Yes, I know the Kindle Paperwhite has not begun shipping yet, and no, I'm not special enough to have received one prior to release. However, I did follow the launch news carefully and have done enough research to provide what I hope is a helpful pre-release review of the new Kindle eReaders.
First, the obvious benefits:
1. Lighted display. Simply put, this is fantastic technology that really adds value to the Kindle and further separates it from the competition. The light is easily adjustable, allowing you to perfectly illuminate the screen in any and all lighting conditions from bright sunshine to dark rooms. Furthermore, unlike booklights or even the lighting on the new Nook with GlowLight, the technology behind this provides very even illumination across the entire screen with no glare. Couple this with...
2. Significantly higher resolution. The dpi (dots per inch) has increased from 167 to 212. This means much sharper text and graphics yielding a much more pleasing reading experience. The fonts have also been refined to ensure the greatest clarity based on this higher dpi, and font choices have increased from 3 on the Kindle Touch to 7 on the Paperwhite (product literature mentions 6 fonts, but 2 versions of the Cecilia font - regular and condensed - increase the choices to 7).
3. Software upgrade. The new "Time to Read" feature analyzes your overall reading speed to provide an estimate of the time left to complete a chapter or book. Not a game changer, but a nice enhancement. This could be helpful in deciding yes or no when my kids plead to stay up just a little longer to finish the chapter. Also advertised is support for children's books & comics with Kindle Pop-Up and Kindle Panel View, which allows you to read a comic book panel by panel. There may be other enhancements that will become apparent once I get to play with this a bit more.
4. Battery life. Amazon touts 8 weeks per charge. What is less clear is that they base this on 30 min/day of reading, so you are looking at 28 hours without wireless turned on. Sounds less impressive put that way, and with wireless on you may get half that (or less) dpending on how long you keep wireless on. However, this is still very impressive, especially when you consider that this rating is based on having the new light on (Amazon assumes you'll have that on except when outside in daylight). Do note that this does NOT represent an improvement over previous models.
And now some cons...
1. No physical buttons. Most people I've heard from, myself included, prefer having some physical buttons, especially for page turning. This also means that because of the lack of the 5-way controller used on some earlier models, it is possible that not all Kindle apps will work (well) on tHe Paperwhite models. If you're upgrading from a Kindle Touch, this won't be an issue for you.
2. Perhaps the biggest disappointment is the elimination of audio support. This is a great feature of the Kindle 3G with keyboard and some other older models. What do you lose? A few things: MP3 audio (useful for listening to music while you read), Text-to-Speech for having the Kindle read the book to you, and audio books (shocking given Amazon's ownership of Audible.com. This loss is really generating conversation and is deterring some from upgrading (myself included). This further marginalizes Kindles as pure eBook readers.
3. Less memory. Storage space has been reduced from 4GB to just 2GB. In reality, most people won't miss the 2GB that have been chopped, especially since audio files are no longer supported (audio files are much larger than books). But for some (like me) who have extensive book collections, this is another disappointing change. Of course, you do have Amazon's excellent cloud backup, which makes it easy to archive books to remove them from your Kindle, as well as quickly download previously archived books. This may be a good reason to consider the 3G version over the Wi-Fi only model; you can easily retrieve books from your archived collection without having to rely on Wi-Fi access.
4. Experimental browser support (for browsing sites other than Wikipedia and Amazon.com) is now restricted to use with Wi-Fi connections. This won't matter to most, especially since even on the older 3G models browsing the web was awkward at best. However, for me, this was unwelcome (though understandable) news. When travellng internationally, free 3G access to email, news, etc. was quite helpful, even though the browser was a challenge to use. I've been told by Amazon.com that this service change does NOT affect older Kindle models with 3G, but it would be good to have this tested to know for sure.
So... Should you upgrade? Or if you are getting your first Kindle, which model should you buy?
IF AUDIO SUPPORT IS IMPORTANT TO YOU, then stick with an older model. The Kindle DX, Kindle 3G with Keyboard, and Kindle Touch all include audio support.
IF PHYSICAL BUTTONS FOR PAGE TURNS & OTHER ACTIONS IS IMPORTANT TO YOU, stick with one of the older models.
If either of the above applies to you, consider contactting Amazon to share your feedback. It would be nice to see both of these features bundled in a Kindle that includes the new features of the Paperwhite.
FOR EVERYONE ELSE, the new Paperwhite features are really nice. The $119 Paperwhite (Wi-Fi only) is agressively priced. The lighting technology and better clarity and contrast is what sells me. For those who travel or who have extensive libraries and frequently change what is on their Kindle, spending $60 to upgrade to the Paperwhite 3G is worthwhile if you can afford it.
What about the "special offers" (otherwise known as ads)? The ads are not terribly intrusive, and some of the offers are even quite attractive, so consider saving $20 by getting the Paperwhite model with ads. I've not had it confirmed, but I have heard that on the "Manage Your Kindle" page you can later pay $20 to turn off the ads (which is the same as paying to get a Kindle without ads at purchase time).
A quick final note for the few reading this who are trying to decide between a Kindle eReader and a Kindle Fire. For an all-around device, the 7" Fire HD is an amazing deal at $199 (as is the $159 marginally updated original Fire). You get the benefit of an eReader along with the gorgeous color screen, excellent apps, audio & video support, etc. That said, for people who enjoy reading (or have to read), the technology used in the Kindle Paperwhite models (and older models, too) blows tablets like the Fire HD and Apple iPad away. After months of using my iPad 2 for reading out of a desire to use only one device, I've recently gone back to my Kindle, and have discovered afresh how much nicer it is to read on. And, of course, you get that great battery life with Kindle eReaders that you won't get on a Kindle Fire or other tablet.
I'll post a complete hands-on review once my Paperwhite 3G arrives in October.
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