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Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (2018) review: the new best-seller

Its been over three years since Amazon upended its product lineup when it added its highest-resolution display to its most popular Kindle, the Kindle Paperwhite. The Paperwhite has long been the default Kindle, the one thats inexpensive, yet good enough to satisfy most peoples e-reader needs. And now, Amazon is back with another update to the Paperwhite that brings features like waterproofing and Audible audiobooks from a high-end sibling (in this case, last years Oasis), along with a slightly tweaked design and a $10 price increase. The new Paperwhite is still a Paperwhite, with all the pros and cons that come with it. Except now you can also take it into the bath. On the outside, the updated Paperwhite looks a whole lot like the 2015 model, and if youve used a Paperwhite anytime within the last few years, youll know what to expect. The biggest hardware change is that the display is now flush with the glass, instead of in a recessed alcove, bringing it in line with the higher-end Kindle Oasis. Amazon also says that the lighting is improved, with an additional LED for a total of five (for reference, the high-end Oasis features 12 LEDs, plus an adaptive light sensor for automatic brightness adjustment). The default storage has been doubled to 8GB, though now theres a 32GB option, and the hardware itself is just a little thinner, lighter, and smaller than the old model. But otherwise, its the same old Paperwhite: the screen is still a fantastic 300ppi, six-inch E Ink panel; the back is a soft, grippy plastic; and the battery life, practically endless. But the two headline features that really make this an upgrade over the 2015 Paperwhite come straight from last years second-gen Kindle Oasis: waterproofing and support for Audible audiobooks. The key difference? At $129 for the entry-level Paperwhite, it costs nearly half of what the pricier Oasis does, putting what was already Amazons best-selling Kindle at near feature parity with its most premium model. Amazon says that the new Paperwhite is IPX8 rated against accidental immersion in up to two meters of fresh water for up to 60 minutes. Seeing as its currently November in New York City and bringing the Kindle to a beach or a pool was sadly not an option, I had to do some more mundane tests like dipping it under a faucet and in a nearby fountain. (As expected, the Paperwhite held up fine.) Waterproofing is where one of the Paperwhites flaws comes into play, though. Unlike the Oasis, with its physical page turn buttons, the only way to interact with the Kindle is with its touchscreen — the same touchscreen that goes absolutely haywire from an overload of constant inputs when it comes in contact with water. Now, Amazon has prepared for this with a software option that disables the touchscreen entirely, save for page-turning swipe gestures, but physical buttons — either the pressure-sensitive pads of the old Voyage or the actual buttons on the Oasis — seem like a much better solution. The audiobook support is also identical to the Oasis — you can listen to your Audible library over a connected pair of Bluetooth headphones. And if you own both the ebook and audiobook versions of a title, you can seamlessly switch back and forth between versions at the push of a button — Amazon will even sync your place. Its the sort of thing where Amazons sheer dominance of the digital book industry becomes apparent: when I set up the Paperwhite, it was already populating itself with Audible books I didnt even remember I owned. The new Paperwhite is also plagued by a few issues that have dogged the Kindle lineup for years: Amazon still only offers support for 2.4GHz Wi-Fi, which is increasingly frustrating given the new support for audiobooks that can only download over Wi-Fi. And while its not really a surprise given the rest of Amazons lineup, the new Paperwhite charges by Micro USB instead of USB-C — particularly disappointing considering that itll likely be another three years before Amazon updates the Paperwhite again. Fortunately, charging it is still just a once every few weeks affair. As for actually using the new Paperwhite, well, its a Kindle. The software has been ever so slightly tweaked — there are some new options for preset text settings that you can customize and save, which are nice. But otherwise, reading on the Paperwhite is just as good of an experience as reading on the last Paperwhite, or really any other Kindle. Its still a magical concept to be able to carry an entire library around with me in my back pocket, but thats all you can do with it, for better or for worse. Its a bespoke device built for a single purpose: reading, and Amazon seems content to keep it that way. At the end of the day, the biggest question with the Paperwhite isnt if its the Kindle you should buy, because with the price point, screen quality, and feature list that it has, its impossibly easy to recommend it if youre looking to buy a Kindle today. Between the screen, waterproofing, built-in light, and improved design, it beats the $79 base model by a considerable margin. And unless youre truly enamored with the Oasis unique design and slightly larger display, theres just simply not enough there to justify the $120 price difference. If you already own a 2015 Paperwhite, or the since-discontinued Voyage, things are a bit trickier. The new Paperwhite is still very much a better Paperwhite, though, and not a replacement for a much-loved Voyage. Compared to the new model, the Voyage is slimmer, features those capacitive page turn buttons, and has an automatically adjustable backlight — if youre someone who felt that the Voyages features were worth an extra $80, the added Audible and waterproofing might not be enough to sway a new purchase. And if youre already someone who owns the current Paperwhite, the question then becomes whether or not the waterproofing, audiobook support, and the various other smaller improvements are worth the upgrade, and thats going to depend a lot on how you use your Kindle. But odds are, come next summer, youll be seeing a whole lot more Paperwhites by the pool. The new Paperwhite, like the other Kindles before it, is the latest refinement of a formula that Amazon has been iterating on for more than half a decade now. And even if the latest improvements have been slow to come (Amazons nearest competitor, Kobo, has had waterproofing for years), its the gradual addition of genuinely great changes that make the existing hardware better to use. Forget being a jack of all trades, the Kindle is content mastering one. And while there are still lingering issues here and there, the new Paperwhite is probably the closest Amazon has come to achieving that goal. Correction: The Kindle Paperwhite (2018) is rated IPX8 waterproof, not water resistant.

