Amazon Kindle Paperwhite: Back to the Future of e-reading

30th March 2014
Amazon Kindle Paperwhite: Back to the Future of e-reading

March 30 2014: A few years ago, I  had the opportunity to interview that great  director of Malayalam's New Wave Cinema -- Adoor Gopalakrishnan.  The subject was   the trend of 'colorizing' some of the  classic Indian black and white movies -- and Adoor was ofcourse, very eloquent against tampering with such original gems.  He  gave me an interesting insight into why viewers  felt something natural when viewing a well photographed black and white film, even today:  "When we dream, we do so in black and white and not in colour", he said.

I tried to dream very hard for the next few days to  check out his  thesis -- and if I recall, my  pleasant dreams as opposed to nightmares were indeed monochromatic. 

This experience was vividly brought back to mind when I handled the 6th iteration of Amazon's Kindle Paperwhite e-book reader.  At first glance, I thought, "Why are  these guys going backward?  Only six months ago they sent me the  Kindle Fire in two sizes -- 7 inches and 8.9 inches -- both with colour screens. Now they're inviting me to review  the new  Kindle Paperwhite which is smaller -- 6 inches -- and monochrome to boot!"

After a week of using the Paperwhite, I concede there is a method to Amazon's madness. Or to put it another way, Amazon has discovered its true roots as a pioneer in e-book readers and  has decided to consolidate that, rather than broaden the appeal to  reach tablet buyers who look to surf and view movies, as well as read books.

The Paperwhite incorporates Amazon's most advanced  e-ink technology, which, shorn of technical jargon means, the reading experience is natural and about the best in the business, adjusting sensibly for ambient light conditions, with the whites whiter and the blacks blacker.  And this brings me to the reason I roped in Adoor in my opening para:  When we read a good book, we want a good contrasting page with black letters on a white or near-white background. We have no use for colour.

So the Paperwhite has optimized the black and white reading experience and a faster  processor under the hood  and  closer touch cells means in some ways the experience is  even better than holding a real book...  I wish I could adjust the type size  in some of the jumbo-sized paperbacks I have bought this year; I wish I could flip to any part of the book or  whistle up a dictionary on the same page when a word foxes me; I wish I could instantly bring up a list of other books by the same author...... with e-book readers you can do all these things and with the  Kindle, you seem to be able to do them even better.

The Paperwhite is available in  a basic version  without connectivity which means you have to load up your reading via the reader's  SD card storage. This model is not being sold in India. What is available here is the WiFi version lets you latch on to the nearesr wireless hotspot as well as a WIFI+3G model. The Kindle Paperwhite in its 3G version goes  way beyond what is generally  in India  as far as usability is concerned: it has a built-in 3G antenna ( something like a SIM), that connects to  Kindle's service provider in India and provides a free connection to the Internet in most places in India ( but not yet in Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Kashmir and Bihar) at best available 2 G speeds, while in states like Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, UP and Bengal the connection is  mostly 3G.  You  don't pay extra for this lifelong connectivity and I can see buyers soon recovering the cost of their devices if they are good users of the Net connection.

That said, let me add that the connection is primarily a gateway to Amazon's  online e-bookshop allowing you to pay for and download books from a collection which  offers over 2 million titles in Indian rupees including some half a million that are exclusive to the Kindle store .  To break it down further,  about a million of the available e-books cost less than Rs 300 and   some 250,000 cost less than a hundred rupees.  Kindle also throws in a few free books, I am told; but let's face it that is not the primary purpose of setting up the store and giving you free connectivity to access it.

I am not a great fan of  having to pay stiff prices for e-books; I believe with a lot of others, that such books should cost only a small fraction of the printed edition.  Amazon is not  predatory in its pricing like Apple ( which is  currently locked in legal battles in the US and Europe for its non competitive arrangements with publishers), but nevertheless you need to know that  products like Paperwhite will make sense only if you also factor in the cost of downloading the books of your choice over the years of ownership. There are a number of books for free at the Kindle store -- but again I can't understand why "Pride and Prejudice" should be free while "Jane Eyre" , albeit illustrated, sets you back Rs 65, both copyrights expired long, long ago

The Paperwhite is a featherweight  at  206 grams and  already, I see, sneaking a look at my neighbours on flights within India, that it  is becoming quite popular with travelers who like to read  their own books rather than the doggy-eared copies of  airline magazine.

And yes, like all Kindles, the Paperwhite has a  general browser mode which Amazon still quaintly calls "experimental"... so once you fight the system that takes you automatically to the Kindle store, you can  access Google or whatever is your favourite browser and do more generalized surfing, even checking your mail  -- or is it a sacrilege even to suggest this ?!

Read on guys -- and if you're doing it with a Kindle Paperwhite, this is as good as it gets.

Prices: The Wi-Fi enabled Kindle Paperwhite is priced at Rs. 10,999 while the Wi-Fi + 3G version is priced at Rs. 13,999.  The soft case is Rs 890 extra.  More info here.

-  Anand Parthasarathy