Amazon’s venerable eBook reader, the Kindle, was first released in November 2007. Over the years it has evolved considerably, and these days the Kindle range can be found in three main forms – the regular/standard Kindle, the Kindle Paperwhite, and the Kindle Oasis.
All three use the same eInk screen, but in different screen sizes, and with different pixel densities. They also offer differing levels of screen backlighting.
Let’s start off with a table of the four current units (two different versions of the Paperwhite, one each of the other two models) plus also the recently discontinued earlier generation (2018) Paperwhite, which is being sold at a discount until old stocks are exhausted (the new Paperwhites came out in October 2021).
After the table, we’ll discuss which parameters are important and which are irrelevant, and suggest the best choice for you.
(4th gen Paperwhite)
(5th gen Paperwhite)
11th gen 2021
(3rd gen Oasis)
|Resolution||167 ppi||300 ppi||300 ppi||300 ppi||300 ppi|
|Screen Light||Yes, with 4 LEDs|
|Yes with 5 LEDs|
|Yes with 17 LEDs|
|Yes with 17 LEDs|
|Yes with 25 LEDs|
|Adjustable light color||No||No||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Page Turning Buttons||No||No||No||No||On one side only|
|Storage capacity||was 4 GB|
now 8 GB
|8 or 32 GB||8 GB||32 GB||8 or 32 GB|
|Battery Life||"up to four weeks, based on a half hour of reading per day with wireless off and the light setting at 13."||"up to six weeks, based on a half hour of reading per day with wireless off and the light setting at 13."||"up to ten weeks, based on a half hour of reading per day with wireless off and the light setting at 13."||"up to ten weeks, based on a half hour of reading per day with wireless off and the light setting at 13."||"Up to six weeks, based on a half hour of reading per day with wireless and Bluetooth off and the light setting at 13."|
|Waterproof||No||Yes, IPX8||Yes, IPX8||Yes, IPX8||Yes, IPX8|
|Size||6.3” x 4.5” x 0.34”|
(160 x 113 x 8.7 mm)
|6.6” x 4.6” x 0.3”|
(167 x 116 x 8.2 mm)
|6.9" x 4.9" x 0.32"|
(125 x 174 x 8.1mm)
|6.9" x 4.9" x 0.32"|
(125 x 174 x 8.1mm)
|6.3” x 5.6” x 0.13-.33”|
(159 x 141 x 3.4-8.4 mm)
|Weight||6.1 oz||6.4 oz||7.23 oz|
also Qi wireless charging
|Warranty||1 year||1 year||1 year||1 year||1 year|
|List Price, entry level, with ads||$90||$130||$140||$190||$250|
|Kindle Unlimited||3 months free||3 months free||4 months free||4 months free||3 months free|
|Add for extra storage||n/a||+ $30||upgrade to Signature edition||n/a||+ $30|
|Add for no "special offers"||+ $20||+ $20||+ $20||+ $20||+ $20|
|Add for wireless downloads||n/a||n/a||n/a||n/a||was $50|
|Colors||Black or White||Black or Twilight Blue||Black||Black||Graphite or Champagne Gold|
(5th gen Paperwhite)
11th gen 2021
Strange as it may seem, you can actually have “too big” a screen on a Kindle, and we do not see any benefit in paying extra purely for a bigger screen. That is because there is an optimum length of line when you are reading text – an ideal line length is considered to be about 40 – 80 characters, including spaces. That is much shorter than the line length in most books, although it is more or less what you get in newspaper columns.
The number of characters per line on a Kindle eReader depends on your font size selection. With the default Bookerly font and size set to 4, I get about 50 characters per line on my 6″ screened Kindle devices. If I increase the font size to 6, I get almost 40 characters. So the screen width “works” well for average to slightly above average font sizes, and doesn’t need to be increased.
Another interesting comparison is that a paperback book typically measures about 4.25″ x 6.87″. That is similar in size to a Kindle (4.5″ x 6.3″) or older Kindle Paperwhite, the newer Paperwhite has external dimensions of 4.9″ x 6.9″, and the Oasis is larger still (both because of more screen and more bezel around the screen), with measurements of 5.6″ x 6.3″.
Inside a paperback book, after allowing for margins on the sides and top and bottom, you’re probably looking at a page size of about 3.5″ x 5.5″, give or take a quarter inch or so. That is similar to a 6″ Kindle screen which is 3.6″ wide and 4.8″ tall.
Amazon has experimented with differing Kindle screen sizes, growing as large as 9.7″ for a brief while, but settled on the original 6″ size until releasing the second iteration of the Oasis in October 2017 with a 7″ screen. This is 4.2″ wide. The new Paperwhite went from a 6″ screen to a 6.8″ screen.
The larger screened Kindles are slightly bigger overall – not to a “deal-breaking” extent, but to a certain extent, making them slightly less convenient.
On the face of it, there’s no question that a 300 ppi screen will give much clearer type than a 167 ppi screen. Indeed, there is a square relationship because this is a two-dimensional measure, so you have more than three times as many pixels on a given unit of area on a 300 ppi screen.
