Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (2015) review: The design remains the same, but the screen is sharper

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The Good Amazon has improved on last year's excellent Paperwhite e-reader with the sharper, higher resolution screen found in the step-up Kindle Voyage. A smattering of new features enhance Amazon's already best-in-class content ecosystem. The built-in light isn't quite as good as the Voyage's, but it works well.

The Bad The HD screen is an upgrade but doesn't make a huge difference; an AC adapter isn't included (just a Micro-USB cable for charging). The ad-free version costs $20 more.

The Bottom Line The Kindle Paperwhite gets an HD screen, and while it isn't as big an upgrade as you'd think, it's a welcome addition, incrementally enhancing the Kindle reading experience.

8.5 Overall

If you liked Amazon's last Paperwhite e-reader, you'll like the 2015 version a little more.

That's because the new third-generation model adopts the same high-resolution e-ink display of the top-of-the-line Kindle Voyage while otherwise maintaining the same design, built-in front light, and starting price tag as the previous 2013 model : $119, £109 or AU$179 for the Wi-Fi version. This model also comes in higher-priced 3G and ad-free versions (the baseline model serves up "special offers," otherwise known as ads).

The Kindle Paperwhite is frequently discounted from its standard $120 price. Check our list of Amazon device deals to see if it's on sale now.

So, same e-reader, better screen.

Like the Voyage, the new Paperwhite uses a 6-inch Carta E Ink HD touchscreen display, with a pixel density of 300 pixels per inch. Amazon says that's "(twice) the pixels as the previous generation Kindle Paperwhite." And like all e-ink screens, its big selling points are its energy efficiency (charge it about once a month) and viewability in direct sunlight.

The added resolution doesn't make as big a difference as you might think. In other words, if you have that earlier Paperwhite, you needn't rush out and upgrade it. But images and text appear a bit crisper, particularly with smaller font sizes. The extra screen sharpness is a subtle but important upgrade in a product category that's reached a maturation point and isn't seeing much in the way of major advancements as more people do their reading on their phones and tablets.

The end result is you're getting more bang for your buck with this year's Paperwhite than the 2013 model, which we had already proclaimed as the best overall e-reader value. The new Paperwhite takes that mantle -- but to be clear, the pricier Voyage is still the king of the category here, and is the one worth seeking out if you want The Best. (The Voyage's slightly lower weight, internal illumination which automatically reacts to ambient light and manual page buttons do make a difference.)

The new Kindle Paperwhite (left) has the same screen as the flagship Voyage (right), although the contrast is slightly better on the Voyage.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Specs compared

According to Amazon, battery life hasn't changed in the new model -- it offers up to six weeks of operation on a single charge, based on a half hour of reading per day with wireless off and the light setting at 10. You get the same 1GHz processor, 4GB of built-in memory, and a bump up to 512MB of RAM from 256MB. There's no expansion slot for additional memory, but that 4GB allows you to store thousands of e-books.

The Voyage has identical specs, but weighs less; it comes in at 6.3 ounces (180 grams) for the Wi-Fi version and 6.6 ounces (188 g) for Wi-Fi + 3G while the 2015 Paperwhite tips the scales at 7.2 ounces (205 grams) and 7.6 ounces (217 grams) respectively. Meanwhile, the entry-level Kindle ($79, £60, AU$111), which leaves off the light and only comes in a Wi-Fi version, weighs 6.7 ounces (191 grams).

No, an extra ounce isn't much, but technically, the Paperwhite is the heaviest Kindle. And whenever you're dealing with something you hold in your hand for long periods, lighter is better, and it'd be nice to see one of these e-readers hit 5 ounces one of these days.

The Paperwhite has the same light engine as the previous model.

Sarah Tew/CNET

As for the lighting engine, it's the same in this 2015 Paperwhite as the previous 2013 Paperwhite, which in turn had its lighting engine updated from the original 2012 version.

We liked the lighting engine in last year's Paperwhite (it's splays the light more uniformly across the screen) and Amazon tells you to keep the light on, even when you're not in dimly lit environments. Indoors during the day you might crank the brightness to 10, but at night, reading in bed, you can make do with a lower setting, particularly if you don't want to bother someone sleeping next to you.

Thanks to the flush-glass design, the Voyage's touchscreen is allegedly a tad more responsive than the Paperwhite's, but I didn't notice a significant difference. When you compare the screens side by side, you'll notice that the contrast on the Voyage is slightly better (text appears slightly darker). That seems a little surprising considering they're supposed to have the same Carta E Ink display, but the two e-readers do have different designs, which may be a factor.

The light on the Voyage at its highest setting is clearly brighter -- Amazon says 39 percent brighter -- and the screen appears whiter. Look closely and you'll also see that the light splays across the screen slightly more uniformly, though it's still not absolutely perfect.

The new layout scheme helps with larger font sizes.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The Voyage's light can be set to adjust automatically based on the light in your environment, a feature not available in the Paperwhite. You can, as always, opt to adjust the lighting manually, but I suspect most people will just go with the automatic setting and not think about it too much. Additionally, you can enable the "Nightlight" feature, which Amazon says "gradually reduces the screen brightness over time as your eyes adjust to the darkness."

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