Amazon's new Paperwhite e-book reader appears to offer effective screen lighting without any major sacrifices in other areas of performance. That's my preliminary take on the device after spending some time with it here in Los Angeles, where Amazon today announced the Paperwhite and other devices. The new reader will be available October 21, at $119; with free 3G, the Kindle Paperwhite will sell for $179.
Here are some of my first impressions. Many of them compare the Paperwhite to Barnes & Noble's Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight, the popular $140 e-book reader with which it will directly compete.
Lighting is bright and quite even. Amazon says the screen is lit by four LED lights installed along its bottom edge, with the illumination conveyed upward to the screen by a fiber-optic layer.
The result, at maximum brightness, is a screen that appeared even a little brighter to me than that of the Nook GlowLight turned up to full brightness. The light was also a little more evenly distributed than the GlowLight's, which radiates from LEDs along the top edge of the screen. However, as with the Nook GlowLight, the screen is a bit brighter and the light pattern slightly streaky on the edge from which the light radiates.
The screen is responsive. Amazon says it has replaced the infrared technology used in the previous Kindle Touch models, and on many other touch-screen e-book readers, with capacitive touch, the technology used on most LCD touch screens.
The result, to me, was a capably responsive screen. The technology shift also has another benefit: It reduces the depth of this Kindle compared to the previous Touch models (by 10 per cent, Amazon says) because the screen bezel can be reduced.
Contrast and crispness looked fine. Amazon says it has boosted the pixel density of the new touchscreen by some 60 percent, and contrast by 25 percent. To my eyes, the resulting type looked very good, though not dramatically better than that of the better Kindle and Nook e-book readers in recent years, which have attained a high standard. I'll be especially curious as to how our test experts score this new Kindle's contrast and type readability when we get the device into our labs.
The lighting (which is highly adjustable in brightness) does impart a nice option when it comes to contrast. As it's turned up, even moderately, it imparts a hue that's notably bluer, more resembling the spectrum of daylight than the slightly brownish background that's typical of e-ink screens. That could help subtly boost readability and reduce eyestrain.
A "time left to read" feature looks helpful. The Paperwhite supposedly tracks how fast you read books and then, learning from your pace over multiple books, uses that to optionally display information about how much time you'll need to finish that chapter or the entire book. While a brief trial was too little time to judge how accurately the feature works, it's a great idea and a handy enhancement, if it works as well as Amazon claims.
We'll be running the Paperwhite through our full battery of tests on or before its launch date, and will add it to our Ratings of e-book readers soon afterward.