By Jason Snell
May 3, 2016 11:48 AM PT
Kindle Oasis Review
I’ve bought the flagship Amazon Kindle for just about every generation of the device. Yes, I have a bit of an addiction, but I’ve found plenty of takers in my extended family for hand-me-down Kindles, and I love ebook readers so much that I’m always excited to use the latest and greatest version of the technology.
Without belaboring the point, I love ebook readers specifically because they are not phones or tablets. They’re unitaskers that are great at letting me read text on a page, without push notifications or the ability to flip over to Twitter for a minute, with almost no glare in the brightest light and a lighting scheme that’s much easier on my eyes when I’m reading with the lights off. Ebook readers aren’t for everyone, but if you’re a heavy reader with room in your bag (or by your nightstand) for another device, they’re worth it.
With the Kindle Oasis, Amazon raises the bar on what a premium ebook reader can be. The company tried this last year with the Kindle Voyage, with mixed results. The Voyage is better than the Paperwhite (owing to a haptic page-turn control on the bezel, a light sensor for automated brightness adjustment, and a completely flat face rather than the screen being recessed below the bezel), but I’m not sure those changes were enough to justify the price difference between the two products.
The Oasis, on the other hand, is miles above the Paperwhite and Voyage. It weighs 4.6 ounces and is 5.6 by 4.8 inches, with a grabbable edge that’s .33 inches thick, with the rest of the device being only .13 inches thick. This is a compact, thin, light device that’s a delight to hold. It fulfills one of the design ambitions Amazon has always had for the Kindle, which is for the device to disappear, leaving nothing between you and the book you’re reading. Holding the Kindle Oasis in one hand for an extended period of time is easy, because it’s so light.
The key to the Oasis design is that it’s asymmetrical. One edge has a larger bezel, physical page-turn buttons (yes!!!), and is thicker than the rest of the device. This is the edge you hold in your hand, and I found that my thumb naturally came to rest right on the lower page-turn button. (You can toggle the behavior of these buttons, so no matter your grip, you’ll be able to turn pages on the Kindle Oasis easily, and if you prefer gripping with the other hand, just flip the Kindle over so that the wide bezel is on the other side—the screen automatically rotates.) Beyond the one edge, though, the Oasis is practically not there. It’s an ultrathin slab with very little bezel.
Shaving three ounces off of the Paperwhite’s weight does have an effect, though: In my limited use, the naked Oasis has much worse battery life than its predecessors. Not enough to make you afraid to take it to the beach, but I only needed to charge my Paperwhite or Voyage once a week, or even less. The Oasis, by itself, seems to need a recharge every couple of days.
This is probably why you can’t buy the Oasis by itself. Instead, Amazon bundles the Oasis with a leather battery case. This would seem to explain the Oasis’s high price—you’re not just buying the reader but a mandatory accessory—and as someone who generally eschewed a case for my Kindle, I was kind of bummed out that it was a requirement of the Oasis.
Now that I’ve used it, though, I’ve changed my tune. First off, having seen the battery life of the Oasis, it makes perfect sense that Amazon would want Oasis owners to have a case that extends the device’s battery life. The Oasis battery case attaches magnetically to the back of the Oasis, and charges the Oasis battery from its own store of power whenever it’s connected. Amazon’s rated battery life of the Oasis and the case together is essentially the rated battery life of the Kindle Paperwhite.
It’s a trade-off, but I actually think it’s a smart move on Amazon’s part. This is going to be a flight of fancy, but imagine if Apple made an iPhone that got five days of battery life. That’s more battery life than most people need, given how they use their iPhones. So Apple would be absolutely right to make the decision to reduce the size of the iPhone battery in exchange for a thinner, lighter device. (Alas, the iPhone has never had a surplus of battery life.)
This is the decision Amazon made. Your Kindle itself doesn’t need to run for a week between charges, because nobody reads for several days straight without taking a break. When you’re done reading, if you pop the Oasis back into its case—even if you’re miles from an electrical outlet—the reader will charge from the case’s battery and will be ready for your next reading session later. Clever. (You charge the Oasis via a Micro-USB port on the reader itself; if the case is attached while you’re charging, the case charges too.)
The case is pretty great itself. Like the Oasis, it’s thin and light, adding very little bulk. Even with the case attached and the cover folded back, the Oasis feels compact.
When it comes to the reading experience itself, the Oasis isn’t really much different from the Voyage or the Paperwhite. They all light themselves so you can read in the dark, via LED light channeled in from the sides of the display. (The Oasis apparently has more LEDs, but the effect didn’t seem markedly different from the lighting on the Voyage.) This lighting approach feels more natural than the backlighting on a phone or tablet display, because it’s reflecting light off the E-Ink display rather than blasting light through an LCD. The Oasis’s E-Ink display itself, alas, is the same 300 dpi as the Voyage.
So let it be known: The Kindle Oasis is a really great ebook reader, probably the nicest one ever built. And if you are a Kindle fanatic like me or you just like nice things, if you buy one you’ll be happy. But at a starting price of $290, it’s a high-end product for a narrow audience. If you’re just curious about the Kindle or want to replace an older model, I highly recommend the Kindle Paperwhite, which is still the best buy in the product line. It starts at $100, lights itself, has the same 300 dpi resolution of the Oasis, and runs more or less the same software.
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