March 21, 2014

HP Slatebook 10 X2

Most of the laptop-tablet hybrids we’ve seen – which try to combine two devices in one – run Windows 8. Although the HP Slatebook 10 X2 looks like a smaller version of the Windows 8-equipped HP Split X2 (see our review, Issue 413), it couldn’t be more different as it runs Android instead.

The Slatebook weighs 610g which is relatively light for a 10in tablet, although other similarly sized tablets – such as the iPad Air and the Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 (see our reviews, Issues 411 and 414 respectively) – are much lighter. One feature the Slatebook does have – that those tablets don’t – is a microSD card slot for adding more storage in addition to the 64GB already built-in. 64GB is a generous amount of storage for a tablet at this price. Although the grey, plastic build is a bit creaky in places, overall it’s reasonably sturdy.

The Slatebook’s 10in screen has a resolution of 1920x1080 pixels so text looks sharp. Colour accuracy and brightness were a little off though, especially when compared to other 10in tablet screens, but it’s good enough.
Although the Slatebook has one of Nvidia’s latest tablet processors – performance wasn’t flawless. It didn’t have any trouble handling detailed 3D graphics, but there was a small but noticeable amount of lag when scrolling through complex webpages and running multiple apps simultaneously.

Battery life was far below average for a 10in tablet. When playing videos continuously, the Slatebook lasted just over seven hours - rival 10in tablets can last twice as long in the same test. The keyboard dock does have a second battery which adds another five hours of battery life. Although a welcome boost, it’s a shame the Slatebook isn’t capable of long battery life without it.

When plugged into the keyboard dock, the Slatebook’s weight increases to 1.3kg, which is light for a laptop. The docking joint forms part of the hinge; it feels pretty sturdy and doesn’t wobble too much. The dock adds a USB2 port, a full-size SD card reader and an HDMI connector which are useful, but there’s no USB3 or Ethernet port. When docked, the display tilted back reasonably far so we could get a comfortable viewing angle.
Plus, unlike the Split X2, the thick hinge didn’t dig into our legs when used on our lap. Of course, the most important thing about the keyboard dock is how comfortable it is to type on and here the Slatebook falls short. It’s not disastrous - the keys have enough travel, but they’re small and feel both a little cramped and too spongy. We did get used to them eventually and managed to type quickly without too many errors, but it’s no match for a quality keyboard on a traditional laptop.

The Slatebook’s suitability as a laptop substitute depends just as much on software as it does on hardware. HP hasn’t meddled with the Android 4.3 Jelly Bean operating system – which is a stance we usually prefer – but here it would’ve benefited from some modifications to make it work more smoothly with the keyboard and touchpad.

For example, parts of the Android interface which you usually swipe downwards with your finger – such as the Notifications drawer and the Settings drawer – require a click, hold and drag which is fiddly to accomplish on the small touchpad. If you’re a frequent user of keyboard shortcuts on Windows or Mac, then the relative lack of them on Android will be frustrating. You could, of course, alternate between the touchscreen and keyboard, but this quickly results in arm ache.

Unlike Windows 8, you can’t have two apps on screen at the same time in Android. Although this can help you concentrate on a particular task without being distracted, it also makes multitasking more difficult. Samsung has
modified Android on its tablets so that some apps can run onscreen side by side. Although not perfect, a similar feature would’ve been welcome here.

Another potential problem is the continuing lack of Android apps designed to work with high-resolution tablet screens. HP has included a couple of apps to get your started. There’s a basic file manager, but the unlabelled and crypticlooking icons make it fiddly to use. More useful is Kingsoft Office, an app for editing Word, PowerPoint and Excel files. It has trouble displaying especially complex files correctly – such as spreadsheets with lots of complex formulae and charts – but it’s more than good enough for working on simpler files.

However, Kingsoft Office isn’t exclusive to the Slatebook – it fact it’s free for both the iPad and other Android tablets. It’s not all bad. Android 4.3 has builtin support for multiple-user accounts. Each member of your household can have their own separate sets of apps and data, so there’s little danger of your kids accidentally messing with your important files.

