There is a certain type of person for whom becoming a millionaire would mean ordering the immediate construction of a plain, white room on a hill – probably with a single window opening onto a field – built for the express purpose of finally getting some god-damn reading done.
The E-reader is the nearest affordable equivalent of this.
These strange, antiquated-looking devices, with their grayscale screens and thick plastic bezels, are that rare and simple thing: a modern gadget which has evolved to solve just two, simple problems.
First, most screens are terrible for reading. Second, reading is difficult anyway.
And why do they succeed? Because where carrying books is inconvenient, and buying them, doubly so, and where distractions threaten at all times to supersede your attempt to learn what happens next, the E-reader makes all of these problems moot. Unlike an iPad or a phone, with an E-reader you can clearly see words in bright sunlight, the battery lasts for weeks, and perhaps most subtly of all, many people prefer their readers to just do less…
When reading you don’t want to be distracted…
The new Kindle Paperwhite, Amazon’s flagship E-reader which comes with a built-in light, and frankly not much else, takes this very much to heart.
Because, if anything, it does even less than any Kindle ever has. And that is very much the philosophy of this device.
Where various other Kindles since 2007 have had keyboards, page-turning buttons, headphone jacks and expandable memory, the Paperwhite has none. Where other Kindles had bizarre 80s-themed designs, and where the new Kindle Fire HD has a fantastic full-colour screen, the Paperwhite dispenses with these too.
The Paperwhite is basically a void. It is all-black, with a rubberised back plate, with one physical on-button and a USB charging port. And that’s it.
Which is not to say the device doesn’t innovate.
The included backlight is very pleasing on the eye, and seems to glow ‘behind’ the screen at 24 adjustable levels. Like competing products such as the Nook Glowlight, it is possible to see the uneven distribution of the light if you look closely, but in general it’s a handy, high-quality addition which solves a genuine problem – how to read a Kindle in bed without annoying anyone else who happens to be there at the time.
The Paperwhite’s screen is also improved in terms of resolution (1024×768), contrast and brightness. Day to day you won’t notice, but in direct comparison to the older models it’s a big jump.
The device also feels snappier and more responsive than the older generation, and on-screen typing feels just about usable for the first time on an E-ink Kindle. The battery life is superb too, and Amazon’s ecosystem of books is still the best in the business – even if it’s harder to side-load other books you may have bought, downloaded or, optimistically, written, than competing products.
There are problems too. Firstly, at full power the light doesn’t actually look white. It’s actually a sort of milky-blue. This isn’t a major issue – except in terms of nomenclature – but it’s annoying.
More obviously, the screen without the light on isn’t ‘white’ either. Most people I believe would assume that the Paperwhite’s default screen is ‘whiter’ than the original. It isn’t – it’s still the same grey-green with which you’re already familiar. I also missed the physical page-turning buttons. It’s not a big issue, but touching the screen to turn the page just isn’t as satisfying as giving the page-turn switch a good old *thunk* with your thumb.
Then there’s cost – the Paperwhite is more expensive than both cheaper Kindles (£109 for the WiFi version compared to £69 for the base level model) and many of its competitors, and since you aren’t getting a huge amount that you wouldn’t get from turning on a light, you’ll have to weigh that balance for yourself.
That all said, using the Kindle Paperwhite it is pretty clear this is probably the best E-reader on the market.
It’s not beautiful or particularly stylish. It doesn’t do anything very new – or even very interesting. But it’s an exceptionally solid, honed, single-purpose gadget which makes reading slightly less appallingly awkward.
In that way, it’s more like a coffee machine or a knife sharpener than an iPad. The Paperwhite’s whole reason to exist – its raison d’etre – is to make you ignore it, even when you’re using it. And at that it succeeds remarkably well.
When you read with it, you do indeed ignore it – and it ignores you. No more email or update alerts.
I do wonder what the bibliophiles of past would make of this device. A veritable library of knowledge and entertainment always at hand – literally. Perhaps they would wish they had been born today? Perhaps we should take that as a cue and be glad we live in Kindler times (no pun intended).
I still recommend building that plain-white reading room, though. Even if you don’t get any reading done, it’s a fantastic place to ponder at the glorious insanity of it all.