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By Jason Snell
August 29, 2019 12:17 PM PT
The Kindle is fine. It could’ve been much more than that.
I’ve written extensively about how much I love my Kindle. I prefer to read on it than to read on an iPad or iPhone, which is why I keep buying Kindles even though I could definitely read on an iOS device without any trouble. The reflective E-Ink screen is more pleasant for long reading sessions, and the fact that my Kindle isn’t full of push notifications and Twitter apps helps it be a distraction-free reading environment.
That all said, I also agree with this tweet from Dan Frommer—that the Kindle, for all that I still love about it, has been a disappointment.
Amazon’s approach to the Kindle product remains befuddling. Talk about entering a market, quickly achieving dominance, and then coasting with feet up for more than a decade — random, bizarre updates and bracingly mediocre software. via @qz https://t.co/tiXAfKwC9F
— Dan Frommer (@fromedome) June 19, 2019
Frommer expanded on his comments in a post on his (subscription-only) New Consumer website and newsletter, damning it with faint praise:
It’s not that the Kindle is bad — it’s not bad, it’s fine. And it’s not that on paper, it’s a failure or flop — Amazon thoroughly dominates the ebook and reader markets, however niche they have become… It’s that the Kindle isn’t nearly the product or platform it could have been, and hasn’t profoundly furthered the concept of reading or books. It’s boring and has no soul. And readers — and books — deserve better.
I couldn’t agree more. I find myself reading on my iPad a lot more these days, but not books—my books still remain on the Kindle. But over the years I’ve accumulated all of these other reading items that are simply not available on the Kindle, like newsletters and subscription-only websites (newspapers and others) with their own custom iOS reader apps. First thing in the morning I am reading on my iPad, using those apps to get up to date on the stuff I’m interested in.
The Kindle, meanwhile, is the land that that app revolution forgot. If I want to read a newspaper on the Kindle, I can—but there’s only a daily delivery of static newspaper text, so if something happens after the issue is delivered, I will have to wait a day to see it. I can channel newsletters to my Kindle, but only if I use an email gateway or a third-party forwarding service, and the experience is poor to say the least. I can send articles from webpages to Instapaper and get them on my Kindle, but the reading experience is not particularly great. And as for personalized websites like The Athletic? Forget it.
Frommer says the Kindle is mediocre, and that’s absolutely true. Amazon’s approach to Kindle software updates has been erratic at best and absent at worst, and he’s right that using a Kindle “feels like trudging through soft sand.” The interface is inelegant and in so many ways unchanged from its original release in 2007, just months after the iPhone arrived on the scene. Typography on the Kindle is still mediocre, despite minor advances like support for custom fonts and (in limited cases) the elimination of force-justified text. Even support for library borrowing is hidden, because Amazon really wants you to buy books.
It’s the lack of a proper app story that stings the most, I think. I’d love a version of the New York Times, Washington Post, and The Athletic for my Kindle—the real apps, with the ability to read the latest stories. I know that my E-Ink Kindle screen isn’t going to give me vibrant color or animation, but it could certainly show me the text, which is what the Kindle excels at.
The Kindle can’t even display web pages well! Its browser is slow and bad, though if you do manage to navigate to a page with an article on it, you can enter “Article Mode” and have a mediocre reading experience.
Perhaps the problem is that Amazon won the ereader war so quickly that nobody else has bothered to challenge them. The Kindle’s only real competition is smartphones and tablets, not other ereaders. Nobody thinks about the Kindle when they’re launching new subscription-only content services. It’s irrelevant. Book publishers have to publish to the Kindle in order to gain access to Amazon’s customers across Kindles and phones and tablets.
Writing this has just made me even more dubious about the future of the Kindle. For all I love about it, it seems unlikely to ever progress beyond its current role as a pleasant book reader largely disconnected from all other sources of content. My Kindle could’ve been a hub for all of my reading, from newsletters to newspapers to subscription sites to books. Instead, it’s a thin electronic paperback book, and that’s all. That’s not nothing—but it could’ve been so much more.