As a tablet, the Slatebook isn’t bad, but it’s hardly exemplary due to its relatively short battery life and average screen. Its keyboard isn’t bad either, but it won’t suit everyone and is let down by incomplete software support. The Slatebook is best used for occasional or simple writing projects rather than as a full-time replacement for a laptop. In short, the Slatebook is a jack of all trades, but a master of none.


March 20, 2014

Xidax M6 Mining Rig

Exotic car paint, multiple GPUs, and custom-built chassis’ be damned, boutique PC builder Xidax thinks it has the sexiest sales pitch on the planet with its M6 Mining Rig: It pays for itself! Now, we can’t say this PC is basically “free” because it ain’t that, but Xidax says by using the box’s spare GPU cycles to mine for cryptocurrency, this baby would be paid off in about four months. To be honest, it’s not something we’ve ever considered, as we’ve seen gaming rigs, and we’ve seen coining rigs, but never in the same box. It seems like a solid idea though, as the system can game during the day, then mine at night to help cover its cost.

The system’s specs include a 3.4GHz Core i5-4670K with 16GB of RAM, a Corsair RM 850 PSU, closed-loop liquid cooler, 250GB Samsung 840 EVO SSD, 1TB WD Black, and a pair of Sapphire Radeon R9 290X cards. In application performance, it’s pretty pedestrian with its stockclocked Core i5-4670K. Why not something more badass? Xidax says it weighed hardware choices carefully because the pricier the hardware, the longer it takes to pay off with crypto-coins. The Radeons are a wise choice, as they offer about twice the performance of Nvidia’s fastest GPUs in mining applications. Gaming is also quite excellent (obviously, for a twocard
system), and its mining performance is impressive at 1.7 to 1.8 Kilohashes per second. (Hashes of the kilo/mega/giga variety are the units of measurement for mining productivity.)

Xidax ships the PC ready to start mining operations almost right out of the box, which is normally a daunting task. It also includes a Concierge (or should we say coincierge) service that has a Xidax rep remotely connect to the rig and do a final tune on the box for maximum mining performance. On this particular machine, it came ready to mine for Doge Coins and was forecast to make about $21.60 a day, or $670 a month, on a 24/7  chedule—including electricity costs.

What’s the catch? There are a few. First, it’s loud when mining. In fact, it’s so loud that you won’t be able to stand being in the same room with it. Second, you can’t do anything with it while it’s mining because all GPU resources are pegged to the max. Third, crypto-currency can be volatile. Bitcoin saw its value see-saw from $130 to $1,242 and then back to $455 and $900 in just four months. It could all go kaput in a few months, or who knows—the government might even step in and ruin the fun.

Considering its performance outside of mining, the M6 Mining Rig is pricey at A gaming rig that pays for itself $3,000. However, the price includes a lifetime warranty on parts and service except for the GPUs. Those carry a five-year warranty, which is still surprisingly good, considering that board vendors are already making noises that they don’t want to eat the cost of dead boards killed by mining. Xidax says it will cover them, though. And—again—it pays for itself, right?

That’s ultimately the appeal of the M6 Gaming Rig, but it has to be carefully considered by potential buyers. After all, anything that sounds too good to be true usually is, but then again, it is a powerful gaming PC that could theoretically pay for itself in a few months. And even if the market blew up, at least you’d still have a formidable gaming PC rather than just standing there with your RAM sticks in one hand. And if it works out, whoa baby, yo


March 19, 2014


HP’S SPECTRE 13 runs Windows 8, but it doesn’t contort, flip, swivel, or do any other impractical tricks of so many hybrid notebook-tablet hybrids. It’s just a regular old Ultrabook—but a very good one.

