Bigger is better with Amazon’s 2021 Kindle Paperwhite ($ 139.99), which uses a new E Ink panel to display more words per second. side than its predecessor. While the prices of Paperwhite models have been rising slowly, this new version still offers the best mix of features at the right price for most readers, including a flat front panel and a waterproof design. Together with its updated display, these features help it remain our Editors’ Choice award winner for e-book readers.
Amazon Kindle Lineup
There are two and a half e-book reader players in the US market, although others play major roles abroad. Amazon’s Kindles dominate the stateside. They are best for reading books from Amazon and work well with titles from public libraries. For other sources and formats there is Kobo. Barnes & Noble’s Nook models also still exist, although the future of that lineup seems uncertain.
Amazon has four E Ink Kindles in 2021, including $ 89.99 Kindle, $ 139.99 Paperwhite, $ 189.99 Paperwhite Signature and $ 249.99 Oasis. Paperwhite has major, important advantages over the base model. To begin with, it is waterproof, making it safe to read on the beach and in the bath. Its flat front design prevents sand and dirt from getting caught in cracks. And its screen is much sharper with a color-changing headlight that is lighter to the eyes.
However, when you step up from Paperwhite, the extra features become less meaningful. Paperwhite Signature adds more storage space, wireless charging and an automatically changing headlight. These are useful extras, but they will not change your reading experience. The Kindle Oasis has a sleek design with its cool metal frame, lighter weight than Paperwhite, and physical page-turn buttons (I have one and love it), but it’s really expensive for an e-book reader.
Keep in mind that while Paperwhite starts at $ 139.99, like most Amazon e-book readers, it displays ads on the lock screen by default. To get rid of these ads, you have to pay $ 20 extra.
More square inches, fewer side turns
The 2018 Paperwhite design introduced a flat front and a waterproof rating. The new model is slightly larger. 2021 Paperwhite is still a smooth, black, matte unit, but now measures 6.8 x 4.9 x 0.3 inches (HWD) instead of 6.6 x 4.6 x 0.3 inches. At 7.2 ounces, it’s 0.8 ounces heavier than the previous model, which I originally thought would annoy me, but it does not; it is still light enough to comfortably hold with one hand for hours.
The bigger the news, the bigger the screen. The new Paperwhite goes up from a 6-inch, 300ppi E Ink Carta screen to a 6.8-inch panel that retains a 300ppi resolution. The headlight is also 10% brighter. The entire device still has an IPX8 rating, so it can survive in an hour of dunking in fresh water or a three-minute dip in seawater.
The new Paperwhites and Oasis have color-changing headlights that can go from blue-white to yellow using two sliders. The yellowness can also be tied to a watch, making the screen yellower as the night goes on to save your eyes. The 17-LED system is much smoother than the 4 LEDs on the base Kindle model.
The bottom-mounted on / off button, a remnant of the 2018 model, bothers some people, but I do not think it is prone to accidental presses on the base model Paperwhite. (In the case of the Signature model, wireless chargers sometimes release the button.)
A USB-C port brings the Kindle in line with other mobile devices from the last few years. However, it does not support fast charging – it still takes several hours to charge and turns on no more than 9W. The new Paperwhite lasts about a week in heavy use, but you can extend battery life significantly by turning off the front light and Wi-Fi.
Amazon includes a power cord but no power adapter. Paperwhite works with any USB-C power cable and adapter, but if you do not have one, Amazon sells one for $ 20. Amazon also sells a range of Kindle covers that cost between $ 30 and $ 60.
While reading Susanna Clarkes Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell in Amazon’s standard font size, I saw 17 lines with about 8 short words each on the older Kindle and 21 lines each with 9 words on the newer one. This means 20% fewer page turns on the newer model – and in my opinion a 20% more relaxing experience.
The old Kindle screen is about the same width as a paper book in the mass market, but shows less text going down the page. The new one is wider than most paper books on the mass market and has about the same height. Trading in paperbacks and hardcovers both towers over the older and newer Kindles.
Tankobon-formatted manga volumes can be read on the previous Kindle, but they are more readable here because the text is slightly larger. The charming children’s manga Yotsuba & reads pretty well on the new Kindle.
