In our quest to digitise practically anything and everything, Amazon isn't making it any easier for physical books to stay relevant as the company has just launched the brand new version of the Kindle Paperwhite in India. Ebooks were priced dearly in the early days, but that is not the case anymore. Sure, there are other ebook readers in the market, but it's the overall ecosystem of Amazon that brings people back to the Kindle. The first Kindle Paperwhite was launched in 2012 and we were quite impressed with its performance when we reviewed it. Continuing with its yearly refresh, we have the second generation Amazon Kindle Paperwhite 3G among us this year. So is it a completely new device or are the changes merely cosmetic? Let's find out.
Build and Design
For someone who has seen the first generation Kindle Paperwhite, it will be difficult to point out the differences. Both generations of the Paperwhite look almost identical. Visually, the only difference is seen on the rear side, where the older generation Paperwhite has Kindle embossed on it, whereas the newer one has the Amazon branding.
It weighs a mere 206 grams which is lighter than the 222 grams of the previous Paperwhite. Dimensions are identical at 169 x 117 x 9.1 mm, with a 6-inch capacitive touchscreen as was seen with the older model. The bezel has enough room for comfortably holding it in one hand and you can tap on a considerably larger area to go to the next page, easing single hand operations. The rear side has a nice rubberised finish which gives you a good grip. The power/standby buttons on the Paperwhite are located on the bottom edge beside the microUSB charging port while the all other edges retain a clean look.
We got the Kindle Paperwhite with the leather cover (which needs to be bought separately). It is the same cover as was seen with the older Paperwhite as the dimensions are identical. Removing the Paperwhite once it is neatly fit into the cover needs a bit of patience. But you will rarely want to do that. The cover has a lovely textured finish and the gray coloured magnetic flap with the Kindle branding adds a lot of finesse to the cover.
Considering both the Paperwhites look identical, most of the features are similar as well. For instance the pixel density is the same at 212 ppi, it has the similar 2GB onboard storage of which 1.25GB is available to the user (Amazon claims that you can store upto 1100 ebooks), free cloud storage for all Amazon content and support for TXT, PDF, unprotected MOBI, PRC natively and HTML, DOC, DOCX, JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP, through conversion apart from its native AZW format and so on.
There are a bunch of new features as well. The first thing that you visually notice is the addition of Goodreads, which is present on the top row of the menu bar between the search and settings icons. This is a social network for bibliophiles - from which you can rate books, comment on books, share passages from books and so on. The contrast on the newer Paperwhite is noticeably higher when you place it beside the older version. Amazon has put in a new processor in as well, which it claims is 25 per cent faster than the older Paperwhite. We shall see how it fares ahead in the review.
Navigation is quite simple and if you have used the older Paperwhite, you will be right at home. The Home button brings you to the home screen where you can arrange the books either by cover design or in a list form. Home button is followed by the back, brightness setting, shopping cart and search menus which are self-explanatory. The settings menu is contextual, and it will throw up different options depending on which menu you are currently in.
The frontlight is comparatively more evenly distributed and there is barely any glare. Kindle Page Flip is another new feature - activated by a slide-up gesture from the base of your Paperwhite - whereby you can scan through the book using a slider which shows up at the bottom of the device, without leaving the page you are currently on. You can have multiple bookmarks too and on double tapping the top right hand corner, you get a list of bookmarks. This is quite helpful if you are reading a book such as The Game of Thrones, where you may need to refer to maps which are located in the initial few pages or the appendix. Considering the size of the page you are scanning through is large, you can even go back to refer to a page which you may not have bookmarked or go back to a particular chapter without exiting the current page you are reading. This is as close as you can get to a physical book when it comes to going back and forth to scan the book.
The X-Ray feature allows you to do a deep-dive on the character or a place in the book and you can also find out areas where that particular character or place has appeared in the book. It resembles a horizontal bar code on the bottom edge of the screen.
Vocabulary builder is a new addition to the Paperwhite. It basically creates a repository of all the words you may have highlighted to look up its meaning. You can then check your vocabulary by hitting on Flash cards, which will show a flash card in the centre of the screen with the word and its meaning. This is a great feature for those who want to improve their vocabulary as well as those who want to revisit some of the arcane words they might have come across while reading say a heavy Salman Rushdie book - all in one place.
Just like the older Paperwhite you can highlight passages and share them on your social networks such as Facebook or Twitter - Goodreads being the default network. You can translate passages or words and you can choose from 16 languages, including Hindi. You can also put books in a folder if you need to organise them further.
The cover now comes with the ability to turn on the Paperwhite on opening the flap of the cover. Unlike the old Paperwhite, you do not need to swipe to unlock.
