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Why I Finally Broke Down and Ordered a Kindle Paperwhite

By Nico Vreeland

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite [1]Ever since we first started ChamberFour.com [2]I’ve been staunchly anti-Kindle [3]. I’ve disliked like Amazon’s DRM scheme, its reluctance to adopt library e-books, its inhuman use of “Locations” instead of page numbers, its attempt to hardball Macmillan by refusing to sell Macmillan books [4]—the list goes on.

When a Sony Reader was the only decent non-Kindle choice, I bought a Sony Reader [5]. When the Nook Color came out, I got one of those [6]. I’ve given my sister another Sony [7], and my mother a Kobo [8], and I’ve stayed firmly Kindle-less for more than four years now.

But that changed last week, when I broke down and ordered the Kindle Paperwhite ($120), which appeared (until that day) on our E-Reader Comparison [9] under the category “Those we don’t like.” We’d passed over it in favor of the Kindle Touch (which has been discontinued), and the Kobo Mini ($80, touch capable, more below).

Here’s why I did it. Some of these reasons might be more subjective than others, and some I’ve researched more thoroughly. And, because most of my reservations about the Kindle are philosophical ones, some of my understanding of its hardware and interface might be flat-out wrong. I’ll be updating and posting again (at ChamberFour.com [2]) when I actually start using it.

Why E Ink: the Internet and reading before bed

I’ve been relatively content using an iPad and an iPhone for reading e-books over the past two years or so, since I last owned a dedicated e-reader. I like Apple’s iOS e-reader apps more than any other [10]. But I find myself increasingly in the camp of the easily distracted tablet readers [11]. In other words, when I read a book on my iPad, I’m too easily able to flick over to the Internet or Netflix or a game, and so I do, and I get a lot less reading done.

Also, like many people, I like to read before bed. When I do that on my iPad, I have a hard time actually sleeping because I’m essentially staring into a flashlight, and that leads to sleep interruption [12]. Recently, I’ve started buying paper books for the sole purpose of reading before bed, but I much prefer reading e-books [13], despite the preliminary research that says you remember less [14].

So I decided it was time to get an E Ink e-reader.

Why a Kindle: foreign language e-books

Amazon Kindle [15]Our number one pick for a basic e-reader is the Kobo Mini. I think it’s a great little e-reader, especially for people who want to read on their commute: The five-inch screen means it can easily slip into a jacket pocket, and its touchscreen is workable, if not fantastic. All other things being equal, I would’ve gotten a Kobo.

But I’ve recently begun learning Spanish, and one of the best ways to practice is by reading books. Amazon not only has a bunch of free foreign language e-books, they also have inline foreign language dictionaries, so you can tap words you don’t know and get the definition in the target language, not English. Maintaining total language immersion speeds up your learning process by years, so reading on iOS Kindle apps has become a staple of my Spanish curriculum. This is not, perhaps, a reason to buy a Kindle outright—after all, I have the iOS apps, and they satisfy all my foreign language needs. But when it came down to choosing between a Kindle and a Kobo, this was a big part of the tie-breaker.

Why a Paperwhite: touchscreen and frontlight

After accepting that I was going to buy a Kindle, I felt sure that I’d get the basic model, the Kindle Touch, which was one of the “top picks” in our e-reader comparison and had everything I needed in an e-reader.

Kindle Paperwhite [16]Or so I thought. Mere seconds before I added the Kindle Touch to my cart, I noticed something. The Paperwhite featured a “multi-touch” control system, while the Kindle had a five-way controller. Why wouldn’t it have the same touch system? The answer, as you may have guessed, is that the basic Kindle model is no longer Touch-capable. Sometime since I last updated the e-reader comparison, Amazon quietly retired its satisfyingly capable Kindle Touch [17]; there aren’t even any used ones for sale. The Paperwhite is now the cheapest Kindle with a touchscreen.

The touchscreen is non-negotiable for me. I review almost all the books I read, so I have to be able to highlight and take notes. If I wanted a Kindle, I would have to get a Paperwhite, and I’d have to pay an extra fifty bucks for it.

Luckily, there’s another feature that sweetens that bitter pill. Reviews are unclear on this point, but it seems like the Paperwhite’s “frontlight” is specifically designed to light the text without shining the light into your eyeballs. In other words, you can read late at night without disturbing your partner by keeping the light on, and also without keeping yourself up with unintentional light therapy. If that feature really is as good as Amazon claims, it would perfectly solve my reading-before-bed situation, and that feature alone would be worth the extra money to me.

Kindle book prices, selection, and e-book borrowing

File this under “rationalization.” Even after concluding that the Paperwhite was the best e-reader for my situation (although my situation is kind of rare), I kept looking at those prices. A Paperwhite was fifty dollars more than a basic Kindle, and forty more than a Kobo Mini, which I’ve tried and loved [8].