By Jason Snell
August 1, 2019 12:11 PM PT
Kindle Oasis (third-generation) review: Easy on the eyes
I read all my books on a Kindle, and the $250 Kindle Oasis is the model I prefer. It’s not for everyone—the $130 Kindle Paperwhite is a better buy for most people. But the Oasis offers a collection of features that make it appreciably nicer than either of the lower-priced Kindle models, and after spending some time with the new Paperwhite, I’m more convinced than ever that the Oasis is worth the extra price if you’re going to use it a lot.
Amazon recently updated the top of the Kindle line, introducing a new third-generation Kindle Oasis that adds a few minor display improvements. There are more LED lights encircling the screen, giving this Oasis the most even lighting of any Kindle yet. (Kindle screens are reflective, not backlit, which makes them much more readable—but a bit trickier to light.)
Most people won’t notice the improved backlighting, but if you’re someone who is concerned with the amount of blue light wavelengths you receive in the evening, you are the target audience for the one major new feature in the third-generation Oasis. The color temperature of its lighting system is adjustable, so if you prefer a more orange hue in the evening, you can set it to adjust itself automatically—or you can just take control and make the lighting more or less blue anytime you like. (You can also turn all of that off and use the “normal” Kindle color, if you like.)
I’m not going to comment on the debate about whether blue wavelengths really affect sleep, but I will say that I am one of those people who finds warmer color temperatures more aesthetically pleasing. The lights in my house are warmer in temperature, and Apple’s introduction of TrueTone displays (which adapt to the existing color temperature of the room) has really hit that point home. If I’m reading in the dark, a redder light will also mean that my eyes adapt more rapidly when I turn off the Kindle, too.
That’s it. The rest of the Oasis is unchanged from the second-generation model, so far as I can tell. If you’d like to read the case for the Kindle Oasis in general over other models, read on.
Why it’s better than the others
The Oasis is oddly shaped because it’s designed to be as thin as possible except in the place where you grip the device. As a result, there’s a thicker (8.3mm) grip area that features the Oasis’s two physical page-turn buttons, and a thinner side (3.4mm) that helps the device weigh less.
Oh, the page-turn buttons! They’re great. Other Kindles require you to constantly move your fingers on and off the touchscreen in order to tap or swipe forward or backward. With the Oasis, you can rest a finger or thumb on the button and then just gently press to advance to the next page.
People will tell you that it’s just fine to find a grip that lets you slide a finger over to the screen, tap, and then slide back every single time you turn the page. Sure, it’s fine. But this is way better.
At 6.8 ounces, the Oasis is very slightly heavier than the other Kindles, but with that you get a much larger screen. The Oasis screen is seven inches diagonal, up from the six-inch screen found on all other current Kindles. This means more words on a page and fewer page turns, which is especially important if you’re reading at larger font sizes.
The Oasis is also the highest-quality device hardware I’ve ever seen from Amazon. The sides and back are a single piece of aluminum, giving this a premium device feel that the cheaper, plastic Kindle models lack.
It feels good, for twice the price
For me, Kindles are all about price and ergonomics. The Oasis doesn’t really do it on price, but it’s the best when it comes to feel. As someone who reads a couple dozen books a year, paying more for the best reading hardware makes perfect sense. And the pace of change in Kindle land isn’t particularly great; an Oasis will serve you well for many years to come. It remains the best Kindle you can buy, and is appreciably nicer than the Paperwhite on almost every front. And now with better lighting and an adjustable color display.
Yes, the $120 Paperwhite is the better buy. But the Kindle Oasis is a great splurge for people who simply want the best ebook reading experience around and don’t really mind that it costs twice as much as the step-down alternative.
