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Amazon Kindle Paperwhite review: Amazon's Kindle Paperwhite is the e-book reader for the masses

The new Kindle Paperwhite doesn't look much different from the previous model, but a host of nice upgrades -- it's slightly slimmer, fully waterproof and has Bluetooth for Audible listening -- make it a winner.

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David Carnoy
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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 e-reader and e-publishing expert. He's also the author of the novels Knife Music, The Big Exit and Lucidity. All the titles are available as Kindle, iBooks and Nook e-books, as well as audiobooks.

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6 min read

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Editors' note: Despite the fact that Amazon released a new standard Kindle and a new Kindle Oasis in 2019, the Kindle Paperwhite from the second half of 2018 is still our recommended e-reader. It got a new color option ("Twilight Blue") in 2019 and it regularly gets a price drop to $99 (from $129). That's why we've renewed its Editors' Choice award for 2019.

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8.8

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite

The Good

10 percent slimmer, lighter and more durable with full waterproofing. Text is slightly sharper and better lit. Base storage is bumped from 4GB to 8GB. Bluetooth audio is on board for audiobooks. Minor updates enhance Amazon's already best-in-class reader experience.

The Bad

A little more expensive than the previous model. The ad-free version costs $20 more.

The Bottom Line

The latest version of the Kindle Paperwhite White is more durable, fully dunkable and ultimately the best Kindle reader for most people -- especially if you snag it during one of Amazon's frequent sales.

When I received my Kindle Paperwhite review sample, a few of my fellow CNET editors clamored for a look. The Paperwhite has looked essentially the same since 2013, so because a couple of my coworkers had recently bought the 2015 model, they worried that the "all-new" version of Amazon's most popular E Ink e-reader might render their purchases obsolete.

Turns out, not so. While the new Paperwhite feels a smidge different from the old Paperwhite, it's not that different, at least on the outside. But it does have a few nice under-the-hood upgrades that make it a great gift or a worthy upgrade if you're a serious Kindle devotee. 

Read more: Kindle Paperwhite vs. Kindle Oasis: Comparison and buying advice for Amazon's best e-readers

The new Paperwhite starts at $130 (£120 or AU$199). That's $10 more than the previous version, which got an improved display in 2015. But -- and it's important but -- the Paperwhite is periodically discounted to $100 on the US Amazon site, making it a far more attractive deal.

The new Paperwhite for 2018 is 10 percent thinner and lighter, at 8.18 mm thick and 6.4 ounces (182 grams). 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 instead of hard plastic.

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The old Kindle Paperwhite (left) versus the new model (right).

Sarah Tew/CNET

There are some other changes, too. Most notably, the Paperwhite is now fully waterproof like the high-end Kindle Oasis and has a plastic screen that Amazon says is shatter- and scratch-resistant. This makes it more durable and able to survive small drops, but fear not: Amazon will still be happy to sell you a case to protect it. They start at $30, but we've had good experience with the $12 Omoton model.

Read more: The best gifts for readers in 2019: iPad, Kindle vs. Fire and more

After playing around with new Paperwhite, I can say that overall performance seems to live up to Paperwhites past. 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. Note that Amazon no longer includes a power adapter -- just a cable -- but since it works with any USB phone charger, and you only need to juice it up every few weeks, its omission here isn't a big deal.

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

David Carnoy/CNET

I enlisted David Katzmaier, CNET's video guru and an avid Kindle user, for help with the comparison. We compared the screen on his "old" Paperwhite to the new Paperwhite's screen. While the resolution is the same, the text appeared a tad sharper on the new model. 

The new Kindle Paperwhite has five LEDs at the top of the device for lighting the screen, which is supposed to add a little brightness over the previous version's four lights. When you compare new version to the old with both lights set to "max," there doesn't seem to be a big difference, but the new model's screen looks slightly whiter. You might notice a teeny tonal difference.    

The Oasis already added wireless Bluetooth for listening to Audible audiobooks over Bluetooth headphones or speakers, and now the Paperwhite has the same. 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 -- that's enough for "thousands of e-books," according to Amazon, but the extra space is more to account for audiobooks, which have beefier file sizes. If you're a hardcore Audible listener, check out the the step-up models that feature 32GB of storage. 

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There's a new lighting scheme and home screen.

David Carnoy/CNET

As before, you can choose from 10 different reading fonts, 16 font sizes (all the way to ones for visually impaired folks) and five boldness settings. 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 the same Kindle. 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, and 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. 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 (released in 2013) and seventh-gen (2015) Paperwhites and other newer Kindle devices "in the coming weeks."  

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Backside.

David Carnoy/CNET

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 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 similar features. It makes you wonder if the Oasis is due for an upgrade -- or price drop -- that might give you more of a reason to buy it. 

Note that the entry-level Kindle, which doesn't have an illuminated screen, is still available for $80, £60 or AU$109. And if you want a non-Amazon alternative, Walmart is ramping up its Kobo readers, and the Barnes & Noble Nook still lives, though with only a reported 2.1 percent market share

As noted, the new Paperwhite starts at $130 for the Wi-Fi-only version and jumps to $160 for the 32GB version and $250 for the 32GB version with cellular. You can add $20 at checkout, or any time in the future, to remove the "special offer" ads on the lockscreen and home screen (but they never impinge into an actual reading experience). 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.  

Final thoughts

If you already own the previous Kindle Paperwhite, you won't need to rush out for this version. That said, if you like to read in the bath, around the pool or near any other body of water, the waterproofing may make this Kindle worth the investment. The same goes if you're a big Audible user and want a dedicated device that's not your phone.

If you don't own a Kindle already or are upgrading from a much older or entry-level Kindle with no built-in light, the new Kindle Paperwhite is easy to recommend -- especially when Amazon is discounting it to $100. It's the best value in the Kindle line, and the best overall e-book reader for most people.     

Here are the key specs of the new 2018 Kindle Paperwhite, according to Amazon:

  • 6-inch 300-ppi E Ink display

  • 182 grams (6.4 ounces)

  • 8.18 mm 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 touchscreen screen display

  • 8GB 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

  • Amazon is including six months of its subscription reading service, Kindle Unlimited, free for a limited time (it normally costs $10 a month)

Originally published Nov. 8, 2018.
Update, March 14, 2019: Notes that Amazon has frequently discounted the price since the product debuted.

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8.8

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite

Score Breakdown

Design 8Ecosystem 10Features 9Performance 9