Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (2018) Review: The Best Got Better

Dec. 10 Update: Amazon's offering a $30 off sale on the Kindle Paperwhite, knocking it to $99.

The day before Amazon announced the new Kindle Paperwhite, I asked a colleague if the e-reader was "done." Not that e-readers are inherently bad, but I wondered if Amazon had already made the best affordable midrange e-reader that it could. And then Amazon one-upped itself by giving the Paperwhite ($129/£119) some of the best features from its high-end Kindle Oasis: waterproofing, more storage and a display that's flush to its bezels. And while it may not make every Paperwhite user run out to upgrade today, Amazon's perfected the e-reader, again.

Design

The new Paperwhite is nearly identical to the previous model. Its soft-touch matte-black case looks and feels just like its predecessor's, though the Kindle logo is now a light gray that contrasts with the case instead of a matching black.

The new Paperwhite is 0.32 inches thick and weighs 6.4 ounces, making it a slimmer  version of the 2015 Paperwhite (0.36 inches, 7.2 ounces). Amazon's $79 Kindle is thicker and lighter, but it doesn't pack a backlight, which means it's a no-no for nighttime.

The new Paperwhite is closer in size to the graphite-aluminum Kindle Oasis (0.33 inches, 6.7 ounces), while the Barnes & Noble Nook GlowLight 3 (0.35 inches, 7.0 ounces) is slightly thicker and heavier. The Nook, however,also offers buttons for turning the page, which the Paperwhite could stand to add. Rakuten, a Japanese electronics company that recently partnered with Walmart, just announced the Kobo Clara HD, a similarly priced e-reader that we're looking to test soon.

Paperwhite 2015 (left), Paperwhite 2018 (center), Oasis (right)Paperwhite 2015 (left), Paperwhite 2018 (center), Oasis (right)The Oasis's larger size (a 7-inch display vs. the Paperwhite's 6-inch screen) is still a point in its favor, but the Paperwhite has caught up in one key way. The Paperwhite's screen is finally flush with the bezel around it. This looks a lot nicer than the previous Paperwhites, which framed the screen with a chunky, shadow box-like bezel that stood out.

Handing the new Paperwhite to my mom, who doesn't spend more than a couple of hours away from her own Paperwhite, I got a surprising reaction. She said she likes the chunky bezel because it's a good place to rest her fingers,  but this new model's screen puts your fingers too close to the touch screen. Accidental page turns weren't an issue during my testing, though I do understand the reaction.

Then I remembered why I prefer the Oasis' design over the Paperwhite's. Unlike the Paperwhite, the Oasis is asymmetrical, with one thin bezel on one side, and clickable buttons and a wider bezel on the other side. This makes it easier to hold. The Paperwhite's slightly curved backside is also much simpler than the Oasis', which offers a bump meant to be cradled with your gripping fingers.

One positive design change is that there's no hump on the back where the power button and microUSB port rest. They're just a part of the bottom edge.

Both Kindles charge over microUSB, don't offer headphone jacks (Bluetooth is needed for audiobooks) and feature a small power button that you'll have to squint to notice. Annoyingly, Amazon doesn't include a USB power adapter. Sure, you've probably got one lying around, but for $129, Amazon should have included one.

Durability

The biggest new feature of the 2018 Kindle Paperwhite is its waterproof design, which earned an IPX8 rating. That's up to 60 minutes of submergence in 2 meters of water. You don't need to worry about it falling into your bath, the pool or even the ocean at a beach (though that's riskier, as saltwater is more corrosive).

Not only did I splash water on the Paperwhite during a photoshoot; I dropped the Paperwhite in a foot-tall bucket of tap water, then removed it after 20 minutes. The device continued to work and offer responsive page-turning, as if it had been dry the whole time.

Technically speaking, the IPX8 classification means we could have waited another 40 minutes, and dunked it even deeper.

Display

The Paperwhite's 6-inch, 300 ppi display is just as sharp and easy to read as its predecessor's: a true example of "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." The screen's anti-glare display is also still great for reading in a variety of lighting situations.

Our light gun rated the screen for a maximum of 78 nits, which is slightly lower than the 92-nit 2015 Paperwhite, and well below the 137-nit Oasis. This Kindle packs 5 LED backlights, one more than the 2015 Paperwhite (which packed 4), and seven fewer than the Oasis (which packed 12), as well as an adaptive sensor.

The Paperwhite 2015 (left) and Paperwhite 2018 (right) both feature the same great display.The Paperwhite 2015 (left) and Paperwhite 2018 (right) both feature the same great display.As I devoured a particularly tense section of Stephen King's The Outsider on the Paperwhite, I noticed a small gap between the screen and the bezel. This gap is also there on the Kindle Oasis, and it's the kind of thing that many smartphones used to have. It's a small thing, and not that important, but it's an area in which E-ink displays can still advance.

Reading Andrew Sean Greer's novel Less in Bryant Park one sunny morning, I noted the Paperwhite's super-legible display. Even in direct sunlight the page was easy to read.

