Last month, Amazon released the latest iteration of its Kindle e-reader. Thinner, lighter, and with twice the memory of its predecessor, this Kindle also came with the product’s lowest price tag to date. At $79.99 CDN, it is competitively priced against Indigo’s Kobo Touch 2.0, which retails for $89.95.
At first glance, the Kindle and the Kindle Paperwhite ($119.99) are nearly identical. Both have 6”, glare-free touch screens with one external power button on the bottom of the device, beside the charging port. The only immediate difference might appear to be that the Paperwhite is slightly longer and is built with a smoother, more pleasant-feeling back.
Once you’ve held both devices, other differences start to reveal themselves. The Kindle Paperwhite is slightly heavier (Wi-Fi: 205 grams; Wi-Fi + 3G: 217 grams, to the Kindle’s 161). The extra girth of the Paperwhite is thanks to 4 built-in LED lights that allow the reader to adjust the brightness of the backlight as needed, making it easy to read the device anywhere, anytime, regardless of external light source. (The Kindle Oasis — the crème de la crème of Kindles, at $399 a unit — comes equipped with 10 LEDs, which Amazon promises will provide “enhanced page consistency”.) The Kindle, however, has no backlight. I was surprised by the darkness of the screen upon initial testing; sure, you can’t read an actual book in the dark, either, but the dim grey scale of the screen made it even harder on the eyes than a physical printed page.
There’s also a significant jump in screen resolution between the two models. The Kindle comes in at 167ppi, whereas the Paperwhite is 300ppi. (For context, 300ppi is the highest resolution made by Kindle; despite the additional bells and whistles of the Kindle Oasis and Kindle Journey [$299.99], both also clock in at 300.)
In terms of usability, the Kindle was a series of minor annoyances from the beginning. Kindles would seem to be designed for the non-techie type, the sort of person who wants a device that is solely for reading. I assumed, then, that the setup process would be simple, straightforward, and fast — especially in the Kindle’s 7th iteration. Initially, I was prompted with vague instructions to set up my account either in the “Store”, a page navigated to through the home screen, or online. However, I wasn’t able to find any kind of prompt or link that would allow me to do so on the device itself, despite exhausting all navigation options in Settings and the “Quick Links” menu in the top right hand corner. Eventually I grew tired of searching and opened my computer to set up an account. I’m sure the option is there somewhere, but being a longtime user of Apple products has made me spoiled when it comes to user experience and logical pathways to achieving an outcome. The onboarding experience of the Paperwhite, on the other hand, was smoother sailing. Generally, there were less prompts and a slightly more refined interface.
In comparison to the majority of smartphones and tablets today, I can’t help but feel that the Kindle fairs poorly in comparison when one takes into account overall performance and experience. Take for example the touch latency observed in both of these products. On almost every smartphone made within the past five years, you would be hard-pressed to find any that has even a millisecond of a delay reacting to a finger press, whereas the Kindle’s touchscreen feels more similar to a Palm Pilot from the late 1990s in its performance. Add to that the slow refresh rate, where you can actually see the screen changing pixels from the old page to the new one, and you can’t help but feel as though this device just does not meet the expectations of a piece of technology manufactured in 2016. The benefits of having a screen without glare or aversion to sunlight, and a device with an insane month-long battery will certainly entice a user base, but I feel that will continue to get smaller and smaller as more advanced tablets become accessible price-wise and more capable in their screen quality.
Of these two models, the Paperwhite wins on all counts and, to my mind, the benefits it offers over the basic Kindle make the price jump worthwhile. However, price seems to be the main selling feature of these devices, period. For advanced, multi-function usability, I suspect that many customers would be happier making the jump to a tablet and simply downloading the Kindle app.