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Amazon Kindle Paperwhite 2021 with the screen showing a book, on a table, next to a cup of coffee and plant, version 2
Rita El Khoury / Android Authority
aa2020 editors choice

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (2021) review: USB-C is only half the story

Come for the USB-C charging, stay for the other quality-of-life improvements.
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Published onMarch 23, 2023

aa2020 editors choice

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (2021)

The Kindle Paperwhite (2021) is one of Amazon's best Kindles yet. It's the first one to offer USB-C charging, and it gets the 2019 Oasis' display warmth temperature and faster processor. However, these updates come with a slight price increase. You'll even have to shell out $50 more if you want wireless charging and auto-brightness adjustment.

What we like

All-around faster performance than Paperwhite 4
Convenient USB-C charging
Larger display in a similar footprint
Adjustable display light warmth

What we don't like

Accidental touches due to smaller bezels
Higher base price and expensive Signature model
Auto-brightness and wireless charging cost extra
aa2020 editors choice

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (2021)

The Kindle Paperwhite (2021) is one of Amazon's best Kindles yet. It's the first one to offer USB-C charging, and it gets the 2019 Oasis' display warmth temperature and faster processor. However, these updates come with a slight price increase. You'll even have to shell out $50 more if you want wireless charging and auto-brightness adjustment.

When we talk about e-readers, Amazon’s Kindle portfolio is the first thing to spring to mind. For many avid bookworms, Kindles have become synonymous with digital reading, thanks to their clear e-ink displays and ability to hold thousands of books in one small, portable form factor. The latest in the lineup is the Kindle Paperwhite (2021), which fits right between the basic Kindle and Oasis or Scribe. But is it still one of the best e-readers out there? Let’s find out in Android Authority’s Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (2021) review.

About this Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (2021) review: I tested the Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (2021) over a period of eight weeks and kept using it for more than a year. The unit was bought by Android Authority for this review.

What you need to know about the Kindle Paperwhite (2021)

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite 2021 with the screen showing a book cover, on a table, next to a cup of coffee
Rita El Khoury / Android Authority
  • Amazon Kindle Paperwhite 2021 (8GB, with ads): $139.99 / €129.99-139.99 / £129.99
  • Amazon Kindle Paperwhite 2021 (8GB, without ads): $159.99 / €149.99 / £139.99 / Rs. 13,999
  • Amazon Kindle Paperwhite 2021 Signature Edition (32GB, without ads): $189.99 / €189.99 / £179.99 / Rs. 13,999

Like its predecessors, the Kindle Paperwhite, now in its fifth generation, occupies the “mid-range” slot in Amazon’s e-reader lineup. It packs several improvements, though, to differentiate it further from the basic 2022 Kindle. It also shares several common features with the more expensive 2019 Kindle Oasis and 2022 Scribe but in a more portable form factor.

Namely, it now offers a larger 6.8-inch display at the same 300ppi resolution as the previous Paperwhite model (a.k.a. the Paperwhite 4), but with smaller bezels. The front light is powered by 17 LEDs, up from five on the previous model, which can be adjusted from cold to warmer temperatures. It also sports an upgraded processor, which delivers faster all-around performance.

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite 2021 focus on USB-C port and power button
Rita El Khoury / Android Authority

After releasing more than twenty different e-readers with micro-USB charging, Amazon is finally giving us USB-C ports by default on all recent Kindles. There’s Qi wireless charging too, though you will have to put down an extra $50 to get the Signature Edition Paperwhite if you want the feature. That premium price also gives you 32GB of storage, instead of 8GB, as well as a light sensor that adjusts the brightness automatically.

Besides these changes, this is the same Kindle Paperwhite you know and love. It lets you access Amazon’s extensive library and carry all your books in your pocket. The e-ink panel is as close as you can get to a paper book; it’s crisp and perfectly legible indoors and outdoors. Waterproofing and Bluetooth connectivity for Audible audiobooks top up the spec sheet.

It all depends on what you want to read. You can find free and royalty-free e-books online and download them directly on your Kindle or add them to your Amazon library. But if you want to read more modern books, you may have to pay for them, either on the Amazon Kindle Store or directly to the publisher/author. Some new books may be available for free or discounted temporarily, but you’ll have to dig to find them.

In general, you don’t need to subscribe and pay a monthly fee to read books on the Kindle. But if you want unlimited access to books, you have two options. Amazon Prime subscribers get access to some paid books for free, but there’s a separate Amazon Kindle Unlimited subscription for $9.99 a month that gives you access to millions of paid e-books and thousands of audiobooks.

