Review: Bigger screen and better lighting make for a nearly perfect Kindle Paperwhite

The 11th-generation Kindle Paperwhite Signature Edition.
Enlarge / The 11th-generation Kindle Paperwhite Signature Edition.
Andrew Cunningham

It’s the most reliable upgrade in tech: take a thing that was already good, and make the screen bigger.

From laptops to TVs to phones to game consoles to tablets to watches, the time-honored tradition of making the screen bigger has resulted in some excellent upgrades, at least as long as making the screen bigger doesn’t screw up anything else.

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (11th gen, 2021)

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And that’s Amazon’s playbook with the $140 11th-generation Kindle Paperwhite. Next to the 10th-generation model, the designs look nearly identical, but the new one has a larger screen enabled in part by slimmer borders around the top and sides.

But just because the bigger screen is the most noticeable thing about the new Paperwhite doesn’t mean it’s the only thing. It now has a USB-C port for charging, replacing the aging micro-USB port. Performance is improved in small but noticeable ways. Its frontlight adds more LEDs, so the illumination looks smoother and more uniform, and it also picks up the auto-brightness sensor and warm light features from the $250 Kindle Oasis.

All of that comes together in a $140 e-reader that is the best Kindle—and, by extension, the best e-reader—that you can currently buy.

Bigger screen with a better frontlight

The new Paperwhite (left) has a 6.8-inch screen, which looks and feels much larger than the old model's 6-inch display (right).
The new Paperwhite (left) has a 6.8-inch screen, which looks and feels much larger than the old model’s 6-inch display (right).
Andrew Cunningham

The headline feature of the new Paperwhite is its 6.8-inch screen, a big step up from the old Paperwhite’s (and the standard Kindle’s) 6-inch display. It doesn’t change the Kindle’s user interface much, but it does mean a lot more words per page when you’re using the same font sizes, margins, and spacing.

The space for the larger screen mostly comes out of the Kindle’s top and side bezels, which are much slimmer than before (though the bottom bezel is a little thicker than before, likely to ensure that you still have plenty of room for your thumbs while you’re holding the device). Even with the bezel tweaks, the new Kindle is taller and wider than the old one, but not so much that it feels harder to hold for extended periods. The design of the 11th-generation Paperwhite and the 10th-gen Paperwhite are otherwise identical, with bezels that are flush with the display and the same soft-touch plastic back.

The new Paperwhite also gets an upgraded frontlight that makes it a lot more like the more-expensive Kindle Oasis. The frontlight now uses 17 LEDs, up from five in the last-gen Paperwhite and four in the standard Kindle. And it now has a warmlight option that can shift the display’s color temperature from the standard cool blue to a warm orangey-yellow.

Two separate sliders control backlight brightness and the light’s color temperature. Even if you don’t care for the yellow display effect that most phones/tablets/computers offer now, turning the display warmth up a few ticks takes the harsh edge off of the bluish Kindle frontlight and makes the display a lot more pleasant to look at. A built-in auto-brightness sensor also helps with this.

The Kindle Oasis has still-more LEDs in its 7-inch screen—25, instead of 17—but the Paperwhite’s screen is so bright and evenly lit that I doubt I could tell the difference even with the two devices next to each other.

Better performance (with one serious bug)

Amazon claims the new Paperwhite has “20% faster page turns,” and while I didn’t measure anything with a stopwatch, the 11th-gen Paperwhite did feel more consistently responsive than 10th- and 7th-gen models I normally use. That’s true not just for page turns, but also for navigating menus, highlighting passages, and typing out quick notes. The new Paperwhite is still occasionally prone to the kinds of random, inexplicable minor hangups and hitches that all Kindles I’ve used have sometimes suffered from, but those pauses take less time to resolve themselves than they do on the older models.

That said, I can consistently get the new Kindle to totally lock up by rapidly adjusting the backlight and warmth sliders and then opening a book—almost as though giving the screen too many inputs in too short a time makes it stop responding entirely. The frontlight will still turn on and off, but the display won’t refresh or respond to input until the device has been hard rebooted.

I suspect that this is a bug that can be resolved with a software update, and it’s not something you’ll run into if you’re not tweaking the settings a bunch in a short period of time. But it’s something to be aware of—I’ve contacted Amazon to see whether this is a known issue and if a fix is coming.

