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Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (2013) eReader Review

Amazon rolls out a new version of its flagship eReader, and it's still king.

October 04, 2013

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Science Introduction

In all honesty, the Kindle Paperwhite is the archetype of an eReader—Amazon didn't have much of reason to update it from last year's model. It's perfectly fine the way it is, and still an eReader juggernaut. However, if you're flustered at the lack of a spec-bump: Don't be. This is still a brilliant device in more ways than one.

Resolution

No upgrades necessary

So in the review I mentioned that this screen might as well be "retina" because you can't discern the pixels at a normal holding distance. Even if you think the Kindle Paperwhite's point density of 212 DPI (1024 x 768 dots) is low for a mobile reader, I'm going to posit that it's quite fine for reading purposes. Despite my childhood habit of passing in math tests without showing my work, I'm going to do exactly that right now.

If you have 20/20 vision, you won't be able to see the individual squares without some help. Tweet It

Reading a spec list of any given screen lends itself to a fallacious association of "more = better" in the pixel department. However, there's another element that needs to be considered, and that's basic trigonometry. If you have a mobile phone on you, turn that sucker on and bring it close to your eyeball. See those pixels? Now move it to arm's length—can you still see 'em? The answer I'm looking for is "no," and if you can, it's time to get a new phone.

Anyways, the point of this exercise is to illustrate that the distance between your eyes and your screen is important when trying to determine if the pixels are dense enough that they can't be discerned from a distance. This is why 1080p HDTVs are mostly technically "retina" displays, even though their resolutions are typically smaller than the best tablets, and why the best tablets typically have an enormous resolution. The closer the distance to your eyes, the more pixels per inch of screen area are necessary to make an image that looks more or less "real."

equation_web.jpg
Here's the trig for anyone interested.

So now the math—there are a couple things we need to know: that someone with 20/20 vision can resolve an image of 1 arcminute (1/60th of a degree) on their retina, and the trig necessary to calculate that. It's important to define terms here, so here goes: in the equation shown, (a) is the visual angle, (D) is the distance from the eye to the screen, and (S) is linear size of the viewed object—in this case it's the pixel spacing. We can use the resulting value to figure out the size of the image on the retina. In this case, we're most concerned with how far away you need to hold the Kindle Paperwhite from your eye until you can no longer see the individual dots.

Using everything we know about the Kindle's screen, we calculated that holding the Paperwhite roughly 16" away from your pupils will result in an image made up of dots less than 1/60th of a degree on your retina—smaller than the visibility threshold of 1 arc minute. If you have 20/20 vision, you won't be able to see the individual squares without some help.

Mobile technology is bumping up against the point at which major breakthroughs in pixel density are really not all that important, and the Kindle Paperwhite is a great example of this—Amazon didn't upgrade the Paperwhite's screen, and they really didn't have to. It's great the way it is, and that won't change for a long time.

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Battery Life

Watch as monuments and civilization crumbles long before your battery runs out

I feel like a broken record in saying this, but eReaders typically do extremely well in terms of battery life, but the Paperwhite deserves special mention. Because backlights absolutely chew through power reserves, it's a very special device that can run with one on full blast for just over 24 hours.

The Paperwhite's estimated operation time is still fantastic. Tweet It

At a certain point, I have to call the battery tests and stop the lab experiments simply because it takes too long. Honestly, even if on paper the newest Kindle's battery life is nothing to write home about compared to other eReaders, the Paperwhite's estimated operation time is still fantastic. Just be sure to keep an eye on how much you use that backlight.

As I mentioned before, you don't really need that backlight unless you are reading in the dark. If you turn it all the way down and disable WiFi, you will have an extremely difficult time running it down to 0%. Even if you bring it on a trip with you and forget to bring the USB cable to charge, it will take weeks of intermittent use to drain a full battery—this is perfect for travelers and bookworms alike.

Reflectivity

This tablet doesn't shine (and that's a good thing)

Reflectivity is also important when choosing an eReader, but this one manages to keep its shininess in check. If you take this outside, you can expect 12.1% of all light hitting the screen to reflect, but only 1% of it heads directly back at your eyes. In short, the Paperwhite has an extremely effective glare-reduction strategy.

Barring the Sun going supernova, you won't have much of a problem with glare or outside light. Tweet It

Additionally, the reflection pattern isn't very sharp, meaning the glare itself won't be distracting—you won't see light bulbs or other clear reflections in your screen. This is a huge plus, because the introduction of glare is a really annoying thing to deal with when reading books, but the Paperwhite does a fairly good job of downplaying an overabundance of ambient light.

Practically speaking, this will work well both at the beach or at home in a pillow fort. Barring the Sun going supernova, you won't have much of a problem with glare or outside light.

Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.

Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.

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Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.

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