The Kindle – My New Travel Companion? Reviewing the Kindle Paperwhite (2015 update)
On long railway journeys, unscheduled airport waits or on road rambles when the eye cannot decipher forms any more as the outdoors is slowly swathed in the patina of growing shadows, I turn to the book I’m currently reading.
If you’ve read about my biggest dilemma (Drop that book and get a Kindle?), you’d know that I struggled with the thought of using an e-reader. And though Bharat has taken to his Kindle and it makes it to his 5 gadgets that are always in his backpack, I was still stuck between nostalgia and a package promising complete practicality.
So I did use a borrowed Kindle for a couple of weeks and I only think it’s fair to present a (neutral) review of the gadget in this article. Because a life on the road and trails requires making practical decisions. And an e-reader scores very high on that front.
The original Kindle made its debut in November 2007. That’s a decade and a line-up of new & updated Kindle devices. Kindle made its foray into India in 2013 with Nook & Kobo e-readers following suit. However with Amazon’s superlative growth in India & the behemoth spending billions of rupees worth advertising (₹ 9.46Bn in 2016* alone, amongst Top 3 advertisers of 2016**), not to forget Kindle’s access to Amazon’s huge array of books & magazine’s & its seamless integration with your Amazon account, the Kindle has won hands-down in preferred choice of e-reader in India.
*Financial Express report
**Pitch Madison report
Unlike other e-Readers, the Kindle is not set up to buy books from elsewhere, but only from Amazon. Thankfully, Amazon has a wide array of books. The Kindle Store on Amazon India boasts of over 3 million books. And at prices that are so competitive – over 500,000 titles at Rs.99 or less and more than 30, 000 titles that are in the public domain and hence free. The Kindle Unlimited is a subscription service that allows unlimited access (on any device using the Kindle app) to over 1 million books upon paying a monthly subscription fee. This is a superlative feature if you’re a voracious reader.
Features such as the Kindle Owners' Lending Library, Prime Reading service and the very popular Family Library haven’t been rolled out in India yet. A lot of customers eagerly await the Family Library service that lets you share your e-books with your partner, with an addition of upto 4 child accounts.
So which Kindle e-reader is for you?
Amazon currently offers these Kindle models in ascending order (Prices as of March 2018)
- All-New Kindle (₹ 5,999)
- Kindle Paperwhite (₹ 10,999)
- Kindle Voyage (₹ 16,499)
- All-New Kindle Oasis (₹ 21,999)
One must note that Amazon is always improving the user experience across its devices. It improved the interface on all its Kindle devices on one update, added the new Bookerly font, the new typesetting engine for a more book-like appearance onscreen and a streamlined interface with easier access to the settings.
It has recently introduced the All-New Kindle Oasis with an upscaled 7” touchscreen (from an earlier 6”), Bluetooth support for audible functionality and a first time on a Kindle – waterproofing (IPX8 rated, tested to withstand upto 2 meters of water for 60 minutes). Kobo has been ahead of the waterproofing curve with their Kobo Aura H2O & the New Kobo Aura H2O for a while now; however it’s a useful functionality and great news for people who read in the tub or their bathrooms and for those accidental spills of tea over ‘oops, where was I looking?'.
All Kindle e-readers share some core staples
- On-device storage — Can hold thousands of books, magazines and periodicals; you will never have to leave a book behind. Now you can take that long sabbatical and take a cottage in the mountains.
- Weeks of battery life — It will outlast any outdoor expedition on a single charge.
- Anti-glare touchscreen — You will never have to change your seat to avoid a glare on the screen and no eye fatigue, unlike smartphones and tablets.
- Adjustable font — Choose the font type and size you want. As an update, Kindle has added the new Bookerly font which has been designed specifically for legibility on e-readers.
- Automatic Bookmark — you can just pick up from where you left off reading. The Kindle’s Whispersync technology synchronizes your last page read, bookmarks and annotations across all your devices (Kindle & Kindle app on smartphone, tablet or computer)so you can pick up exactly where you left off reading.
- Highlight sections & take notes — you can take margin notes, edit, delete & export them. Excerpts can be highlighted and also shared over social media – Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads. One can also see passages frequently highlighted by other Kindle readers.
- Dictionary — no having to interrupt your reading to look up a dictionary, just long-press the word to learn what it means.
- Smart Lookup helps you to understand a word’s meaning, definition and references as it integrates entries from 3 sources — the dictionary meaning through The New Oxford American Dictionary, Wikipedia information & X-ray reference.
