What It Is: Amazon's most recent e-ink reader, with a higher-resolution screen.
Why We Like It: The latest Kindle Paperwhite is, as a device, completely boring. But that's not a fumble on the part of Amazon, or even a slam, on our part. It's another sign that Amazon understands the point of an e-ink reader, which is to get out of the way. Because the more attention the reader's hardware and software draws to itself, the greater the chance of pulling you away from whatever book you were reading.
To be clear, the third-generation Kindle Paperwhite is the best ounce-for-ounce e-ink reader on the market. Its 6-inch screen has a noticeable bump in resolution that makes text crisper, easier to read, and therefore easier on the eyes. It's also the same resolution as the Kindle Voyage, Amazon's top-tier reader, but without the top-tier price — at $100, the Voyage costs twice as much as the base, WiFi-enabled Paperwhite. It also has Amazon's new font, called Bookerly, which is designed to reduce eye strain, and to be more readable at a variety of sizes (some fonts can become hazy or oddly spaced as they grow and shrink). The improved screen puts the Paperwhite back out in front of the admittedly limited competition, including Amazon's own Voyage. But the reason we love the Paperwhite is because of the class of device that it so well represents, and the fact that Amazon hasn't lost sight of what an e-reader should, and shouldn't do.
The Paperwhite's operating system is still stripped down and direct, and isn't cluttered with Tweet buttons and Facebook notifications. The closest that Amazon has gotten to pandering to the current social media economy has been smart — like previous Kindles, the Paperwhite can sync up with Goodreads, a site and service whose recommendation algorithm and user reviews are a benefit to readers. But even in terms of pure industrial design, the Paperwhite is mercifully straightforward. There's a power button, and that's it. No camera or fingerprint reader, and nothing gleaming or grabby about its body.
Amazon knows that e-readers are nothing more than vessels for e-books. And that's a good thing, since the more connected we are, the harder it can be to shut out digital distractions and experience the near-miraculous fugue state that only a great book can induce. People who claim to read books on their phones or tablets are either lying, or have more willpower than we do. There's always something to watch on HBO Now or Netflix, or another warren of Instagram or Pinterest rabbit holes to tumble down. E-ink readers slam the door on all other options, because they're terrible at them. They're the true successors of print, in that way, with the added improvement of a built-in book light, and easy wireless access to purchase new books, or borrow digital copies from public libraries. They're also an ergonomic improvement over print. You can more easily read with one hand (the Paperwhite weighs 7.2 or 7.6 ounces, depending on whether you get the WiFi or 3G version, whereas most paperbacks weigh between 9 and 15 ounces), and even prop it on a pillow for reading in bed.
These are admittedly old arguments in favor of e-readers over print, as well as other devices. But nine years after the Kindle was first introduced, those arguments have only gotten stronger. And, more surprising, nothing has pushed the humble, single-purpose e-ink reader into obsolescence. The Paperwhite is the best example yet of just how much fun an intentionally boring product can be.
Nitpick: The screen isn't lit as evenly as the Kindle Voyage's, and it also lacks that model's innovative "buttons" — pressure-sensitive areas that page forward or backward when you pinch. But that's a minor gripe, because swiping the screen is still the most intuitive way to navigate while reading.
[From $99; amazon.com]