By Jason Snell
April 17, 2019 11:08 AM PT
Review: Kindle Paperwhite (2019) and Kindle (2019)
In the last few months Amazon has released two new Kindles, the $130 Kindle Paperwhite and the $90 base-model Kindle. Both of them are notable improvements on their previous versions, making it harder for me to declare which Kindle you should buy. The base-model Kindle is much harder to write off than it was before, but I think the Paperwhite still has a better combination of features for most users.
A lot of people think the entire dedicated ebook reader category has been made obsolete by tablets and smartphones. Not so! 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.
What’s more, these devices are unitaskers. You won’t be tempted to flip over to Twitter or get bugged by a push notification or an incoming FaceTime call. When I’m using my Kindle, I am reading, not grazing the internet. When I’m out and about without a Kindle, I’ll read books on my iPhone, but when I get home I’m right back to the dedicated reading device. If you are someone who reads a lot, consider buying a Kindle. (You can probably even check out books from your local library to your Kindle using a service such as OverDrive!)
A word about Kindle pricing
Amazon’s pricing model for the Kindle is complicated. The base prices of each Kindle model include “special offers”, which is Amazon’s euphemism for advertising. With special offers enabled, the screensaver on your Kindle when it’s turned off is an ad for a book, and to turn the Kindle on you’ve got to press the power button and then swipe the touchscreen to dismiss the ad. There are also small ad banners at the bottom of the main navigation screen.
It costs an additional $20 to turn off the special offers. You can order your Kindle without special offers or just pay the $20 later on the device to turn them off. I have talked to many people who find the special offers valuable, because they aid in discovering interesting books and point out sales going on in the Kindle store. I find the addition of an extra step every single time I turn my Kindle on to be enough of an interface impediment that I always pay the $20 to turn off special offers. The choice is yours.
For the Kindle Paperwhite and Oasis, Amazon also offers two storage-size tiers—8GB or, for $30 more, 32GB. Unless you are leaving the internet for years or have decided to use the Kindle as a repository for audiobooks as well as text, you don’t need the larger size. Ebooks just don’t take up much space. You can fit hundreds of books on an 8GB Kindle.
Amazon also offers an alternative networking upgrade on the 32GB models of Paperwhite and Oasis, one that adds “free” cellular connectivity to the party. For an additional $70 (keeping in mind you’re also paying $30 more for the larger storage capacity—though your $20 Special Offers charge is comped at this level) your Kindle will use LTE cellular networking when it’s not able to connect to Wi-Fi. It means you can download books in more than 100 countries without needing Wi-Fi, and you’ll never see a bill (other than that $120 additional charge from Amazon). Wi-Fi is so ubiquitous that this seems unnecessary, but you can pay $250 instead of $130 for a Kindle Paperwhite if you really want all the features.
Base-model Kindle upgrade
The “cheap” Kindle (which now starts at $90, up from $80 with the previous model) has lagged behind the rest of the product line in failing to offer an integrated light (first offered on the Kindle Paperwhite in 2012). There is nothing dumber than needing to clip on a book light in order to read a digital device in the dark.
Those days are over. The new ninth-generation Kindle has an integrated light, four LEDs that shine from the edges of the display to make it readable in any light conditions. It’s an enormous step up that makes the base Kindle a product worth considering as more than a disposable beach-reading device.
In most other aspects, the Kindle is still inferior to other models, though. The integrated six-inch display is the same size as the Paperwhite, but at 167 pixels per inch it’s about half the resolution. This means that text is less crisp and more jagged. If your eyesight isn’t great you won’t notice, but everyone else will. I also found that the Kindle’s display was lower contrast than the Paperwhite’s, with text appearing less black and more dark gray.
The Kindle’s display is recessed in its case, with a plastic bezel that surrounds it. Years of using Kindles with recessed bezels has taught me that it’s an inferior design, because the corners where the recessed screen meets the bezel are magnets for dust, crumbs, and other tiny bits of distracting debris. (And of course, since the Kindle screen itself is touch sensitive, you can’t just wipe that debris away—you’ve got to turn the device off and then try to jimmy that stuff out of there.)
