Amazon has Kindle models for everyone: touch screen Kindles, keyboarded Kindles, LCD tablet Kindles and now the Kindle Paperwhite with a side-lit E-Ink display. The Paperwhite competes with the Barnes and Noble Nook Touch with Glowlight and it uses a somewhat similar technology to provide lighting to a display that's useless when you're trying to read in dim light or the dark.
The name Paperwhite is fitting, because this is the whitest display we've seen yet on an E-Ink eReader. That doesn't mean it's pure white; even printed book pages aren't perfectly white. But it's much less gray looking than E-Ink readers without sidelights and it lacks the Nook Glowlight's sickly florescent blue-purple tinge. By default, the sidelights are turned on, and happily they don't destroy the Kindle Paperwhite's superb battery life (Amazon claims up to 2 months on a charge, and so far we'd estimate a month if you read an hour per day with the lighting turned on). In weak to moderate lighting, the page appears uniformly lit even though the lights emanate from the bottom edge and a diffuser spreads the light across the virtual page. The lighting is more even than the Nook Glowlight, whose LEDs are at the top edge. In a very dimly lit to dark room, you can see the LEDs as a small area of uneven lighting at the bottom edge of the Kindle's display (watch our video to see this). In a perfect world, this wouldn't happen, but technology is rarely perfect. Is it very distracting? Not to our staff or me. In fact, it's much less distracting than the Nook's uneven lighting.
Happily, the display has excellent contrast, even when the light is on. Yes, it has better contrast than the competing Nook. This is a sharper E-Ink display with 1024 x 768 resolution and a higher pixel density than the army of 6" 800 x 600 E-Ink readers on the market. That allows Amazon to offer some nice new serif fonts like Baskerville and Palatino without fear of fonts looking jaggy.
The user interface is also improved, and we finally have a book cover view instead of the archaic list view (though list view is still available if you prefer it). The UI feels as modern as the Nook and Kobo Touch, and we thoroughly enjoyed using the Kindle Paperwhite.
Above: the Kindle Paperwhite in a dark room with display lighting turned on.
The usual staples are here like X-Ray for books, highlights, notes, social sharing and cloud syncing of content. The Paperwhite has 2 gigs of storage with 1.25 gigs available, so you may find that cloud storage handy if you run out of room. There's no SD card slot and no audio of any kind: no speakers and no headphone jack. Amazon and Barnes & Noble push you toward their LCD tablet offerings if you want audio and video.
The Nook Simple Touch with Glowlight and the Kindle Paperwhite.
The Kindle Paperwhite starts at $119 (with ads) for the WiFi model. The WiFi+3G model is $179. If you don't want to see ads as your screensaver, you'll have to pay an additional $20. The bad news? The ereader is popular that there's now a 4-6 wait if you order one now!