The Paperwhite is even suitable for reading graphic novels, I found as I paged through Kieron Gillen's The Wicked and The Divine. The e-reader’s grayscale display is a bit unfriendly to color publications, though.

Using the Paperwhite

Overall, the Paperwhite is still a joy to use. Pages refresh and searches load with a prompt speed that's limited only by the E-ink itself. Contrast that with the slow, sluggish performance of the Nook GlowLight 3, and you'll understand why the word "Nook" became an afterthought in the e-reader market.

As I turned the lights off in my bedroom, getting ready to read a chapter of Jennifer Egan's Manhattan Beach before I went to sleep, I noticed the Paperwhite's lack of automatically adjusting backlighting. It's not the biggest issue — it took two taps to get to the brightness menu, and some fiddling to get it right — but I missed the Oasis, which knew when I'd entered a dark room and compensated without prompting.

Per a question from Tom's Guide forum member derek87, I compared the 2018 Paperwhite's lighting in pitch-dark lighting to that of the 2015 Paperwhite. The newer model provided a more even, uniform lighting, even at the lower end of the brightness settings (set between 5 and 8). Also, the 2018 model was brighter at 1 notch of brightness than the 2015 model was at 5 notches. And don't worry, this 2015 Paperwhite wasn't burned out, it's a pretty recent purchase, acquired in July 2018.

Battery Life

Amazon rates the new Kindle Paperwhite as lasting up to six weeks on a charge. That's based on 30 minutes "of reading per day with wireless off and the light setting at 13." The über-retailer says your time may vary, due to use of wireless connectivity, Bluetooth and lighting.

Based on my experience, I believe that estimate. After three days of using the Paperwhite rigorously for a few hours every day, including multiple hours at full brightness, as well as using Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and LTE, I knocked the on-screen battery life estimate down to 50 percent.

Book Selection

Judging by raw numbers, you'd have a hard time going wrong with Amazon's library, which the company claims has "millions" of books (Tom's Guide editor Marshall Honorof pegs it at "about 4 million"), including "over 1 million Kindle exclusive titles." Barnes and Noble on the other hand, claims its library is around 4.5 million books.

Of course, though, we're all unique individuals, and we each have tastes that can find the holes in an online library. For example, neither the Kindle store nor the Nook store sells the hardcover book currently on my bedside table, I'm Sorry, I Love You, a recently released history of pro wrestling by Briton Jim Smallman.

Amazon's also got Kindle Unlimited, a $9.99 Netflix-for-books with "over 1 million titles and thousands of audiobooks." Authors whose work appears in Kindle Unlimited  include Michael Crichton, Neil Gaiman and George Orwell. Graphic novels, including Saga and Captain Marvel, also appear. For a limited time, a Paperwhite purchase includes a 6-month free trial.

In case you're not made of money, the Kindle Paperwhite still supports borrowing books from public libraries for free, using the Overdrive service.

Audiobooks

Amazon has also added audiobook support to the Paperwhite. This option comes via Bluetooth headphone support, and was once restricted to the other Kindles (both the cheaper $80 Kindle and the $250 Oasis), or customers willing to shell out $20 for Amazon's micro- USB-to-headphone-jack adapter.

As I listened to Emma Galvin read Edan Lepucki's post-global disaster-relationship novel California over my AirPods, I wandered around my living room with no loss in audio quality. Only when I reached the far end of my medium-size loft did the audio crackle with disruption.

How much does the new Kindle Paperwhite cost? Pricing and configurations

While I'm not happy to see that the Paperwhite costs more than it used to — see below for more — right now Amazon's got a $30 off deal, so the Kindle Paperwhite is now just $99. Take advantage of this deal now, as it might not last long.

The one downside about this year's Paperwhite is that it costs $10 more than it used to, at $129/£119, although the waterproofing is well worth it. Everything else is business as usual, or improved.

Paperwhite 2015 with special offers, Paperwhite 2018 without special offersPaperwhite 2015 with special offers, Paperwhite 2018 without special offersThe default Paperwhite comes with 8GB of storage: twice as much as the previous Paperwhite packed. Want four times that much, so you never ever have to think twice about downloading all the audiobooks and graphic novels you want? A 32 GB Paperwhite costs $30/£30 extra, at $159/£149. LTE connectivity with free cellular connections (for when you want a book, but you're away from Wi-Fi) costs an extra $70/£70, but that option is available for only the 32GB model, which makes for a $249/£219 Paperwhite.

Of all these upgrades, the only one I'd consider is spending $20/£10 to remove the Special Offers(aka ads) from Amazon for other books. Amazon doesn't take the user's reading habits into consideration, and just spams you with popular novels.

Bottom Line

With water-resistance and a flush-to-screen display, Amazon's taken the Paperwhite and made it even more compelling. The only downside is that it costs $10 more now.

