Amazon is slow-moving when it comes to its Kindle e-readers, especially the Paperwhite models. The fifth entry in the Paperwhite line has hit shelves, and it finally offers a USB-C port. The Signature Edition that I'm reviewing today offers a few extras over the base model, with more storage, auto-adjusting front lights, and wireless charging, which is why it's our editor's choice in our Kindle buyer's guide. These additional features can be had for $189, $50 more than the non-signature Paperwhite ($139), but a low price compared to competing e-readers that lack such features. Both models contain a faster processor and a nifty page turn animation that cuts out the black flash of a complete screen refresh. After years of treading water, Amazon has finally stepped up to raise the bar, cementing the company as the king of e-readers once again.
The Kindle Paperwhite Signature Edition offers wireless charging, extra storage (32GB), self-adjusting front lights (17 LEDs). This is also the first time Amazon has added a USB-C port to a Kindle.
- Screen: 6.8 inches
- Resolution: 1,236 x 1,648
- Storage: 8GB, 16GB, 32GB
- Connectivity: Wi-Fi 5, Bluetooth
- Front Light: Yes
- Weight: 7.3 oz
- Dimensions: 6.9” x 4.9” x .32”
- USB-C port, nuff said
- At 6.8-inches the larger screen fits more text
- The E Ink Carta 1200 EPD allows for smoother and speedier page turns
- A new page turn animation that offers a full refresh without blinking the screen black
- Smaller bezels allow the screen to be the focus
- The rounded back is very grippable
- Wireless battery charging is convenient
- IPX8 waterproof rating is great for the tub and the beach
- 17 front lights offer even lighting, plus you get warm lighting
- The best e-book formatting options out there thanks to Amazon’s proprietary KFX format
- The screen is still too small to comfortably read manga, let alone comic books or magazines
- Still no speakers for audio content
- A UI that still focuses on selling e-books instead of convenient and informative navigation
- $50 extra just to get auto lighting and wireless charging
Design, hardware, what's in the box
The brand-new Kindle Paperwhite Signature Edition may look similar to the 2018 Paperwhite, but the screen has been upgraded from 6-inches to a 6.8-inch 1236 x 1648 E Ink Carta 1200 EPD (same as in the Kobo Libra 2 and Kobo Sage) with a 300ppi. This is an upgrade over the E INK Carta HD screen used in the 2018 Paperwhite, and the added screen real estate is much appreciated. The flush screen is still plastic, and it’s a fingerprint magnet even though it’s etched to minimize reflections. The bezels have shrunk with the change in screen size (hooray!), and the back of the device is slightly more rounded with a soft-touch coating. The most significant difference between the 2018 Paperwhite and the 2021 model is the switch to a USB-C port, a long-overdue convenience. More or less, this black slab looks like any other Paperwhite, and only a trained eye will immediately see the difference.
Thanks to the switch to the MTK 8113, the processor has seen a 20% bump in performance, 20% according to Amazon. While it’s difficult to nail down this performance increase, I can confirm that navigation and reading feel much snappier over the 2018 Paperwhite.
The Signature Edition I’m reviewing today comes packed with extra hardware over the $139 Paperwhite 2021. Wireless charging is the big one, but auto-adjustment for the 17 front-lit LEDs can be a real lifesaver when moving from room to room in an office or home. Warm lighting is also available, helping with eye strain at night. The Signature Edition also comes with 32GB of storage instead of the standard 8GB.
The Kindle Paperwhite is a sparse slab with just a single button for power next to the USB-C port, which is centered in the bottom edge of the device. While I’m a massive fan of physical page turn buttons, the Paperwhite is still navigated by swiping the screen. On the flip side, the lack of buttons makes it easier to waterproof a device, and the Signature Edition offers an IPX8 rating, just like the standard edition.
The Kindle Paperwhite 2021 comes packed in Amazon’s frustration-free cardboard that’s super easy to open, and inside, you’ll find the Kindle and a USB-C to USB A charging cable, and that’s it. There is no power brick. You will have to supply your own, though it’s not like a fast charger is required, any USB-C power brick will suffice.