I started waffling between the Kobo and the Paperwhite. I wasn’t sure that foreign language books alone—or even the promises of the frontlight, which I’m still skeptical about—were worth the extra money. So I started looking up books in both ecosystems to see what the e-book prices were like. Most were the same at Kobo and Amazon, but a fair number of the handful I looked up were cheaper at Amazon. None were ever cheaper at Kobo.

Now, while I’m sympathetic (kind of) to publishers who want to dictate what their books should be sold for, I don’t believe Amazon selling cheap e-books will hurt publishers’ businesses in the long run. I think it hurts the outdated hardcover book business model [18]. And it definitely hurts other e-book retailers who can’t afford to keep up with Amazon’s bargain basement prices.

In a perfect world, Amazon would be a less icky company to buy from. But in reality, the fact that I’d save money over the Kobo helped narrow the price gap.

Also, I have a fair number of Kindle books, despite never having owned a Kindle. Over the years, I’ve collected about two dozen Kindle books that were either way cheaper on the Kindle (like the Hunger Games trilogy) or unavailable anywhere else (like Kindle Singles, especially Byliner singles). I can still obviously read those books without a Kindle, but it says a lot about their selection.

[Side note: I buy most of my e-books from Apple right now, and while those books are also more expensive than Kindle books, I can usually find discounted iTunes gift cards at Best Buy every few months. Stock up on those and you’ll get 20 percent off all your books (and apps and music), which makes them about as cheap as Kindle books.]

Prime Lending Library and actual library lending

The vaunted Prime Lending Library [19] is not a big draw for me. I’m on a shared Prime account, i.e., I don’t pay for Prime, a “relative” does. So I only have access to free shipping, not Amazon Instant Video or the Prime Lending Library. I’m not about to pay $79 a year for for the Library, especially when most of those are older books that would be curiosities at most. But Amazon has also eased the restrictions on checking out e-books from your local public library [20], which I’m very interested in.


I don’t ask for galleys very often, but having a Kindle makes using Netgalley much easier. It’s not a negative.

The negatives

Even after this decision, I’m not blind to the Kindle’s serious drawbacks. Its DRM system concerns me greatly. The fact that it doesn’t have page numbers annoys the hell out of me (I’m hoping the physical Kindle has a setting I can change). And then there’s always the fact that Amazon holds some fairly distasteful philosophical stances—they’ve deleted books [21] and people’s entire accounts [22], they’re tight-fisted charity-wise [23], and they even developed an app (now discontinued) specifically to steal customers from brick-and-mortar bookstores. However, that ruthless public image is tempered, I have to admit, by their terrific customer service. When they’re great to deal with on a personal level, it’s difficult to hate them.

All in all, I’m still not sure I won’t return it in a week, especially if the foreign language e-books don’t work as well on the device as they do in the apps. But, for now, I’m a Kindle convert. And that was not an easy get.

Nico Vreeland Chamber Four [24]About the Author:

Nico Vreeland cofounded the book blog ChamberFour.com [2] (where this post originally appeared) in 2009. It has since expanded to include a literary magazine [25] and a podcast (search for “Page Count [26]” wherever podcasts are downloaded). He moved to Boston in 2006 to attend an MFA program at Emerson [27]. He now lives and writes in Somerville [28], Mass., which is like Cambridge except it doesn’t have Harvard and you’ve never heard of it.

12 Comments (Open | Close)

12 Comments To "Why I Finally Broke Down and Ordered a Kindle Paperwhite"

#1 Comment By Vonda Z On February 25, 2013 @ 3:20 pm

“The fact that it doesn’t have page numbers annoys the hell out of me” – where is this coming from? My Paperwhite has real page numbers. Just tap the top of the screen and on the bottom it will tell me “Page XXX of XXX” on the bottom of the screen. Of course, the book file itself has to support real page numbers, but they are there.

#2 Comment By Brian On February 25, 2013 @ 3:24 pm

“The fact that it doesn’t have page numbers annoys the hell out of me”

The Kindle has page numbers for many/most print books. Instead of just have arbitrarily generated “page number” like ADE based readers (which is less accurate than locations) Amazon gives you real page numbers that refer to the actual page number in a specific print edition of the book. Just tap the top part of your screen to bring up the menu options and you’ll see the current page number at the bottom of the page. I’m not sure however if page numbers are available in foreign language books yet or not.

“I’m not about to pay $79 a year for for the Library”

I don’t think they expect anyone will. It’s more of a “bonus feature” for folks that have Prime for other reasons.

#3 Comment By Brian On February 25, 2013 @ 3:26 pm

“The Kindle has page numbers for many/most print books.”

Just to clarify, I mean for books that have a print equivalent.

#4 Comment By devini On February 25, 2013 @ 3:40 pm

You sound like you hate something without really knowing what you’re talking about. I would much rather have Amazon’s DRM than ADE. At least with Amazon you can still read your books no matter how many gadgets you have. All the other stores that use ADE drive me crazy. Now that is a system worth criticizing. You can easily return books to Amazon for refunding without going through hoops like Kobo, Sony, etc. Good luck getting a refund from Apple if you make an erroneous purchase. Like I’ve said from the beginning: Amazon got everything right right from the get go. None of the other even come close.

