By Jason Snell
July 15, 2016 1:47 PM PT
Which Kindle should you buy?
I do most of my reading on a Kindle. I’ve described my love of the device here before. I’ve also reviewed the Kindle Voyage and the first-generation Kindle Oasis on Six Colors. But I’m frequently asked which Kindle model is the right one to buy, so here are all my reasons in one convenient place.
Compare for yourself
Amazon helpfully provides a page where you can compare Kindle models. Every Kindle features an E Ink screen that measures six inches diagonally except for the new second-generation Kindle Oasis, which has a seven-inch screen.
If you’ve never used an ebook reader before, you may not realize that their screens are dramatically different from computer, phone, and tablet screens. These are reflective screens—like ink on paper, you read them by light reflected off their surface, rather than light shining in from behind like those other screens. These screens have some huge advantages: They use very little power, and they’re extremely readable in bright light. But they’re relatively low resolution and can only display black, white, and shades of gray, so they’re inappropriate for much more than text on a page. If you’ve ever tried to read a book while sitting in the sun at the pool, you can see why this sort of display is a perfect match for this category.
The four top Kindle models all sport a 300 ppi display, which means that the type on the pages is sharp, though it’s still not quite high-resolution enough to make it look just like ink on a page. The low-end Kindle’s resolution is only 167 ppi.
Because E Ink displays are reflective, this means that they rely on ambient light to make them readable. The first Kindles—and the current low-end model—required that you turn on a light or clip on a separate book light in order to read. With the first Kindle Paperwhite model, Amazon added four LED lights around the edges of the display, under the bezel, to light the display. Over the years Amazon has continued to upgrade this edge-lighting—the Kindle Voyage has 6 LEDs and the Kindle Oasis has 12—but the bottom line is, all but the cheapest Kindle now let you read in the dark without the need for additional accessories.
All Kindles charge via an included Micro USB cable, and offer battery life far beyond what you’ll get on a tablet or smartphone. Amazon rates all Kindle models as having “weeks” of battery life. That may be a little exaggerated, at least if you leave Wi-Fi on. But pretty much any Kindle will go at least a week without needing a charge, especially if you’re careful to put it in Airplane Mode when you’re not using it.
You can also use that Micro USB cable to side-load files onto the Kindle from a Mac or PC. But you may not need to: Amazon also supplies an uploader app that lets you upload files into your personal Kindle book library from a Mac or PC, via the Internet. You should know, though, that the Kindle’s pretty finicky about what file formats it supports. Kindles can display books in Amazon’s AZW formats, plain text, PDFs (though they don’t render well and I don’t recommend you use a Kindle to read PDFs), and Mobi/PRC files. Mobi is by far the most common format, especially for books that you’re not buying directly from Amazon. The app will also convert HTML and Microsoft Word files into Kindle-compatible formats, though the results are not pretty.
Many books are available in Mobi format, ready to sideload onto the Kindle. However, the most common book format—ePub—won’t work on Kindle. Fortunately, you can use a free tool called Calibre to convert ePub files to Mobi format.
Finally, nearly every Kindle model offers two different options that increase the price. For $70, you can convert the Paperwhite and Voyage into ones that offer both Wi-Fi and 3G cellular data (it’s a $50 charge on the Oasis, but it’s only available on the more expensive 32GB model); these days it’s rare that I’m not somewhere with available Wi-Fi, so it seems like an unnecessary option. And for $20, you can get the Kindle without “Special Offers,” which is Amazon’s term for advertisements on the sleep screen and home screen of the devices. You can buy a Kindle with Special Offers turned off, but some people find that the Special Offers are unobtrusive and often provide good values on other Amazon products. The good news is, if you buy a Kindle at the base price, you can still turn off Special Offers at any time by paying $20 to Amazon. I advise that you buy the base model and pungle up $20 later, if you decide you just can’t stand the ads.
The right choice for most people
For just about everyone, the best choice is the $120 Kindle Paperwhite. It’s a solid reader with a high-resolution screen and backlighting that means you can read books even in the twilight or when you’re in bed with the lights out.
Though there are two more expensive models of Kindle, and each offers a few upgrades from the Paperwhite, neither offers enough to justify the difference in price for most people. Yes, there are some things about the Paperwhite I don’t like: It has no buttons, so to turn pages you have to tap or swipe on the screen itself, and it’s the heaviest of all the Kindle models (but still only 7.2 ounces!), but these are minor quibbles.
A disposable reader to take to the beach
If you really don’t plan on reading many books on a Kindle, and you expect to largely be reading in the daytime, the $80 Kindle might be okay, I guess. There’s no light and the screen is lower resolution than other models, but it’s small and light and relatively cheap. However, if you’re going to use the Kindle more often and at night, I don’t think this is a good choice. My friend, Kindle expert Scott McNulty, says you might as well throw your $80 away rather than spend it on this model, and doesn’t recommend it at all. I recommend it for this one limited “disposable beach read” exception, but with zero enthusiasm.
The one with all the trimmings
The best Kindle Amazon makes, hands down, is the $250 Kindle Oasis. I can’t really recommend it because you could buy two Kindle Paperwhites for that price, but it’s pretty sweet. It’s got a larger screen, so it’s a bit more like reading a trade paperback rather than a mass-market paperback, if that makes sense. It’s waterproof—great if you’re a frequent reader in the bathtub, hot tub, or swimming pool. The hardware build quality is the best of any Kindle ever, with a solid aluminum back. It’s got Bluetooth support, so that you can use it to listen to Audible audiobooks (and even transfer quickly from print to audio and back if you buy both formats). And best of all, it’s got physical buttons to turn pages, which are much more pleasant to use than either the Paperwhite’s touchscreen or the Voyage’s squeeze-to-turn virtual buttons.
The second-generation Oasis comes in two storage sizes—8GB and 32GB. (The 32GB upgrade adds $30 to the price.) If you only read books, there’s no reason to get the larger model—ebooks are small. However, since the Oasis now supports Bluetooth audio and Audible books, that extra storage will come in handy if you plan on using the Kindle to listen to a lot of Audiobooks.
I really like the Kindle Oasis. So if you don’t blanch at paying $250 for an ebook reader, then you should go ahead and buy it. The Oasis is the ebook reader equivalent of a luxury sedan, but it’s overkill for most people.
What about the Voyage?
The $199 Kindle Voyage is a tweener. It’s not $80 nicer than the Paperwhite—it’s slightly lighter and smaller and offers “PagePress” areas where you can squeeze the bezel to turn pages. I can’t think of a single reason I’d recommend the Voyage over the Paperwhite. If you really want “the nice Kindle,” spend the money for the Oasis. In a world where Amazon keeps upgrading the Paperwhite and the Oasis, I’m not quite sure what need the Voyage fills. Don’t buy it.
The bottom line
For most people, the Kindle Paperwhite is the right Kindle to buy.
[Updated December 6, 2017 to include the second-generation Kindle Oasis.]
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