If what you really want is a thin-and-light notebook with a great keyboard, a high-resolution display, and the power to tackle nearly any workload, the Spectre 13 comes pretty darn close to delivering that ideal design. It also leverages one of Windows 8’s touch capabilities to deliver a great innovation in usability: an almost comically wide touchpad dubbed the Control Zone; more about that shortly. The Spectre 13 looks a lot like Apple’s MacBook Air.

The Spectre 13’s aluminum unibody chassis feels sturdy without being especially heavy (it weighs in at 3.3 pounds). The shiny purplish lid is distinctive but not ostentatious.

Under the hood, you’ll find a fourth-generation Intel Core i5-4200U CPU paired with 4GB of DDR3/1600 memory. The 128GB solid-state drive feels a bit cramped, but you can double the storage for an additional $150. The PC packs Intel’s integrated graphics, so you won’t get much in the way of gaming performance, though dialing down the settings will do in a pinch. Those components are good enough to earn a respectable WorldBench 8.1 score of 270.

One shortcoming you won’t be able to fix is the Spectre 13’s cooling fan. It kicks in when the processor starts doing any heavy lifting, and the noise can be annoying. HP claims a battery life of 9 hours, but it delivered 7.5
hours in our batteryrundown test. That’s an hour-plus more than what Sony’s VAIO Pro 13 delivered, and nearly 2 hours more than Lenovo’s ThinkPad Yoga.

The 13.3-inch, 1920-by-1080-pixel display is nice and bright, with excellent viewing angles. Photos and videos look great, but if you’d like higher resolution, you can upgrade to a 2560-by-1440-pixel display for another $70. The Beats Audio speakers are very good, pumping out rich, well-rounded audio with a bit of bass.

The keyboard’s wide, spacious backlit keys are easy to reach, though the arrow keys are a bit cramped. The primary role for the row of function keys up top is media player control. If you want to use them as traditional function keys, hold down the Fn key. And then there’s the aforementioned Control Zone trackpad, which is designed to ease your transition to Windows 8 by translating its touch gestures into actions you can perform by
swiping on a touchpad—a method users are already familiar with— instead of by jabbing at a touchscreen. This helps make the Windows 8 experience feel more natural.

HP’s Spectre 13 won’t convert those wary of Windows 8, but it solidly delivers the basics.


LG’s Superb-Looking OLED HDTV Doesn’t Come Cheap

 HDTV manufacturers have been experimenting with new technologies, trying to find the next big thing. Ultra HD (4K) televisions are the  most notable because they represent a jump in resolution over 1080p, but they’re also fairly useless until we get media in that format. Organic LED (OLED) screens have shown promise for years, but haven’t really clicked yet. Curved displays are a new trend, and their usefulness is uncertain. LG played mixand-match with these technologies with the 55EA9800, a 55-inch 1080p curved OLED screen that produces the best picture we’ve ever seen. It crushes high-end plasma screens as far as black levels and offers a wider color spectrum than any other HDTV we’ve measured. But if you want all that superb performance, you’ll have to pay a steep price.

LG calls the 55EA9800 “pencil-thin,” but every pencil I’ve compared against the screen has been significantly thicker than the just-over-0.2-inch-deep panel—and at 37.9 pounds, this is easily the lightest 55-inch HDTV
I’ve encountered. It’s completely bezel-free, with only a thin metal band running around the top and side and a thin black frame of 0.3 inch around the picture. The screen comes in a single piece with a built-in curved, clear plastic stand that holds it upright and contains a pair of clear speakers. You have to be careful when removing the HDTV from the box and setting it up, though: The HDTV doesn’t wobble, but the panel flexes slightly if not held correctly.

The illusion is lost a bit when you look around the HDTV and see the electronics that drive it in a large black plastic lump mounted on the back. The left side of the screen holds four HDMI ports, two USB 2.0 ports, and a USB 3.0 port. The combination composite/ component video inputs, optical audio output, antenna/ cable connector, and Ethernet port sit in a recessed space on the back, facing down.

