional bouts of insomnia demand a functional backlight.

Product Details

  • Kindle Paperwhite
  • MSRP:  $119.99 (with special offers/ads) , $139.99 (without  special offers/ads)
  • Buy it from Amazon