Paul Gilster: New Kindle PaperWhite represents major step up

I’ve been pushing the new version of the Kindle PaperWhite hard over the past two weeks to take its measure. I’ve finished three books and have come to several conclusions about the technology, the brand behind it, and the potential buyers. The choice isn’t easy, because Amazon offers three levels of Kindle, from the basic $79 model to the high-end $219 Voyage. How does a new Kindle PaperWhite at $119 fit into the big scheme of things?

The fact that I have to untangle all this is telling, and it gets even more complex. Amazon made a bad choice in extending the Kindle brand name beyond where it ought to be, which is the realm of book readers using E-ink technology. When the Kindle Fire came out, many people bought the Fire thinking that this would be the ultimate book-reading experience. After all, wasn’t it a Kindle with a color screen?

The answer is no, because the Kindle Fire and all subsequent iterations use LCD screen technologies that are the last thing anyone who reads at length wants to deal with. The Fire is a tablet, like the iPad, with its own strengths and weaknesses, but the fact that the screen pushes light out past the text into your eyes gives many of us headaches, and I’ve seen research indicating that LCD use before bedtime often disrupts sleep patterns. No thanks.

Lighting problem solved

E-ink suffers none of these problems and offers text that’s generally crisp and easy on the eyes. The basic Amazon Kindle offers no light, so you treat it as you would a book, using ambient light to get your reading done. The PaperWhite introduced, two generations back, a light that shone from the bezel down onto the page, thus making it possible to give the average page a brighter look (much like paper) in good ambient light, and making low light conditions still readable.

The first generation PaperWhite suffered from uneven lighting, a problem that only showed up when you used it to read in dark conditions. The second generation PaperWhite solved that problem, I thought, but it’s back in the third generation, which is the one just introduced. All told, it’s a minor problem that affects my reading not at all, but if reading in low light conditions (as while a spouse is sleeping) is a big factor for you, I recommend the higher end Voyage.

At $119, though (or $139 without Amazon’s relatively non-intrusive ads on the home screen), the new PaperWhite is a major step up from the previous two generations. The screen display is 300 ppi, which equals that of the Voyage, an e-reader that costs $219. This is a good, sharp reading experience, and worlds above that of the basic Kindle model. The Voyage has a somewhat brighter screen, but both are entirely acceptable for most reading needs.

Voyage upgrade coming

I have no hesitation in recommending to anyone who has the basic Kindle to upgrade to the PaperWhite, though I think users of an earlier PaperWhite can see the upgrade as optional.

So the real question is, PaperWhite or Voyage if you’re in the market for a new Kindle? The Voyage offers a light that adjusts to ambient conditions (nice) and a display that is flush with the surface (i.e., no bezel). It also offers page turns by button press as well as screen touch. If I were upgrading from the basic Kindle, I’d opt for the new PaperWhite, which also adds a fine new font called Bookerly, a replacement for the earlier Caecilia and a nice upgrade.

Meanwhile, the Voyage will undergo an upgrade of its own in November, and a substantial one. My advice: If you’re buying now, buy the new PaperWhite. If you can wait and the higher cost isn’t a factor, see what the new Voyage looks like and decide toward the end of the year. You won’t go wrong either way, for the new PaperWhite really is an excellent reading experience.

Paul A. Gilster is the author of several books on technology. Reach him at