Kindle Paperwhite Signature Edition review: Just buy the standard model

The Paperwhite’s first update in three years further streamlines Amazon’s formulaic e-reader, but the Signature Edition’s bells and whistles feel unnecessary.

Kindle Paperwhite Signature Edition review: Just buy the standard model
Evan Rodgers / Input

The new Kindle Paperwhite Signature Edition will not let you forget the company that created it.

Amazon keeps itself in the front of your mind from the start. Booting the e-reader up for the first time, you’ll be asked whether or not you want to sign up for a Kindle Unlimited subscription. Then if you’d like to pay $14.99 every month for an Audible plan. And, of course, there’s the company’s curved arrow logo splayed across the back.

The Kindle Paperwhite Signature Edition (henceforth called Paperwhite Signature) is a slightly upgraded version of the Paperwhite, the mid-range e-reader Amazon just updated for the first time in three years. At $190, it’s $50 more than the base Paperwhite ($140), though that gap shrinks to $30 if you choose the ad-free version of the lower-end Paperwhite ($160). You get a few extra features for this cash: four times the storage (32GB), an auto-adjusting light, and wireless charging.

It is the most refined Kindle experience Amazon has ever created.

Both the Paperwhite Signature — which is the first of its kind — and the fifth-gen Paperwhite have received incremental updates over the 2018 Paperwhite. The E Ink screen is now 0.8 inches larger, thanks to thinner bezels; a USB-C port speeds up the charging process; the battery is now rated to last 10 weeks, rather than six, if you’re using it about 30 minutes every day.

That list of features is an accurate indicator of what you can expect from the Paperwhite Signature. If you’ve used a Paperwhite any time in the last nine years, this one will feel very, very familiar. It is the most refined Kindle experience Amazon has ever created, but that isn’t really saying much.

Subtle refinement

The Kindle’s new flush display is an absolute fingerprint magnet.Evan Rodgers / Input

The Paperwhite Signature’s hardware is clean and balanced. It’s the now-classic silhouette Amazon has been refining for years: a paperback-sized touchscreen with black bezels. The bezels are thinner than ever here, which is appreciated, and the screen sits flush with them, leaving no room for unseemly crumbs or sand to sneak in.

The screen is as readable as ever — that’s E Ink, for you. The 17-LED backlight system allows for fine-tuned precision; it’s really remarkable how easy it is to read in the pre-dawn light of my table lamp. Navigating with the touchscreen doesn’t feel too laggy, as older E Ink tends toward. This makes the experience of highlighting as you read much less cumbersome than in previous Kindle models.

USB-C is by far the best new feature.

USB-C is by far the best new feature on the hardware side of things. I mean that genuinely. It’s just so much faster to charge than older Kindles. Now, we’re talking about a device you should theoretically only need to charge every month or so, but that once-in-a-while charge used to be one of the more frustrating aspects of owning a Kindle. Wireless charging is a nice option if you’ve got a Qi wireless charger, but it’s also slower than wired (Amazon says it takes 2.5 hours to charge wired using a 9W adapter and “less than 3.5 hours” using a 10W Qi charging pad). Speaking of wired charging, the included cable is USB-A-to-USB-C, and there’s no charger in the box. (Kobo e-readers don’t come with one either.)

It’s a Kindle, alright!Evan Rodgers / Input

My only real gripe with the Paperwhite Signature’s hardware — and it is a personal one, I’ll say that — is the lack of physical buttons. The original Kindle featured a full QWERTY keyboard and page-turn buttons, but Amazon phased these out gradually with each generation until tapping the touchscreen was the only way to flip pages. My main e-reader device these days is Kobo’s Libra, a similar-tier e-reader that does have two physical buttons, and I found myself missing them while reading on the Paperwhite Signature. To use an e-reader is to lose the physicality of a new hardcover; the ability to, at the very least, turn pages with a physical motion has really made the experience more enjoyable for me. You can still get this experience on the Kindle Oasis, but that runs $100 more and is an entirely different kind of e-reader.

Oh, and the back of the device’s grippy matte black finish attracts so many fingerprints. So does the front, actually — that end-to-end flush design means it’s nearly impossible to grip the Paperwhite Signature without getting some part of it dirty. One of the new cases would be a great investment, though that does add to your initial cost.

