Amazon know a thing or two about ereaders, that much is clear from almost every version of the Kindle, and it's never been more apparent than in its 6th generation model.
This almost epitomises everything you would expect from an ereader, it's truly an achievement in ereading technology. It almost feels wrong that the Kindle arrived at our doorstep via a sweaty postman, rather than being delivered to us by a mythical stalk whilst a barbershop quartet of cupids provided an angelic backing chorus.
Surprisingly, the specifications aren't actually mind blowing, and there are some basic features that Amazon is still yet to introduce into its ereader and tablet devices - most notably external storage.
With 2GB on board storage, a 212 ppi resolution, a "25% faster processor" (Amazon weren't very forthcoming on the exact speed) and weighing in at 206 grams, the latest Paperwhite falls pretty much at the medium to high-end of ereading specs.
And at £109 it's definitely cost effective. The Kobo Aura HD is probably the most comparable device in a similar range, but even with a more impressive list of specs, the Paperwhite seems to have executed the ereading experience very well. It just goes to show that execution is just as important, if not more, as pumping a device full of shiny fast things.
This new version of the Kindle typifies the word 'improvement'. We don't mean that it's jumped leaps and bounds from the previous version, we mean that it has been tweaked and honed to provide a polished experience that improves on anything Amazon has produced in earlier years.
It weighs slightly less and the backlight has been redesigned to reduce eye strain - amongst some other small upgrades. If the Kindle was a piece of software, this version would be an update rather than a new release.
Which isn't necessarily a bad thing, because Amazon has clearly focused its efforts on the actual reading experience, which is actually a delight. The addition of reading apps like X-Ray and Smart Lookup are game changers that go further than other devices on the market.
The Paperwhite's smooth finish is like a freshly sanded piece of wood, and cradling it in your hand feels like something Swiss Toni would make a comparison about.
With a matted black finish and rounded off edges, the Paperwhite has been designed to feel effortless - unfortunately the large 'Amazon' insignia emblazoned on the back takes away some of the eloquence.
This is a six-inch ereader that replicates that rectangle shape of a real book, something the Kobo Aura fails to do.
Solidly built, this is a simplified ereader that doesn't have much to offer outside of the interface. The on-switch is the only physical button, and it sits next to the micro USB slot which is the only physical connection.
Amazon has never been a big fan of external storage or extended connectivity, and the Paperwhite is no different. With only 2GB of onboard storage you have to wonder how Amazon keep getting away with it and why they don't respond to user requests to add an external SD card slot.
The answer is that Amazon want its customers to make use of the cloud, something that is made very clear when you boot up the device - more on this later.
When the device is off you're presented with various black and white reading-related images that change every time you boot up and shut down.
The detail is pretty impressive, and Amazon clearly wants to remind you of the effort it has put into perfecting a quality display when you're not using it. What's on show here is the 16-level grey scale, which essentially means that there are 16 different levels of colour between white and black.
Although, outside of the cool off-screen art and some book covers, you probably won't find much use for that much intensity.
In the global arms race to perpetually improve screen quality, Amazon does not back down. The 212 PPI resolution has looks impressive and crisp - a far cry from the blurred and grainy screens of Kindle past.
Perhaps the most important improvement to the Kindle is the introduction of the 'Carta e-paper technology', which is apparently exclusive to Amazon.
The new technology is supposed to offer the whitest whites in e-ink screen history, a 50% improvement in contrast ratio and 20% improvement in reflectance. What Amazon has done is attempt to improve the reading angle and remove sunlight glare, which it has pulled off perfectly.
The screen is easily viewable from any angle and text is clear in direct sunlight. What's impressive is how crisp the text looks and how there's almost zero smudge, small characters and icons can clearly be seen and it does genuinely look like a page of a real book.
Amazon is also trumpeting its new 'next generation' built-in light, which should cause less eye strain, but it's not exactly clear how this is achieved.
The built-in light certainly looks softer, but that could be because it's simply less bright, which could be considered less taxing on the eyes but certainly doesn't warrant the 'new technology' accolade. You can adjust the intensity of the light in the device or turn it off altogether.
At 206 grams it's not one of the lightest six-inch ereaders on the market (the Kobo Aura registers 174 grams) but it's still light as a feather and unimposing if used for a long period of time.