But, we’ve studied, under a magnifying glass, the font clarity on both 167 and 300 ppi eInk screens, and found very little difference at all, and essentially no difference whatsoever to the naked eye. There’s probably some very small improvement with the 300 ppi screen, but it is not nearly as much as you’d expect.
The first Kindles had no screen lighting at all, and seemed perfectly good at the time. Adding a screen light does enhance the contrast and therefore the clarity of the text on screen, so some light is good, but whether it is necessary to have 17 or even 24 different LEDs is uncertain. It is good to have some reasonable number, for even illumination, but we doubt you’d see much difference between 17 and 25 LEDs, and we were very happy with our earlier generation Paperwhites that had “only” 5 LEDs.
Adjustable Light Color
We view this as a gimmick. It might be fun to play with, but we’d certainly not pay any money for it.
We usually override the auto-brightness on most devices we have that offer it, and manage it manually. Screen brightness is a major factor in battery life, so we set it low.
We’d thought this to be another meaningless gimmick, but find the flush screen makes it much easier to tap around the edges, as is sometimes required.
Page Turning Buttons
We like these, and have been frustrated sometimes with Paperwhites and regular Kindles that lack them.
It seems about 2GB of the storage is used for the device’s operating system. But the remaining 6GB on an 8GB unit still allows for perhaps 2,500 books to be held on it. Very few people will need to grow beyond that.
The Amazon measurements assume half an hour of reading every day, and the light on half power.
The four things that use battery are the CPU, the backlight, the Wi-Fi, and the page turns. No power is used to maintain a page display with the eInk, it is only when you turn pages that power is used.
So if you’re turning pages a lot, your battery life will reduce. For best battery life, keep the unit in airplane mode when you don’t need to use the Wi-Fi, and keep the brightness at a low rather than unnecessarily bright level.
The batteries in the Kindles are not very large – about 1,000 – 1,800 mAhr. That compares to phones that can have up to 5,000 mAhr these days, and tablets with as much as twice that. Our point is that if you’re worried about battery life, you only need a very small external battery unit to “top up” the Kindle if it gets low.
All the units are very similar in weight.
The newest Paperwhites have converted to what is now the current standard USB-C interface. As time passes, you’ll find more and more of your devices have USB-C and fewer with ISB-micro connectors. So it is good, but not overwhelmingly important, to see the transition in the new Paperwhites.
The more expensive new Paperwhite also supports Qi wireless charging. This is not something we’d pay extra for, but perhaps it might have some value for you.
An option of the Kindles is to have the unit “with ads” (or, as Amazon refers to them, “special offers” or without.
These advertisements are not intrusive. They only appear on the locked screen. I actually find them interesting. There is no reason or benefit to pay the $20 extra for a unit without lock-screen advertisements.
Until recently, Amazon charged $50 extra for this feature on their Oasis units, and now it seems included for free. It is a minor convenience to have books downloaded “automatically” via cellular data service, and indeed, the first Kindles used this approach exclusively, so it is interesting to see the feature’s return.
We’d not pay much extra for this feature, but are happy if it is included.
About Kindle Unlimited
You’ll note Amazon offers free trials of its Kindle Unlimited monthly reading service on all units. I generally never sign up for this because I always forget to turn it off again!
Kindle Unlimited might be valuable to you if you read a lot of books. In return for a flat monthly fee of $10, you have access to many – but not all – of Amazon’s eBooks, and can “check out” and read as many of them as you like with no extra cost.
The catch is that many of the major titles from major authors don’t participate in the Kindle Unlimited scheme. Amazon says there are over 1 million titles that do participate. It is guessed that there are perhaps about 9 million eBooks in total on Amazon, so the 1 million titles, while more than any of us would ever read, is only about 11% of all titles Amazon has.
It does no harm to try the free trial; indeed, it seems anyone can sign up for a free trial at any time, without the need to buy a device. Just remember to cancel it if you don’t want to keep using it.
1. All Kindles are frequently discounted, so try never to buy a Kindle at full list price.
2. We see little reason to pay extra for the Oasis, and similarly, little reason to pay extra for the Paperwhite Signature Edition.
3. The entry level regular Kindle is a great bargain. The original Kindle we first bought in 2007 cost us $399!
4. There’s not much benefit attached to the larger sized screen on the new Paperwhite. The extra battery life is nice, but we’ve never had a battery problem with our earlier Kindles.
5. When you’re looking at buying, focus on the discounted prices for the standard Kindle, the 2018 Paperwhite and the 2021 Paperwhite. We’d pay a modest amount to upgrade to a 2018 Paperwhite, and probably would pay another $10 or even $20 for the 2021 Paperwhite.
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The basic concept of eBooks is excellent, especially for travelers. Being able to have hundreds, even thousands of books stored in a device weighing less than half a pound is incredibly liberating. In addition, much of the time, eBooks are cheaper than print books, and Prime members can even get a free eBook each month.
All other things being equal, we’d probably choose a Paperwhite style of Kindle, and consider any time it is priced under $100 to be a good price.