The reader is obviously available on Amazon, but you can also find it at Target, Best Buy, Staples, and Newegg. Although only a black option was offered at launch, you can now also find the Kindle Paperwhite in “agave” green and “denim,” but you’ll have to splurge for the 16GB version.

What’s the difference between the Kindle (2022) and Kindle Paperwhite (2021)?

The differences between the base Kindle and Kindle Paperwhite keep dwindling with each generation of these e-readers. Both of them have a backlit, high-resolution 300ppi display, USB-C charging, and Bluetooth for audiobooks. But there are still a few key specs that keep the Kindle as the low-end model and give the Paperwhite the upper hand, namely:

  • The Kindle (2022) has a 6-inch display with only four cool LED lights, whereas the Kindle Paperwhite (2021) has a larger 6.8-inch display with 17 LEDs that can be adjusted between cool and warm temperatures.
  • The base Kindle still has the older design with the beveled bezels and no water resistance, whereas the Paperwhite has a modern flush design and an IPX8 rating. It’s nicer to hold, accumulates less dust in the space between the bezel and display, and is better suited to a beach vacation or rainy weather.
  • Amazon offers the regular Kindle with 16GB of base storage. The Paperwhite starts at 8GB, which is enough to store thousands of e-books, but you can get it with 16GB of storage too, or upgrade to the Signature Edition if you want 32GB for more onboard books and audiobooks.
  • The Kindle (2022) is available in black or “denim” blue colors. For the Paperwhite (2021), the 8GB version is only offered in black, but the 16GB and 32GB Signature Edition can be bought in black, “denim” blue, or “agave” green.

What’s good?

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite 2021 with the screen showing the display warmth temperature settings
Rita El Khoury / Android Authority

Of course, the highlight feature of this new Kindle is USB-C charging coupled with longer battery life. I read two books on my unit in the span of two weeks and the battery was still at 67%, so charging will be the last thing on your mind when you’re using it. Better yet, when you need to top it up, you can use the same cable as your phone (as long as you don’t have an iPhone!). This has allowed me to remove the micro-USB cables from my bedside table and travel bag, as my older Kindle was the only holdout gadget still needing them.

The Kindle Paperwhite experience keeps getting closer and closer to a physical pocketbook.

The larger display is nice to have too. Amazon didn’t sacrifice portability to achieve it, and I didn’t notice any major differences in size or heft when holding the new Paperwhite. Overall, the bezels are easier to ignore, there’s more text on the screen, and the experience keeps getting closer and closer to a physical pocketbook.

All the extra LED lights don’t result in any brightness enhancement, but they do let you manually or automatically set the color temperature of the display. If you like reading at night, you’ll enjoy the warmer tones after sunset. Kindles only emit a negligible amount of blue light, so this setting isn’t about that as much as it is about comfort. Warm light looks less harsh in the dark, and cold light is better suited for well-lit environments.

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite 2021 next to Paperwhite 2015, laying on a table, showing a book
Rita El Khoury / Android Authority

When I first started using the new Paperwhite, what blew me away was how fast it felt compared to the 2015 model (a.k.a. the Paperwhite 3, pictured above) I’ve been reading on for years. Amazon says there’s a 20% increase in page-turn speed versus its direct predecessor, the 2018 Paperwhite, which is powered by the same CPU as my 2015 unit. I don’t have the 2018 release to do a direct comparison, but what I can tell you is that everything happens in half the time compared to my slightly older Kindle.

What blew me away was how fast it felt compared to the 2015 Paperwhite I've been reading on for years.

Waking up the display from sleep, opening and closing books, scrolling through the library, changing settings and accessing menus, turning pages — everything was considerably faster. About twice as fast, I’d say. It almost made me forget that this is an e-ink display that needs a while to refresh and redraw every page. Almost.

What’s not so good?

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite 2021 with the screen showing recommended books
Rita El Khoury / Android Authority

It’s tough to find anything substantially wrong with the Kindle Paperwhite (2021). But if I wanted to get really picky, I’d say I’ve noticed a few more accidental touches and page turns compared to my older Kindle. They’re caused by the smaller bezels and the fact that my thumb doesn’t have enough space to rest on the side of the display.

It's tough to find anything substantially wrong with this Paperwhite.

The power button on the bottom is also less resistant, and it sits right where my pinky usually rests when holding the Paperwhite, resulting in unintentional screen locks while reading. Both incidents are rare enough that I wouldn’t call them dealbreakers, but they do make me envious of the Oasis’ ergonomic design.