USB-C and wireless charging

The new Paperwhite (bottom) adds a USB-C port, which for many people will be more convenient than micro USB going forward.
The new Paperwhite (bottom) adds a USB-C port, which for many people will be more convenient than micro USB going forward.
Andrew Cunningham

USB-C is everywhere. It’s in our game consoles and controllers, our PCs, our laptops, our phones, and even our baby monitors and smart home devices. It’s not ubiquitous, but in the last two or three years it has gradually become more of a pain to have to dig out a micro USB charger for the few gadgets I have that still need it—and the old Kindle Paperwhite was one of them.

The new model switches to a USB-C port, so on the rare occasions when it does need to be charged, you can do it with the same charger you already use for your phone, laptop, or Nintendo Switch.

The Signature Edition Paperwhite that Amazon sent us for testing also supports Qi wireless charging, so most iPhone- and Android-compatible wireless charging pads should work for the Kindle, too. I personally don’t care much for wireless charging, because it’s less power-efficient than wired charging and I don’t mind plugging in cables. The Signature Edition also costs $50 more than the standard Paperwhite (you also get an upgrade from 8 GB to 32 GB of storage, though even if you listen to a lot of audiobooks, it’s a lot of work to fill up even an 8 GB Kindle), which is a lot to pay for a single feature.

Other upgrades for owners of older Kindles

Though the new Paperwhite (left) is a tad larger than the old one, it doesn't feel harder to hold for extended reading sessions.
Though the new Paperwhite (left) is a tad larger than the old one, it doesn’t feel harder to hold for extended reading sessions.
Andrew Cunningham

If you’re using a Kindle older than 2018’s 10th-generation Paperwhite, that model introduced a couple of upgrades worth mentioning if you’re wondering whether you should grab the 11th-generation model.

The first is waterproofing. An oft-requested feature that makes the Kindle feel safer to use at the beach or in the tub, the Kindle is IPX8 rated, which means it can withstand “accidental immersion in up to two meters of fresh water for up to 60 minutes, and up to 0.25 meters of seawater for up to 3 minutes.” If the Kindle is immersed in water, you’ll want to take some extra steps to dry it out so it doesn’t get damaged in the long run.

The second is Bluetooth support. This mainly enables the Kindle to play audiobooks—connect the Kindle to wireless headphones or a Bluetooth speaker, and you can play back Audible audiobooks. It also makes Kindles easier to set up, since they can communicate with your phone via Bluetooth to sign in to your Amazon account. This is handy if you have a long or complex password, perhaps generated by a password manager, that would take ages to tap out on an E Ink keyboard.

Still the best Kindle, most of the time

Since it was introduced, the Paperwhite has been the Kindle with the best combination of features and price. Initially, it was just the frontlit screen, which the cheapest Kindles didn’t have until just a couple years ago. But waterproofing in the 2018 model and the larger screen and USB-C port in this year’s edition have kept it in that same comfortable position, significantly less expensive than whatever the top-end Kindle is (right now, the Oasis) but much more capable than the basic Kindle. I don’t think most people need to bother with the $190 Signature Edition, unless wireless charging is a must-have—the basic $140 Paperwhite has all the most important stuff and costs a lot less.

I would add a caveat for the Kids edition of the tablet, though. The bundle of services and accessories Amazon sells with the Kids editions of its Kindles—a colorful, protective case and screen cover, one year of Amazon Kids+, and a two-year warranty with accidental damage protection—is excellent. But the regular Kindle Kids edition offers the same benefits for $50 less and still has a frontlit screen and Bluetooth and audiobook support. The Paperwhite’s larger size, sharper screen, waterproofing, and nicer backlight are all fine reasons to choose it instead. But for younger kids especially, I’d still at least consider the cheaper e-reader first.

The good

  • A larger screen, a better frontlight, better battery life, USB-C, and better performance than the previous-generation Paperwhite or the standard Kindle.
  • Best combination of features and price in the Kindle lineup. It’s a lot cheaper than the $250 Kindle Oasis, and a lot better than the $90 Kindle.
  • Amazon’s ecosystem is hard to beat. That applies not just to its library of books, but also the ease of syncing reading progress, highlights, and notes between multiple apps across multiple platforms.

The bad

  • $10 more expensive than last year’s Paperwhite.
  • Occasional performance hiccups, even with the speed upgrades.

The ugly

  • Easily reproducible bug can totally lock up the device, requiring a hard reboot. We’ve asked Amazon about this and will update if we get a response.

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