You'd think by now that the prosaic monochrome Kindle e-reader has been taken about as far as it can go. But Amazon.com has managed to take it a little further.
The new Kindle Paperwhite offers a number of enhancements, with more to come. Amazon's Kindle Fire HDX color tablets, with their video, music and gaming capabilities, may grab much more attention these days. But people who are interested in reading, and only reading, will appreciate the Paperwhite just as much.
It starts at $119 for a version with a Wi-Fi-only Internet connection and $189 for one that adds built-in lifetime cellular service. It retains the featherlight form of its predecessor (less than 8 ounces), room to store a thousand books on the device and more on Amazon's servers, and nearly inexhaustible battery life. (It lasts up to two months between charges.)
But it also has a faster processor, new display technology resulting in blacker blacks and greater contrast, and more evenly distributed light for reading in bed without eyestrain (and without annoying a sleeping partner).
The software has undergone even bigger changes. For instance, swiping your finger up from the bottom of the screen opens a new window atop the page you were reading, and a slider. Moving your finger along the slider lets you page through the book as if you were flipping the pages back and forth.
It's perfect for letting you refer back to information earlier or later in the book, like a cast of characters or glossary. Tap when you're done, the window disappears, and you're back on the page you were reading.
As a consumer mostly of history and non-fiction, I deeply appreciated the new in-line footnote feature. Reading David M. Kennedy's classic "Freedom From Fear," for example, I merely tapped on the embedded footnote number.
Instantly, a box appeared with the relevant citation; I scanned it, dismissed it and continued reading. It's a vast improvement over the old system of grouping all the footnotes together, requiring you to leave the page you were reading in order to access them.
And there are more software enhancements to come, Amazon promises: It's planning to push an update to integrate the Goodreads social network it bought earlier this year and to introduce FreeTime, the robust set of parental controls already implemented on the Kindle Fire tablets.
The cheapest Fire is now priced just $20 more than the entry-level Paperwhite, and it's far better for doing things like checking e-mail and Web-surfing. But those who want an e-reader just to do e-reading will find the Kindle Paperwhite absolutely fitted to the task.