Kindle Paperwhite 2018 review: A more premium e-reader at the right price

Everything you already loved about the Paperwhite, plus extra features, for $129. The $249 Kindle Oasis injected a lot of change into Amazon's e-reader lineup when it came out in 2016. It was the first to deviate from the standard slab design, and it became the first waterproof Kindle when it was updated one year later. It quickly gained the ability to play Audible audiobooks as well, making it a one-stop shop for all reading endeavors in almost any environment. But the Kindle Oasis was, and still is, the most expensive e-reader Amazon offers. Meanwhile, the Kindle Paperwhite continued to capture the hearts and eyeballs of many readers who didn't want to shell out the money necessary for the Oasis or the now-retired, $199 Kindle Voyage. After years of minor updates, Amazon has decided to update its best-value Kindle yet. Enter the 2018 Paperwhite, which has a familiar but improved design has five front-lighting LEDs, Audible integration, and more storage. Oh, and it's waterproof. Aside from design and price, little separates it from the Kindle Oasis—but the Paperwhite still starts at $129. Admittedly, e-reader tech hasn't been the most interesting in recent years. The Paperwhite was a great, yet boring e-reader, like most similar devices are today. While Amazon isn't doing anything markedly different with the 2018 Paperwhite, the device is new enough that it just may get some Paperwhite diehards to upgrade and persuade some new customers to join the club. Before the new Kindle Paperwhite made its way into my hands, I was working with a second-generation Paperwhite, circa 2013. I've always been a big reader, and I invested in a Paperwhite when I didn't want to have many physical books cluttering up my small apartment (I've since changed my mind about that, so I read both physical and e-books now.) I enjoy reading on the Paperwhite for two reasons: portability and visibility. I like that I can travel with an entire library of books within the confines of the Paperwhite's small frame, which is an impossibility when all you have are hardcover and paperback books. I also like that its E Ink display doesn't strain my eyes like my smartphone screen would if I were to stare at it for hours on end. The new Paperwhite doesn't change anything about those two beloved aspects of my old Paperwhite— it achieves both well, maybe even a bit better that my old device. The Paperwhite got a 300ppi E Ink touch display a few years back, so it's not totally new. But it was new for me. The screen on my second-gen Paperwhite isn't bad by any means, but the higher quality of this display produces sharper fonts and slightly more detailed cover images. The display sits flush against the bezels, not recessed like previous Paperwhites, and that gives the device a more streamlined appearance. I didn't think that change would make such a big difference, but it really does make the new Paperwhite feel like a sleeker, less chunky e-reader. Combine that with its 6.4-ounce weight, and the new Paperwhite looks and feels just different enough for users to notice a pleasant change. I didn't know how much of a performance boost I'd notice in the new Paperwhite when compared to my second-gen device, but I found out quickly. While the device still takes a few minutes to boot up when it's turned off completely or when the screen is completely off, it's noticeably faster when turning pages, swiping to a new page in my library, and navigating the settings menu. My second-gen Paperwhite lingers longer and longer on every page refresh, and that made me appreciate the swift performance of the new model even more. The touch display is the only way to turn pages on the new Paperwhite, as it doesn't have page-turn buttons like the Oasis does. The buttons let you turn pages without lifting a finger, which is convenient but not necessary. I'm sure I would use page-turn buttons if they were included on the Paperwhite, but Amazon had to discard some features to keep the Oasis unique. The five front-lighting LEDs illuminate the display and can be dimmed in the device's settings. Lighting across the entire screen was even, and I didn't notice any dark patches even when I kicked up the brightness to its highest level. The LEDs have a slightly bluer tone than those on previous Paperwhites, making them more akin to the 10 LEDs in the Oasis. While I don't use the front lighting all the time, they make reading possible in difficult, low-light environments like in an airplane at night. The new Paperwhite is built to withstand other difficult environments as well, particularly wet ones. It's rated IPX8 like the Oasis, meaning it can withstand a dunk in up to 2m of water for up to 60 minutes. This is a great safety feature that many loved about the Oasis—not only does it mean that you don't have to worry if you drop the new e-reader into the pool, but you can safely read in the pool, in the bathtub, or in other bodies of water. Even with its new waterproof rating, the new Paperwhite charges via USB 2.0 port. The device should still last weeks on a single charge and will only vary dramatically if you listen to plenty of audiobooks on it (we'll get to that shortly). I'm disappointed that Amazon didn't include a USB-C port instead. While most of us probably have no shortage of compatible cables to charge the new Paperwhite (the device also comes with one), it's 