As with most ereaders the Paperwhite has been designed for extensive use. The slick finish and deft design means you can hold it for long periods of time without focusing on your arm strain rather than the content of the book.
Interface and performance
The Paperwhite is probably one of the fastest ereaders we've ever tested. There's no nonsense when you turn the Paperwhite on, as soon as it's fully booted up (a matter of seconds) you're presented with your homescreen and you can dive straight into your book.
Navigating around the menu system is genuinely fast, especially for an e-ink screen, and blows other competition - like the Kobo Aura - out of the water. A common problem with e-ink screens is that every time you load a new page the screen flashes and refreshes, but the Kindle seems to have minimised this, and to good effect, because switching menus and flipping pages seems less cumbersome and ugly.
It's also exceptionally responsive to touch, you shouldn't find yourself heavy handedly prodding the screen to get a response. A good barometer of this is the keyboard.
We noted in our Kobo Aura review that the keyboard was sluggish - the Paperwhite is fortunately the opposite of that, with its well-spaced keys and fast response. It's one of the best e-ink keyboards on the market.
As we mentioned earlier, you can either view what's on your device or what's on the cloud. The on-device content is displayed across the top in a series of book covers, and you can find them categorised under the 'my items' drop down, which will be useful when you begin to reach that 2GB capacity. Interestingly, you can easily access your documents (PDFs, DOCs, JPEGS etc.) from the my items drop down too - a nice touch given that often it's not so simple to access non-Amazon content.
Scrawled along the bottom of the home screen, taking up half of the entire screen, are purchase recommendations. Adverts are essentially taking up half of the screen. We know that book recommendations are standard for most ereaders and they're welcome when prompted, but unprompted it seems a bit cheeky that half of the viewing space of the home interface is gobbled up by Amazon telling you how to spend your money.
Amazon is clearly banking on the fact that you can house your content on the cloud and that's why there's limited storage on the device.
Your cloud is accessed through the homepage and you can upload or download content at all. A good use of the cloud is the fact that purchases remain there and can be added or removed from the device at will.
You will always be able to see what's on the cloud (book covers are held on the device) so you should be able to better manage your on-device collection without getting caught short.
Act on impulse
Everything can be purchased from the Kindle store, which Amazon estimates hosts 1.5 million titles - two million fewer than Kobo. Downloads are quick, around five to 10 seconds depending on the size of the book, and appear immediately on the homepage.
Outside of the recommended books on your homescreen, the store gives you access to more tailored content. Along the bottom of the store are the editor's picks and the 'books to try' section based on previous purchases.
You get the feeling that the Kindle store is aimed at people who impulse buy. Most of the recommended content is on a limited deal, and the a third of the storefront is dedicated to 'featured' content - 'daily deals' and '£2.99 or less' are good examples.
There has clearly been a concerted effort to make magazines as pleasurable to read as possible. The black and white images and book layout give them an air of class, but don't fully replicate the magazine experience. A glossy magazine's main attraction is the high-quality full colour pictures - something you simply don't get on a black and white e-ink screen.
The basic function of reading presents no problems, but there's a reason magazines don't come as plainly coloured pamphlets.
The menu system is fairly straightforward, there isn't a huge learning curve when navigating around the homepage and Kindle store. There's a useful back button on the homepage, which quickly takes you back to the last thing you were reading once you're finished tweaking your settings.
Everything is clearly laid out on the homescreen, and anything important can be quickly done from here - for example changing the light intensity, opening the Kindle store or searching for books. It has been designed to launch you straight into either reading or buying books, but to be honest there isn't - or anything - to do outside of these two activities.
An interesting feature is the ability to send documents directly to your Kindle by email via an Amazon email address.
You can send a PDF to your kindle via an Amazon-issued email address and it will sync up and download to your device - provided it's connected to the internet. A useful and time saving feature if you want to quickly load content to your device remotely.
Most of the updates have been made to aid in-book navigation. Kindle Page Flip is a new feature that lets users scan massive swathes of the book, rather than going page by page to get to where you want to be, without losing your place.
So you can go back and look at a page you read previously and see how it's relevant to what's happening later in the book.
There's also a new search feature called Smart Lookup, where the Kindle combines with Wikipedia to give you more information about certain phrases or words outside of a simple definition. The idea is that the Paperwhite will give you a definition of a phrase such as 'credit default swaps', rather than an individual definition of each word.
