(Pocket-lint) – Kindle is a brand name synonymous with e-readers. For many years now it’s been the defacto choice, to the point where it’s the only brand of e-reader familiar to most people.
For 2021, Amazon has upgraded its Kindle family, adding a new Paperwhite to the lineup. But what’s new and exciting about it?
- Dimensions: 175 x 124 x 7.6mm / Weight: 204g
- USB-C charging port, single power button
There’s more than a sense of familiarity about the 2021 Paperwhite’s design. Because it’s a look that’s remained relatively unchanged for years. This squat rectangular plastic frame with a black and white E Ink screen on the front and very little else to draw your attention.
Buttons and ports are sparse, with only one of each: a power/sleep button and a USB-C port, both of which are on the bottom edge of the reader. It’s not the most intuitive position to have a button, it must be said, and it’s pretty easy to press it accidentally, resulting in either waking up or locking the device. It would be better on the side somewhere or on the top – anywhere but the bottom.
But this is an all-new Kindle and while it’s the same basic device, there are important differences. First of all, it’s bigger than previous Paperwhites. It’s wider, taller, heavier – a bit more of a handful.
All other control is via touch – there are no additional buttons – and with bezels getting smaller, there’s a little less space to grip it. Page turning is via a tap or a swipe and if you’re holding it in your right hand you can just about tap with your thumb.
For most this won’t pose a problem, but if you’re left-handed, be aware that the left side of the display goes back – and any tap on that side results in turning back a page. Ultimately, we prefer the button arrangement of the Kindle Oasis and they, certainly, remain a feature for which you might consider paying more.
Being a Paperwhite model means this reader has a slightly higher level of fit and finish compared to the standard Kindle. The rear is coated in a soft touch material, which is lovely, although currently only available in a black finish. The front surface is now completely flush, so there’s no raised frame or bezel for bits of fluff and dust to get stuck in. What’s more, it’s water-resistant, so it can survive being dropped in the bathtub or in a pool.
The key thing about the Kindle – any of them really – is that there’s access to millions of books, but in a device that’s smaller than an actual book. It’s easier to hold and easier to carry around, and that’s still true of the new Paperwhite, despite its slightly larger and heavier frame.
It’s still much smaller than an iPad or tablet; it still weighs about the same as a smartphone. So it hasn’t lost its advantageous edge, and the larger size leads us nicely to its greatest benefits: the larger screen.
- 6.8-inch E Ink panel, 1246 x 1648 resolution
- 17 LED front light illumination
As Paperwhite devices go the 2021 model has the largest screen-to-body percentage to date. Amazon didn’t just make the screen bigger and keep the old chunky bezels. It reduced those bezels and increased the screen size, giving us an extra 0.8-inches, up from 6- to 6.8-inches on the diagonal.
This makes a considerable difference to the experience of reading, giving roughly an extra paragraph of text to a single page, which means having to turn pages less frequently. Or, more literally, there’s a little less tapping and swiping on the touchscreen.
The increase in size brings the new Paperwhite close to the size of Amazon’s flagship Kindle, the Oasis, which remains a little larger at 7.0-inches.
It’s still the classic transflective E Ink display, which means if you’re in a room with good light, or outside, it doesn’t need a lighting to make it clearly legible. It reflects the light from around you, making it really clear in bright conditions.
Of course, being a modern Kindle, it is illuminated with a front lighting system. You can save battery life by switching the lighting off manually, but it would be great if there was an auto-brightness feature, because it can be hard to tell if the illumination is on when there’s bright light around you.
Like the more expensive Kindle Oasis the Paperwhite’s lighting is an array of 17 LEDs, enabling a warmth feature too. You can adjust the colour temperature to make it as cool and blue or warm and orange as you like.
The degree to which you can adjust it are quite fine, so it’s not just a case of having a few colour temperature choices. The brightness is also fine-tuneable, with 25 levels of light. What’s more, you can schedule the warmth to activate at specific times of the day, so can have it come on automatically at bed time, if you want.
If having an orange/warm backlit screen isn’t enough for you and you want to cut out as much light when you’re reading at night – for fear of disturbing a significant other perhaps – you can simply enable dark mode, which inverts the dark and light elements of the screen. The text then becomes white, the background black.
