Amazon Kindle Paperwhite 2018 review: The e-book reader for the masses

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.

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.

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.

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.

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