The Kindle is the lightest of all three of Amazon’s ereader models, at 5.9 ounces, but all the models are within an ounce of each other, so I’m not sure it matters that much. (The Paperwhite is 6.5 ounces and the high-end Kindle Oasis is 6.8 ounces.)
The overall texture of the Kindle is what you’d expect for a low-end, cheap tech product. It’s hard plastic, and not particularly grippy. In other words, this is a utilitarian product that gets the key parts right—it’s got an E Ink screen and lighting—while avoiding most nice-to-have features that the higher-end models provide.
The $130 fourth-generation Kindle Paperwhite retains its crown as the Kindle most people should buy. It’s a lot cheaper than the high-end Kindle Oasis and appreciably nicer than the base-model Kindle.
The Paperwhite’s screen has 300 ppi resolution, almost twice the base model, bringing it up to more or less “retina” resolution in terms of displaying smooth type that’s hard to distinguish from ink on paper. I found the display to be appreciably better quality than on the base model, with higher contrast and more consistent lighting. The display on the Paperwhite is also flush with the front bezel, so there are no nooks and crannies for lint and dust and crumbs to get stuck.
The biggest improvement to this generation of Paperwhite is IPX8 waterproofing, so you can read in the bath or by the pool without worry. The last time I went to a beach resort I saw a zillion Kindles poolside, so it makes me think that adding waterproofing will be very popular.
Beyond that, the Paperwhite is simply made of better materials than the base Kindle. It’s got a grippy back that feels nicer than the hard plastic of the Kindle, although it’s not quite as swank as the aluminum back of the Oasis.
In other words, this generation of Paperwhite remains the best balance of features and price in the Kindle line. In my opinion, the Paperwhite has been the real Kindle for a few years now, and that remains the case. The base-model Kindle is getting better, but the better display, waterproofing, flush-front design, and nicer overall feel push the Kindle Paperwhite ahead.
By Jason Snell
December 6, 2017 12:32 PM PT
Kindle Oasis (2017, second generation) Review: Is bigger better?
I loved the first-generation Kindle Oasis. Though nobody needed to buy a $290 ebook reader, it was the best Kindle you could buy. Without its mandatory battery case, it was impossibly thin and light, and brought back the hardware page-turn buttons that Amazon seemingly abandoned several generations of Kindle ago.
The second-generation Kindle Oasis still holds down the top of Amazon’s Kindle product line, but it’s a very different product than the original model. The mandatory case is gone, the price has dropped $40 to $250, and the hardware itself has bulked up.
The second-generation Oasis is still shaped like the original model—it’s got a thicker side (8.3mm) that’s easier to grip and features the two page-turn buttons, and a thinner side (3.4mm) that helps the devices weigh less. But about that weight: Free of its case, the old Oasis weighed only 4.6 ounces, making it the lightest Kindle by quite a bit. This new one weighs 6.8 ounces, slightly heavier than the Kindle Voyage and slightly lighter than the Kindle Paperwhite.
The fact is, the second-generation Oasis is scaled up in all dimensions. It’s thicker, heavier, wider, and taller—but at least the increased width and height means that the screen is large. It’s a seven-inch diagonal, up from the six-inch screen size Amazon uses on all its other current Kindles. I’m not sure I’ve ever picked up the second-generation Oasis and marveled at the screen size, but if you’re someone who needs to use large type to read, you’ll get a real benefit. (My friend and fellow Kindle aficionado Scott McNulty says he thinks the larger screen is fantastic—so perhaps I’m an outlier here.)
To be fair, the first-generation Oasis only managed to be small and light because of the battery case, which came with the Kindle and extended the rather skimpy battery life of the core device. And I’ve never been a fan of Amazon’s cases for Kindles, so I’d have to say that the new Oasis is an improvement in that department. If you’re a fan of Amazon’s Origami case design, you’ll also be happy, because this Oasis will work with them again.