Battery and performance
- ‘Up to 10 weeks’ per charge (claimed)
- 8GB storage on board
One thing we did notice with this Paperwhite is it’s more responsive than previous models or the standard Kindle. That’s thanks to using a newer version of the E Ink display – the Carta 1200 – thus giving faster page refreshes.
There are other times it still suffers from that E Ink refresh lag, like when loading the drop-down quick settings layer, or when scrolling through the Amazon book store. Similarly, closing a specific book page in the store to go home is delivered with a little delay as well. Much of this comes down to how the display technology works, refreshing the pigments to be either black or white doesn’t lend itself to animations. Speedy it is not – and we’ve long felt that the software experience here could be better.
The battery life has been improved and can now last up to 10 weeks on a full charge, so it needs charging relatively infrequently. And when it does you now have that USB Type-C port to charge it with the same cable you’re probably using for your smartphone or headphones.
It takes about two-and-a-half hours to charge using an optional 9W charger. There’s only a cable in the box, not the wall plug – but we suspect most will use existing chargers, otherwise it will take five hours to charge plugged into a computer or low-power USB port.
The overall battery performance will depend on how often you refresh that display (as it draws minimal power when the page is set), but also depends on how bright the lighting is and if you’re doing other things, like using its Wi-Fi connection to get more information. Needless to say, it will last weeks regardless – just perhaps not the full 10 weeks for all users.
Ecosystem and software
Kindle’s biggest strength, as it has been for years now, is that Amazon’s ebook library is gigantic. Practically any book available as a hardback or paperback is also available in Kindle form, and you can buy them on Amazon – the same place you most likely already shop anyway.
What’s more, if you have an Amazon Prime subscription, you get access to read some books free with Prime Reading, and if you subscribe to the Kindle Unlimited paid service then you get free access to a vast library of books. However, if you want the bestsellers or most popular ones, you still often need to pay individually for each title.
While the Kindle will support other file formats – you can email documents to your Kindle – it’s not compatible with lending services, like Overdrive, that’s widely used by public libraries, which is supported by devices like Kobo.
The user interface of the Kindle isn’t the most intuitive thing in the world either, but there’s not much in the way of layers, so it’s fairly easy to use. And thanks to a recent software update it is at least better than it was.
The home screen has two tabs – one for the standard home screen and the other for access to your library – and in-between them is a picture of the book you’re reading. Tap that and it’ll open the book right where you left off. Simple.
Once you start reading you have a plethora of options available to you. You can change the font size, style and spacing to make it as comfortable to read as you need. One of those available fonts is the open dyslexia font, designed to help make it easier for those with dyslexia to read. You can also adjust the weight of the font to make it thicker. Even elements like the margin size, page orientation and the text alignment can be altered too.
Other features include popular highlights where you see a dotted line under sentences that other readers have highlighted, or you can highlight them yourself, or make notes. Press-and-hold a word and you’ll get a dictionary definition, or enable the WordWise feature that automatically highlights tricky words that you can then add to your vocabulary, or even translate. What’s more, if you’re in a pinch and have no other device yet need to find something online quickly, there’s even a built-in experimental web browser.
However, it’s when you activate these extra layers where the slow processing – compared to modern tablets and smartphones – shows its face. It’s here that the Kindle still needs a bit more oomph to make it feel less sluggish. We also feel that Kindle could be managing the books you’ve read better. If you know you’ve read some books by an author, but can’t remember which, it’s often a struggle to find them – especially when using Prime Reading.
There’s also support for Bluetooth headphones and Audible books, allowing you to listen to those audiobooks – but you will have to pay more for those.
The 2021 Paperwhite is a great upgrade over Amazon’s previous models and the bog standard Kindle. It’s got a lovely and sharp E Ink display that’s bigger than before – and great for reading in any lighting conditions.
While the new screen with the new warm/cool adjustment feature is undoubtedly the star of the show, the USB-C deserves a mention too – because it makes it that bit more convenient when it comes to topping up the battery. Not that you’ll need to very often, thanks to weeks of life per charge.
We would love button controls to feature, like on the Oasis, to make page turning a bit easier, and it’d be great if it was faster to load the extra software layers. But as it stands, the Paperwhite is still a superb e-reader that’s super portable and gives you access to an almost unlimited library of digital books.
Amazon Kindle Oasis
With button controls and more LEDs for screen illumination, this is a top-end alternative from the Kindle family – but it costs a bit more as a result too.
Writing by Cam Bunton and Chris Hall. Editing by Mike Lowe. Originally published on .