Looking at Amazon’s original and new Kindle Paperwhite e-readers from the front, with the screens turned off, it’s hard to tell them apart. The exterior is basically identical, except for a different name on the back. (More on that in a moment.)
But the difference is immediately apparent as soon as the new device is switched on.
First, this thing is downright zippy, with barely a pause as it flashes between screens — noticeably faster than the original Paperwhite, and not at all the sluggish experience that many people have become accustomed to on older e-readers.
Amazon says the processor is 25 percent faster than the first version of the Paperwhite. I’ve been using the original Paperwhite since last fall, and after trying the new version of the device for a short time at Amazon today, I would have guessed the improvement was even greater than that.
“Our mission is to get the device out of the way and let users focus on the experience of reading the book,” said Neil Lindsay, Amazon’s vice president of marketing, demonstrating the new features during an interview today.
The front-lit screen is also brighter, and higher contrast, designed to more closely replicate paper books. The difference is due in part to changes in the underlying “light guide,” which has been better tuned to deliver the light across the screen. As before, the light shines down from the screen onto the digital page, not out from the screen into the eyes as many other device screens do.
At Amazon HQ today, Lindsay set the new and old Paperwhites side-by-side on a table, with the lights fully turned up on each. Amazon declined to let me take a comparison picture, so you’ll have to take my word for it, but the difference was immediately noticeable.
“Where we thought this was Paperwhite, this is now really Paperwhite,” Lindsay said, comparing the two devices.
One feature that won’t be shipping when the new Paperwhite is released on Sept. 30 is Goodreads integration, building in features of the e-book social network that Amazon acquired earlier this year. Goodreads features will be added to the Paperwhite later this year through a free software update.
However, I got a sneak peek today, and Goodreads is a natural for the Kindle device, adding a new social layer. It’s integrated via a “g” icon in the menu at the top of the screen, which opens a dedicated Goodreads section. Features include the ability to see what friends are reading (and their comments) and find new people to follow, almost like a virtual book club.
Another interesting change to the Paperwhite reading experience is called “Page Flip,” which opens up a smaller window on top of the book for scanning ahead without losing your original place — the digital equivalent of sticking a thumb in a book and flipping ahead.
Other new additions to the Paperwhite include the Kindle Free Time parental controls, which launched previously on the Kindle Fire tablet. On the tablet, the feature was meant to primarily designed to limit screen time, but on the e-reader, a primary goal is to get kids to read more. For example, parents can set a goal for a kid’s reading time, and kids can earn badges for achievements such as reading longer than the goal.
Oh, and about that different name on the back: It now says Amazon, not Kindle (although it still says Kindle on the front). Amazon exec Peter Larsen tells AllThingsD that the Amazon name is more recognizable in international markets as Amazon expands. When I asked about the change, Lindsay downplayed the decision, saying not to read too much into it.