Software, reading, and battery
Amazon released a software redesign ahead of the launch of the new Kindle Paperwhite 2021. This software is installed by default on both Paperwhite 2021 models. It offers a cleaner interface with two tabs, one for your library and one for your home screen. The homescreen highlights the current book you’re reading, along with previously opened books in a reading list. Of course, Amazon couldn’t resist shoving an ad in the homescreen, so there is a section below your current book that shows you recommendations that can, of course, be purchased from Amazon. I find ads on $180 reading devices disgusting, and they can be labeled as convenience features as much as Amazon wants, but the truth is this section exists to sell e-books, and paying customers shouldn't have to look at it.
On the right you can flip over to the Library tab, and things are much cleaner and more organized. This section behaves like it always has, where you can view all of your purchased e-books or simply those you’ve installed. You can filter further to show unread e-books, and you can even sort to show only comics, which is pretty cool as they can be hard to find in an extensive e-book library.
The Android-like drop-down menu allows you to dip into the device’s settings. This is where you can turn on the popular cover display feature. Just tap on the Device Options section so that you can toggle Display Cover to the On position. Since the Paperwhite 2021 offers warm lighting, there’s a scheduler in the Display Settings, which is robust enough so that you can choose the exact times and intervals your screen warms. If you jump to the Advanced Options, that’s where you’ll find the new setting that lets you group books by series in your library, which is definitely handy.
Of course, Amazon uses a proprietary format for the majority of its e-books, this format is called KFX (AZW being another proprietary format), and it is what affords Amazon the best formatting options available on any e-reading platform, solely because the company fully controls this format. Things like Enhanced Typesettings are only possible because of this format. In comparison, E-pubs just don’t look as good on the screen, with blank spaces or other odd rendering mistakes. This is not a problem with Amazon’s KFX e-books, and never having to worry about busted formatting is a relief after seeing how bad some other platforms can look.
Once you’re in a book, you can customize your reading options, such as what font you’d like to use, the boldness of those fonts, the size of your margins, spacing of text, and whether you want justified or unjustified text. There’s also a new feature available, a page turn animation. This is a fresh feature for the E Ink Kindle line, and it works a treat. For reference, I’m the sort that requires a page refresh every time I turn a page (because I hate ghosting), and this means the screen flashes black every time. With the new page turn animation, this black flash no longer happens. The old text simply slides into the new page’s text in a smooth animation that somehow magically avoids ghosting without flashing the screen black. I love it.
As far as reading goes, I can say the contrast on the Carta 1200 EPD screen is a little better over the older Paperwhites and Oasis. Though with backlighting on full blast, there is still some washout. At least manga and general text is more readable now than it was on the last few generations of Kindles, and the new warm lighting option helps with contrast a bit, too.
I'm also happy to see that battery life is still great. The Paperwhite comes packed with a 1700mah battery that will ideally last most users five to ten weeks of use. I’ve managed to average four to five weeks before a charge, though I do read a lot with the backlight on full blast, so your mileage will vary.
Should you buy it?
Yes. Amazon may not iterate Kindle hardware as much as many of us would like, but its seemingly lackadaisical setup lets the company inch forward, and it’s hard to argue with the results. The Kindle Paperwhite 2021, especially the Signature Edition I’m reviewing today, brings enough changes and improvements that the Paperwhite line now competes with the Oasis, and yet the Paperwhite costs much less. So unless you absolutely require physical page turn buttons, the Paperwhite 2021 is the obvious choice in the Amazon ecosystem. Heck, even though I prefer to manage my own e-book library purchases from other stores, I can’t deny that the Paperwhite 2021 is the best value for performance available right now.
The Kindle line offers some of the best e-book formattings out there, and thanks to the hardware improvements in the newest Paperwhite, the UI no longer feels like you’re wading through molasses. Even page turns are fast, thanks to the new CPU and E Ink screen.
