New version of the affordable e-readerWhen we reviewed the Kobo Glo HD, we said Amazon had better watch out, because this ebook reader had a sharper screen than its similarly priced Kindle Paperwhite. As it turns out, Amazon already had an answer up its sleeve: a new version of the Paperwhite, upgraded from 212 to 300 pixels per inch (ppi).
This seems like a good time to clear up a misconception. People seem to think 300ppi is ‘like a real book’. It’s true that we talk about 300ppi in the publishing industry, but it’s for pictures, not text. Printing plates are made at 2400dpi (dots per inch), but when we print photos, most of that resolution is used for shading. On solid black text, we get to use the full 2400dpi.
A 300ppi screen doesn’t sound so great now, does it? The digital display has an extra trick, though: it can make each dot a shade of grey. That enables anti-aliasing, which smooths out the edges of characters to make them more distinct. It helps – but it’s still not as sharp as using 64 times more dots. And there’s room for Amazon to give us even sharper screens: Samsung’s Galaxy S6 phone has 571 ppi.
For now, though, we have to admit the Paperwhite (2015) does look very sharp. It seems identical to the more expensive Kindle Voyage, so the Glo HD has some serious competition now. Contrast could be better, but turning on the backlight (technically more like a sidelight) helps, and also means you can read in the dark. The Glo has a similar feature, hence the name. Both work very evenly.
What the Paperwhite, like the Glo HD, still lacks compared with the Kindle Voyage is an ambient light sensor to adjust the brightness. Instead, you have to fiddle with it yourself to keep it readable. The light uses more power, but that’s not a huge concern when battery life is quoted at six weeks, based on 30-minutes-per-day average use. Even if you’re a more avid reader than that, it won’t run out before you finish your book.
The quality of the display also depends on the built-in software. Kindles have never been particularly good at typesetting: the way they space words to ‘justify’ each line is clumsy, and their choice of fonts and styles isn’t great. Amazon is working on it, and a brand new text ‘engine’ is on the way, which will be available to install on the Paperwhite in the near future. You do get a new font, called Bookerly, designed specially for e-reading. We like it, but we think more work is needed.
The final difference between the Paperwhite and the Glo HD is that the latter has a shiny screen, while the Paperwhite has a matt finish that feels a bit like paper. This is a matter of personal preference: try both devices in a shop if you can. In both cases, you’ll be touching the screen a lot, because that’s the only way to turn pages – there are no buttons.
In other respects the new Paperwhite feels similar to the old one, just more rubbery and fingerprint-resistant. It’s a significant improvement, and as good as the Voyage unless you want page-turn buttons and automatic light adjustment. At £120, or £10 less for the ‘With Special Offers’ option that shows adverts on your lock screen, it’s good value. But the Glo HD is smaller and lighter, with the same screen size, and has twice as much storage. The real choice is whether you want to use Amazon’s Kindle Store or independent ebookshops.
It’s still not perfect, but at this price the Paperwhite is our new favourite e-reader – just.
6in E Ink touchscreen • 2GB memory • 802.11n Wi-Fi • 3G (optional) • Reads AZW and AZW3, MOBI, PRC formats • 169x117x9.1mm (HxWxD) • One-year warranty