As LG’s top-of-the-line HDTV, the 55EA9800 is laden with features. It comes with two pairs of stylish passive 3D glasses with hard carrying cases and another two pairs of clip-on 3D shades for users who already wear glasses. It also includes a separate  SB webcam you can plug in for video chat. Built-in Wi-Fi (or an optional wired Ethernet connection) lets the HDTV access tons of online services and apps. The LG content hub also offers access to dedicated 3D video online, plus a Web browser. And the 55EA9800 uses LG’s Magic Remote, a motion-sensing wand (with only a few buttons) you use to control an on-screen cursor to navigate the HDTV’s menus and features.

We tested the 55EA9800 with basic dark room calibration, manually adjusting the brightness and contrast levels and setting color temperature to the warmest setting. The screen’s built-in Picture Wizard II feature can walk you through simple calibration, but we found the resulting settings didn’t turn out the superlative test results we achieved under our calibrations.

Even if the panel doesn’t get super-bright (99.014 candelas per square meter),
its incredible black levels more than make up for it. If the 55EA9800 puts out any light when displaying black, it’s so little that our equipment can’t measure it. That’s a first for us, and puts the 55EA9800 up against the highest-end plasma HDTVs on the market like the Samsung PN8500 and the Panasonic ZT60 series.

Color is less perfect out of the box, but even inaccurate results were genuinely impressive. Reds and greens were consistently oversaturated but stayed generally in line with the ideal tint and hue values, keeping the colors generally accurate. These saturation levels show that the 55EA9800 can reach a wider color space than any other HDTV we’ve tested. That’s remarkable, but not ideal for watching movies. Setting the color space to  standard reduced the oversaturation, but the color levels still went beyond normal values. This HDTV would benefit from a professional color calibration, though you can always turn the Color (saturation) setting slightly below the defaults, as well.

These excellent test results translate into the best picture I’ve seen on an HDTV. I watched Black Swan on Blu-ray, and the anamorphic letterboxing vanished against the frame in a dark room, displaying perfect black above and below the picture. The extreme contrasts came through with detail on both ends of the spectrum, showing remarkable detail on the black fabrics of the costumes in a variety of lighting conditions. Jason and the Argonauts on Blu-ray looked similarly impressive, but its bright 1960s-era Eastmancolor film colorization made the oversaturation issues of the Wide color space mode very apparent. Although Wide might sound more appealing, the Standard or BT709 color space modes reduce the oversaturation significantly. Otherwise, details were incredibly sharp, with no hint of highlight texture or edge swallowed by the bright picture of the film.

The curve of the screen is one of the biggest features of the 55EA9800. It improves off-angle viewing and lets users see the 2D picture with equal contrast and color accuracy whether they’re directly in front of the screen or viewing it from the side—but the same can be said of a Àat IPS panel. Any benefit of the curved display is eclipsed by the benefit of the OLED technology that gives the HDTV such remarkable contrast and color. For now, I can’t say that a curved display is effectively worth more than the bragging rights of cutting-edge technology it represents, but an OLED display clearly offers plenty of potential benefits to cinephiles.

The 3D picture also looks impressive, but even the curve of the screen can’t fix a common problem with passive 3D. I watched IMAX Under the Sea 3D on Bluray from different angles, and sitting in front of the screen was like looking through a clean glass-bottom boat into the water. But crosstalk started to appear when viewed from the extreme sides, and it got more extreme, producing a distinct ghost image, when I viewed the screen from a position higher than where the 55EA9800 sat. Your HDTV should ideally be positioned at eye level or slightly higher, but the 55EA9800’s lack of wall mounting hardware can make that potentially awkward.

If you were hoping OLED screens would usher in a new age of energy efficiency for HDTVs, you’re going to be disappointed by the 55EA9800. With energy saving features turned off, the screen consumes an average of
210 watts. That number shrinks to 162 watts in Minimum energy saving mode and 122 watts in Medium energy saving mode, which are much more reasonable and barely darken the screen at all (compared with the Maximum energy saving mode, which made the screen uncomfortably dim).