Amazon claims that the new Paperwhite has a faster processor, so we decided to pit it against the older Paperwhite and we did indeed notice a speed bump. During page flipping, you may not notice the speed, but when you are going from the main menu into a book, the newer Paperwhite is considerably faster. As compared to the 2012 Paperwhite or even the Kindle Keyboard, the difference is quite impressive. When placed side-by-side with the older Paperwhite, you will notice that the contrast on the new Paperwhite is higher than the older one. The blacks are deeper and it looks comparatively brighter. Reading the Paperwhite in bright sunlight, brightly lit rooms as well as dark rooms is no problem at all. One addition that we would have like in the model is the inclusion of a headphone jack for audiobooks.
The touch response is quite smooth and there is barely any noticeable lag while turning the pages and while swiping horizontally or vertically. Typing using the onscreen keyboard isn’t as accurate and if you are typing fast you will most likely end up making spelling mistakes. If you are searching for books, it will provide drop down options, which speeds up things. Ghosting of text is hardly there when you are flipping pages, but you do notice a slight amount of it if you are surfing the web.
On the connectivity front, it comes with WiFi 802.11 b/g/n and 3G. The 3G connection is a lifetime free connection from Vodafone and it is only meant to be used if you are trying to buy a book on the Amazon store. Internet surfing using the Experimental Browser still needs a WiFi connection. Buying books is quite straight-forward, once you enter the shopping cart. Apart from books, you can also buy newspapers, magazines and Kindle Singles. You can sync the device to the cloud and using the Kindle app on your smartphones or tablets, can start off from where you had left off on your Paperwhite.
We tried out a variety of books, magazines, graphic novels and newspapers on the Paperwhite 3G and loved the whole experience. While reading Watchmen, a graphic novel, we noticed that you can use the pinch-zoom mechanism as you would on a regular tablet, but the Paperwhite takes a couple of seconds to settle down on a high resolution final output. You can even double tap on a single panel and read the graphic novel one panel at a time if you really want to see the details on each panel. With a regular book, you can use the pinch zoom gesture to increase or reduce the font size.
While reading The New York Times or other newspapers, you can arrange the news as a list view or as a cover view - where the screen is divided into four boxes each having a news headline, an image or the text in that article. Long tapping on an image brings up the zoom-in icon, which opens up a full screen version of the image in the article. Same is true for magazine articles.
Amazon claims that the battery life of the Paperwhite lasts around 8 weeks, but that obviously comes with certain terms and conditions. To quote from the official product page, “A single charge lasts up to eight weeks, based on a half hour of reading per day with wireless off and the light setting at 10. Battery life will vary based on light and wireless usage”. So clearly the 8-week battery life should be taken with a pinch of salt. Having said that, during our testing period of a couple of weeks, we just felt the need to charge the Paperwhite once. But again, we were using it for a lot more hours per day, buying a lot of books and had the Wi-Fi and 3G on at all times - which a regular user will not. So it is safe to assume that for regular reading of a couple of hours daily, a single charge will easily last upwards of 3 weeks, which is quite good. If you are in the airplane mode and have the Page Refresh for every page option turned off, you can squeeze in more reading time.
So is this the best ebook reader you can buy right now? Absolutely! Should the existing first-gen Kindle Paperwhite users consider upgrading to the new Kindle Paperwhite? Not really. Sure, the new Paperwhite offers improved display, faster speeds and other goodies, but spending over Rs 10,000 just to access these features is not advisable. Think of the number of new books you can buy with that money. For a first time Kindle buyer or even someone who is still stuck on Kindle Keyboard and is looking for a change, we recommend new generation Kindle Paperwhite.
The new Kindle Paperwhite 3G is priced at Rs 13,999 whereas the Wi-Fi only version comes at Rs 10,999. This is the same price point as the older Kindle Paperwhite when it had launched. The older generation Paperwhite will be available till stocks last. At the moment, the 2012 Kindle Paperwhite 3G is selling for Rs 11,999. Unlike in the US, you do not get the ad-supported models, which are comparatively cheaper than the ad-free counterparts. If you have someone coming from the US, you can get the new Kindle Paperwhite WiFi version for around Rs 7,500 and the Paperwhite 3G for around Rs 11,300.
Kindle Paperwhite 3G or Kindle Paperwhite? Well, this again depends on the user. If you are someone who travels frequently and want to be able to buy books while you are on the go, the Kindle Paperwhite 3G makes a lot of sense. But for a regular reader, who will be close to a Wi-Fi hotspot in office or at home, the 3G version does not provide any incentive as such. The money saved on the 3G model can be invested in getting the leather cover which comes for Rs 2,399.
If you love reading books and want a device which can replicate the same experience of reading a physical book, then the Kindle Paperwhite is the best investment right now. It is much better than reading books on a smartphone or a tablet, which can cause a lot of eye-strain due to their backlight. With the frontlight on the Paperwhite, you can comfortably read for long hours without feeling any strain on the eyes.
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