This works surprisingly well, given that it's the type of function that's likely to be riddled with errors. It does, however, only works with certain indexed books.
For books that aren't indexed, the search function is pretty useless, we searched for the word 'Holmes' in 'The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes' and the search turned up with nothing.
Similar to the Kobo Aura series' 'Beyond the Book' app, Kindle has an 'X-Ray' feature that gives you background information on characters in the book and the author. For some odd reason, in the X-Ray menu of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, the Paperwhite had no problem finding the multiple references to Holmes and other characters whereas the search function couldn't.
A strange occurrence and probably suggests some sort of disconnect. There also seemed to be an issue with switching books, when we closed one book and opened another - the Kindle simply opened the book that we were reading before. We had to wait for a minute or two before venturing into another book in order for the Kindle to catch up.
Amazon is apparently keen to help you improve your lexicon with its new Vocabulary Builder app. Words you have sought a definition of are stored in a list for you to peruse over later. You can quiz yourself with flashcards and test whether or not you've mastered the words at a later date.
This is certainly a useful feature, if not a bit silly. It's common to be stonewalled by a word you've not heard before but to spend time quizzing yourself at a later date with flashcards feels like you've time-travelled back to your English Key Stage 3 exams. Definitely something to do in private.
You can also share your thoughts on the book you're reading on social media sites, which is basically posting a status update from the Kindle - hardly groundbreaking but probably a feature that has to be included.
Titled the 'experimental browser', which doesn't exactly fill you with hope, the Paperwhite's internet browser is what you would expect from an ereader. It benefits from the Paperwhite's speed and responsive screen, but it falls down when tasked with anything remotely multimedia. Even basic browsing can a bit of a chore, there doesn't seem to be any forward or back buttons and some pages take an age to load - if they do at all.
That's not to say it is a complete disaster, however, you can still visit some websites, they just don't look very good. If you load up a content-rich website such as TechRadar you can happily read through the news, scrolling up and down without too much delay, and the text shows up very clearly.
But as we said before, you shouldn't buy an ereader for the multimedia experience and the browser is merely supplementary.
As with previous versions, Amazon says that the Paperwhite can last for two months straight on a single charge - that's if it's used sparingly and with minimal backlight.
This is common with most ereaders, their low-power e-ink screens mean that they're more durable in the battery department than fully functioning tablets. We tested the Paperwhite and found that after two days' solid use, the battery only dropped by just under 10%.
This is definitely an all-rounder of an ereader, Amazon has really honed the ereading experience and made enough improvements on previous Kindles to come up with its best version.
The lack of connectivity and poor on-board storage still remain an issue, but the actual reading experience is excellent and it's clearly where Amazon has focused its development time.
The smooth matte-black finish, rounded edges and overall design make it look sleek and luxurious - a definite contender for the 'best looking ereader' award.
The speed of the device itself makes it one of the fastest on the market. It's refreshing to be able to glide around an e-ink screen without too much screen refresh or lag, which is frustratingly common in a lot of ereaders. The ominous "25% faster" processor seems to have done the trick.
The added extras like X-Ray and Kindle Page Flip make the reading experience more complete and the Smart Lookup is a really good idea when it works.
The onboard storage remains an issue, 2GB is too small and hardly justifiable. The cloud does offer an alternative option, but there are times when you won't have a Wi-Fi network or 3G available.
This is exacerbated when you only have the Wi-Fi model. A large part of the fun of ereaders is their portability, having to pre-download books for your travels takes away some of this portability.
The browser isn't very good, there aren't any back or forward buttons and some pages simply do not load. Since most people won't buy a Kindle to use the browser, this shouldn't be a huge drawback but you have to wonder why Amazon didn't either exclude it altogether, or at least make it more bearable.
The Smart Lookup app only works with certain books, which is a shame because it's a good idea that adds lots of depth to the reading experience.
The 6th generation Kindle Paperwhite is the best Kindle yet, it's the most cost effective ereader on the market at £109 (in this spec range) and it easily beats the Kobo Aura on performance and design.
Although the specifications aren't the best around, the execution is excellent and Amazon has managed to create a fast e-ink tablet and improve the reading experience with inventive reading apps. We highly recommend.