Amazon's long held a stranglehold on the e-book market in North America, thanks to the fact that they offer the largest selection of electronic books, comics and newspapers in the world. This content is accessible through a number of avenues: it can be read on Blackberry, iOS, Android, Windows Phone smartphones or tablets using a dedicated Kindle app and on computers. But none of these are ideal. Smartphones and tablets have middling battery life at best and their glossy screens can make them near-impossible to read while in direct sunlight. And reading off a computer in bed? Well, that just sucks.
The latest iteration of Amazon's Kindle Paperwhite e-reader ($139) was released in late 2013 – just about a year after the first Paperwhite arrived. Were you to set both down on a desk, you'd have a hard time telling the 2012 and the 2013 versions of the tablet apart. To look at they're just about identical, with matte off-white e-ink displays, a shiny black bezel and satin-finish black backplate. Their micro-USB ports and power buttons are in the same spot and both versions measure 169 mm x 117 mm x 9.1 mm. It's only when you pick them up switch them on that Amazon's new hotness becomes abundantly clear.
For starters, the 2013 Paperwhite weighs 206 grams – close to ten grams less than its predecessor. I know this doesn't sound like much, but if you read for hours at a time, this incremental amount of weight loss is a big deal, especially if you like to hold your e-reader or tablet with one hand. And Amazon reduced weight while packing in better gear: There's storage space for roughly 1,000 books (Amazon also provides unlimited free cloud storage for any Kindle book or periodical you buy from them,) and Wi-Fi connectivity to wirelessly download new books or old favourites (for $209 you can also get a Paperwhite with 3G connectivity). As for the battery, Amazon claims it can last up to eight weeks between charges (provided you keep your wireless and lighting usage to a minimum) thanks to the minimal power requirements of the Paperwhite's ultra-crisp Carta e-paper display.
Yes, lighting. That the Paperwhite's display comes equipped with a granularly adjustable backlighting system is one of the key draws of the device. Turn the Paperwhite's backlight up to its maximum setting, and you'll be able to read a book in the brightest sunlight. Turn it down to a near minimum level, and you can read in bed without disturbing your partner. I found the quality of lighting and the crispness of the text on screen to be a significant improvement over that offered by the first edition Paperwhite, which I've been using for some time now.
Owners of a 2012 Paperwhite will notice other improvements in the areas of readability and software as well: screen refreshes – an annoyance that all e-reader users must suffer – are significantly less frequent now. Amazon's also added a number of new software features: users can enjoy a vocabulary builder, inline footnotes, instant text translation, access to Amazon's recently acquired Goodreads social book rating service and even a basic web browser. Best of all, you can delve deep into the history, concepts, places and ideas found in what you're reading using Amazon's Kindle X-Ray application. If you're anything like me, you'll ignore most of these perks in favour of simply reading.
Unfortunately, while Amazon does provide the largest selection of reading materials for Canadians to choose from, it suffers from one somewhat tragic flaw: In the United States, Kindle users enjoy the ability to lend their digital books to other Kindle owners, and many American public libraries offer books to owners of the hardware as well. This isn't the case in Canada.
But if you can live with this disappointment, the Kindle Paperwhite, for the time being, provides one of the best reading experiences, short of reading from a physical book, you're likely to find.