For 2021, Amazon is splitting the Kindle Paperwhite line in two. Yes, there’s a new $139.99 Paperwhite model, with a bigger display and longer battery, but it’s joined by the first Kindle Paperwhite Signature Edition. At $189.99 it promises to better bridge the gap between Paperwhite and Kindle Oasis, including the long-awaited addition of some new features.
Both the regular 2021 Paperwhite and the Paperwhite Signature Edition have a 6.8-inch e-paper display. It’s larger than the old version’s 6-inch panel, though supports the same resolution for 300 ppi.
As Ereader fans already know, e-paper has some big advantages: particularly if you’re trying to avoid glare from reading ebooks on a smartphone display. I switched from a Kindle to my iPhone’s Kindle app a while back, for the sake of convenience while traveling, but my eyes quickly questioned that decision after reading a few chapters on the new Paperwhite.
In bright light conditions, you don’t get the same washed-out text as with traditional phone displays. In low-light, meanwhile, the Kindle Paperwhite has edge illumination to make things legible without adding direct glare. Both versions of this new-generation model have adjustable warm lighting, which can be easier on the eyes at night; the Signature Edition adds to that with auto-adjusting brightness, and honestly I think it’s probably worth the extra outlay on its own.
Amazon says this newer-iteration of E Ink panel is faster to refresh than before, and that the backlight now goes 10-percent brighter at its top end. Frankly, the old Paperwhite was bright enough, and swift enough, for my needs. What makes a bigger difference is how you charge it.
Gone is the microUSB port, Amazon finally embracing USB-C. Considering that’s now commonplace on Android phones, and many laptop chargers, it probably means you can get away with retiring that old microUSB cable in your bag. The Kindle Paperwhite Signature Edition adds Qi wireless charging too. I have a pad on my nightstand for my phone, but the Kindle can live on it during the daytime so that it’s pretty much always topped-up and ready to go.
Battery life has improved this generation as well, with Amazon quoting up to 10 weeks. It’s worth bearing in mind that you’ll only see that if you read for half an hour each day, have the WiFi and Bluetooth turned off, and the light setting at level 13.
Meanwhile, the regular Kindle Paperwhite has 8GB of storage, while the Signature Edition quadruples that to 32GB. If you’re a fan of audiobooks that could make a big difference. There’s IPX8 waterproofing, and the matte black plastic body feels sturdy if not particularly special in the hand. At 208 grams (or 205 grams for the regular Paperwhite) it’s light enough to hold one-handed for extended periods, which is probably more important. You can connect headphones or a speaker via Bluetooth, but there’s no headphone jack.
As for software, the newest version of Amazon’s Kindle UX moves some things around, adds some features, and makes better use of cover art: you can optionally have your ebook covers used as standby wallpaper, for example. Some of the new abilities – like page turn animations – seem a little pointless, and others I struggled to get working properly. Simple Setup is meant to use the Kindle app on your smartphone to quickly register the Kindle Paperwhite to your account, but after a few failed attempts I gave up and did it the old-fashioned way by punching in my account details manually.
Amazon Kindle Paperwhite Signature Edition Verdict
The fancier features, though, I’m really less concerned with. The reality is that the Kindle Paperwhite is easier to read from with its bigger display, easier to live with thanks to USB-C charging (and, on the Signature Edition, wireless charging support) and longer battery life, and feels sturdy enough to survive being dropped into a bag or left on your towel at the beach.
There is, mind, a good reason to splash out more on a Kindle Oasis: you can’t get a Kindle Paperwhite with integrated cellular connection. I missed that when trying to download a last-minute ebook before the plane door closed. Then again, you pay $60 more for that compared to the $189.99 Paperwhite Signature Edition, or a whopping $110 more than the standard Paperwhite.
For most readers, then, the new Kindle Paperwhite slots neatly into the sweet spot for everyday usability. I appreciate the Signature Edition’s auto-brightness adjustment and Qi support, but even without those features there’s still a day to day improvement over the last-gen Paperwhite. Most important, the newest Kindle’s hardware supports reading but doesn’t overshadow it, leaving your ebooks to hold the attention.