I have owned a Kindle for over two years now and while I still occasionally buy paper books, I have mostly moved to e-books. My current Kindle is a 3rd gen. Kindle Keyboard and I never felt that upgrading to any of the new (touch or not) Kindles was worth it. But when I learned about the new Kindle Paperwhite, I ordered it the day it became available here in the UK. Royal Mail delivered it on Friday and here are my initial thoughts about this device after having spent two days with it.
Compared all other (both new and old) Kindles, Paperwhite materials and manufacturing quality feels much nicer and ‘less cheap’. The back of the device has a kind of rubbery anti-slip surface which is quite efficient in keeping the device firmly in your hand. Apart from the on/off switch, the device has no other physical buttons. Amazon claims that both the screen resolution and contrast have been improved. I can confirm that compared to my Kindle keyboard the resolution seems to be higher, but I am much less sure about the contrast. I still feel that instead of ‘black on white’, even the best e-ink Kindle still offers only ‘dark grey on light grey’.
The big feature is clearly the new and unique backlight system which, I have to say, works really well both at night and during the day. The light is quite uniform across most of the screen with the exception of the very bottom where you can see subtle dark stripes. It is definitely noticeable, but not distracting enough to negatively affect overall reading experience. At least not to me. I found that leaving the light on all the time (around level 4 seems to work best for me) makes the reading easier as it helps to increase the contract without tiring the eyes. Given the recent weather in the UK I have not had a chance to test the new screen in bright sunlight. May need to wait till spring for that;-)
The main gripe I have is the lack of physical buttons for page turning. Trying to touch the middle of the screen with my left thumb to turn the page when holding the device in my left hand without dropping it quite challenging. With a physical button on the left side such an operation would be a piece of cake.
Software & UI
Historically, and this is still the case on all the other e-ink Kindles, the UI was very basic, rather unintuitive and made you want to leave any menus as quickly as possible. Organising and navigating more than 20 or so books was a real pain in the neck. I am happy to say that with Paperwhite UI, most of these complaints go away.
Kindle Paperwhite is, of course, a touch only device but luckily its UI finally got a major refresh and is reasonably well optimised for touch operation. Books can be displayed in either the ‘cover art’ view or a list view. From the Kindle iPad app, Amazon borrowed the simple Device/Cloud switch that makes it easy to manage your book collection. Making notes, highlighting and getting definitions is now much easier too. Typing on the e-ink screen requires a bit of training due to the lag in UI response due to full screen refresh. But after a while I was able to type reasonably quickly and mostly without mistakes.
I have to agree with John Gruber that Amazon could have done better here. While it’s great that (finally) multiple fonts are now available, I don’t think that the choices Amazon made were particularly fortunate ones. Kindle Paperwhite comes with the following fonts:
- Caecillia Condensed
I like Baskerville a lot. After all, this whole site is set in this typeface. However, Kindle Paperwhite screen does not have high enough resolution to render the delicate lines of Baskerville well. This makes it very difficult to read unless you use a rather large size. Even though it’s not the most space efficient font in the world, I find that Palatino works rather well. In terms of sans-serif fonts, here again Amazon rather surprisingly picked Futura which is typically used rather as a display font and thus is not best suited for long-form texts. But then there’s at least Helvetica — hardly a surprise choice, but it works. I personally never liked Amazon’s Caecillia, but I understand why its original as well as condensed forms were included.
Typographically, e-books still have a long way to go and Kindle is now exception. As a leader in this business, Amazon should really try harder to include support for at least the basic typographical features like paragraph alignment, ligatures and advanced kerning and drop caps. This, of course, is not only a question of Kindle devices, but in the first place Amazon’s Kindle file format (KF8). This format has been evolving only very slowly and is still very basic and typographically limited even compared to CSS, let alone TeX/LaTeX. Being a typography nerd, I would like to think that the next incarnation of Kindle will bring noticeable improvements in this area.
Kindle Paperwhite is, no doubt, the best Kindle ever and the best e-reader you can buy today. It it by no means perfect, but if you are thinking of upgrading from your existing Kindle or consider moving to e-books for the first time, Kindle Paperwhite combined with Amazon’s rich eco-system is definitely the e-reader to get.
- milanjuza posted this