Amazon has announced an updated version of the Kindle Paperwhite, the company’s touchscreen, backlit ebook reader that debuted in 2012, with a number of enhancements and new features for parents and serious readers. The new Kindle Paperwhite costs $119 (or $139 without ads) and will ship on 30 September 2013. You can preorder it now.
First, the obvious upgrades. The new Paperwhite retains the 6-inch screen of the previous model but features a new display technology with higher contrast. Additionally, the processor is 25 percent faster for peppier book opening and page turning, and the touch grid is 19 percent tighter, for better response to touches. Also, the built-in light has been improved to reduce eyestrain.
As welcome as those updates are, they pale in comparison to the new software features. Foremost among them is Kindle Page Flip, which lets you skim through a book without losing your place. To complement Page Flip are inline footnotes, which display footnote text in a pop-up, again without losing your place. While Amazon suggests that you could use Page Flip to refer back to the map of Beyond the Wall in George R.R. Martin’s “A Dance With Dragons,” I suspect these two features will be particularly appreciated by students and academics.
Two other new features are aimed at parents and children: Kindle FreeTime and Vocabulary Builder. FreeTime expands the concept of parental controls beyond limiting what your kids can read to actually encouraging them to read. Parents will be able to select books for their children, and FreeTime will provide a report on what the kids have read, as well as award badges when they hit milestones. Vocabulary Builder compiles words looked up in the dictionary into a single list, and will build flashcards for interactive quizzes.
Speaking of the dictionary, another useful feature is Smart Lookup, which adds information from Kindle X-Ray and Wikipedia to the dictionary definition. The example Amazon gives is the term “credit default swaps” in Michael Lewis’s “The Big Short.” Older Kindles would merely define the individual terms, but the new Paperwhite will recognize it as an important phrase, and give a more thorough explanation.
Finally, the Kindle Paperwhite gets social, featuring integration with Amazon’s recently acquired Goodreads social network. You’ll be able to see what your friends are reading, share excerpts, and rate books on Goodreads.
Also new for all Kindle users is the new Kindle MatchBook service, which is reminiscent of iTunes Match for books. MatchBook gives you the opportunity to obtain free or discounted Kindle copies of eligible physical books that you’ve purchased from Amazon. For brief details, check out “Amazon Announces Kindle MatchBook,” 3 September 2013.
Overall, the new Kindle Paperwhite looks to be the best standalone ebook reader yet, with thoughtful improvements for students and parents. It’s the first Kindle I’ve seen that could provide solid educational benefits over conventional books. While Apple’s iPad is a wonderfully versatile device, this new Kindle Paperwhite offers a focused ebook reader that beats the iPad handily (for this particular purpose!) on price, size, weight, and lack of distraction. While I’m sure many of these new features will eventually make their way to the Kindle iOS app, I can’t wait to try out the new Kindle Paperwhite.