I can’t speak to whether curved displays are worth the sizable premium they command, but I can say with certainty that OLED screens represent the future of high-end HDTVs. The LG 55EA9800 is a technological
marvel and the finest display I’ve ever tested. If you can’t quite justify an $8,000 investment, consider lessexpensive high-end Àat panels like the Samsung PNF8500 plasma. It doesn’t offer the perfect blacks of the 55EA9800, but it costs a third of the price and is one of the best screens you can pick up for less than a car. But if you are able to drop nearly five digits on an HDTV, you won’t be disappointed by the 55EA9800.



March 18, 2014

The Pebble Smartwatch

Without ever setting up shop at this year’s CES, Pebble stole the show with its boardroom-ready refresh: the Pebble Steel. Since the original Pebble’s launch, we’ve seen Àashy new entrants like the Samsung Galaxy Gear and Sony Smartwatch 2—brimming with features, but ultimately flwed as full-time wrist mates. The first Pebble succeeded by finding a nexus of features and simplicity that helped manage the digital deluge of everyday life. But the inaugural effort was not without its flws; it was particularly hampered by a chintzy plastic design that made it feel more techtoy than versatile daily driver. The Pebble Steel addresses those complaints in a big way by introducing a solid steel design, glass screen, and a much tighter build quality. Everything else, from the display to the processor, remains the same. The Steel may be a superficial update, but coupled with the new app store and growing selection of apps, the Pebble Steel shows just how far the former Kickstarter darling has come. It’s unquestionably the top smartwatch out there right now.

It turns out the Pebble cleans up quite nicely. The Steel takes the smartwatch from Galaxy Blah to Apple-esque levels of refinement, with a solid steel case (in either brushed or matte finishes), Gorilla Glass screen, and metal and leather wristband options. Our review unit came with a brushed steel finish and a supple, black leather band—I’m not much of a watch guy, but this thing looks sharp.

The Steel is noticeably heavier than its predecessor (1.97 ounces with leather wristband versus 1.34 ounces), but it’s physically smaller in every dimension (1.81 by 1.34 by 0.41 inches versus 2.05 by 1.42 by 0.45 inches). The 144-by-168-pixel e-paper display is identical, but the glass screen makes a big difference—clarity and contrast are noticeably better on the Steel. The metal case wraps around the screen, leaving a lip at the edges
that already started accumulating some dust during the course of our evaluation. Below the display is a new RGB LED that glows when charging, but can also be used by developers.

All four buttons are now metal and the three on the right side are packed closer together. Whereas the original Pebble’s buttons felt mushy and indistinct, the Steel’s have good travel and feedback. The magnetic charging contacts on the left side have been redesigned with a more subtle, two-point design, but that means cables for the original Pebble will not work. The Steel carries the same 5ATM waterproof rating, meaning it can be
submerged up to 165 feet and has been tested in both fresh and salt water, so you can shower or swim while wearing the watch.

When we first reviewed the Pebble, it was all about wireless notifications and fun watch faces. The software has since matured a great deal with the introduction of third-party apps, and with its revamped app store, Pebble is as much a software platform as it is a physical accessory. The firmware has been updated across all Pebble watches, and it feels a step faster and more responsive than the last time we used one. Notifications and menu navigation are instantaneous, though you’ll still deal with a few loading screens and some wonky app interactions. Though the software is still technically in beta, I didn’t notice any significant bugs or hiccups.

Our testing was limited to iOS (the Android version wasn’t ready yet), but we took a look at the new Pebble app and app store. Fire up the app and you’ll see a graphical dashboard that shows the apps and watch faces currently loaded onto your Pebble and the apps tied to your Pebble account. You can load up to eight apps or watch faces onto the Pebble Steel at one time; the rest are easily swappable from the app locker in the iOS app.

