For 12 years, Amazon’s Kindles have been successful by operating on a strict “less is more” principle. Kindles don’t have Alexa, and they don’t ping you with endless text message notifications. They just make book reading easy. Every time I download a free library book, I marvel at the conjunction of affordable technology and public policy that disseminates books so widely and easily. My husband also appreciates that it prevents me from turning our home into a fire hazard of moldy dust jackets and bedbugs.
The Paperwhite has long been Amazon’s best-selling ebook reader. Last year, if you’d asked me if the lights and higher-resolution screen was worth the extra $40, I would’ve said yes. But this year’s $90 standard Kindle is small and affordable. It also has lights, is Bluetooth-enabled, and supports Audible. Unless you really like reading in the tub, this is the best entry-level e-reader you can buy right now, and it’s less than $100.
Light Is Might
For the past four days, I’ve been reading on the new Kindle and listening to books on Audible. At 6.3 inches tall, 4.5 inches wide, and around 6 ounces (more with the case), it’s noticeably smaller and lighter than the Paperwhite. I could easily read one-handed, and it took up barely any space at all in a backpack.
Amazon also sent the new magnetic fabric cover with our test unit. It protects the Kindle, and automatically wakes up the device when you open it. It did add to the weight, but I could also finish my night’s reading with a satisfying snap closure.
It has a 6-inch capacitive touchscreen, with E-ink and 167 ppi (pixels per inch). When I compared it to the 300 ppi screen of the latest Paperwhite, the font (Bookerly in size 3) was a little grainier, but not to the point where I found it distracting.
One of the big differences between the new Kindle and the Paperwhite is that it has four front LEDs, instead of five. If you squint, you can see them under the edge of the bezel at the bottom of the display. Amazon uses its “light guide” layer, or a thin, imprinted sheet, to distribute the light evenly over the surface of the display.
Surprisingly, it doesn’t look bad! It is noticeably less bright when compared to my 2017 Paperwhite, but I didn’t see discoloration or blooms of white near the bottom. For nighttime reading—which is normally when I find the light most useful—I set the Kindle’s brightness settings to low, and didn’t miss the extra LED. Amazon also claims that the front light is easier on your eyes than most backlit screens.
One of the Kindle’s big selling points has always been its long battery life. The new Kindle touts a battery life of up to four weeks of reading, based on a half-hour of reading per day (standard for ebook readers, at this point). After three days of my odd, intermittent reading habits—sneaking in pages while brushing my teeth or lying in bed—I reduced the battery life to 89 percent.
If you switch between reading text and listening to audiobooks on your commute, the new Kindle is Bluetooth-enabled and can stream Audible books to a pair of connected headphones. However, it only has 4 gigabytes of storage; I downloaded four average-length novels and was left with only 2.3 GB. Also, listening to audiobooks wears down the battery much faster. I took an hour-long walk while listening to Little Fires Everywhere and when I got back, the battery had gone down from 80 to 60 percent.
Wrapped in Books
When my second kid was born in 2017, my spouse presented me with the Kindle Paperwhite. The light-up screen, long battery life, and soft, rubbery cover propped me up through long nights of nursing at 3 a.m. Now, it lets me secretly read gruesome Irish murder mysteries in our dim living room while my kids watch, and re-watch, The Lego Movie every Friday night.
In terms of giving you a pleasurable reading experience, reading on the new Kindle feels a lot like reading on my old Paperwhite. No, it’s not waterproof, which is possibly the most exciting feature to have come out on a Kindle in the past few years. But I’ve gone years without dropping my Paperwhite into a bathtub or swimming pool, and I haven’t particularly missed this feature.
I also didn’t notice any lag time when waking it up or turning pages, although, as with any Kindle, slowly typing words in the search bar, or entering passwords for Wi-Fi networks, is an exercise in patience.
It also has all of Amazon’s same thoughtful software that enhances, rather than detracts, from your reading experience. Whispersync and Whispersync for Voice still works; it still suggests books (on Amazon) that you might like to read; and it still has instant definitions and X-Ray, an in-depth feature that helps me keep track of characters and explains obscure references. Kindle Unlimited is also worth a look if you don’t want to buy books à la carte and like the selection.
And as with the new Paperwhite, you can also save specific font and page settings as themes—bigger fonts for when you’re working out, or orienting it sideways when you’re lying in bed. I did find it irritating that you can’t save brightness settings, since that’s the one feature that I always tinker with as I move from the living room, to my bedroom, and out again.
Not only is the new Kindle currently the smallest in Amazon’s current Kindle line-up, it’s also the most affordable—especially if you cash in on their trade-in program, which gets you an Amazon gift card and 25 percent off the new Kindle.
There’s no reason for me to trade in my current Paperwhite for what is basically the same e-reader. And if you’re a bathtub reader, or if a 167 ppi screen will irritate the bejeesus out of you, it’s worth saving up for a Paperwhite. (You can read more about the whole line in our Best Kindle guide.) But if you don’t currently own a Kindle, or you currently own the basic model, this is a great upgrade to Amazon’s entry-level e-reader. Especially if you can get it for $65 by trading in your old model.