Paperwhite: one thing, done well

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I just don’t think I’ll use one was my refrain, which I said every time I found myself tempted to buy a Kindle. I’ve got an iPad, I’d think, and the Kindle app is really good. There’s no use spending money to do something I can already do, on a device that cost me plenty.

And so I didn’t buy one.

But it came to pass that I received one as a birthday present a couple of years ago. I immediately fell in love with it: the size was just right, the form factor and weight felt good in my hands, the e-ink was so much clearer than the pixels on my (then non-retina) iPad, and it was just satisfying to read using it. But beyond those thoughts, I couldn’t quite put my finger on why I enjoyed the thing so much.

So I just continued to read with it.

When Amazon introduced the Kindle Paperwhite last year, I didn’t even bother pretending that I’d fight the urge to buy one. Just after Christmas, I placed my order and, through the miracle of Amazon Prime, it arrived two days later. And, immediately again, I loved it.

I’ve been using it for about three months now, and I’m still struggling to put into words why I like it as much as I do. I suppose it’s not all that important, at least not for me personally, but I’d like to be able to give a complete and honest answer when others ask me if they should get a Kindle.

So, I think, this is what it comes down to:

The Kindle is meant to do one thing. It’s a device that lets you read text. Because of this:

  1. It’s great for reading text. The e-ink is clear and smooth, the contrast is good, and I don’t notice any eye fatigue or strain beyond what I normally feel when reading for long stretches. On a monitor or iPad, my eyes get tired and start to burn after a while. Not so with the Kindle, especially the Paperwhite with its illuminated screen.
  2. There are no distractions. When reading on an iPad or desktop/laptop, it’s too easy to launch another app, open another window or tab, and lose focus. This is especially a problem if you’re like me, always wanting to look up anything I come across in a book that’s remotely interesting/unusual/unknown. With the Kindle, there are no other apps for me to launch. If I want or need to look up a word or phrase, I just select it with my finger, and the definition appears on screen, superimposed on the text itself. Wikipedia lookups are even possible without ever “leaving” the book.
  3. Every function on the device is focused on making the experience of reading better. Taking notes is as easy as selecting text and adding optional commentary. Everything I highlight or annotate is seamlessly synced to the cloud. Later, I can use a different device to read all of my notes and highlights, and I can even edit them and transfer them to other documents. But none of that is possible while I’m reading, which again allows me to focus on reading.

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Do you need to buy a Kindle if you already have an iPad/Surface/etc.?

What it comes down to for me is a question of (a) what you want the experience of reading something to be like, and (b) how easily distracted you are while reading.

If you want a deep engagement with texts and you’re not as terrible as I am about jumping out of your reading app for other tasks, I still don’t recommend spending the extra money. You can certainly have the same experience with other devices, and the high-definition display that’s a common feature on most of them now goes a long way towards alleviating eye strain (although I still maintain the e-ink looks better).

On the other hand, if you want something that – I use the next word with some reluctance – forces you into a focused reading experience, I recommend buying a Kindle without hesitation.