Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (2013) review: first look

In among the heap of product announcements at IFA this week, another has quietly slipped under the radar: Amazon has launched a new version of its superb Kindle Paperwhite ebook reader. The announcement was pretty low key, and the reason became patently obvious as soon as we got our hands on one for a brief demonstration.

Physically, the new Paperwhite is near identical: the dimensions are the same, the case is still matte black, rubbery plastic, the buttons are all in the same place as before. The only thing that has changed is the Kindle logo on the rear has been replaced with an Amazon one, and it's 7g lighter. The price remains the same, though, at £109 for the Wi-Fi version and £169 for the 3G reader. It's a direct replacement for the old version in the range, rather than an addition to it.

This is no bad thing. The previous Kindle Paperwhite was a beautiful and practical design, so why change it?

There are, however, a number of subtle refinements, all aimed at keeping the Paperwhite one step ahead of the competition. First, the new Paperwhite has an improved E Ink display with better contrast and reflectivity, plus an upgraded light. The result is a whiter, crisper display than on the old Kindle. You can see the difference for yourself in the photo below (the new version is on the right).

The capacitive touch layer is "tighter" and responds "more accurately" to taps and selections, too, although since we've not found cause for complaint with the older model, we're not sure how much benefit this will bring. And battery life is quoted at "eight weeks", so the improvements don't appear to come at the cost of stamina.

Continuing this theme of small changes, the new Kindle has a better processor than before - 25% faster if the press release is to believed. The previous model was light enough on its feet, but as the video demo below shows, the new one is even more rapid, with page turns occurring in the blink of an eye.

That's it for hardware upgrades, but Amazon hasn't left it at that: there's also a handful of software upgrades. Our personal favourite is the new Page Flip function, which lets you flip back and forth through a book without losing your place. It does this by keeping your current page open in the background, and opening a new, smaller window on top, which you can then use to browse back and forth - to remind yourself of a plot detail, or refer to a diagram or map earlier in a chapter, for instance.

Elsewhere, there's a new word lookup tool, which now incorporates Dictionary, X-Ray and Wikipedia lookups in a single, tabbed interface. Vocabulary Builder, a tool aimed at students and school children, keeps track of all the words you look up and saves them in a separate book in the Kindle's library, which can then be used as a revision tool. There's even a flash card tool which presents the words in succession, complete with definition, in a small window in the middle of the display.

And that's your lot. Suffice it to say, if you already own a Paperwhite, you'd have to be mad to upgrade to this latest model. Although welcome, the upgrades are minor and thin on the ground.

What the new Paperwhite does do, however, is further stretch Amazon's lead in the ebook reader market. The Paperwhite was the best in the business before; now it's even better.

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