As of this writing, there are 246 apps and countless watch faces available for the Pebble. And it’s not just a ragtag group of half-baked apps anymore: Pebble has scored some big name partnerships, such as apps from Yelp and ESPN. The Yelp app has a nifty “discovery mode,” which pops up a nearby suggestion with a flick of the wrist. You can read snippets of reviews and find contact and location information, but it doesn’t indicate what type of food a restaurant specializes in. This very well could be by design—Pebble apps aren’t meant to replace their iOS or Android counterparts, but rather complement them with quick and easily accessible information. ESPN’s app puts the latest matchups, scores, and even TV listings on your wrist. Some other notable names include Foursquare, GoPro, and Pandora.

The app store is a bit buggier than the iOS app itself, but again, this is all still in beta. It often took multiple touches before anything would register, and some apps wouldn’t download to my locker without restarting the Pebble iOS app entirely. Navigation was painfully slow at times, too, but I expect these issues to be ironed out with time. There’s a big carousel up top that highlights notable releases, with the remaining apps broken down into categories such as games or fitness. There are no reviews of individual apps, but you can “love” an app and see how many “loves” it’s received. Strangely, the app store isn’t separated into Android or iOS versions—you have to click each app to see if it’s compatible with your OS of choice and if you’ll need a companion app or service for it to work.

The Pebble Steel is notable for what it is and what it is not. It’s a complete redesign that tastefully marries high tech with high-end looks. It’s not a me-too product that tries to pack in needless features just for the sake of features. Pebble runs on the strength of its simplicity and its growing ecosystem of apps—it’s a winning strategy, and not unlike Apple’s. With the Pebble Steel and the Pebble app store, the company now has a mature product to go along with a quickly maturing platform. Whether the style upgrades are worth the $100 premium over the original is really just a matter of personal taste.



November 11, 2013

Still the Best High-End All-in-One Desktop

Though it mainly means a speed bump, the inclusion of a processor from Intel’s latest fourth-generation Core family and Nvidia GeForce GTX 775M Kepler-based graphics makes a world of difference for the 27-inch Apple iMac. This newest iteration costs much less than previous iMacs, but it’s just as fast—if not faster—and boasts some compelling features. This is more than enough to make it our latest Editors’ Choice for highend all-in-one desktops.

The new iMac looks identical to last year’s: It’s still the new design, all aluminum and glass, tapering down to a width of about 5mm on all four edges around the beautiful low-glare, 2,560-by-1,440-resolution display. Apple achieved this by eliminating the built-in DVD SuperDrive and moving the SD (SDXC) card reader from the side to the back panel—inconvenient for users who simply want to transfer their pictures to from their camera to their iMac. In contrast, the previous high-end all-in-one Editors’ Choice Dell XPS 27 Touch All-in-One has a tray-loading DVD burner, the SD card reader, and a selection of ports on the side, and is therefore much thicker along the edge.

The base $1,999 model of 27-inch iMac comes with a 3.4GHz Intel Core i5-4670 processor; 8GB of memory; a 1TB (non-Fusion) hard drive; and 2,560-by-1,440 resolution, 27-inch screen. We tested an upgraded $2,199 model with a 1TB Fusion Drive, which pairs a 1TB 7,200rpm SATA hard drive with a 128GB PCIe flash storage unit (similar to a SSD). The flash storage stores OS X and any other system files all the time, while the OS monitors which apps and documents you use most often and automatically shifts those files to the faster flash and other files and programs to the spinning hard drive. In practice, this means that startups and application launches only take seconds, compared with up to a few minutes on older hard-drive-only systems. The Macintosh HD icon shows all the files on both physical drives, so you don’t have to remember if you saved your file to the flash or to the hard drive. You can also upgrade to a 3TB Fusion Drive, or even forgo the spinning hard drive altogether and configure an iMac with up to 1TB of pure flash storage.

As expected, the iMac still doesn’t offer much internal access for the end user. You can buy tools from sites like to get into the system, but as with the original Macintosh of mid-1980s vintage, the end user isn’t meant to open the iMac and perform upgrades. The only upgrade available is under a door on the back panel, which exposes a set of four SO-DIMM slots for upping the RAM to as much as 32GB. If you need internal expansion and want to stick with Apple, you’re best off waiting for the upcoming redesigned Mac Pro.