The metallic Kindle Oasis offers physical buttons and automatically adjusts to your lighting conditions, but its $250 price  is mighty high. But we're betting that at $129, the new Kindle Paperwhite is the best e-reader for most readers. And as to whether or not existing Paperwhite owners need to upgrade, that depends on how much time you spend around water.

Credit: Tom's Guide

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  • derek87
    i believe all of the previous Paperwhites used 4 LEDs, not 5. it remains to be seen as to whether this extra LED helps with uniformity issues and shadows. did you test the Paperwhite in complete darkness with a low brightness level (5-8)...this is where i have seen past Paperwhites (and even the first generation Oasis) struggle with light uniformity issues and "shadow cones" near the LED light sources.
  • henrytcasey
    Anonymous said:
    i believe all of the previous Paperwhites used 4 LEDs, not 5. it remains to be seen as to whether this extra LED helps with uniformity issues and shadows. did you test the Paperwhite in complete darkness with a low brightness level (5-8)...this is where i have seen past Paperwhites (and even the first generation Oasis) struggle with light uniformity issues and "shadow cones" near the LED light sources.


    Firstly: The 2012 Paperwhite used four, but I can’t find any record of how many the 2015 Paperwhite contained, though I was led to believe it had five. I am investigating this now, and will let you know if I find anything.

    Secondly, I hadn’t tested it under those circumstances, and I will do so tonight. Our office doesn’t have any good spaces for this, but I can find a room at home to make completely black, and try that low-brightness setting and report back.
  • derek87
    Anonymous said:
    Anonymous said:
    i believe all of the previous Paperwhites used 4 LEDs, not 5. it remains to be seen as to whether this extra LED helps with uniformity issues and shadows. did you test the Paperwhite in complete darkness with a low brightness level (5-8)...this is where i have seen past Paperwhites (and even the first generation Oasis) struggle with light uniformity issues and "shadow cones" near the LED light sources.


    Firstly: The 2012 Paperwhite used four, but I can’t find any record of how many the 2015 Paperwhite contained, though I was led to believe it had five. I am investigating this now, and will let you know if I find anything.

    Secondly, I hadn’t tested it under those circumstances, and I will do so tonight. Our office doesn’t have any good spaces for this, but I can find a room at home to make completely black, and try that low-brightness setting and report back.


    thanks for your prompt reply. my 3rd gen paperhite i'm almost 100% certain has 4 lights. The Voyage, i think has 6, and my first generation Oasis has 10, while the 2nd generation has 12.

    i would love to hear if they improved on the low light issues with the front lighting. i've long been disappointed on the unit-to-unit variation in quality from the units i've received (returned several) and compared against (friends). some can be quite good, and some are quite bad at least in the challenging situation for which i read (in bed with the light out and trying not to disturb my wife)
  • henrytcasey
    Anonymous said:
    thanks for your prompt reply. my 3rd gen paperhite i'm almost 100% certain has 4 lights. The Voyage, i think has 6, and my first generation Oasis has 10, while the 2nd generation has 12.

    i would love to hear if they improved on the low light issues with the front lighting. i've long been disappointed on the unit-to-unit variation in quality from the units i've received (returned several) and compared against (friends). some can be quite good, and some are quite bad at least in the challenging situation for which i read (in bed with the light out and trying not to disturb my wife)


    Thank you again for your question. I've updated the review per my findings, which I'll explain here:

    1. Yes, the 2015 Paperwhite had 4 LEDs, not 5.

    2. In pitch-dark lighting, the 2018 Paperwhite's lighting, when set between 5 and 8 notches of backlighting, is more even, with no cones, than the 2015 Paperwhite's, at those same brightness settings.

    3. Also, at 1 notch of brightness the 2018 Paperwhite's brightness is still even, and slightly brighter than the 2015 model at 5 notches.
  • derek87
    Anonymous said:
    Anonymous said:
    thanks for your prompt reply. my 3rd gen paperhite i'm almost 100% certain has 4 lights. The Voyage, i think has 6, and my first generation Oasis has 10, while the 2nd generation has 12.

    i would love to hear if they improved on the low light issues with the front lighting. i've long been disappointed on the unit-to-unit variation in quality from the units i've received (returned several) and compared against (friends). some can be quite good, and some are quite bad at least in the challenging situation for which i read (in bed with the light out and trying not to disturb my wife)


    Thank you again for your question. I've updated the review per my findings, which I'll explain here:

    1. Yes, the 2015 Paperwhite had 4 LEDs, not 5.

    2. In pitch-dark lighting, the 2018 Paperwhite's lighting, when set between 5 and 8 notches of backlighting, is more even, with no cones, than the 2015 Paperwhite's, at those same brightness settings.

    3. Also, at 1 notch of brightness the 2018 Paperwhite's brightness is still even, and slightly brighter than the 2015 model at 5 notches.


    thanks for this helpful information. i'm hoping that your sample is representative of the majority of the Paperwhites out there. it would be nice to see that they have finally cracked this light uniformity issue.