- Vocabulary Builder archives all the words looked up in the dictionary for better retention – one can revisit it anytime for a quick revision of new words learnt.
- Word Wise makes challenging books more enjoyable as short definitions automatically appear above difficult words. You just have to tap on a word to bring up the Word Wise card. And you can also choose on the number of hints you want for the word.
- X-ray — lets you explore the "bones of a book" as Amazon puts it, to look up all the references in the book on relevant characters, themes, places and topics. See all the passages across a book that mention relevant ideas, fictional characters, historical figures, places, or topics of interest. Missing a thread of the plot or when a character last appeared in the tome, just use this impressive feature to cull all the references.
- Reading Progress — see your location in the book or the page you’re at and the estimated time to finish the chapter or book. This is based on your reading speed and updates as per your reading.
And some more features that you mayn’t have known about and even if you do, worth a reminder:
- Free cloud backup — your entire Kindle library is backed up for free! No despair if you ‘lose’ a book, just download it again.
- Pages of a Kindle e-book matched to pages in a print book — to help identify corresponding page number — never feel lost in a group reading class.
- Access to documents — you can e-mail personal documents directly to your Kindle and read them in Kindle format. You can also send documents to Kindle using Send to Kindle. This is a happy boon in case you’ve got some reading work to do, other than the book you’re reading.
I used the Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (updated version 2015) for my reading for 4 weeks and this review dwells on this particular Kindle e-reader.
The Paperwhite has a 6” E-ink Carta touchscreen with a 300 pixel per inch density which renders a very sharp display. The glare-free touchscreen has a slight textured finish which makes it feel like touching a piece of paper.
The built-in front light is a blessing in any lighting condition – you can read in the dark now or in any ambient light by just setting the brightness manually. No more having to stretch out in the cold to switch off the lights after your bedtime read anymore - this one Kindle feature has practically maimed physical books.
Portability & Design
The Kindle Paperwhite doesn't look any different to the old Kindle Paperwhite (2013). It is a humble plain plastic shell with a Kindle branding below the screen on the front, the Amazon branding on the back and a micro USB port and power button on the bottom edge. It doesn’t come with a cover, though you can buy them online, they’re available in a few colors.
The Paperwhite is the heaviest amongst all the Kindle readers and yet still weighs 205gm, with the Wi-Fi+3G variant weighing 217gm. This is a very critical factor whilst travelling, touring & hiking, when you’re carrying your own load and every fraction of a nano-gram also matters. It is a portable ergonomic device, doesn’t take much volume in your bag and rests easily in the palm of your hand if you’re carrying it around.
This is a device that weighs around 200gm and can store thousands of books in its on-device storage of 4GB. So you never leave a book behind with the Kindle. There is no provision for a memory card, but that should hardly matter, given the more-than-adequate storage you have already. Though The All-New Kindle Oasis does come with 8GB & 32GB on-device storage, this is ginormous (8X from the previous Kindle readers) and must also be in order to accommodate the audio books.
The battery on a single charge lasts weeks (6 weeks based on half an hour of reading every day with wireless off and the screen lighting set to 10). That is still massive. Now you can leave home the charger when you travel with your Kindle.
The Paperwhite is available in 2 colours — black and white.
Text Overlay & Readability
The Paperwhite has Amazon’s own specifically created typeface, the Bookerly font, designed for e-readers with the objective of helping users have an optimal reading experience — to be able to read faster with less eye strain at any font size. The font’s been inspired by existing popular typefaces Caecilia (earlier default font) and Palatino, but it’s designed for digital screens. Already available on Amazon’s Fire tablets, Bookerly was first used in the All-New Paperwhite update in 2015 and all recent Kindles (2013 onwards) now have this default font. And in case you don’t like the font or are used to the earlier fonts, the Paperwhite has six other font options to choose from. The Paperwhite also offers eight font size options – for you to choose the exact size that works for you.
With Amazon’s new typesetting engine, the Paperwhite’s typography is visually pleasing – the character spacing is considerably improved, the text justification problem has been addressed and overall page layouts are much improved from the pre-2013 generation experience. No more extra spaces running through the text trying to justify lines. This new typsesetting is more like that of a physical book, it flows smoothly with overrunning words split by a hyphen across two lines. This allows for an uninterrupted visual and seamless reading.
With all the impressive features that the Kindle comes with, the interface isn’t as sharp as you’d expect from an Amazon product. The new streamlined interface (available on all models 2013 onwards) does have a much-improved home-screen with easier access to the settings, is deceptively easy to manoeuvre but still looks unobtrusively dull.