Like other Macs, the iMac comes preloaded with iPhoto, iTunes, Mail, etc. The iMac has a one-year warranty. One additional plus is that the iMac can work as a monitor for a future Thunderbolt-equipped Mac. Using one of the two Thunderbolt ports, the iMac’s monitor can display video for a MacBook, Mac mini, or other Mac system. (You will, however, need adapters to use DVI, VGA, or HDMI displays.) You can, of course, also use the Thunderbolt ports and the four USB 3.0 ports for hard drive and peripheral expansion.

Although the Intel processor used here can’t keep up with the Core i7 processors in the previously reviewed model and the Dell XPS 27 Touch on the CineBench test, it is more than a match for the other systems’ on multimedia benchmark tests such as Photoshop CS6 and Handbrake. Therefore, this iMac is, as you’d expect, a good choice for the graphics arts pro or  hobbyist. This is due partly to the new Intel architecture, and partly to the speedy Fusion Drive. Likewise, the iMac produced playable 3D gaming frame rates on the Heaven benchmark test, thanks to its enthusiast-level Nvidia GeForce GTX 775M graphics. Essentially, if the game is available on Steam or Apple’s App Store, you should have no trouble playing it on the iMac, even at the system’s native resolution.

We see again that the iMac is capable of leapfrogging the competition and regaining the top position in the all-in-one desktop arena. Its class-leading higher-than-HD-resolution screen, performance for the money, and features make it a winner on paper, and because it’s part of the Apple ecosystem it doesn’t need excessive third-party software. And when you’re done with work and ready to kick off your shoes, the iMac will give you a better playing experience, too.



November 09, 2013

The Best Ereader on the Market Just Got Better

By now, it’s pretty clear Amazon is betting big on ebooks—and not necessarily just for ebook readers, but for color tablets, smartphone apps, and browser-based reading as well. Nonetheless, for many folks, an ebook reader is still the best choice: distraction-free, easy to hold and use, and lasts for weeks on a single charge. Amazon’s newly updated Kindle Paperwhite is the best ebook reader we’ve tested, getting so much of the experience right in this sixth-generation model that it’s an obvious upgrade from any older ebook reader without edge lighting, and possibly even some with that feature.

On the surface, this Paperwhite looks very similar to last year’s version. It measures 6.7 by 4.6 by 0.36 inches (HWD) and weighs 7.3 ounces; the dimensions are the same, but it’s two-tenths of an ounce lighter. It’s still housed in a soft touch rubberized coating, though the old Kindle logo on the back panel has been switched out for the more recognizable Amazon logo. Otherwise, the bottom edge features the same micro USB charger port, status LED, and power button as before; there are no other hardware controls.

The 6-inch display delivers a reasonably sharp 212ppi and 16 levels of gray, and Amazon has tweaked contrast levels once again. But the real story is the upgraded edge lighting. Unlike last year’s model, you see no blooming along the bottom edge of the screen, and the light is just brighter this time around. Amazon also claims to have improved touch response by 19 percent.

The Paperwhite hooks into 802.11b/g/n networks, and a 3G cellular option is still available for a hefty $70 extra; that model weighs 7.6 ounces instead of 7.3. Charging is easy with the bundled micro USB cable, and takes about 4 hours—but there’s no included AC adapter. Amazon sells one for $19.99, as well as a $39.99 leather cover with a magnetic clasp that wakes up the device when you open it.

The Home button brings you to the home screen. A top row of icons contains Home, Back, Light, Cart, Search, and Menu buttons, the last of which drops down extra options for creating collections, syncing, and changing settings. You also can toggle between displaying all of your books in the cloud or just the ones on the device. The cover-based interface is easy to get the hang of, and you can flip back and forth between cover display and a list view. In typical Amazon fashion, along the bottom you’ll find suggestions for buying
additional books.

