We know what we’re going to see, with Galaxy and Ativ stuff having already been leaked and, in some cases, announced, but that’s not going to take away our liveblogging fun. Henry and I will be providing our usual dose of snark and sarcasm along with the news from Samsung’s London event, so join us for a magical journey (if IFA 2012 is anything to go by).
With the launch of the original Kindle in 2007, Amazon revolutionised the ebook and print industry. With its e-ink screen and thin construction, it allowed for people to literally fit entire libraries into their pockets. Couple that with Amazon’s free worldwide 3G service and its best-in-class content library, and you have a winner. And so it has been – four generations of Kindle have come and gone. All of them have been very successful, and now it is time for the fifth. Since its launch, Amazon have been diversifying it’s lineup – with larger, smaller, cheaper and keyboard-equipped variants of the Kindle. This time around, they have done the same. They upgraded the base model with a new black body and higher resolution screen along with a £20 price drop and ushered in the Kindle Paperwhite while expanding on the LCD equipped tablet lineup they began last year with the Kindle Fire. Today, I am going to be reviewing the Kindle Paperwhite – the successor to last year’s wildly popular Kindle Touch. Does it live up to the hype? Is the new ‘glowing’ screen any good? Read on to find out.
Kindle Paperwhite (left) and previous generation Kindle Touch
There is an old saying – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it – and Amazon has certainly abided by this for the fifth generation Kindle lineup, with both the Kindle and the Kindle Paperwhite being almost identical to their predecessors in terms of design. However, both devices have got a new lick of matte black (fingerprint magnetic) paint. However, not everything is the same. The Paperwhite is lighter, thinner and sleeker then the Kindle Touch, while also getting rid of the home button. This is definitely one of the timeless classic designs, much like the original iPhone. These improvements haven’t come without a cost though. The new Kindle has done away with the text-to-speech function with the omission of the 3.5mm headphone jack and speakers. There is also less storage – not that it would matter with ebooks being as small as they are.
The Paperwhite’s biggest new feature is the inclusion of an integrated light – a functionality that Amazon used to force you to buy a £50 case to obtain. This frontlight makes the screen ‘glow’, and this is done with LEDs on the edge, which are shone onto an overlay on the screen. This overlay bounces light off the screen, and at you – not causing eye strain like the backlit LCD displays on the majority of tablets.
And now for the question lots of people have been asking – “Does it work well?”. Short answer – yes. The screen can be very bright for pitch black situations, or dimmer to supplement natural light around you. There is some minor inconsistencies in light distribution around the edge of the display but nothing major that would impede the readability of the screen. The new Kindle also swaps out the infrared touchscreen of old with a new higher resolution smartphone style capacitive display. It is a lot clearer, less inset and refresh times are miles better. I did notice some very slight burn in, especially after leaving a book on a page for over 5 minutes, but it was nothing to worry about.
Kindle software of old was heavily focused on the reading experience – browsing your library, keeping track of your reading etc. With the new Kindle generation, Amazon have brought in a much more tablet-style operating system. It has front cover previews, suggested items on the home screen and other things too. To be honest, I don’t really like the new software as it is a bit more cumbersome to navigate what’s important (your books) and it makes certain information a lot smaller, such as how far you are through a book. As it is an e-reader, there isn’t too much to talk about, but you are now missing the ability to playback MP3 files as there is no speaker or headphone jack, which is a bit annoying but by no means a dealbreaker.
However, there is one place where Amazon is an undisputed king – it’s content library. Pretty much any ebook you can name is on the Kindle Store – almost always at a discounted price compared to the physical copies, and Amazon’s usual array of daily deals and fantastic sales (including Yann Martel’s Life of Pi for just 20p) help to ensure that, for heavy readers, Kindles are unquestionably cheaper in the long run than paper books. Amazon has also become a publisher, allowing people to publish their books without any fuss straight to Kindle, and they have also restarted the old fashioned trade of releasing chapter a week books, much like Dickens would have done. Amazon’s Kindle library is ever growing – and with subscription services like Prime – it is reason enough to buy a Kindle.
The Kindle has had (and still does have) astonishing battery life. This is most likely due to the fact that the e-ink display only uses battery to turn the pages, and also due to the great power management technologies used by Amazon. This year, it has become a whole lot more complicated with the inclusion of the light. Now that has to be powered, there was expected to be a huge hit to the battery life. Not so. According to Amazon’s statistics – and roughly corroborated by our own testing – the Kindle Paperwhite will power through 8 weeks of typical reading even with the light on. This figure is with wireless turned off, but it is impressive nonetheless. It really is fantastic to be able to use a device for extended periods of time without having to worry at all about running out of juice.
Amazon has hit the nail on the head with the Kindle Paperwhite. With great hardware, an unmatched bookstore and a great price, the flagship of Amazon’s e-ink lineup is both the best e-reader out there and a worthy bearer of the Kindle nomenclature. I would have no trouble at all recommending this to anyone, and it certainly has boosted the amount of time I spend reading.
Waterstones have announced that they will sell Amazon’s popular Kindle e-reader in its UK stores along with their standard paper books. James Daunt, managing director of Waterstones, stated that it is “a truly exciting prospect”. He claimed that there is no point in competing with the best digital electronic book readers and so will instead partner with the Kindle, after sales of paper books have fallen in recent years due to the emergence of e-readers such as the Kindle and Barnes & Noble’s Nook.
Kindle has a massive market share of digital book reading in the UK, and Waterstones will start to take a cut of it
Although Daunt claims that they will harness “the respective strengths of Waterstones and Amazon to provide a dramatically better digital reading experience for our customers” surely they are just shooting themselves in the foot. By selling them in their shops they are further promoting their rivals in the book industry.
Waterstones have even said that they are currently planning their own e-book reader, but whether that will kick off and keep Waterstones alive is yet to be seen.
James Daunt was appointed in his position after Russian billionaire Alexander Mamut bought the bookstore chain from HMV last summer. This new deal comes as a surprise since Daunt accused Amazon last December as being a “ruthless, money-making devil” and said “that they never struck me as being a sort of business in the consumer’s interest.” It now seems that they have given in to the ever growing popularity of the Kindle, even though it was believed that they were negotiating with US bookseller Barnes & Noble to bring the Nook to the UK.
This isn’t the only case of Amazon trying to take control, after they released a mobile app where you scan products in a shop and compare it to Amazon’s rival price.
Personally I think that although this could help with Waterstones’ sales, which have fallen over the last few years due to these new ways of reading, they are potentially damaging their book sales and the integrity of their shop. However, I think that they have no choice to keep their company alive and keep customers coming to their shops by offering special Waterstones discounts on the Kindles and hope to draw people in to browse around. Although it seems Waterstones are doing all they can to stay in the now highly competitive market, you can’t help but feel that this is the next step in the decline of the traditional book store we all know and some of us cherish, but also the rise of the e-books, where it will be odd in the future if you don’t own a device capable of displaying such content, as it will become the normal thing for everyone to have. Major publishing companies need to watch out as they too need to change if they are to survive in this rapidly changing market.