2018 and most OEMs are embracing USB-C as the new normal. The Paperwhite's design has all manner of new and improved talking points, but it's still a basic e-reader that lets you read e-books, Kindle books from Amazon, or e-books from your local library's e-book system. Audible audiobooks are now also compatible with this device, so you can download and listen to audiobooks from the Paperwhite when you connect a pair of Bluetooth headphones. But the Paperwhite doesn't make listening to Audible books better; it's just more convenient if you like to keep your entire library on one device. When listening to a book, the on-screen interface looks nearly identical to that of the Audible mobile app, with icons for skipping 30 seconds backward or forward, checking out chapters, adding a bookmark, changing the narration speed, and adjusting the volume. I rarely go anywhere with my Kindle and without my smartphone, the latter of which is my current audiobook device of choice. For that reason, I probably won't use Audible integration as much as others might. If you already use another device for Audible listening, there's no compelling reason to abandon that device for the Paperwhite. Also, audiobooks will take up more space on the Paperwhite than e-books. Thankfully, Amazon offers the new Paperwhite in 8GB and 32GB configurations. The configuration with more storage will be ideal for those with big audiobook libraries and those who frequently read newspapers, comics, and manga, since those files tend to be larger than text-only e-books. The Paperwhite can also be configured with cellular service as well, making it easier to download new books when there's no reliable Wi-Fi connection. However, those special features add up quickly: a 32GB Paperwhite with cellular connectivity and no "special offers" (lock-screen ads) costs a whopping $249, or as much as a basic Kindle Oasis. A general gripe that many have with the Kindle system remains on the new Paperwhite: like other Kindles, it supports .pdf and .txt files, but it doesn't natively support ePub and some Mobi files. If you've amassed an e-book library using those formats, you'll have to reformat all of your books before they can be read on a Kindle. I also didn't appreciate the lack of support for library audiobooks, however I wasn't surprised by it. Audible integration only works with Audible files, so you have to subscribe (or have subscribed in the past) to Audible to use any audiobook features on the new Paperwhite. I regularly borrow e-books and audiobooks from my library using Overdrive/Libby, but I couldn't download or listen to any of the audiobooks on the new e-reader. This was to be expected, though, since Amazon uses its devices to propel its online shopping businesses. The new-ish home page also tries to pull you into Amazon's book-selling business by giving you recommendations on what to read next based on your reading history. All of these recommendations will come from Goodreads (which Amazon owns), Amazon's free Prime Reading selection, and the company's $9.99-per-month book service, Kindle Unlimited. If you're not a fan of Amazon's "special offers," then you probably won't like Amazon pushing books down your throat in these new ways, either. Otherwise, the reading experience is mostly the same on the new Paperwhite as it was on the previous models. I appreciate the new Font and Page settings, which let users save and customize reading formats. Kindles have always allowed users to change the font, font size, line spacing, margins, and other aspects of the page to suit their visual preferences, but now users can name and save their favorite combinations. These are useful features to have if you like switching between fonts and different page formats depending on the type of document you're reading. The Paperwhite was overdue for a meaningful overhaul, and Amazon did it justice this time around. The 2018 model is still the Paperwhite that users know and love, but it does everything it already did just a bit better now. Amazon made the right choices when it cherrypicked features to move from the Oasis to the Paperwhite—waterproofing and upping the available storage being the most important. A waterproof design makes the new Paperwhite more practical and portable, and the available 8GB and 32GB storage options mean users can save more e-books, newspapers, comics, manga, and now audiobooks without worrying about filling up the device too quickly. The new Paperwhite's shortcomings are just as familiar as its design and overall experience. I'm skeptical that Amazon will ever expand the types of files that Kindles support, and I don't think the company will ever totally remove advertisements and shopping promotions from its e-readers. The biggest missed opportunity with this Paperwhite is the lack of USB-C, which is frustrating to say the least. The new Paperwhite certainly breathes life into Amazon's best Kindle, but it doesn't reinvent the e-reader. That's a good thing, though, because it's just new and exciting enough to persuade many to upgrade but not so new that it will confuse anyone. For those with newer Paperwhites, it's not worth ditching your one- or two-year-old device unless waterproofing means a lot to you or you want to listen to more Audible books. But for those using a regular Kindle or a Paperwhite that doesn't have a 300ppi display, the new Paperwhite is an upgrade that's well worth its $129 price.