AMAZON HAS A new Kindle with an old name. It’s an updated version of the Kindle Paperwhite, which is Amazon’s best-selling Kindle e-reader—likely by a large margin, though we’ll never know because Amazon doesn’t share Kindle sales numbers. The Paperwhite is a good Kindle. This new one, which you can now preorder for $130, is a little bit better.
It has the same six-inch, high-resolution display as the last Kindle Paperwhite. The front has been updated so the display is no longer recessed below the bezel, leaving a totally smooth face. It’s 10 percent thinner and lighter—you can barely notice this, but Amazon says it’s thinner and lighter, and I believe that. It has an additional LED light, bringing the total up to five, for more uniform lighting around the bottom of the display. And it has a lot more storage than the previous Paperwhite, starting at 8 gigabytes and going up to 32GB.
Most importantly, the Paperwhite is now waterproof. It took ten years of Kindle for Amazon to waterproof any of its e-readers, but the company finally did it last year with the Kindle Oasis. Now the less expensive Paperwhite will have this on its spec sheet, too. You can take your Paperwhite in the pool or the bathtub or the lake or the ocean and not worry about dropping it in. It can be immersed in up to 2 meters of freshwater for 60 minutes. (But if you drop it in the ocean, I don’t know what to tell you.)
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These are incremental updates, and none of them are particularly innovative. And that’s a good thing.
The Kindle is a fine product. Since the Kindle first launched 11 years ago, all kinds of holdable things with bright displays have infiltrated our lives. We have smartphones and tablets—Amazon makes the latter, remember—and sometimes-creepy connected displays in our kitchens.
The Kindle is for reading, though. It has always been for reading. It’s not about saying you’re going to read and then starting to read something you stored in Pocket or Instapaper and then being interrupted by a tweet from the President and then falling down the deep dark well of the internet. The Kindle is for reading, and now also listening to, books.
When I first heard last week there would be a new Kindle and made my way across San Francisco to see the rubber-backed thing in person, I thought to myself, “I hope it doesn’t work with Alexa.” Amazon recently held an event at its headquarters in Seattle where its top hardware executive, Dave Limp, showed off more than a dozen new gadgets in 60 minutes. Almost all of them worked with Alexa. There was a wall clock and a microwave and a smart display that looked like it’s trying to be a mini-TV. All of these can be spoken to, fleetingly, commandingly. All are meant to help Alexa do your smart home bidding.
I don’t want Alexa in a Kindle. It’s not worth that explicit trade-off—I get to boss around an AI, you get to put cameras and speakers and far-field microphones into my home—just to have Alexa launch a book for me, or turn the page for me. That’s not to say there isn’t some form of intelligent software in the new Kindle. The home page in Kindle is being updated to show you more things you might like to read. On the Kindle Paperwhite I saw, it said things like “More like 1984.” (Seriously.) It also said “Books You Want to Read,” and “Recommended For You.” Amazon knows what you like, so the recommendations are smart.
Amazon really wants you to read on Kindle too. It’s why the company has always built Kindles with six weeks of battery life on a single charge, so you have no excuse not to read stuff on it. It’s why the company is giving away six months of Kindle Unlimited, its $10 per month subscription service, along with the $130 Paperwhite. It’s why you can now add presets for certain formats and save them to Kindle, like a “Gym” preset with giant text, so you can read even when you’re on the treadmill.
It’s why Bluetooth capabilities were added to the new Paperwhite, so that even when you’re too busy to use your eyes to read text, you can listen to an Audible book on the Paperwhite using headphones.
If all of this sounds unexciting, it’s because the Kindle hasn’t been radically innovative in a long time. I asked one research firm for its latest estimates on Kindle unit sales, and the firm sent data from 2015. That was the last time the company tracked e-readers, the analyst explained, because the e-reader market has been on the decline since then. Even then, the e-reader market showed no signs of recovery or even stabilization, he said. Amazon says demand is still high for Kindle devices.
Yesterday Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos appeared on stage at WIRED’s 25th anniversary festival and talked about going to space, and today his company released a black-and-white e-paper gadget with a 300-pixels-per-inch display, the same ppi as the Kindle before it, for anyone keeping track. But that’s OK. The Kindle is still aspirational. It makes you want to read. It’s a relic from a time when not all flights had Wi-Fi, when vacations weren’t interrupted by constant work flutterings, when nighttime routines didn’t involve swiping at notifications.
All of which makes it that much more comforting that it doesn’t have Alexa.