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Amazon Now Claiming Uneven Lighting on the Kindle Paperwhite is Now a Feature, Not a Bug

Do you know how you can tell a hardware defect is so common that fixing it would require recalling and junking the entire product line? It’s when the manufacturer starts claiming the defect is a feature.

Amazon posted a new info page for the Kindle Paperwhite last night. They have apparently gotten so many complaints the uneven  lighting, limited storage, and the lack of audio support that they felt compelled to explain their decisions. Here’s what Amazon said about the frontlight:

Under certain lighting conditions, the illumination at the bottom of the screen from the built-in light is not perfectly even. See examples of how the screen looks in different lighting conditions. These variations are normal and are located primarily in the margin where text is not present.

While I won’t bash Amazon about the storage and audio, clearly they are getting a lot of complaints about the frontlight.  Based on my experiences I can see why.

My Kindle Paperwhite arrived in the middle of last week, and like many new KPW owners I immediately turned on the frontlight and started seeing how well it worked in various lighting conditions.

Unlike the example photos which Amazon posted (at right), my unit has a frigging huge cone shadow across the bottom of the screen. It extends at least an inch and a half from the bottom of the screen and into the text.

I don’t care what Amazon says about how you’re not supposed to use the highest setting anyway, or how this is still an improvement over using an external light. The first is BS and the second is not true.

Folks, if you had an LCD screen which was visibly less bright in a certain section would you accept the manufacturer’s claim that it is supposed to be that way? I wouldn’t, and I don’t accept Amazon’s claim here.

I’m planning to return my KPW. If Amazon is going to claim that this is the best they can do then I’ll wait for the next generation. Or better yet, I’ll buy a competing device. Onyx, Kobo, and Bookeeen all have similar devices hitting the market soon.


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Mike Cane October 12, 2012 um 8:25 am

>>>Onyx, Kobo, and Bookeeen all have similar devices hitting the market soon.

And what makes you think none of them will suffer from the same "defect"?

Nate Hoffelder October 12, 2012 um 8:30 am

They might. If they do I will go on to the next. And if they all have the issue I will go back to a tablet.

Tyler October 12, 2012 um 10:35 pm

Check the You Tube Videos. Kobo looks more like the Nook Touch rather than Paperwhite. The difference is that they zapped the light from the bottom which gives it a better appearance but it doesn’t look even to me.

Lynne Connolly October 12, 2012 um 9:30 am

I’m reading almost exclusively now on my Google Nexus 7. I have Kindle, Kobo, Nook and a few independent readers on that, and I can turn the backlight right down. I never thought I’d be happy reading on a backlit screen, but they’ve improved the quality so much that it’s my preference. I also have a rooted Nook Color which is still going strong. I only use my Nook Touch in the bath and for long journeys these days.
Wonder if someone will be introducing a 7 inch Windows 8 tablet?

cookie October 12, 2012 um 10:01 am

I and million others experience uneven lighting when we attach clip on lights to our device to read in the dark. The point is with the glowlight you don’t have to clip on a light.

Brian October 12, 2012 um 10:14 am

I sent my PW back. Mine was pretty good for the first week, but then it started developing the multi-colored blotchiness on the screen that others have been reporting. I found it very distracting. I was also getting an 'under glass' effect when reading in certain lighting and at any kind of angle.

For now I’m back to my Kindle Touch and if I need to read in the dark I’ll use my Nexus 7. With the brightness turned down it’s quite pleasant to read on.

The Onyx & Bookeen devices interest me because you can have real folders on them (at least I think you can) for organizing a large number of books. My problem with Bookeen is they always seem to release devices that need 'something' in the firmware department and then go on to promise updates that never come. To the best of my knowledge there still hasn’t been an update for the Opus to allow something as simple as bookmarking pages.

burger flipper October 12, 2012 um 11:08 am

Any chance you’ll post some pics of your bad unit?

Greg October 12, 2012 um 11:29 am

I don’t think that the screen is flawed per say. I do think that Amazon misled people to cause us to believe it would be more than it is. It is still is a great reading experience and is the best eBook reader I’ve used (and I’ve used pretty much everything you can read a book on). If reading in the dark is important to you then this is the device to have. The front light is much better than alternatives like an external book light, an LCD tablet, or the Nook Glow (which I would have loved to like since it does ePub). I will keep my eyes on future devices including those that have been recently announced but this year I will be enjoying my Kindle PW.

bookseller October 12, 2012 um 12:34 pm

What about Nookglow? There have been no complaints on those.. I love my nookglow, and plan to get the Nook HD or HD + when it comes out in November. Barnes and Noble continues to be the bookstore that I go to.

