The Kindle Paperwhite's Uneven Lighting

Dave Zatz —  October 4, 2012


I’ve spent significant time with a wide array of e-reading devices over the years and was pretty stoked to see Amazon take on the Nook Simple Touch Glowlight with the new front-lit Kindle Paperwhite ($119 and up). Unfortunately, while the display bests B&N’s offering, it doesn’t live up to Amazon’s marketing hype (or imagery). From Amazon’s product page:

Perfectly Balanced Whiteness
We worked on Kindle Paperwhite for over two years to perfect the uniformity of the built-in light, flattening out a fiber optic cable into a sheet, and nanoimprinting to ensure perfectly even distribution of light. Our design uses nanoscale optical diffractive patterns to enable tight control over the direction of the light. Enjoy reading with exceptional lighting uniformity and evenly balanced whiteness across the entire display.

Even though I’ve only possessed my new Kindle a few short hours, it’s clear that Amazon’s claims of “perfectly balanced,” “uniformity,” and “even distribution” are overblown. Unless I, and several other customers, received units from a bad lot (which I kinda doubt). Light appears to emanate from four points at the bottom of the screen — these elements are not visible during normal reading, and only seen when inspecting the Paperwhite at a severe angle. However, proof of their existence is clear via darker smudges and some sort of crosshatch pattern covering the lower inch or so of the Kindle. Which is definitely noticeable, and currently distracting, while reading.

kindle-paperwhite-ledsIronically, perhaps, this uneven presentation is most apparent in low light situations – when one would most appreciate e-Ink lighting. But is it a deal breaker? For me… the integrated light, despite its shortcomings and misrepresentation, beats returning to my oh-so-geeky LED headlamp for bedtime reading. And I’m hopeful I’ll grow accustomed to the splotches and tune them out as I do the notorious e-Ink page turn flash.

22 responses to The Kindle Paperwhite's Uneven Lighting

  1. Interestingly, as far as I can tell, there’s no way to completely turn off the Paperwhite light. Not that you’d want to.

    Also, fyi, my Paperwhite was ordered and shipped before I read any of the reviews – so Amazon’s marketing materials are primarily what I and most others had to go on… and their renderings don’t look much like my photographs.

    I still prefer B&N’s Nook Simple Touch ergonomics with sculpted rear and what feels like a slightly wider bezel to hang onto. But Amazon’s got the better ecosystem – which includes my Prime membership. Also, the new Paperwhite touchscreen responsiveness blows prior e-reader touchscreens out of the water.

    Also, my original plan had been to retire from e-readers altogether and stick with a tablet or larger phone. But, as it turns out, there’s no many distractions vying for my attention on those devices. A dedicated e-reader providers a much more relaxing experience.

  2. While I can see the four lit areas if I hold it nearly perpendicular to my eyes I would NEVER actually read at this angle. The lighting is not as even as their marketing leads you to believe, but mine doesn’t appear as shadowed as your photo shows. It’s the best implementation I have seen with lighting and the fonts look great to go along with it.

    I can turn my backlight down to 0 and that appears to turn the lights completely off just like my Kindle Touch.

  3. “For me… the integrated light, despite its shortcomings and misrepresentation, beats returning to my oh-so-geeky LED headlamp for bedtime reading.”

    You were doing it wrong. The proper way to handle things is to fully light the room and gently place duct tape over your significant other’s eyes.

  4. Mine is also shadowed, similar to yours. My wife noticed it immediately and pointed it out to me (I hadn’t really noticed at first). Not sure if some units are worse than others as Matthew implies or if they’re all like ours. I do agree that the touchscreen is great though.

  5. I have a paperwhite also and can’t notice the blotchy areas unless I’m in a dim room with the light turned up high enough to be annoying. In normal usage, it is completely unnoticeable.

    I guess if you mostly read in a pitch-black bedroom lying next to your spouse it would be even more noticeable… but I don’t do that.

  6. Nitin Dahyabhai October 4, 2012 at 2:36 pm

    For me it’s most noticeable when the brightness is at its maximum, but it does seem that you can turn the light all the way off. It has to when it’s “sleeping”, after all.

  7. Rodalpho, I do frequently read in a dim room while my wife is watching TV. We had the overhead hallway light on and a 42″ TV in the bedroom. So it was dim but not super dark and the Paperwhite brightness was probably half way. I’ll take another look tonight and get the number/level – no way was it max and for me this would be “normal usage.”

