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Three Kindles (l-r): Kindle Paperwhite, Kindle, Kindle Oasis

By Jason Snell

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’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 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 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 12—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 most people

For just about everyone, 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.

A less-nice budget reader

If you really don’t plan on reading many books on a Kindle, the $90 Kindle is a good budget option. Previous models didn’t have a built-in light, but the most recent model added this feature, making it a much more appealing product. Text isn’t as sharp, 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. It’s small and light and the cheapest way into a Kindle, but if you’re going to use your Kindle for most of your reading, the Paperwhite is worth the step up.

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 almost 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. The hardware build quality is the best of any Kindle ever, with a solid aluminum back. 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, but it’s overkill for most people.

The bottom line

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

[Updated April 15, 2019.]

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