But that changed last week, when I broke down and ordered the Kindle Paperwhite ($120), which appeared (until that day) on our Ereader Comparison under the category “Those we don’t like.” We’d passed over it in favor of the Kindle Touch (which has been discontinued), and the Kobo Mini ($80, touch capable, more below).
Here’s why I did it. Some of these reasons might be more subjective than others, and some I’ve researched more thoroughly. And, because most of my reservations about the Kindle are philosophical ones, some of my understanding of its hardware and interface might be flat-out wrong. I’ll be updating and posting again when I actually start using it.
Why E-Ink: the Internet and reading before bed
I’ve been relatively content using an iPad and an iPhone for reading ebooks over the past two years or so, since I last owned a dedicated ereader. I like Apple’s iOS ereader apps more than any other app. But I find myself increasingly in the camp of the easily distracted tablet readers. In other words, when I read a book on my iPad, I’m too easily able to flick over to the Internet or Netflix or a game, and so I do, and I get a lot less reading done.
Our #1 pick for a basic ereader is the Kobo Mini. I think it’s a great little ereader, especially for people who want to read on their commute: the 5-inch screen means it can easily slip into a jacket pocket, and its touchscreen is workable, if not fantastic. All other things being equal, I would’ve gotten a Kobo.
But I’ve recently begun learning Spanish, and one of the best ways to practice is to read books. Amazon not only has a bunch of free foreign language ebooks, they also have inline foreign language dictionaries, so you can tap words you don’t know and get the definition in the target language, not English. Maintaining total language immersion speeds up your learning process by years, so reading on iOS Kindle apps has become a staple of my Spanish curriculum. This is not, perhaps, a reason to buy a Kindle outright—after all, I have the iOS apps, and they satisfy all my foreign language needs. But when it came down to choosing between a Kindle and a Kobo, this was a big part of the tie-breaker.
Why a Paperwhite: touchscreen and frontlight
After accepting that I was going to buy a Kindle, I felt sure that I’d get the basic model, the Kindle Touch, which was one of the “top picks” in our ereader comparison and had everything I needed in an ereader.
Paperwhite on the left, Kindle Basic on the right.
Or so I thought. Mere seconds before I added the Kindle Touch to my cart, I noticed something. The Paperwhite featured a “multi-touch” control system, while the Kindle had a 5-way controller. Why wouldn’t it have the same touch system? The answer, as you’ve guessed, is that the basic Kindle model is no longer Touch-capable. Sometime since I last updated the ereader comparison, Amazon quietly retired its satisfyingly capable Kindle Touch; there aren’t even any used ones for sale. The Paperwhite is now the cheapest Kindle with a touchscreen.
The touchscreen is non-negotiable for me. I review almost all of the books I read, so I have to be able to highlight and take notes. If I wanted a Kindle, I would have to get a Paperwhite, and I’d have to pay an extra fifty bucks for it.
Luckily, there’s another feature that sweetens that bitter pill. Reviews are unclear on this point, but it seems like the Paperwhite’s “frontlight” is specifically designed to light the text without shining the light into your eyeballs. In other words, you can read late at night without disturbing your partner by keeping the light on, and also without keeping yourself up with unintentional light therapy. If that’s really as good as Amazon claims, it would perfectly solve my reading-before-bed situation, and that feature alone would be worth the extra money to me.
Kindle book prices, selection, and ebook borrowing
File this under “rationalization.” Even after concluding that the Paperwhite was the best ereader for my situation (although my situation is kind of rare), I kept looking at those prices. A Paperwhite was FIFTY dollars more than a basic Kindle, and forty more than a Kobo Mini, which I’ve tried and loved.
I started waffling between the Kobo and the Paperwhite. I wasn’t sure that foreign language books alone—or even the promises of the frontlight, which I’m still skeptical about—were worth the extra money. So I started looking up books in both ecosystems to see what ebook prices were. Most were the same at Kobo and Amazon, but a fair number of the handful I looked up were cheaper at Amazon. None were ever cheaper at Kobo.
Now, while I’m sympathetic, kind of, to publishers who want to dictate what their books should be sold for, I don’t believe Amazon selling cheap ebooks will hurt publishers’ business in the long run. I think it hurts the outdated hardcover-book business model. And it definitely hurts other ebook retailers who can’t afford to keep up with Amazon’s bargain basement prices.
In a perfect world, Amazon would be a less icky company to buy from. But in reality, the fact that I’d save money over the Kobo helped narrow the price gap.
Also, I have a fair number of Kindle books, despite never having owned a Kindle. Over the years, I’ve collected about two dozen Kindle books that were either way cheaper on the Kindle (like the Hunger Games trilogy) or unavailable anywhere else (like Kindle singles, especially Byliner singles). I can still obviously read those books without a Kindle, but it says a lot about their selection.
[Side note: I buy most of my ebooks from Apple right now, and while those books are also more expensive than Kindle books, I can usually find discounted iTunes gift cards at Best Buy every few months. Stock up on those and you'll get 20% off all your books (and apps and music), which makes them about as cheap as Kindle books.]
Prime Lending Library and actual library lending
The vaunted Prime Lending Library is not a big draw for me. I’m on a shared Prime account, i.e., I don’t pay for Prime, a “relative” does. So I only have access to free shipping, not Amazon Instant Video or the Prime Lending Library. I’m not about to pay $79 a year for for the Library, especially when most of those are older books that would be curiosities at most. But, Amazon has also eased the restrictions on checking out ebooks from your local public library, which I’m very interested in.
I don’t ask for galleys very often, but having a Kindle makes using Netgalley much easier. It’s not a negative.
Even after this decision, I’m not blind to the Kindle’s serious drawbacks. Its DRM system concerns me greatly. The fact that it doesn’t have page numbers annoys the hell out of me (I’m hoping the physical Kindle has a setting I can change). And then there’s always the fact that Amazon holds some fairly distasteful philosophical stances—they’ve deleted books, and people’s entire accounts, they’re tight-fisted charity-wise, and they even developed an app (now discontinued) specifically to steal customers from brick-and-mortar bookstores. However, that ruthless public image is tempered, I have to admit, by their terrific customer service. When they’re great to deal with on a personal level, it’s difficult to hate them.
All in all, I’m still not sure I won’t return it in a week, especially if the foreign language ebooks don’t work as well on the device as they do in the apps. But, for now, I’m a Kindle convert. And that was not an easy get.