    Regarding the light turning off, Matt and Nitin, you can’t manually turn if off… when pushing the slider to zero, I still see a faint glow and the four LEDs (when I tilt the reader). Try it in a dark room and you’ll see. But turning the Kindle off, obviously kills the light. Again, this doesn’t matter – just an interesting observation.

  8. I think you probably like more light than I do. In a dim room I’d have the light set to 5 or 6.

  9. Same issue here, and it is quite noticeable. Not sure what you mean about angles, because the only way I do not see the splotches of light and dark is when it is turned at an angle too severe to read. When I am reading and looking directly at the screen it is very noticeable. I was thinking of sending it back because given Amazon’s description I thought it was defective. Apparently that is just how the come?

  10. Nathan, I’m referring to viewing the 4 LEDs under the bezel via angling the reader. The splotchiness is there while reading normally.

    Rodalpho, was reading last night with the overhead hallway light out and 42″ TV on with the Paperwhite set to 5-8 (out of 24 steps) in brightness and it looked pretty much as it does in the pictures above.

  11. Maybe some devices are worse than others? I took pictures of my kindle in a dimly lit room at both low and max brightness. At max, the blotchiness is visible but (IMO) not terrible. At 6, it’s really difficult to see.

  12. @Rodalpho: I looked at your photo, and all I can say is that I WISH mine was as evenly lit as yours is! Mine is a complete mess, with light and dark patches in pink and green all over the display. Really dreadful. See:

  13. Dave, I didn’t see that your Twitter reply had a link earlier. So just got here. Yours looks pretty even but does it really have sort of a light greenish tint? Or is that camera white balance misinterpreting and indoor lighting exaggerating it? At the event, my camera interpreted, in its exposure of a subject that is light coming at it, the screen as blue-ish at first when I was doing video and then adjusted to the ivory color I saw in person.

    The bottom unevenness in that half-inch area in the dark is normal. There are now many videos at Youtube that show screens looking like the ads and then there are also those of ones that definitely don’t.

    Re bad batches, I do believe it, because at Mobileread forums they can post pictures, and two in particular have received replacements that are much better than the original ones received.

    Some have discolorations like Trospero’s but after a couple of days they disappeared. The prismatic effects seem to have something to do with temperature and adjusting to the environment. But there were a couple of them on which the discolorations stayed.

    There’s also a theory about the materials used for binding (like glue) and, as in other electronic devices, problems like these tended to go away after some time out of the box. If I had one like Trospero’s and it didn’t improve, I’d be calling Amazon and asking for a replacement.

    Staples may have these in, and you can also check yours against those. The 10 or so I saw looked normal, but I saw them only in good light indoors although people had the settings up and down quite a bit, so that wasn’t controlled.

    In the dark, it’s better to have the light lower…

  14. The dark splotches at the bottom on mine (and two others I’ve seen) are extremely noticeable and completely distracting while reading.

    On top of that, the light has a harsh blue cast so it’s definitely not “paper white”. The combination really makes me want to return it, but I do like the touch interface and size better than my old Kindle 3G.

  15. If you find them distracting, contact amazon and ask for a replacement. I’m sure they’ll be happy to help, kindle customer service is excellent.

    @Prospero: If your device really has that giant green splotch right in the center and it’s not an artifact of the camera, definitely return it! That looks awful.

  16. @Trospero, holy crap that is really bad. I just got my PW today at BestBuy and had to exchange it because the display was ever so slightly skewed/offset.
    The replacement I have now in front of me is closer to Rodalpho’s with only a very faint hint of pink and blue hues near the top. So … I’m good with it.

    The one you got is a disaster. No doubt, exchange it.

  17. “If Amazon continues to use FedEx+USPS SmartPost, I’m canceling Prime. It rarely arrives on time, if at all or without fees.”

    (First recent Amazon post I could find.)

    FWIW, when I had trouble with a particular Prime delivery method, I diligently and politely worked my way up the Amazon email customer service chain of command until I had someone in Seattle, explaining that I bought a lot of stuff, but would cancel Prime and seek other vendors if the last-mile problem didn’t get solved.

    Within a couple of weeks, my goodies started coming via a different and much more reliable last-mile contractor.

    Now, that could just be because I don’t live out in the wilderness and Amazon had some easy options. But I remain very happy my experiences with Amazon email customer support, and suggest it may be worth the effort of a try even for folks living out in the deep dark woods.

