The Amazon Kindle Paperwhite aims to make light work of e-reading, with a new LED front-lit touchscreen giving the brightness of LCD without the eyestrain
Update: The Kindle Paperwhite is now available to buy in the UK, from £109. The Amazon Kindle Fire HD is also now available to UK customers, with prices starting at just £129.
The ereader market is lighting up, with front-lit screens appearing on the Nook Simple Touch with Glowlight and soon on Bookeen's Cybook Odyssey HD. The Amazon Kindle Paperwhite is arguably the most sophisticated, boasting the sharpest display and most features.
But how does it handle? And can even a cheap ereader offer good value compared with the pocket money Google Nexus 7, Apple's upcoming iPad mini and the Amazon Kindle Fire tablets?
Amazon Kindle Paperwhite: Build
The Amazon Kindle Paperwhite is just a shade larger, thicker and heavier than previous models such as the Kindle 4 – and remains very manageable for one-handed reading.
The plastic housing feels more solid than before and the back has the same rubberised material as the Kindle Fire, adding warmth if little extra grip. One feature you might miss from earlier Kindles is the headphone socket: there's no audiobook or Text to Speech on board. In a move that's either eco or penny-pinching, a micro-USB charger costs £9.
Amazon Kindle Paperwhite: Screen
Let's cut to the chase: this is the best screen on any dedicated ereader. It's sharper than rivals, the edge LEDs and light guide produce the crispest, most even illumination, and the choices of fonts, sizes, spacing and margins will please even the fussiest bibliophiles. The responsive touchscreen is the only questionable feature.
It's great for highlighting text and navigating but makes it ridiculously easy to bump through pages by mistake – a 'hold' switch would make sense.
Amazon Kindle Paperwhite: Usability
Once again, Amazon rewrites the book on digital reading features. Tapping a word or phrase brings up options galore, from definitions, Wikipedia and translations (to and from 15 languages), to social media sharing, notes and highlighting.
X-Ray is gimmicky but fun for tracking ideas and people through a book, while the new Time to Read mode does exactly what it promises.
Amazon is using the Paperwhite to launch the Kindle Lending Library in the UK (one free title every month) but there's still no public library lending (one of the strongest features of Kindle's competitors) and you can't lend books to other Kindle users for 14 days, as in the US.
On the downside, we noticed occasional text ghosting, particularly on the borderline useless 'experimental' web browser, and our device crashed once during tests.
Amazon Kindle Paperwhite: Battery
Don't believe everything you read about ereaders having battery lives measured in weeks or months. Unlike tablets, where battery life is sensibly quoted for continual use, ereader manufacturers use a weird formula based on 30 minutes' reading a day, usually without wireless or full brightness.
The Amazon Kindle Paperwhite will go for a maximum of 28 hours at a stretch. In real world use, we got 20+ hours between charges.
Amazon Kindle Paperwhite: Verdict
Turn on the Amazon Kindle Paperwhite and you'll wonder how you ever coped with yesterday's ereaders. The light is cool and clear, the new fonts are much easier on the eye, and the reading features are simply seamless. But it's far from perfect: it would be nice to have a non-touch version, the browser is rubbish and the home screen is very busy.
Annoyingly, it also lacks some of the cooler features of the (cheaper) US model, including public libraries, inter-Kindle loans, the surprisingly not-awful Special Offers and free Wi-Fi hotspots.
Amazon Kindle Paperwhite release date: 25 October. Pre-orders being taken now.
Amazon Kindle Paperwhite price: £109, or £169 for global 3G version