Basic software

The Paperwhite Signature runs Amazon’s standard Kindle software, which isn’t exactly good or bad. It’s sparse — made for quick access to various menus and settings. It’s easy enough to go between one book and another, or to flip between chapters and bookmarks, or to make the font size a little larger. It gets the job done.

The only aspect of the Kindle software that Amazon hasn’t really mastered yet is discoverability. Most of your time spent not reading will be on the Paperwhite Signature’s home screen; it shows the last few books you added to your library, a reading list if you’ve connected your Goodreads account, and various modules displaying book recommendations from the Kindle Store. The recommendations here are almost all related to what’s charting on Amazon right now, which, as you might expect, doesn’t offer much variety. It’s like going to Barnes & Noble and only looking at the one shelf filled with bestsellers.

Screenshot: Matt Wille / Input
The Kindle software... hasn’t changed.Screenshot: Matt Wille / Input
Screenshot: Matt Wille / Input

The full Kindle Store is easy enough to access from the home screen (if you know that’s what the tiny shopping cart icon is for) but finding something new to read here is also quite bland. I’m talking about a category called “Recommended books for you” followed immediately by a category called “Books for you.” I want the Kindle to help me find exciting new books to read, not recommend six entries in the Bridgerton series.

It’s unfortunate that Amazon does not make it clear when browsing the Kindle Store that any ebooks you buy can technically never be transferred to another brand of e-reader. The same is true of ebooks on the Kindle, which can only ever be used with an Audible subscription. This isn’t a problem limited only to the Paperwhite Signature, so I won’t spend too much time on it here — but suffice it to say Amazon should definitely be more upfront about that fact.

There’s no option for browsing your local library’s ebooks on the Paperwhite Signature, either. That can only be done from a separate device.

Signature Edition vs. standard

The backside of the Kindle Paperwhite Signature Edition supports Qi wireless charging.Evan Rodgers / Input

The big question with the Paperwhite Signature is whether or not it’s worth paying $50 more over the other new Paperwhite, the standard model with fewer upgrades. The e-readers are nearly identical; if you held one in each hand you’d truly have no way of knowing which was the more expensive option. The reading experience offered by each is slightly faster than the 2018 Paperwhite. The screen is the same screen. The lights are the same lights.

One of the Paperwhite Signature’s upgrades is the inclusion of 32GB of storage versus 8GB in the standard model. At first glance this is an intriguing perk — four times the storage means four times the books you can carry around with you, right? But the average ebook takes up less than 5MB of space on the Kindle — a bit more or less depending upon how long it is and whether or not it includes images. The standard Paperwhite can, assuming this average size, hold 1,600 books before needing to be cleared out. Let’s assume you’re a voracious reader — you somehow manage to read 50 books each year. You could, in theory, download 50 books every year for the next 30 years and the standard Paperwhite would just start running out of space. As strange as it might sound in contemporary terms, 8GB is really plenty of e-reader space for the vast majority of readers. The 32GB option is just overkill.

The 32GB option is just overkill.

Amazon is also pushing the auto-adjusting light sensor as one of the Signature’s upgrades, but it rarely worked well in my testing. The problem, I think, is that how much light you need (and how warm) is a very individual preference. In low light I almost always found myself cranking the light up a few notches. It’s so easy to do this manually that the auto-adjusting light feels pretty unimportant.

The only upgrade left, then, is the Paperwhite Signature’s wireless charging. This could be a good enough reason to buy the more expensive option, if you’ve switched most of your other electronics over to Qi charging and have a few pads lying around. But $30-60 for the convenience seems steep.

Whether you choose the standard Paperwhite or the Signature Edition, you are going to end up with a brand-new Kindle that feels very much like a Kindle. If you own the 2018 Paperwhite and buy this year’s hoping for a brand-new experience, you’re going to end up pretty disappointed, I think. Amazon made significant changes to the Kindle for years before ending up with this streamlined model — and now that that seemingly ideal device has been standardized, Amazon is content with only making gradual improvements every three years or so. It’s a very capable e-reader, yes, but one without much character.

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