The home-screen has a link to your library with tile pictures of the book you’re currently reading and 2 other books in your list. Beside this is a link to one’s reading lists – samples one’s downloaded, books in your Amazon wish-list and titles from GoodReads Want to Read. It also showcases recommended titles that Amazon thinks you may like.
Right on the top of the screen runs a band with menu icons that allow easy access to the few settings people use more often than others. This means that you will not have to dig into complete menu settings anymore. There is also access to the Kindle store. When you’re reading a book, a tap near the top-right will bring down a menu bar which lets you customise the reading experience. This allows you to change the brightness, search for something in the book, jump to a specific chapter, or change the font, text size, margins and line spacing.
Reading is a pleasant no-fuss experience. Tap on the centre or right of the screen to turn to the next page; similarly tap on the far left edge to return to the previous page. Tap on the bottom left corner to view one of my favourite features: the Kindle tells you your reading progress through the estimated time left in the current chapter or book, the page you’re on or the location you’re at and you can switch between viewing any of the four. The Kindle also gives you the option to completely remove reading progress if you do not want that present on the bottom left corner of your page.
The new update includes the integration with GoodReads, so you can connect with the largest online community of book lovers through this feature, update your current reading status, share highlights and rate the books you read. Goodreads for Kindle is only available when connected to Wi-Fi. You can also share excerpts directly to Facebook or Twitter, where Kindle will add a link to a sample of the book that anyone can read in a browser without having to login or have an Amazon account at all.
Kindle Paperwhite or Kindle Paperwhite 3G?
The Kindle is a wireless device, it can be connected to any Wi-Fi hotspot connection for purchase & download of books. No Wi-Fi connection is needed to just read a book that is already in your Library.
The Paperwhite, like the Voyage & Oasis, comes with a 3G model too. This model has built-in 3G connectivity that provides the convenience of downloading books anytime, anywhere and the ability to effortlessly read with all the reading aid Kindle features provide. And this 3G service is free – no monthly fees. The 3G model costs more to cover the one-time cost for the 3G service. If you want to download books and get additional details on the go, don’t want to wait for an available Wi-Fi hotspot connection, then you can get the Paperwhite 3G at an additional ₹3000. Check here for Amazon Kindle’s 3G coverage around the world
Amazon Kindle Paperwhite: The Verdict
With 300ppi display density that allows for sharper text, built-in front-lit display for reading in any lighting condition and at its price, the Kindle Paperwhite is the best value Kindle yet.
If you’re looking to buy your first Kindle, the Paperwhite should be your choice. I would suggest the Paperwhite over the budget all-new Kindle on account of its excellent touchscreen, screen sharpness and front-light that makes reading in any light pleasurable. With the wide availability of WiFi and smartphone-created hotspots, the 3G version seems indulgent & unnecessary. However, if you’re a voracious reader and do not want your reading to be dictated by the availability of a Wi-Fi or hotspot connection, then go ahead and get the Paperwhite 3G. You’ll be reading on the go, at your time & convenience.
If you’re looking to upgrade from any old unlit Kindle, I would suggest the Paperwhite again. However if you are looking to upgrade from the old Paperwhite, I would suggest the All-New Kindle Oasis. The Voyage has the same sharp screen as the Paperwhite and a few upgrades (adaptive light and PagePress) but these don’t warrant the huge price difference. Whereas the Oasis now has a larger screen, more storage capacity and is waterproof. But that is if you’re willing to spend 2X the money as compared to that for the all-new Paperwhite.
AMAZON KINDLE PAPERWHITE (UPDATED 2015)
- 300ppi that allows for a super-sharp screen and a crisp display
- Great Value
Something to Think About before Purchase
- It has no adaptive ambient light sensor (reason for the -0.5)
The 2015 updated version matches the Kindle Voyage in terms of resolution (1448*1072), pixel density (up to 300ppi from earlier 212ppi) and 6” e-ink Carta display. But it misses the Voyage’s adaptive front-light that adjusts screen lighting to match ambient light, a thinner and lighter design and PagePress, a pressure-sensitive button that allows you to turn the page on your Kindle. However given the price difference between the 2 variants (minimum ₹5500 & goes up for the WiFi+3G model), the Paperwhite delivers the Kindle staples, allows crisp eye-friendly reading and is arguably the best balance of features and price.
Still unconvinced about the Paperwhite? Compare all Amazon Kindle models in an easy to use Google Docs spreadsheet.
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