Kindle Paperwhite

The best e-reader is about to get even better

September 4, 2013: 1:47 PM ET

Some time with Amazon's latest Kindle Paperwhite reveals there's much to like in this familiar-looking device. Surprised?


With Goodreads integration, the Kindle just got a whole lot more social. By Thanksgiving, Paperwhite owners will be able to leave reviews, read recommendations, and see what their friends are reading directly from their devices. Credit: Amazon

FORTUNE -- Based on first impressions, the best e-reader is about to get even better.

Amazon (AMZN) announced a new Paperwhite e-reader, available for preorder this week and expected to ship by Sept. 30. It will ship in three flavors: $119 with ads, $139 without ads, and $189 sans ads with built-in 3G connectivity. But despite the familiar-looking design, this year's model sports some modest, but notable improvements. The bump to a 1 GHz A9 processor promises a 25% speed boost; the display offers higher contrast, sharper text, a more responsive touch experience, and a new built-in light Amazon says should eliminate any sort of lighting issues some readers had last year. It's also a tad lighter, too: 7.3 ounces vs. the original's 7.5. (Battery life and storage remain the same: two months of reading in-between charges and 2 gigabytes of storage for up 1,100 e-books.)

"We're on a multi-year -- decade -- mission to build the perfect reading device," Dave Limp, VP of Kindle, tells Fortune. He isn't kidding. While the Paperwhite received uniformly positive reviews last year -- indeed, it remains my own go-to e-reader -- the Kindle team took this year's upgrade seriously. According to Limp, they experimented with up to 25 different ways to illuminate text.

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And while the industrial design remains largely the same, save the change of logo on the back, the user experience is noticeably improved based on the time we had with an early unit. Zippier? Definitely. And while I never had problems reading on my Paperwhite, the text on this year's model is definitely clearer and slightly easier on the eyes. Another tweak readers may appreciate: "refreshing," a flashing effect that rids the screen of any e-ink artifacts, happens a lot less. The previous model refreshed every six page turns. The new Paperwhite will only ever do so at the end of a chapter or after a page with detailed art. It's a small tweak, but one that makes the reading experience slightly more immersive.

Amazon also plans to roll out some new software features. Touches like page previews and a scrubber to more easily navigate inside e-books will be included on the new Paperwhite from day one. Two other notable features should arrive by Thanksgiving, including parental controls. The other -- integration of the social reading and review site Goodreads -- may prove more popular, allowing users to review books, read recommendations, and see what their friends are reading directly from their Kindles. For Amazon, more social features will likely translate to higher e-book sales, where the Kindle business generates more revenues. (Historically, Kindle hardware has been sold at or near-cost.)

How social features evolve on the Kindle depends on how readers use them. Says Limp: "We would all say this is a day one implementation. I think this is a great start, but it is a start."

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