In a nutshell: Amazon customer services stated that webmail sites can be used over 3G, which they can't, pissing all over the Trade Descriptions Act. The Paperwhite is quite heavy and the backlight an awkward compromise.
Before we get onto pesky UK consumer protection legislation, let's go from the top: what's the Paperwhite like out of the box?
The first impression was that the backlight is poor at the high level it's initially set to, giving a washed-out result and uneven lighting from the bottom of the screen up — similar to a dying TFT monitor. I was expecting this. What really annoys is that you don't seem able to decrease it without first going through a long setup process; on first switching on, you can't proceed without signing into or creating an Amazon account.
You can, thankfully, get through this without adding a payment method. It's not a great idea to leave mobile devices set up for or signed into accounts that can access cards.
Following this, there's a "press buttons and be led through features" powerpoint-style walkthrough that doesn't seem to be skippable, rather than letting you read the quick start manual and welcome note from the CEO if you feel like it. This only has to be done once.
When you do get as far as being able to control the device, leaving the light on about 10 provides a fairly balanced contrast boost without appearing backlit under normal lighting. Even on minimum brightness, with lights out the illumination is quite visible... but in a lit room, there's not really any smear of flattened LED to be seen. Compared to readers with no backlight at all, the screen looks a little like newsprint on top of semi-transluscent silicone; it's not a true black but isn't bad. The light may come in handy for reading on the go, but it's disappointing it can't be disabled... although I'm sure someone could probably hack it given time.
There are some things to like. The refresh time and touchscreen are better than the Sony PRS-350 I'm used to (although it's a lot heavier) and the slight ghosting effect from not refreshing on every page "turn" actually makes the screen look more like paper... although on balance I think I'd prefer consistency and the refreshes would be less noticeable without the backlight. Being able to tap rather than press buttons is a big plus, but swiping also works. The layout of touch zones on the screen is sensible, although it would have been nice to be able to always show the battery level. I like the ethos of Kindle titles being easily able to override fonts, and quite a few are provided. It makes it very easy to turn the size up a bit, settle the device at arm's length on something solid and read by reflected light.
Sadly, moving on, I came to the thing I'd intended to buy the Paperwhite for (if not this one, a second): the 3G, and being able to occasionally check email. It was at this point I realised I'd been outright lied to by a customer service operative. Before buying, and having seen a few differing claims about use of 3G on Kindles across the web, I'd made sure to ask about being able to check webmail using 3G. The response was:
I can see that you've written to us with 2 questions regarding Kindle paperwhite. I hope to provide a thorough answer to each of your questions below.
1. You would like to know about acceptable 3G policy for Kindle Paperwhite.
I would like to inform that there is a no fair usage policy if you are within UK.
You can access Wikepedia, Webmail and all other sites without any restrictions and there is no restriction for usage of 3G.
However if you are using 3G in international locations other than in UK we have a usage policy.
A limit of 50MB per calendar month has been placed on the experimental browser consumption
The limit does not apply to:
Customers using the experimental browser within their specified country of residence
Using the Experimental Browser over a Wi-Fi connection
Once the 50MB allowance has been exceeded, you will be notified by a message on the device that they are over our policy limit.
You will be provided one additional day of unlimited browsing before the limit takes effect.
2. Can the black light be completely turned off.
I would like to inform you that the black light can't be completely turned off when the Kindle is ON.
However you can completely decrease the brightness.
The broken English should have been a warning. When you try to use any of the bookmarks Amazon have provided other than Amazon and Wikipedia, including Gmail, Yahoo, Facebook, BBC, Google and the Daily Mail (wonder how much they paid for that?) you get a pop-up with "Web Browser required a Wi-Fi connection."
Conversation with Amazon's helpdesk established that the trade description given was materially false. It also established that the Kindle Keyboard 3G can still access webmail over 3G — which is backed up by http://www.mobileread.com/forums/showthread.php?t=190723 — but I don't think it would be a particularly good idea to trust Amazon any further on this score.
The company's response was to suggest a return and refund, which they first tried to get me to do through Yodel. Yodel were previously Home Delivery Network and have attracted terrible customer feedmark urging Amazon and others to drop them. They were unable to give a time for collection, so Amazon was suggesting that I give up a day of the weekend to wait in and sort out their disregard for UK law — although having seen other people's experiences, there was every chance the courier might not show up at all. After a slightly more sharply worded email exchange, I sent it back special delivery and was refunded the postage.
It's now the end of December and I still haven't received additional information promised by Amazon customer support, which I suppose is par for the course.