Once you select a book, you can start reading. The reading interface looks and works almost the same as on the previous version. Most of the right-hand side of the display acts as a giant page turn button, a small portionon the left steps back a page, and an inch-deep bar across the top brings up a two-row Menu bar. The first row contains the same icons as on the home page. Beneath the first row are buttons to adjust the font, go to a specific page, bring up X-Ray to get more information on a topic, Share to Facebook or Twitter, and Bookmark pages.

Aside from the much brighter display, the best thing about the new Paperwhite is how fast it is. Ordinary tasks such as loading books and turning pages feel much quicker, and make the old Paperwhite model seem oddly sluggish. Amazon also reduced the frequency of full-page screen refreshes, from once every six page turns to whenever an internal algorithm decides it’s necessary to preserve font sharpness.

Along the bottom of the interface is a new bar with Kindle Page Flip, which makes it much easier to scan through books using a slider near the bottom of the page. The large thumbnail preview of each page that appears as you go through is about as close to Àipping through a real book as you can get on a screen.

You can now navigate between multiple bookmarks in a book, again with preview thumbnails. Tapping on a footnote now shows you the actual footnote itself in a pop-up window. Tap on a word, and you get a single window with Dictionary, X-Ray, and Wikipedia tabs. The X-Ray tab is context sensitive; tap on the word “windows,” for example, and it can figure out if you mean for a house or for your Microsoft-powered PC. The context sensitivity doesn’t carry across to the Dictionary and Wikipedia tabs, though.

Other features: A new vocabulary builder tracks a history of words you’ve looked up, and offers to teach them to you with a flash card-style interface. Once you know a word, you can tap “Mark as Mastered” to remove it from the vocabulary builder. By the end of the year Amazon will also add Goodreads integration, now that it owns the company, and  indle FreeTime, which lets you create profiles for each of your kids, set reading  goals, track accomplishments and achievements, and lock out store and browser access.

Otherwise, the Kindle store remains chock full of suggestions, top lists, daily and monthly deals, and other discovery options. You can browse and buy any of more than 2.1 million books right from the device, easily subscribe to newspapers and magazines, and borrow from more than 180,000 books for free if you have a $79 Amazon Prime subscription. There are also smartphone and tablet apps for all major platforms, plus Cloud Reader, which lets you read from your book collection in a browser tab on a PC or Mac. Amazon’s ecosystem is the best in the business for book lovers.

In addition to the native Kindle protected formats AZW and AZW3, the Paperwhite supports PDF, MOBI, TXT, PRC, DOC, and DOCX files. Notably absent from the list, as usual, is EPUB, which limits your public library and Internet sharing options; this is still where Barnes and Noble and Kobo can pick up some buyers over Amazon. There’s 2GB of internal storage, with room for about 1,000 books; unfortunately, there’s no memory card slot, so you can’t sideload PDFs or other files easily. You can connect the Paperwhite as a USB mass storage device with a PC or Mac, so it’s not like you’re only stuck with Kindle Store downloads. There’s still no headphone jack or Audible support, which will also disappoint audiobook fans.

Finally, Amazon remains committed to “Special Offers.” Advertisements appear whenever you pick up the device and sometimes while browsing the interface, but never during reading. For $20 extra, you can disable these, either at the time of purchase or after the fact from within your Kindle account. I still don’t like them; although advertising is a fact of modern life, I don’t think our gadgets should be ad-subsidized themselves, and it artificially lowers the price of the Kindle next to other ebook readers.

Nonetheless, even at the higher $139 price without Special Offers, the new Kindle Paperwhite is an easy Editors’ Choice. It’s the best ebook reader on the market, and if the ads don’t bother you, go for the $119 version. I’m still hesitant to recommend the 3G option; it’s easier to use, because you don’t have to log onto Wi-Fi networks wherever you are in order to shop for new books or look up Wikipedia searches, but $189 puts you within striking distance of excellent color tablets like the Google Nexus 7 and Amazon’s own Kindle Fire HDX.


Source: PC Magazine November 2013