However, Paperwhite is still not the right e-book reader for American comics, graphic novels, or highly illustrated children’s books. The screen is just too small so the text remains unreadable. Most people still prefer to read these formats on a color device like Amazon Fire HD 10 or a base model Apple iPad. But if you really want to experience these works with the soothing tones of E Ink, look for a 10-inch E Ink device like the Onyx Boox Note Air.
A faster interface
Amazon recently updated the Kindle interface to make it easier to navigate. This improvement is not specific to the new Paperwhite; the software update comes to the base model Kindles, some older Paperwhites and Oasis. The primary shift is that there is a new icon on the home screen that helps you jump back to the book you are reading. If you have a Kindle without ads, the lock screen now also shows the front page of the book you are currently reading.
If you have a large Kindle library (I have more than 200 books), some new features help reduce clutter. I like how series are now automatically archived under a single cover so I don’t have to flip through all of my kids Fire wings books (of which there are many) to get to my Lavie Tidhar.
Of course, all the usual Amazon features are also here: X-Ray tells you who a character is, the dictionary tells you what a word is, and Goodreads integration lets you tell others what you read.
Kindles work best with e-books from Amazon or public libraries. We have a story on how to get free eBooks on your Kindle that describes how to email PDF or EPUB formatted eBooks to your device, but I’ve never had a good experience supporting these formats because fonts and navigation are often cluttered in translation. Other e-book reader brands, especially Kobo, handle these formats much better.
Goodbye 3G, Hi better Wi-Fi
Do you remember Whispernet, which lets you download books anywhere? It’s dying; it was dependent on the AT&T 3G network, which will be shut down in 2022. If you have an older, Whispernet-dependent Kindle, this service will end in the United States. (There are 4G LTE versions of the 2018 Kindle Paperwhite and Kindle Oasis, but they were not heavily marketed in the United States.)
As a result, the Kindle is more dependent on Wi-Fi than ever before. Fortunately, the 2021 Paperwhite has noticeably better Wi-Fi than the 2018 model. When I tested it on a 5GHz Wi-Fi network, I generally downloaded books in 5 to 8 seconds instead of 14 to 17 seconds on the older model. Book covers, pages in the Kindle Store and pages in the Kindle web browser were also filled faster. This performance bump may not be a big deal, but it’s a noticeable upgrade.
The better Wi-Fi support also reinforces that you probably do not need the 32 GB of storage in the Signature Edition. 8GB is fine. You can download books whenever you want to read them, at home or on free Wi-Fi connections. Kindle books in text format are only a few megabytes each; audiobooks take up far more space.
The Bluetooth functionality is the same here as on the previous Paperwhite. You can use Bluetooth headphones for Audible audiobooks. You can even sync your audiobook listening to resume or stop at the same time in a book in text format. Unfortunately, wired USB-C headphones do not work.
E Ink Kindles does not have built-in speakers or Immersion Reading, a nice mode where you see text highlighted while a voice is reading it. For all this, you need an Android or iOS phone or tablet with the Kindle app.
Time keeps ticking … into the future
People keep their Kindles for a long time. They should; an e-book reader is a simple device, and if it works, it works. As part of this review, I looked at user complaints on Amazon from buyers of the 2018 model. For the record, there are still people with 2009-era keyboard-powered Kindles on there.
The 2021 Paperwhite is similar to the 2018 model in many ways, and some of the differences with the newer models will annoy users of much older Kindles. For example, the life of the reading battery is shorter due to the more complex, smoother headlight system. There is also no built-in speaker or headphone jack as on older models. As mentioned, there are many who do not like the bottom-mounted on / off button. The flat front also has a bit more glare than some previous models.
I do not include this section to lament features on devices you can no longer purchase, but people upgrading should know what to expect. And the new design offers some benefits. I think bathing and beach reading are great use cases, and I hate how the recessed fronts on older models collect dust and dirt.
The right choice
An E Ink e-book reader should get out of the way and let you read your book. That’s what the new Kindle Paperwhite does. It offers the right features at the right price. For example, Paperwhite is waterproof, which is great for its versatility, but waives the wireless charging you get with the Signature Edition, which is less important. Kobo’s closest competing e-book reader, the $ 179.99 Libra 2, is a bit more expensive and does not handle Amazon books. Kindles and Kobos are just like iOS and Android today; not many people switch because they use different content stores. So if you buy your books from Amazon, Kindle Paperwhite is the right e-book reader for most people, and our Editors’ Choice winner.