Honestly, I’m having a hard time finding any downsides with the Kindle Paperwhite 2021. If I had to be super nitpicky, the lack of an external speaker and the small screen size (yes, it’s bigger than it’s ever been, and yet it’s still too small for manga) are my primary hangups. Still, this is a device for the masses. The UI is polished, and the hardware's design language remains primarily unchanged, which is a good thing since Kindles tend to be pretty comfortable to hold for long stretches. Even the bump in screen size hasn’t impacted this. The Paperwhite 2021 feels great in hand. Plus, with the convenience features packed in the Signature Edition, like wireless charging and auto lighting, the Paperwhite feels like Amazon has finally figured out that it can’t let the Kindle line stagnate. Case in point, USB-C has finally made its way to the Paperwhite, something many of us have been waiting on for years. The Kindle Paperwhite 2021 is about as close to perfect as an e-reader can get. It’s affordable, polished, and (finally) performant. Amazon has certainly reaffirmed its place as the king of e-readers, and it has me excited for a Kindle Oasis refresh.
Buy it if...
- You can’t stand when the screen blinks black to refresh
- You’re excited to finally ditch your micro-USB Kindle
Don't buy it if...
- You primarily read manga and comic books (the screen is still too small)
- You need more out of an e-reader, like apps
UPDATE: 2021/12/28 08:52 EST BY MATTHEW SHOLTZ
The best Kindle yet
Every so often, a product is released that defines its genre, and the Kindle line is assuredly synonymous with e-reader at this point. Kindle is a household name, and for a good reason. Amazon has conquered the field with its accessible and affordable e-readers, backed by an e-book store filled with the best prices and formatting currently available. This adds up to a force to be reckoned with, and even though Amazon hasn’t innovated very much over the last few years, the release of the Kindle Paperwhite Signature Edition in 2021 should put everyone’s worries to rest. Across the board, there’s a host of improvements, like faster refresh times and snappier navigation, not only updating the usefulness of the aging Paperwhite line but easily surpassing the competition, and it’s only getting better with time.
The Kindle Paperwhite is light in hand at 7.3 oz, the soft-touch coating is supple, and the flush etched screen is excellent for reading in indoor and outdoor lighting alike. It’s also pretty affordable, especially when you consider the optional auto-lighting and wireless charging come with the $189 Signature Edition. The addition of USB-C charging is also a huge benefit across both Paperwhite models, especially if you already own a bunch of USB-C devices. Battery life is also holding up excellently, and over the last month, I’ve yet to notice any decline in longevity, where I still get four to five weeks of use out of a single charge. As it stands, the Paperwhite 2021 is still my go-to E Ink e-reader a month after my initial review, and I see little reason to drop the device anytime soon. Heck, the device has even made the cut as our Editor's Choice when choosing the best Kindle e-reader.
Beyond the new hardware, the Kindle software was updated with a new look earlier in the year. There are now “recommendations” displayed on the homescreen (i.e., unremovable advertisements), but thankfully the clutter-free Library screen remains unchanged. Amazon has moved the experimental Dark Mode feature to the forefront within the new UI’s pulldown menu, and so you can toggle Dark Mode any time you wish, even while reading. While the Dark Mode still flashes the screen white when turning a page, at least page-turns happen faster on the Kindle Paperwhite 2021, which means the flash is less noticeable than previous models, making this the best Kindle to date if you’re primarily interested in the optional Dark Mode.
No matter how you slice it, it’s clear Amazon has reclaimed the throne as the king of e-readers. Yes, competition has been encroaching, but if you’re looking for something more robust than a Kindle, you’ll have to spend a lot more money. The $189 price tag of the Kindle Paperwhite Signature Edition can't be beaten, especially not with the feature set Amazon offers. For less than $200, you get wireless charging, warm front-lit auto lighting, some of the best formatting for e-books currently available, not to mention competitive e-book prices on the Amazon Kindle store. The Kindle Paperwhite is convenient, affordable, and easily portable, and now that I’m a month out from my initial review, I can’t say I have many complaints. So if you’re in the market for a new e-reader, the Kindle Paperwhite 2021 should be at the top of your list.