The second-generation Oasis is the highest quality hardware I’ve ever seen from Amazon, courtesy of its aluminum back and sides. I’d gotten so used to the Kindle being a plastic gadget, it was surprising to open the box and see the metallic sheen. It definitely makes the device feel more “premium”, which is appropriate, given that you could buy two Paperwhites for the cost of one Oasis.
The second-generation Oasis is also waterproof, the first time Amazon has offered that feature in a Kindle. I’m not someone who takes baths and I don’t own a hot tub or a swimming pool, but if you’re someone who (like Jeff Bezos) has been keeping their Kindle in a zip-top bag in order to read it in the water, it’s time to rejoice.
Another feature this Kindle offers that I don’t use: Bluetooth connectivity. You can attach a Bluetooth audio device and use screen-reading software or play back Audible audiobooks. Again, this is a feature I’m never going to use, but if you’re someone who frequently switches back and forth between Kindle books and their Audible equivalents, it might be convenient to have them both available in one place.
For me, though, Kindles are all about price and ergonomics. The second-generation Oasis is a nice piece of hardware, but I really appreciated the light weight of the first-generation model and I had hoped Amazon would push a little bit more in that direction. The larger screen is good, but it’s not like I’m reading a hardcover book—it’s just a slightly larger paperback size, which is fine but not revelatory. Waterproofing will be an important distinction for some people, to be sure.
As with the first-generation model, this new Oasis model is for people who love reading ebooks and don’t mind spending more money for a nicer experience. I’d prefer if the second-generation model were lighter and smaller, but regardless, the Oasis remains the best Kindle you can buy, and is appreciably nicer than the Paperwhite on almost every front.
Still, for most people, the $120 Paperwhite is the right choice. The Kindle Oasis is a splurge for people who simply want the best ebook reading experience around and don’t really mind that it costs twice as much as a perfectly serviceable alternative.
By Jason Snell
September 27, 2016 11:07 AM PT
Review: Kobo Aura One is a waterproof “hardcover” ebook reader
The ebook reader market is funny. After an initial flurry of excitement, we seem to have settled in on the idea that paper books and ebooks are going to coexist, and that some people who choose to read ebooks will just do so on their smartphones and tablets. But that still leaves a really interesting niche for people who do love reading on dedicated reading devices with screens that are more like a book’s pages than a computer’s backlit display.
For pure utility, the $120 Kindle Paperwhite is the ebook reader you should buy. But what’s more interesting are the developments at the high end of this category, where premium ebook readers have become a thing. First was the $290 Kindle Oasis, which is beautiful, small, and thin.
So when Kobo announced the $229 Kobo Aura One, I was intrigued. It’s a premium ebook reader like the Kindle Oasis, but Kobo has made a bunch of different choices about what that means and what features matter to ebook readers.
I bought a Kobo Aura One to try it out and have been using it for a couple of weeks, the first time I’ve used an ebook reader that wasn’t a Kindle. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by a lot of the choices Kobo has made, and while I’m not sure it’s better than the Oasis, it’s most certainly different.
Let’s start with the size: The Aura One has a 7.8-inch diagonal screen with a screen resolution of 300 ppi. That’s the same resolution as all but the cheapest of Amazon’s Kindles, but it’s a much larger screen—the Kindle screens are all only 6 inches diagonal. The end result is that reading a book on an Aura One feels like reading a hardcover, while reading on a Kindle feels like reading a paperback. There’s more text on the screen and you need to turn the page much less frequently. The extra reading space isn’t necessary, per se, but it does feel luxurious.
