The interface is a little different this go-around, and (by default) the home screen looks a lot like the one on Barnes & Noble’s nook ereaders. When you first turn on the Paperwhite, you’ll be presented with a screen full of large book covers; the ones on the top are the ones you own, and the ones on the bottom are recommendations from the Kindle online store.
You can change that home screen back to the more familiar List View, which allows you to see more of the title (important for those who read a lot of books in numbered series), along with the usual progress bar that gives you a visual representation of how far along you are in each book.
The top menu includes all of the basic controls — home, back, brightness control, Kindle Store, search (by book or across all titles), and then a menu button. The menu button includes Shop Kindle Store, Cover View, Create New Collection, Sync and Check for Items, Settings, and Experimental Browser. When you’re reading a book, the top menu adds a second row, for font control/text settings, go to (chapters), X-Ray, and Share.
Text Settings offers eight different font sizes, six different fonts, and three options each for line spacing and margins. The X-Ray, a feature introduced on the now-discontinued Kindle Touch, allows you to quickly find more information on characters, terms, and places in the book, and it’s surprisingly useful.
One of the niftiest new features is the reading progress feature. As with past models, you can choose to have the book location displayed in the bottom left corner of the screen if you like, though most folks won’t find that particularly helpful. But now the Paperwhite determines your average reading speed soon after you start a book, and can display either the time left before the end of the chapter or the end of the whole book, which helps you better manage your reading time.
If you can only read in short spurts, such as during your commute to work on public transit, or during your lunch hour, you’ll know whether or not you have time to reach the end of the chapter before your time is up. It’s handy when reading in bed at night too, since you don’t have to force yourself to stay awake if there’s still 15 minutes left in the chapter. It’s a small feature to be sure, but definitely a handy one and one that I’ve used quite a bit during my first few weeks with the Kindle Paperwhite.
Aside from the fact that you are limited to WiFi if you get the less expensive model, or get access to both WiFi and 3G if you spring for the more expensive one, the Paperwhite is envisioned as an entirely wireless device. While it is possible to connect it to your computer in order to transfer books to it, most folks will likely shop and download new reads over the air.
I found both WiFi and 3G communication to work exactly as expected. While the 3G service won’t win any awards for speed, it works perfectly well for shopping the Kindle store and receiving new content. The experimental web browser is still around, and though it certainly wouldn’t be my first choice if I had a smartphone in my pocket or a larger tablet in my gear bag, it does get the job done. It works fine for email and news sites, though obviously since this is an e-ink screen you won’t be browsing the web in color, or have access to any fancy Flash sites.
There’s no real social networking on the Kindle Paperwhite either, though you can share quotes and passages from what you’re reading on either Facebook or Twitter if you want to link your social accounts to the device. It’s handy for bibliophiles, but no real substitute for the regular social networking experience available on smartphones, tablets, and computers.
The Kindle Paperwhite isn’t strictly a productivity device, though that point is open for debate. If you read only business management and self improvement titles, I suppose the Kindle can make you more productive.
It can also serve as a personal or business reference library of sorts, with the right books purchased from Amazon as well as your own personal documents, which you can email to your Kindle and download via WiFi for free, or for a nominal charge if delivered via 3G. The Send to Kindle service is compatible with Word files and PDFs, and if you use Google Chrome on the desktop, an extension is available that expands the service to includ news articles and blog posts as well.
It can also help you improve your vocabulary and general knowledge level. With a built-in dictionary and access to Wikipedia and basic translations, there’s no excuse not to tap and hold on unfamiliar terms and look them up so you’ll know what they mean the next time you encounter that previously unknown word.
The X-Ray feature performs a similar role, whether for historical figures and locations to modern terms used in the book. A tap of the top portion of the screen to show the menu bar and then another quick tap to start the X Ray function shows you every place on the page, in a chapter, or in the book as a whole that a particular term appears. It’s especially useful for epic fantasy and/or historical novels, where it can otherwise be difficult to remember a large cast of characters.
One could argue that the Kindle is all about entertainment, and the Paperwhite certainly doesn’t disappoint. One of its greatest strengths is its simplicity: it’s designed for one purpose, and removes a lot of the distractions inherent in reading on a tablet or computer. There aren’t any pop-up notifications or email alerts to distract from the pure joy of reading.
If you’re determined to find a distraction, however, it can be done — a limited number of the active content apps available from the Kindle store are indeed compatible with the Paperwhite. Choices are relatively limited, since the device has an e-ink screen, but simple games such as Sudoku, word searches, and crosswords work well.
I’m quite pleased with the battery life so far. Amazon says that you can get two months of reading on a single charge, assuming that you keep the wireless function off and read for roughly half an hour a day.
I’ve had the device for three weeks now, have read six books, and the battery meter is just under a 50% charge. I kept wireless off most of the time, except when I was actively downloading a new book, and the light setting was generally on the lower 25% of the spectrum, because I prefer a dim screen over a dark one.
While I doubt I would be able to go a full 8 weeks without recharging the Paperwhite, I’ve also been using it for far more than the 30 minutes a day assumed in Amazon’s testing. I generally read for an hour at lunch, and for at least an hour to 90 minutes before bed each evening. The Paperwhite more than lives up to my expectations in the battery life department.