Photo: Mario Aguilar (Gizmodo)

I’ve been using successive iterations of the Kindle Paperwhite for five years now, and yes, the new one is better than the ones that came before. It’s slightly smaller, and slightly lighter, and even a little bit brighter too. Plus it’s waterproof!

At this point, it feels almost pointless to extol the benefits of the Kindle and e-readers in general. Carrying around a small device that slides easily into your jacket pocket is far more convenient than carrying around even a skinny paperback book. Are there merits to physical book ownership? I am not an interior decorator, but I’m sure having your walls full of books looks very impressive to your dinner guests. I was recently digging around my storage unit and discovered a giant suitcase overflowing with books I had completely forgotten I owned. I don’t need all those books! I am so glad I don’t ever have to buy a physical book again unless I am sure I will cherish it completely. E-books are incredible, and thanks to the library loan service Overdrive, you might not even need to buy the book you want to read it on your Kindle! How about that?

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OK, so we all agree e-readers are good? Great. Now the question becomes what e-reader should you buy, and I would hazard that for most people it’s the Kindle Paperwhite. That was true even when considering the 2015 version of the device. At $130, it was a lot cheaper than the $250 Kindle Oasis, and for my money, the additional features of the Kindle Oasis weren’t worth the extra cost—but at least the differentiators existed. It was a better deal before, and that deal has only gotten better now that the Paperwhite has some Oasis features.

In particular, the new Paperwhite inherits the Oasis’ Bluetooth audio capabilities that let you sync up the book you’re reading with an Audible version of the book. When Amazon introduced this feature with the Kindle Oasis, I thought I would get more use out of it, but in practice paying $15 for a book and then another $15 for an audiobook is deeply unappealing. If you are a heavy user, I could see an Audible subscription plus a Kindle Unlimited subscription paying off, but I can’t justify it—especially since, as I noted above, I’ve had some good luck getting books from the public library onto the Kindle.

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The other hand-me-down feature is IPX8 water resistance that allows you to read your book in a pool. At Gizmodo, we support all hardware improvements that make a device more durable, even if I haven’t quite sorted out how to read while doing a leisurely backstroke.

Regarding the hardware, I noted above that the device is ever so slightly lighter and smaller than before. The difference isn’t noticeable. The one physical improvement I quite like, though, is the new display that is flush with the Paperwhite’s newly shiny bezels—both of these touches, again, are holdovers from more expensive Kindles before the new Paperwhite and makes the device look similar to the now-deceased Kindle Voyage. It’s a subtle change that gives the device a more elegant, premium appearance.

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As for speed and performance, I haven’t noticed any significant differences from the last Paperwhite, though, the new LTE option on the most expensive model ($250) is handy if almost certainly not worth the money—just use wifi. Based on my usage of about an hour a day, I anticipate that the company’s claim that you’ll get “weeks” of battery life is roughly accurate, but if you read more than me or love listening to audio books, you’ll have to charge it more often. [Insert stock rant about how the device still doesn’t have USB-C.]

The company has introduced a new ability to customize profiles for different reading modes. For example, you can set up one “theme” with larger text that’s better for reading at the coffee shop. Or if you share a Kindle with a family member, you could each configure your preferred profiles so you can easily switch between. Thank you Amazon for helping to prevent what I can only assume are constant marital squabbles caused by Kindles. I CAN’T BELIEVE YOU LEFT THE KINDLE IN FUTURA AGAIN, YOU LAZY BASTARD!! (This has never happened to me.)

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Maybe it’s a testament to the Paperwhite’s balance of design, price, and features that it’s hard to compete with. Are you in the market for a Kindle? This is the Kindle for you. Do you already have a Kindle Paperwhite? You probably don’t need this one unless you are dying for that seamless Audible integration. Should you buy a Kindle Oasis? Probably not! It has physical page turn buttons and a slightly larger, brighter display with adaptive lighting, but I’m willing to bet that it’s not worth the extra $120 for most people.

I should note that Kindles are mostly a portal to Amazon e-books and Audible audiobooks. While it’s possible to get other reading material and even library books onto the Paperwhite, the device is walled in its design. If you’re interested in a device that’s more open, Japanese retailer Rakuten has its Kobo line of Kindle competitors which are super, and in that line, the Clara HD e-reader is priced the same as a Paperwhite and has nearly identical hardware specs. Kobo tablets have the benefit that Rakuten also owns the library service Overdrive, so it’s tightly integrated the service. They also have Pocket integration, so it’s easier to get access to the long articles you save when you are too busy bickering at people on Facebook to read something intelligent.

In the end, though, I’m willing to bet that even if Kobo’s comparable product is better in many ways, most people already have an Amazon account and just want an e-reader that plays nicely with it. Like it or not, Amazon has mostly won the e-reader market, and the basic Paperwhite is the best buy in its line.

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README

  • Slightly smaller, lighter, and brighter than the last model.
  • Audible integration is cool, if probably not that useful to everyone.
  • Revised hardware design makes the device look more premium.
  • Just great—this is the default e-reader of choice.

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