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The Kindle Oasis (left) and the Kindle Paperwhite.

By Jason Snell

Which Kindle should you buy?

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.

At night, the inverse applies. My Paperwhite, turned down all the way, is much darker than my iPad’s backlight at the lowest setting. Which means it’s much less likely to disturb my wife while she’s sleeping and I’m reading.

Whether dark or light or in between, I prefer reading on these devices. They never push notifications at me, I’m never tempted to switch over to Twitter or email, and the static black-and-white calm of words on a page evokes the best things about reading a paper book or newspaper.

If you’re thinking of buying a Kindle, which model is the right one to choose? I’ve reviewed them all, and here’s the verdict.

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 third-generation Kindle Oasis, which has a seven-inch screen.

The Kindle Oasis and Kindle Paperwhite have 300 ppi displays, 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 required that you turn on a light or clip on a separate book light in order to read in bad lighting. With the Kindle Paperwhite, Amazon added 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 has four LEDs, the Paperwhite has five and the Kindle Oasis has 25—but the bottom line is, all Kindles 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 $120, you can get an upgraded Paperwhite that offer both Wi-Fi and free LTE cellular data (it’s a $70 added cost on the Oasis for free 3G networking, 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.

For $20, you can get your 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 casual readers

For people who will only read a few books a year on a Kindle, the best choice is the $130 Kindle Paperwhite. It’s a solid reader with a high-resolution screen and good backlighting. It’s good looking, with a flat front and grippy back that’s comfortable to hold. And if you enjoy reading poolside or in the bath, you’ll be happy to know that it’s waterproof.

Don’t get the budget Kindle

The cheapest Kindle, the $90 model, is a good choice if you’re seeking a cheap option for an occasional read when you’re at the beach. It’s got a built-in light, but text isn’t as sharp as on other models, it’s not waterproof, and the plastic back feels cheap. The screen itself is recessed, and lint and crumbs can get in the cracks between it and the bezel.

The one with all the trimmings

The best Kindle Amazon makes, hands down, is the $250 Kindle Oasis. I used to say that I couldn’t recommend the Oasis given that it’s nearly twice the cost of a Paperwhite, but I’ve changed my tune a little bit. If you are someone who loves reading books, especially ebooks, and expect to use a new Kindle an awful lot over the next few years, I think you should consider splurging on the Oasis.

It’s much nicer than the Paperwhite. The screen is larger, so it’s a bit more like reading a trade paperback rather than a mass-market paperback. The hardware build quality is the best of any Kindle ever, with a solid aluminum frame. It’s got the best lighting rig of any Kindle, with 25 LEDs with adjustable color temperature so you can block out blue light in the evenings. And best of all, it’s got physical buttons to turn pages, which are much more pleasant to use than resorting to the touchscreen as on the other models.

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—overkill for bargain hunters, but if you like nice things, it’s the nicest Kindle around.

The bottom line

For most people, the Kindle Paperwhite is the right Kindle to buy.

[Updated July 29, 2019.]

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