Kindle “Paperwhite” technology—ad fluff or innovation?

In the past few days, a batch of leaked ad pictures for the new Kindle Touch ignited a fury of content and speculation on all of the major tech blogs. The Verge included an article with the images entitled: “Exclusive: meet the Amazon Kindle with ‘Paperwhite’ backlit display.” Unfortunately, the pictures released were not stealthily-snapped photographs of an actual, pre-release device; these are advertisement images produced with all of the expected Photoshop alterations. The E Ink display on the new Kindle in these shots is bright white with vivid black text . . . just like the displays featured on ad images for the Kindle 4, 3, 2, and 1. Amazon, B&N, and all of the major players have given their eReader screens deceptively vivid contrast in promotional images, usually captioned with the catchphrase, “paper-like display.” In reality, E Ink Pearl screens are far from what most would consider “paper-like” in color. Pearl displays are a light but very distinct shade of grey, with some variation depending on the device. The Kindle 3 and Nook Simple Touch can even have a slight tinge of green in certain lighting conditions. The Sony PRS-T1 and T2 has offered the whitest display out of all the major readers, sporting a noticeably lighter background when compared to the others. I’m not sure if there are generational alterations that can account for this variety in screen coloration between readers, but none of them could really be identified as the color “paper white.”

Despite the probably inaccurate representation of the new Kindle’s screen, the included text (written in French) does peak my interest. Has Amazon taken the next big leap in eReading technology? Have they finally left behind the tired and old 600 x 800 E Ink Pearl display and given us something new? If Amazon wants to remain at the top of the eReader pack, I think they have to be the first to offer consumers a new, high definition E Ink display. The frontlit screen option is more of a gimmick in my opinion. It is convenient and good for bedtime reading, but I would rather see the new Kindle boast sharper text, with higher concentration of pixels and more shades of grey. You may have read about my disappointment with Sony’s new device for their lack of screen improvement. They did exactly nothing to improve on the Sony PRS-T1, and they got slammed for it. I am really hoping Amazon won’t let us down again, like they did with the Kindle 4. The K3’s E Ink screen has darker blacks and better contrast than the K4 as shown in the following image:

From Amazon’s customer images page: Lack of contrast on the new screen. This photo shows a Kindle 4 with the newest firmware and set to refresh every page turn. Both Kindles were shot in the exact same light and white balanced to a 20% grey card for accurate color. A Sekonic brand light meter was used for accurate exposure. As you can see, the older model features insanely blacker blacks. Photo shot on a 5d mkii with a Zeiss 35mm lens.

The cost of the price wars between the major eReader companies has been a total stagnation of technology development and advancement. It is hard to put money into R&D when you are always trying to undercut your competition. eReaders should really be priced at around $200, but the battle for the bargain has driven away much-needed improvements to reader firmware and E Ink displays. The few updates we have seen have mostly centered on social media incorporation or silly software tricks. I will be posting a total overview of the price wars after the release of the new Kindle Touch and Kindle Fire on September 6th. Will Amazon stand by its commitment to providing the best possible reading experience to its customers, or will lack of innovation (influenced by cost) continue to plague the eReading market? We will find out soon.

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One Response to Kindle “Paperwhite” technology—ad fluff or innovation?

  1. Billy says:

    Here’s hoping that Amazon will do something different. Bezos has his reputation on the line. I have also been waiting for a highdef screen for some time. Great post.

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