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite 2021 focus on Amazon logo on the back
Rita El Khoury / Android Authority

Amazon is still using the same rubberized plastic finish on the back of the Paperwhite, which easily attracts greasy fingerprints and smudges. Even drops of water leave a trace there. A wet wipe is the only half-decent way to clean it that I’ve found, so I’d recommend getting a case if you don’t like blotchy gadgets.

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite 2021 side shot propped on Anker MagGo 622 power bank
Rita El Khoury / Android Authority

Minor annoyances aside, perhaps the biggest downside of this new Paperwhite is its price. Amazon has raised the base ad-supported 8GB version’s price by $10, and is locking some extra features behind a hefty $50 premium on top of that. Both wireless charging and automatic brightness adjustment are only available on the Signature Edition, which goes up to $189.99. That gets dangerously close to Kindle Oasis territory, without that device’s ergonomic design or page turn buttons.

Kindle Paperwhite (2021) review: Should I buy it?

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite 2021 with the screen in dark mode showing a book, on a table, next to a cup of coffee and plant
Rita El Khoury / Android Authority

The Kindle Paperwhite (2021) is one of the best, if not the best, e-readers on the market now. It’s light and portable, it’s packed with nice improvements, and it remains as enjoyable to use as ever. Reading on it is miles better than a tablet or phone, and arguably better than grabbing a regular ol’ book. You can turn on the brightness at night, store more books than you’ll ever be able to read, and adjust every single formatting setting to make sure the text is perfectly legible for your eyes.

The Kindle Paperwhite (2021) is one of the best, if not the best, e-readers on the market now

The only hurdle to entry is price. If this is your first e-reader and you’re on a tight budget, the basic 2022 Kindle ($99.99 at Amazon) is still excellent value for money. The difference between the two is minimal nowadays, but you still lose the IPX8 water-resistance rating, adjustable warm light, more powerfully-lit display, and more modern flush display-bezel design.

So provided you have a bit more cash leeway or you want to upgrade from an older Kindle, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better option than the Paperwhite lineup. The 2018 version can still be found refurbished online ($109.99), but I’d say it’s worth splurging and getting the new one. Faster performance, display warmth, and USB-C charging are all excellent quality-of-life improvements and are worth the extra $20.

The Signature Edition, though, is quite overpriced for what it is. If you’re considering it, you should probably also look at the Oasis ($249 at Amazon). It’s sometimes discounted to around $200, and at that price, it’s a very close call. Sure, you lose USB-C and auto-brightness, but those might be worth the small hassle for the more ergonomic reading experience.

And if you have more money to splurge on the latest and greatest, then you should probably look at the new Kindle Scribe ($339.99 at Amazon). For nearly three times the price of the Paperwhite, you get a larger display that’s better suited for documents, magazines, and comics, plus a stylus for sketching, note-taking, and PDF annotation. It’s an entirely different beast, but it’s better suited for students and professionals who often deal with documents and study books.

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (2021)Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (2021)
AA Editors Choice
Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (2021)
All-around faster performance than Paperwhite 4 • Convenient USB-C charging • Larger display in a similar footprint
Come for the USB-C charging, stay for the other quality-of-life improvements.
The Kindle Paperwhite (2021) is one of Amazon's best Kindles yet. It's the first one to offer USB-C charging, and it gets the 2019 Oasis' display warmth temperature and faster processor.

Top Kindle Paperwhite (2021) questions and answers

The Kindle Paperwhite (2021) is also known as the Kindle Paperwhite 5 (it’s the fifth model in this lineup) or the 11th generation Kindle Paperwhite (all Kindle lineups and generations included).

The base Kindle Paperwhite (2021) has 8GB of storage and comes in both ad-supported and ad-free versions. The Signature Edition has 32GB of storage, doesn’t show ads, supports wireless charging, and has a light sensor for automatic brightness adjustment.

Yes, it is IPX8-rated against accidental immersion in up to two meters of fresh water for up to 60 minutes. It can also handle up to 0.25 meters of seawater for up to three minutes.

No. It only supports Wi-Fi — and Bluetooth for Audible listening.

No. This feature is only available on the Oasis lineup for now.

It’s only available in black for now.

According to Amazon, it can last up to 10 weeks with half an hour of daily reading at medium brightness and with wireless turned off.

Amazon says that it takes 2.5 hours to fully top it up when using a 9W wall charger.

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