Additional Thoughts on the Kindle Paperwhite

I posted some initial thoughts about my first couple of hours with the Kindle Papaerwhite a few days ago, and after some more substantial use, I have a few additional thoughts on what I think is an important device.

First, the hardware really does feel good to hold. The finish of the back feels different from the finish of the bezel, and they feel very different from the texture of the screen (a papery matte finish, almost, yes, pulpy), and all feel just right.

It’s just — just! — on the border of being a touch heavier than it ought to be, especially in comparison to the vanilla Kindle 4, which delightfully, is barely there. But this means that the magnetic cover makes it just a smidgen more awkward to hold in one hand than would be utterly idea, but we’re in ultra-micro-femto-nit-picky territory here. That said, the Amazon-made cover is itself really excellent. It wakes and puts to sleep the device, and feels sturdy and, well, classy.

I also mentioned the “blotchiness” of the screen light that appears at the very, very bottom. It is a touch distracting, just barely, but I’ve found I find it less annoying when I change my thinking from “this is a disembodied screen illumination” to “the light emits from the bottom so that’s why there are sight shadows,” it somehow mitigates how much it bothers me. Again, very small stuff.

Most importantly, I’ve found a way to make the most of the higher resolution of the new display and the new menu of fonts. I noted in my first post that though Amazon was offering additional typefaces, they seemed to me to look blocky and sloppy, unlike the much-improved default font. Turns out the real problem is the frequency of page-refreshes for the e-ink. The default setting for the later-generation Kindles is to only do a complete screen refresh (see the screen go black for a split second as every pixel refreshes) every six pages. Though I suppose this speeds up page turns and removes what some see as a distracting black-flash for five out of six pages, it also compromises the integrity of the lettering on the non-refreshed pages. The characters look, well, pixelated and craggy.

By going to the device’s settings and turning off the option for a delay on the full refresh, what you get is, yes, a quick flash of black with each page turn, but also a huge improvement in the resolution of the typefaces, and, more importantly, a huge improvement in the consistency of the typefaces’ quality with each page. No more degradation. Suddenly, the additional font choices, which I had poo-poo’d initially, look much better and cleaner. That said, they’re still not as solid as they ought to be, and the default font still looks best, but now the additional fonts are genuinely usable options.

Allowing the device to refresh the screen with each page turn probably has a detrimental affect on the Kindle’s battery, but given that it’s supposed to last for something like two months, I’m willing to take the hit.

Thinking more globally, as much as I’m enjoying the Kindle Paperwhite, I find myself wishing it wasn’t necessary. The iPad 3 I have has an amazing display, but it’s too big and heavy for really comfortable long-form reading (though I’ve done plenty of that on it). Meanwhile, the Kindle is, by design, less functional as it is exclusively an e-reader. What I wouldn’t give for a device that had the size and comfort of the Kindle and the display quality and functionality of an iPad. Such a device will likely exist soon, but it’s not the iPad mini in its current form. Not with that crummy display. And so I wait.

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