Hands on with the Amazon Kindle Paperwhite

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Hands on with the Amazon Kindle Paperwhite

There are very few gadgets in this world I consider to be perfect. But one of them, or at least one that comes pretty damn close, is my Amazon Kindle e-reader. I’ve been a huge fan since I bought my first Kindle (third-generation) back in 2007, and my admiration for these wonderfully simple machines only grew when I upgraded to the backlit Kindle Voyage in 2014.

So when Amazon asked if I wanted to try the brand new Kindle Paperwhite —  available for pre-order today for $129.99 — I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. And as it turns out, I was amazed during my short time messing around with it. Amazon, somehow, continues to refine a device that is already teetering on the brink of perfection.

There’s a lot to go over with the brand new Kindle Paperwhite, so let’s go ahead and jump right in. The new Kindle features lighter hardware, better durability, and more bonus content than ever before. So without further adieu, here are my first impressions of the new Kindle Paperwhite.

The new Kindle Paperwhite is 10 percent lighter and thinner than the previous generation.

The new Kindle Paperwhite is 10 percent lighter and thinner than the previous generation.

Image: Michael Nunez / mashable

Thinner and lighter than ever

One thing I’ve always loved about the Amazon Kindle e-readers is that they’re made for one specific purpose: displaying text on a screen for long periods of time. I first fell in love with my Amazon Kindle while I was living in Seoul, Korea. I was reading more novels than I ever had, and I loved that I could travel everywhere with my entire library. Plus, it didn’t add much weight to my luggage.

The new Kindle Paperwhite builds on some of the best elements of previous Kindle products. It looks nearly identical to the previous-generation Paperwhite, but it’s 10 percent lighter, 10 percent brighter, and 10 percent thinner according to Amazon. It also has more storage than before, starting at 8 GB (twice the previous generation) and maxing out at 32 GB. This ultimately means you can save more content on your device than you could in the past.

These small upgrades aren’t exactly noticeable when you first pick up the device, but the Kindle Paperwhite is still as impressive as ever. It’s light enough that you can imagine reading it for hours at a time without getting a cramp in your hand (something I dealt with using previous-generation Kindles). And the new soft material on the back is a nice bonus — but certainly not something I’d base an entire purchasing decision on.

Another small tweak Amazon made was making the front of the device completely flush, or flat, rather than having the screen ever-so-slightly set into the body of the device. Inevitably, the new flat design does not make a difference to the reading experience, but it does help with the Kindle’s durability. (We’ll get deeper into that later.) The display is still a touchscreen, meaning that you tap to navigate, and tap the right and left sides to flip pages forward and backward. It’s still super intuitive, and frankly, almost impossible to mess up. This is why the product is damn near perfect!

Loaded with useful features

The Kindle Paperwhite also comes packed with a bunch of new features, but none is more interesting than the inclusion of Amazon’s Whispersync For Voice technology. What this means is that you can now synchronize your reading progress, bookmarks, and digital annotations across all Kindle devices — and also sync your progress with Audible audiobooks.

What this means in practical terms is you can easily switch between the text and audio versions of the same book. For example, you can start reading something on your Kindle Paperwhite before bed, then switch to the Audible audiobook during your commute. This is a feature I had a limited time testing (only a few minutes), but I plan to stress test for our official review. It’s a great use of Amazon’s powerful cloud technology and one feature I can easily imagine myself using.

Another great inclusion is X-Ray, though we should note that it was included on the previous version of the Kindle Paperwhite. The feature lets you quickly search for things mentioned in books such as ideas, fictional characters, historical figures, places, and topics by tapping on them. An Amazon spokesperson said this can be especially helpful for young readers who might be wondering whether a word is a magical spell in Harry Potter, or whether it’s a real word. I’m a little skeptical about whether I’d actually use this feature (I’d probably just Google it), but again, it’s something that we’ll have to test in greater detail during our official review.

Finally, Amazon is making it easier for families to share a Kindle device by adding personalized reading settings. Now you can save font size, boldness, and orientation settings as a profile, and you can quickly switch between profiles from the home screen. There is also the added bonus of including family libraries, which makes it easier for people to access books from an account of a spouse or partner. In sum, the Kindle Paperwhite does a lot more than display text — but it crucially remains free of distractions, which I consider to be quite an amazing feat.

The Amazon Kindle Paperwhite is now waterproof.

The Amazon Kindle Paperwhite is now waterproof.

Drop it in the freaking hot tub

You’re probably not going to be reading underwater very much, but now, technically, if you really want to, you can. The new Kindle Paperwhite is fully waterproof (IPX8 rated) in up to two meters of water for 60 minutes. What that inevitably means is you can literally throw your Kindle Paperwhite in your swimming pool, play a game of Marco Polo, then swim down to the surface to fish it out an hour later — and it will still work.

The more practical use case is probably sitting by the beach or by the pool. The Kindle’s IPX8 rating means that you don’t have to worry about getting sand on it or dropping it, either. This is the most durable Kindle yet — something that comes as a welcome reprieve to someone who shattered his old Kindle on an airplane. Now, the Kindle is ready to take a beating, and as someone who frequently tosses his in a suitcase last minute, I genuinely appreciate this.

The Kindle Paperwhite comes with six months of Kindle Unlimited for free ($60 value).

The Kindle Paperwhite comes with six months of Kindle Unlimited for free ($60 value).

Image: Michael Nunez / mashable

So. Many. Extras.

The Kindle Paperwhite is a great product on its own, but what really sweetens the deal this time around are all the different freebies. Let’s start with Kindle Unlimited.

Kindle Unlimited is a subscription service that costs $10/month and gives you access to more than one million titles from the Kindle Store. It includes books, audiobooks, and magazines, and it also includes thousands of audiobooks on Audible (one of the things that makes it such a great deal, in my opinion).

Basically, if you’re reading anything popular at the moment, it’s probably available through Kindle Unlimited. What’s great about this deal is that most people probably wouldn’t buy Kindle Unlimited right after purchasing their e-reader (unless they expect to devour several books each month), but Amazon is making is much easier to justify by giving owners about half off of the first year.

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite owners will now get a six-month free trial ($60 value) with the purchase of the device. The catch is that you need to remember to cancel your subscription at the end of the trial — or keep enjoying the gigantic library and pay the full price. Whether Kindle Unlimited is a good deal for you is dependent on how many books you plan to read each year, but six free months should be enough time to make that determination.

Finally, there’s the addition of Bluetooth and the Audible library. The inclusion of these is a great bonus for anyone who prefers to listen to books — but I don’t think it should really be confused with the core purpose of the device. At the end of the day, if you buy a new Kindle Paperwhite, you should spend most of your time on it reading and enjoying the weeks-long battery life. Audible is better on a smartphone or Amazon Echo speaker.

Final Thoughts

The new Kindle Paperwhite is great. In fact, it’s better than I ever could have possibly imagined. As an owner and evangelist of one of the best available Kindle products to date (Kindle Voyage), I was surprised by how much I appreciated each refinement in the new version.

With my limited time of use, this seems to be the best available e-reader in terms of value. It’s hard to say for sure, since I haven’t spent days or weeks with the device like I normally would for a full review, but my first impressions are great. Who says e-readers don’t have any more room to innovate?

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