My Kindle Paperwhite light performance: splotchy

Just as Amazon promised, my Kindle Paperwhite arrived in my hands today. I placed my order on the first day it became available (I camped out on Amazon’s homepage, refreshing it until the Paperwhite order option went live), so I managed to avoid the “four to six week” delay predicted for those who order now. It looks like Amazon’s new Kindle is once again in an out-of-stock situation due to intense demand (they should have been prepared for this after their Kindle 1 & 2 debacles). As I inspected the package, I noticed that the familiar brownish Kindle shipping box has been replaced by a midnight black-colored one, in keeping with the Paperwhite’s nighttime theme. I pulled the familiar frustration-free packaging strip and and opened the lid to find a truly beautiful device tucked into a clear plastic wrapper. I really love the dark color of these new Kindles (the Kindle 4’s metallic-grey was a real disaster, in my opinion). I switched on the device and connected it to an outlet using my old Kindle 3’s wall charger (the Paperwhite does not include an AC adapter), and suddenly the frontlit display came on. At first, I was wowed by the soft-white color of the screen, but as my eyes scanned down the display, I noticed that there was a large, splotchy dark spot in the bottom right corner.

As you can see in the picture I included above, the glow light is not being distributed evenly across the screen, as promised by the Paperwhite’s development team. The LED lights are hidden from view by the bezel (an improvement on the Nook Glow), but their source is clear. In the promotional images and videos for this device, the light feature is extremely consistent and without flaw. Len Edgerly of the Kindle Chronicles podcast has also admitted this lighting issue in the comments section of his Paperwhite YouTube review. This leaves me wondering: is this splotchy lighting a universal problem, or is my device defective? Are some Paperwhite Kindle displays better than others? Does Amazon have a consistency issue?

I went back to the Amazon press conference video from last month and took a closer look at the Paperwhite Jeff Bezos was using during his demonstration. As evidenced in the image below, Mr. Bezos’ screen does not appear to have the same discoloration that mine does, at least not to the same degree.

There is a slightly darker line near the very bottom of the screen by the bezel, but other than that, the light is uniform. I wouldn’t mind a small transition near the edge, but this big patch of wavy darkness and light encroaches on the text of my eBooks. I have found it uncomfortable to read from bright white light into shadowy blacks as your eyes scan down the page. I must admit, I am a little disappointed.

In this image, I noticed that the white light just to the left of center actually sticks out more than the dimmer spots down to the right of the display. The darker shades around it really heighten the contrast between to two light levels. I am impressed with the higher resolution and font clarity, but the light layers adds a grainy quality to the screen that takes away from that visual feeling of seeing sharp, crisp text on an E Ink display (this doesn’t show very well in the pictures, but if you see it in person, you will know what I am talking about).

I will continue to update this post as I use the device over the next few days. There are a lot of things I like about it so far (the new user interface is nice), but I need delve a bit deeper before making up my mind. The light distribution issues are at first distracting, but perhaps they will fade into the background as my eyes adjust? I am really rooting for the Kindle Paperwhite, so let’s hope for the best.

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