Nate Hoffelder October 12, 2012 um 12:41 pm

Well, the Nook glow frontlight isn’t all that evenly distributed, either. And its frontlight is also not as sturdy as the Kindle Paperwhite.

Musicman October 12, 2012 um 1:30 pm

What’s your definition of Sturdy?

I have the Nook Glow for over 4 months with heavy use with no problems…

Nate Hoffelder October 12, 2012 um 1:33 pm

I droppd my keys on to the Nook Glow from a height of 4″. This damaged the frontlight. Similar tests with other ereaders and tablets didn’t break anything – not even on the KPW.

flyingtoastr October 12, 2012 um 1:49 pm

KPW are subject to the same issues. Anything that uses diffraction grafting is. If any kind of impact deforms the diffraction layer a small amount will cause the grooves to become unaligned and "spill" light.

Check the Kindle forums: there are people reporting the same issue.

Nate Hoffelder October 12, 2012 um 2:05 pm

No, there are people reporting manufacturing defects. The KPW isn’t as susceptible to impact damage as the Nook Glow. I tested this already (and so did Gizmodo).

flyingtoastr October 12, 2012 um 2:39 pm

One of my bosses bought a brand new Galaxy S III a week ago. Four days after that it slipped out of his pocket and the (super-resistant) gorilla glass screen shattered.

Does that mean gorilla glass isn’t break resistant? No (my own HOX has been in my pocket for months with my keys and doesn’t even have a single scratch on the screen). It means that statistical probabilities can be beaten.

Unless you’re willing to take the time and test hundreds of different devices in the exact same conditions over and over again (and you’re not) you can not make the unequivocal statement that the KPW is somehow magically less damage-prone than a NSTGL despite both having the same type of light-diffusion method with the same potential drawbacks.

You’re welcome to say that IN YOUR EXPERIENCE a KPW is more resilient in an everyday completely non-scientific comparison test. Just not a full stop.

KarlB October 12, 2012 um 1:56 pm

To be fair, they don’t say it’s a feature, they only say it’s "normal," which I guess is code for "that’s the best we could do, and it’s good enough, so quit your bellyaching."

Timothy Wilhoit October 12, 2012 um 6:54 pm

I notice some minor hotspots along the bottom edge of my KPW. I don’t have the cone-shaped shadow. I was always skeptical about the potential of front-lit eink readers, but I was well satisfied with this one.

Isles October 13, 2012 um 9:52 am

My Kindle Paperwhite also has a HUGE wavy light issue that extends approximately one inch into the text from the bottom of the display. The interesting thing is that the shadowing has seemed to improve with use, but that might just be my eyes adjusting to the light from day to day. The top of 3/4 of my display looks fantastic. The back is bright white, and the text is vivid and dark.

When Amazon released their press images for the PW, they gave customers a reason to expect a perfectly uniform display. Some have pointed out that we should know better in this Photoshop-generation, but here is my gripe: look at the Paperwhite that Jeff Bezos is using in his Amazon press conference video. It is a regular, un-Photoshopped unit, and it looks nearly flawless. It wasn’t the ad image screen I was expecting to see on my device, but the one Jeff Bezos was using in his KEYNOTE! Why shouldn’t we get a display of equal capability?

getchaos October 15, 2012 um 12:00 pm

I guess those are simply mass production issues.

A prototype device used for a press conference is usually built under perfect conditions that can still change when it hits the mass production factory. Look at the production issues Apple is facing with the iPhone 5.

… but it’s still not fair to "mislead" customers. One could argue that Amazon promotes the flawlessness of the devices lighting but it is really not flawless at all.

I have to wait until the KPW is available in Germany at the end of November but i’d be happy just to be able to read under difficult lighting situations (bed or the train in wintertime). At least now i can dial down my expectations 😉

Joshua Ford November 30, 2012 um 1:29 pm

The uneven lighting on the paperwhite was no doubt the first thing i noticed. The whole point of having a backlit screen is to allow reading in the dark, which sadly is when the uneven lighting shows its ugly face. It does become rather annoying but for me it is the manageable kind; i do enjoy not having to turn on a light to read anymore and i can sit outside at night and read which is very nice. I do like the point you made, "if you had an LCD screen which was visibly less bright in a certain section would you accept the manufacturer’s claim that it is supposed to be that way?". That is spot on and the perfect way to look at this. Sadly for us the consumer, amazon obviously sees that enough people, like myself, will just shrug and agree that it is indeed better to an uneven lit screen then no light at all. So i applaud you for not settling and sending it back. Amazons answer to the complaints claiming it is a "feature" is quite insulting. Come to think of it i just say send it back…

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