  18. My wife has been using Amazon’s newer online package delivery rating to blast the courier (LaserShip?) and this is our second late delivery by Amazon using SmartPost. She called in and was given a $5 credit. Guess we’ll call each time they’re late until they find a carrier that works.

    Speaking of shipping woes, UPS has help my new Warby Parker glasses in PA since Wednesday due to the hurricane.

    Another shipping story – Vizio shipped the Costar gTV via Smart Post. Took a long time to get here and USPS wanted $5 or $6 since I moved and they had to forward the device. I told them bill FedEx or Vizio and refused to pay. I also suggested they deliver it to the address i specified (as the concierge would have held it for me). Vizio wouldn’t send a new one or refund me until it was returned by the carrier, and they advised to not accept shipment. Then the USPS lost it. Fortunately, AmEx set it all straight. Fun times.

  19. “Guess we’ll call each time they’re late until they find a carrier that works.”

    They really do want to make their Prime customers happy. And the way they’re willing to do enough to make that happen is part of why they don’t make big profits.

    So you’ve just got to keep letting ’em know…

    “Speaking of shipping woes, UPS has help my new Warby Parker glasses in PA since Wednesday due to the hurricane.”

    My heart bleeds copiously. That’s far worse than the 96 hours we spent being in a frozen zone where generators and cars weren’t an option. Perhaps we can stop recovering and re-stocking, rent a Zipcar, drive to PA, and then directly ferry your glasses to you in Loudoun. Always willing to help out those who had a worse hurricane experience than we did.

    Also, Loudoun has the highest median income of any county in the nation. Who knew? Not me.

    Also, also, don’t let the extreme hardship of not having your new glasses prevent you from voting. It’s a genuine swing state, y’know. Hassle your friends into doing so too. It’s worth being a minor pain in the ass to your peeps once every four years…

  20. I’m from Florida and quite familiar with the devastating effects of hurricanes, including flying down to rescue my mom in 2005 when Wilma tore the roof off her apartment and launched those very same Spanish ceramic tiles through her car. Both of which were declared unfit for human habitation. It was an awful few months. But that doesn’t explain why UPS would willingly route my glasses into a hub taken offline or negatively impacted by bad weather.

    Regarding the vote, my wife and I took care of it Friday night. 90 minutes in line, much of which we were not allowed to use electronic devices… which is also apparently why we were provided scantron ballots. The whole process is quite archaic, but we did our civic duty. Also, regarding the vote, I had SAY Media prohibit the other guy (and his church) from running ads here. That’s not why we run this blog.

  21. “I’m fron Florida and quite familiar with the devastating effects of hurricanes, including flying down to rescue my mom in 2005 when Wilma tore the roof off her apartment”

    Ugh and double ugh. Based on my stated willingness to help out those who had a worse hurricane experience than we did, I’d be happy to come down to pitch in if you’ll loan me your Logitech time machine.

    But in Florida it’s at least an semi-expected horrible event. Manhattan is supposed to be invulnerable to everything but radioactive devices. Hurricanes? I figured ConEd wouldn’t go down at all on the Main Island except waaay down at the bottom tip.


    “The whole process is quite archaic, but we did our civic duty.”

    Hell, voting in a genuine swing state in a close Presidential election should be actually fun. It’s not often your vote can seem like something big.

    I was in a smaller-than-VA swing state in ’00, and that was the most fun I ever had voting. I knew it was going to be within a few thousand votes either way, as it indeed turned out to be, so I actually felt real power in the booth.

    “I had SAY Media prohibit the other guy (and his church) from running ads here. That’s not why we run this blog.”

    Don’t hint the results of your secret ballot! That’s not why you run this blog.

    I always dig trying to figure out who to push to GOTV based solely on the demographic profile. The D’s won Loudoun by a bit better margin than all of VA in ’08, which means they won Eastern Loudoun pretty big to offset Western Loudoun. Which means that they won among educated, recent-influx Eastern Loudoun voters damn big to offset the long-timers there. Add it all together, and you’re already a very good prospect for my side to push to GOTV. But then we add into the mix the Tribe affiliation, and that moves you from a very good prospect to an outstanding prospect to get to the polls…

  22. Back on topic, I ended up returning the Kindle Paperwhite. The uneven lighting was too much of a distraction. I’ll wait for v2. Or use a larger phone.