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Kindle Paperwhite (2013) e-reader review: 2013 Paperwhite is subtly better, faster

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These include Goodreads integration (Amazon bought the popular social reading and review site earlier this year); a Smart Lookup feature that streamlines the Dictionary, Wikipedia, and X-Ray (character and story notes for some titles) look-up interface with a single, easy-to-access set of tabs; Kindle Page Flip (a sort of picture-in-picture page-scanning feature); and Vocabulary Builder, which keeps track of all the words you look up in the dictionary and allows you to create flashcards to help you learn those those words.

Amazon's Kindle FreeTime feature, which offers parental controls, will come to the Paperwhite by year's end. Amazon

There's also a new In-Line Footnotes feature ("with a single tap read the complete text of each footnote in-line without changing the page") and Amazon will bring its kid-centric Kindle FreeTime feature to the device in a couple of months. FreeTime allows parents to lock their kids out of the Kindle store, create reading lists and goals, as well as track progress.

Some of the new software features will be available at launch (I was able to test Smart Lookup and Vocabulary on my review sample) while others, such as FreeTime and the Goodreads integration, will be released later this year.

I'm not going to dig into all the existing features the Kindle Paperwhite has to offer, but you can still highlight passages, share them on social media, and choose among several font sizes and types. Suffice to say, Amazon continues to expand the feature set and streamline the user interface. With the new processor in place and the improved touch sensitivity, this Paperwhite just seems to operate a little more smoothly than the previous model. There's still a little bit of the lag that's inherent to e-ink, but the overall the device feels more responsive.

Some of Amazon's new feature upgrades will be available at launch while other will get added in a software update later this year. Sarah Tew/CNET

Kindle's killer app: The Amazon ecosystem
The Kindle is a one-stop shopping gateway to Amazon's best-in-class Web store, which arguably offers the largest array of books, newspapers, and magazines on the Web.

Amazon offers more than 1.8 million e-book titles, including more than 180,000 exclusives. The Web retailer also tends to offer discounts more frequently than many of its competitors. (Amazon says, "Over a million titles are priced at $4.99 or less. Over 1,700,000 titles are $9.99 or less.") While many have differing opinions on whether some of these practices are fair to competitors -- or good for the long-term health of the publishing industry -- they are certainly consumer-friendly, at least in the short-term.

A large selection of newspapers and magazines are also available on the Kindle. Note that these e-ink versions are often stripped-down, text-only iterations of what you may get on a Web site, tablet (or paper) version of the same title. Likewise, many of these require separate subscriptions -- so even if you already receive, say, the hard-copy or electronic version of The New York Times, you won't necessarily be grandfathered in to the e-ink Kindle version. (By contrast, newspaper and magazine apps generally do let you use your existing credentials to access them at no additional charge.)

Sarah Tew/CNET

If you're a subscriber to Amazon Prime ($79 per year, which equals less than $7 per month), you already get free two-day shipping for Amazon orders, and thousands of free streaming-video titles from Amazon. On the Kindle, you also get access to the Amazon Lending Library. That lets you "check out" thousands of titles (albeit one at a time) at no additional charge. The list has more than 200,000 titles, but -- fair warning -- many aren't exactly mainstream, popular titles. You can also borrow e-books from most local libraries on the Kindle, as you can with other e-book readers. Amazon also offers a cool "send to Kindle" plug-in for the Chrome and Firefox browsers that lets you send any Web page to the Kindle for later reading; basically a free version of Instapaper.

The other big benefit of choosing Amazon as your e-book provider is that the company offers reading apps on nearly every major hardware platform. That means you can still access all of your Kindle content on iPads, iPhones, Android phones and tablets, Windows PCs and Macs, and any other device with a Web browser.

What you won't get with the Kindle is an "open" platform. Amazon makes no bones about the lack of compatibility with other services or competing book formats. So -- while the Kindle can read PDF, TXT, and MOBI files natively, as well as other file types via conversion -- it cannot read EPUB files from third-party bookstores. (Unprotected EPUBs and other files can be converted to be viewed on the Kindle with the Calibre software.) If that's a deal breaker, go with Nook, Sony, or Kobo instead.

While the 2013 Paperwhite may seem like an unspectacular upgrade, it clearly improves on the previous version. Basically, Amazon has taken an excellent product and made it about 20-25 percent better.

Still, when you review a product that has basically the same design as the previous year's model, there's always going to be a slight sense of disappointment because you always hope that a device like this will manage to drop a decent amount of weight (and some size) with each new iteration. Likewise, while the Paperwhite isn't any more expensive than last year, it's not any cheaper, either.

Looking at the Kobo Aura, you can see where the Paperwhite could've achieved perfection: the Aura is oh-so-slightly smaller and lighter than the Paperwhite, and it's got more storage capacity. Of course, it's more expensive, and -- the big one -- doesn't offer Amazon's far superior shopping and content ecosystem.

And that's when you're shocked back into reality. The Paperwhite's slight shortcomings are mere quibbles on what's still the best overall e-ink e-reader currently available. Toss in the best-in-class Amazon ecosystem, and you've got an easy Editors' Choice for anyone seeking a dedicated reading device.

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