Amazon Kindle Paperwhite upgraded with slimmer design, full waterproofing, Bluetooth

We go hands-on with the new Kindle Paperwhite, which was updated with many of the features found in the high-end Kindle Oasis.

David Carnoy Executive Editor / Reviews
Executive Editor David Carnoy has been a leading member of CNET's Reviews team since 2000. He covers the gamut of gadgets and is a notable reviewer of mobile accessories and portable audio products, including headphones and speakers. He's also an e-reader and e-publishing expert as well as the author of the novels Knife Music, The Big Exit and Lucidity. All the titles are available as Kindle, iBooks, Kobo e-books and audiobooks.
Expertise Headphones, Bluetooth speakers, mobile accessories, Apple, Sony, Bose, e-readers, Amazon, glasses, ski gear, iPhone cases, gaming accessories, sports tech, portable audio, interviews, audiophile gear, PC speakers Credentials
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David Carnoy
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The new Kindle Paperwhite has a smooth-front design. It ships Nov. 7.

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When Amazon updates its Fire tablets and e-readers , it typically calls even minimally updated versions "all-new." But this time its all-new Kindle Paperwhite E Ink e-reader really fits the bill. It ships Nov. 7 and starts at $130 or $10 more than the price of the previous Kindle Paperwhite. (The UK starting price stays at £120. We don't have price and availability for Australia yet.)

That 2015 model shared the same chassis as its 2013 predecessor, but the new Kindle Paperwhite is 10 percent thinner and lighter, measuring 8.18mm thick and weighing 182 grams. The other major design difference is that it doesn't have the raised bezel of its predecessor and instead has a "flush-front" design with a back made of a softer, grippy material, not hard plastic.

There are some other changes. Most notably the Paperwhite is now fully waterproof like the high-end Kindle Oasis and has a plastic screen that Amazon says is highly shatter-resistant and scratch-resistant. While it's more durable than the old Paperwhite and can survive small drops, fear not: Amazon will still be happy to sell you a case to protect it -- they start at $30. 

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I ran some water on the new Kindle Paperwhite to test out its new waterproof design.

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After playing around briefly with new Paperwhite, I can say that overall performance seems very similar to that of the previous Paperwhite. It has the same sharp 6-inch, 300 ppi touchscreen E Ink display that's readable in direct sunlight. It also has the same battery life: You'll get around six weeks of reading on a single charge with "normal" use.

Text appeared crisp on the screen but I didn't have the previous model on hand to compare the two screens and determine whether the new screen design has any impact on contrast or transparency.

Kindle Paperwhite (2018) really is all new

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This new model has five LEDs for lighting the screen instead of four -- the LEDs are at the top of the device -- which adds a little brightness. But again, I can't tell you yet just how much better the lighting scheme is or isn't. 

The Oasis already added wireless Bluetooth connectivity for listening to Audible audiobooks over Bluetooth headphones or speakers, and now the Paperwhite has Bluetooth for Audible listening, too. You can easily switch between e-book and audiobook, as they sync to the point in the book where you left off, but don't expect to use the Kindle as a music or podcast player -- it's strictly for audiobooks.

While Amazon doesn't appear to have upgraded the Paperwhite's processor or RAM, it has upgraded the built-in storage, doubling it from 4GB to 8GB. Also new to the Paperwhite line are step-up models that feature 32GB of storage. That's overkill for e-books, but the space will be welcome for audiobook fans.

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There's a new lighting scheme and home screen.

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As before, you can choose from 10 different fonts, 16 font sizes and five boldness settings. But what's new is the ability to save custom settings for yourself or various members of your family who like to read with different font sizes. On top of that, there are some preset options to pick from. The "gym" setting, for instance, is a quick way to jump to a bigger, bolder font. Additionally, there's a new home screen that adds additional layers of Amazon recommendations based on your reading habits, as well as tips for new features to try. 

Amazon says the updated home experience, as well as the ability to quickly save and access reading settings, will be delivered as a free, over-the-air update to the all-new Kindle Paperwhite, the sixth-gen Paperwhite (released in 2013) and newer Kindle devices "in the coming weeks."

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In hand.

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No Alexa yet

Amazon hasn't managed to integrate Alexa voice control into a Kindle yet, but with the slightly trimmer design, full waterproofing, Bluetooth and increased memory this is a pretty satisfying upgrade. The Kindle Oasis, which costs nearly twice as much, has a bigger, 7-inch screen, but the two devices weigh virtually the same and now have very similar features. It makes you wonder whether the Oasis isn't due for an upgrade -- or price drop -- that might give you more of a reason to buy it beyond the larger screen. 

Note that the entry-level Kindle, which doesn't offer an illuminated screen, remains available for $80, £60 or AU$109. And if you want a non-Amazon alternative, Walmart is ramping up its offering of Kobo readers, and the Barnes & Noble Nook is still alive, too -- although it supposedly only has a 2 percent market share. 

As noted, the new Paperwhite starts at $130 for the Wi-Fi-only version. It jumps to $160 for the 32GB version and $250 for the 32GB version with cellular. For a limited time, Amazon is including six months of its subscription reading service, Kindle Unlimited, for free (it normally costs $10 a month). The service gives you access to a million e-book titles and thousands of Audible audiobooks.  

Watch this: Kindle Paperwhite gets waterproof redesign, adds Bluetooth and more storage

I'll have a full review shortly before it ships in November. In the meantime, here's a refresh of the key specs of the new 2018 Kindle Paperwhite:

  • 6-inch 300 ppi E Ink display
  • 182 grams (6.4 ounces)
  • 8.18mm thick
  • IPX8 waterproof rating to protect against immersion in up to 2 meters of fresh water for up to 60 minutes
  • Drop-resistant design with highly shatter-resistant flush-front plastic touch-screen screen display
  • 8GB of built-in memory (previous model had 4GB)
  • Step-up versions with 32GB of memory
  • Five-LED lighting system (previous model had four)
  • Bluetooth for listening to Audible audiobooks (no music streaming)
  • Around six weeks of reading on a single charge with "normal" use (same as previous model)
  • $130 (£120) for the Wi-Fi-only version with Special Offers ($10 more than previous model)
  • $160 (£150) for the 32GB version 
  • $250 (£220) for the 32GB version with cellular
  • For a limited time, Amazon is including six months of its subscription reading service, Kindle Unlimited, for free (it normally costs $10 a month)