People don’t upgrade their couches in order to get 15 or 20 percent more comfort.
It feels strange to review a Kindle. The great success of e-book readers is that the device gets out of the way for you to enjoy the books, with a bare minimum of fuss. So, in a sense, you don’t really notice its existence in your life as a gadget. It’s a bit like reviewing a couch, I suppose.
I got my first Kindle in 2012 and then a Paperwhite in 2014, which has been my mainstay until now. I am so used to reading on the Kindle that I am virtually unable to read paper books anymore. The convenience of a small light device that can carry thousands of books, which has a discreet little light to read in bed without disturbing your partner, and is easy on the eyes means that e-readers are among the most low-fuss of gadgets.
Having said that, ever since the very first Kindle launched 14 years ago, the technology available has gradually improved in many ways, and the device I have with me right now is a far cry from the clunky, complicated, button-and-dial laden relic from 2007. Therefore, the question I need to look at here is how good the 2021 Kindle Paperwhite is and how it compares to its more recent predecessors.
The regular Paperwhite with 8 GB of storage costs Rs 13,999.
The new Kindle is available in two variants: the regular Paperwhite with 8 GB of storage, costing Rs 13,999, and a Signature Edition that features 32 GB of storage, auto-adjusting light, and wireless charging, which costs Rs. 17,999. It’s the former that I am reviewing here. To get this information out of the way, I purchased this retail, for my personal use.
Rounding out the hardware upgrades is the bigger battery, increased number of backlight LEDs, and the USB-C charger.
By and large, this Kindle feels like Kindles from the last few years. It’s a rectangular slab made of soft plastic and it’s light and easy to hold, with a flush-mounted touch screen. What sets this generation apart, at first blush, is the slightly bigger size and the added weight. It’s not a big jump, but definitely noticeable when you first pick it up. You get used to it in a matter of days, so it’s not much of a downside.
On the upside, you get a noticeably larger display (6.8” compared to the 6” before). Combined with the 300 ppi resolution, this lets you fit more lines of text on a single “page” and more accurately replicate the look of a physical book, if that’s something you care about. The new model also comes with a warm backlight, which sounded a bit pointless, but I grew to like it, once again getting the whole experience closer to reading a paper book.
Rounding out the hardware upgrades is the bigger battery, increased number of backlight LEDs, and the USB-C charger – probably the one feature that most Kindle users have been clamouring for, for ages. To be able to use the same charger for your laptop, phone and e-reader is a real boon. The Kindle also, needless to say, retains the waterproofing from the previous generation, in case you’re the sort that has access to a bathtub (not me), or are generally clumsy and prone to spilling things (me).
A larger display, combined with the 300 ppi resolution, lets you fit more lines of text on a single 'page'.
It feels great. It’s easily the best Kindle ever released, and that includes the Kindle Oasis that is still soldiering on with the archaic micro-USB charger. While the Oasis is likely to get updated sooner or later, the USB-C alone gives the new Paperwhite the crown as the best e-reader for most people in India (sadly the choices are far fewer out here).
I came to this from a 2014-era Kindle Paperwhite, which was its second iteration, so the improvements were very noticeable. Everything from faster page turns to the higher resolution (the 2014 one had 212 ppi, but the subsequent paperwhites have all had the same 300 ppi), the bigger screen size and the warm light made reading on this new Kindle a real pleasure. The increased number of LEDs was barely noticeable, however.
Amazon has honed this gadget into a near-perfect reading device. The only thing I really miss on this are the page turn paddles, which were a feature of early Kindles (my 2012 pre-touchscreen Kindle has them). They work really well for page turns, even better than the buttons on the Oasis, and it’s a real mystery why Amazon doesn’t bring them back. That said, you’re unlikely to feel their absence if you’ve never used them, and the fast and responsive touch screen means that page turning on this device is a breeze.
The bigger battery is also a huge plus, because on my older Kindle I generally keep it on airplane mode, unless I am syncing, to preserve the battery. The bigger battery and the new sleep mode means that I can leave the wi-fi on and still the battery goes on and on for weeks. It sleeps almost as frugally as on airplane mode. This also means that I can look up stuff on Wikipedia, etc while reading, which is incredibly useful, and something I am constantly itching to do on my older Kindle but have to resist, to maximise battery life.
Should I buy it?
Despite how excellent it is, this is still a tough question to answer. On the one hand it is a terrific device, and if you’re looking to buy an e-reader right now, and you can afford this, this is a slam dunk choice.
However, there are two “buts” here.
The first is that the entry-level Kindle, which now has a backlight, sells for Rs 7,999 (and even less during sales). Despite its lower resolution, micro-USB charging and the lack of water resistance, it’s still perfectly adequate for reading books. And if you’re on a budget, this will serve you very well.
The second is that if you already have a Kindle Paperwhite from the last few years, as much as these subtle upgrades are an improvement, they’re still not must-haves, in my view. And this is the thing with a gadget that’s like a couch. People don’t upgrade their couches in order to get 15 or 20 percent more comfort, and people may not find the 15-20 percent upgrade you get over the previous generation Kindle worth the price of entry.
Having said that, I’m happy with my purchase. And if you have the cash to spare, you probably will be too.
Contact the author on Twitter @vinayaravind.
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