#5 Comment By Nico On February 25, 2013 @ 3:46 pm

@Vanda + Brian: Maybe you guys can help me out. Is there a setting that enables/disables page numbers or have I just not come across any books that have them?

I probably should have said something like “when kindle books don’t have page numbers.” I just hate Locations… I can see why they’d be necessary for the coding of highlights and such, but I don’t know why they chose to display them to readers.

Also, Brian, that’s kind of what I meant about the Prime Library. It’s a nice bonus, but not really a feature that tips the scale in a meaningful way.

#6 Comment By Nico On February 25, 2013 @ 4:01 pm

@devini ADE v. Amazon DRM is a question of the least of two evils. Really no DRM is beneficial to a customer. That’s why I like Kobo’s concerted effort to keep their books as open as possible.

Also, yeah, Amazon’s return system is great. I’ve returned books to Apple, but you do have to write them a note about why, which is obviously a pain.

#7 Comment By Brian On February 25, 2013 @ 5:12 pm

“That’s why I like Kobo’s concerted effort to keep their books as open as possible.”

Explain please. Kobo is no more DRM-less than any other ebook player in my experience. Maybe I’m missing something.

#8 Comment By Nico On February 25, 2013 @ 5:33 pm

@Brian They do use DRM. I believe it’s Adobe Digital Editions which, as devini mentioned, has some drawbacks, like a limited number of gadget authorization spaces. But Kobo makes their ebooks readable by other ADE-enabled devices. Such as, I believe, the Nook and the Sony Reader. So they’re kind of like library ebooks… they’re device-agnostic but still have DRM on them. Not ideal, but a damn sight better than a lot of stuff out there.

Kindle books, and most other ebooks from stores with ereaders, will only work on their home company’s devices and apps.

From the Kobo site: “Your eBooks are yours to do with as you please, so you’re never locked in to one device (unlike some other leading eReaders). Feel free to read your Kobo eBooks on any open eReader you already own, or load your open eBooks onto your Kobo Mini. They’re your eBooks after all!”

#9 Comment By Chris On February 25, 2013 @ 6:11 pm

I had a Sony reader about 4 years ago and had to use ADE. I hated that system with a passion that was unrivalled. I had to repeatedly re download books due to problems with ADE, I lost books due to to many downloads and restrictions about downloading the same book to one account. My account kept getting locked out and when I tried to reset it I was told that I could not reregister my ADE because I was already registered but still could not access my books or my ADE. The whole thing also would not play nice with my Mac and even I tried downloading my books from a PC instead I still had problems. I tried deleting the ADE program and re download it and it still gave me problems.The whole thing was a nightmare.

I got so frustrated with the whole process that when I saw the Kindle advertised in Aug of 2010 I immediately pre ordered one. The reason I love the Kindle so much is that there are no additional programs needed to use it, it didn’t have to be connected to a computer to download books and it had wi-fi and I could download books anywhere. No more did I have to have my PC or laptop to download a book. No more fiddling with extra software that had to be updated all the time and wondered if it would work once it did update. No more hassle, just the sheer pleasure and ease to download my books and read where ever and when ever I wanted.

While no e-reader or platform is perfect, I find that for me Amazon is much nicer to deal with and if you have a problem with your device, which I did and got a replacement Kindle within 3 days no questions asked, or if you have to get a refund on a book due to poor formatting or a mistaken purchase, they are very pleasant and easy to deal with.

#10 Comment By Rob Suggs On February 25, 2013 @ 6:24 pm

Just curious to see people who are so eager to find flaws with Amazon while finding none with the corporate behavior of Apple. The Apple-led collusion to raise prices was just fine, while Amazon’s stand with Macmillan was unconscionable? OK. Amazon is not a perfect organization–hard to be that size and have no big flaws–but there’s a reason for their success with e-readers. Jeff Bezos was passionate about it from the beginning, when no one had an idea that this thing could work, and while Steve Jobs was shrugging and saying, “Nobody reads anymore.” My loyalty is based as much on Amazon’s commitment to the idea itself as to the superior customer support. I’ve never had a single problem with the DRM.

#11 Comment By Alexander Inglis On February 25, 2013 @ 6:53 pm

I’d like to put in a plug for the Kobo Glo, similar paperwhite technology touch screen. It’s a dream reader, as far as I am concerned and, as Amazon has many featues it does not support here in Canada, Kobo’s eco system is preferable.

And I still use my Nexus 7 tablet, with a Kindle, Kobo and Overdrive app to read some of my content there. But for e-ink, long battery life, crisp screen, light-weight and portable, I love my Glo!

#12 Comment By Paul Durrant On February 26, 2013 @ 5:59 pm

I won’t buy books that have encryption-based DRM that I can’t remove. Luckily, at the moment, that means I’m happy to buy books with any of the main DRM schemes (Amazon, Adobe, B&N).