Hardcover books can be heavy, though: the last hardcover novel I read before I bought my first kindle weighed 2.8 pounds! The Aura One isn’t like that—at 8.1 ounces, it’s about the same weight as the Kindle Paperwhite. The Oasis, on the other hand, weighs 4.6 ounces. I was comfortable holding the Aura One and reading for long stretches of time, but if you’re looking for the lightest ebook reader around, the Oasis is for you. The Oasis also offers hardware page-turn buttons; to turn pages on the Aura One, you’ve got to swipe or tap on the screen.
This is not to say that the Aura One doesn’t have its own advantages. It’s waterproof, for one, which no Kindle has ever been able to claim. If you’re someone who reads in a bathtub or hot tub, or otherwise walks the perilous path between reading and water, this is a huge feature in the Aura One’s favor.
Like the Kindle Voyage (but not, strangely, the Oasis), the Aura One has a light sensor that allows it to dynamically adjust its screen brightness based on your surroundings. (Like most Kindles, the Aura One is illuminated internally by a ring of lights.) Unlike the Kindle, the Aura One has a feature that’s akin to Apple’s Night Shift—it can skew its lighting into warmer tones in the evening. If you’re someone who wants to get blue light out of your eyes at night, that’s another point in the Aura One’s favor.
In the end, though, shopping for an ebook reader comes down to the ecosystem it’s connected to. Kobo readers are wired to buy books from the Kobo store; Amazon readers buy from Amazon. You can’t easily migrate your books from one store to another, so if you’ve invested in the Kindle ecosystem it would be hard to switch to the Aura One. That said, I used the open-source app Calibre to convert some of my Kindle books into DRM-free Epub files and then read them on the Kobo. So it’s not impossible to make the transition if you only occasionally want to dip into the archives.
Amazon still offers daily newspapers for the Kindle, which Kobo doesn’t, though both stores offer magazines. Kobo has a leg up on Amazon in a couple other areas: native support for Pocket and Overdrive.
Pocket is a read-it-later service that lets you save stuff on the Web to read at a later time. It’s a perfect fit for an ereader—I use Instapaper to send stories to my Kindle all the time. But on the Aura One, Pocket is integrated right into the device. Just log in with your Pocket account, and your articles will sync, ready to be read on the device. It couldn’t be easier.
Overdrive is a system (owned by the same company, Rakuten, that owns Kobo) that lets your local library offer ebooks for check-out to patrons. You can check out books from Overdrive and download them to your Kindle, but it’s a multi-step process that involves logging in to the Overdrive web site, picking a book, then linking over to Amazon. On the Aura One, all of that happens on the device, which is much more convenient.
There’s just one problem: The Aura One doesn’t give you a way to search your local library’s collection of ebooks on the device. If you want to read a book, you can search for it in the Kobo store and then tap a More Options icon to see if it’s available on Overdrive. It reminded me of that Douglas Adams line about an item being put on public display “at the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying ‘Beware of the Leopard.” Once you find a book that’s offered by your library, it takes a couple of taps to check it out and read it—but Kobo is not making much of an effort to let you find library books or remind you that a particular book is available for free check-out. Two steps forward, one step back.
After years of using the Amazon Kindle interface, I was interested in Kobo’s very different approach. Instead of making a list of your documents the home screen, the Aura One features a set of tiles that highlight books and apps that you’ve used recently. I’m not sure if I prefer it to a no-frills list of what’s on the device, but I generally never needed to go to that list, since the books I was currently reading were always offered on tiles. I also found Kobo’s typography quite good, with several different font choices as well as the ability to turn off forced justification on books. My only complaint on this score is that book text seemed strangely framed on any book that wasn’t bought from the Kobo store or checked out via Overdrive, with almost no white space at the top of the screen and too much at the bottom.
(Update: Thanks to reader Eliot Lovell, I discovered this set of Calibre plugins that gets Epub files in a more Kobo-friendly format, and solves the rendering issues it seems to have with generic, unconverted Epubs.)
In the end, where does the Kobo Aura One rank? If you’re not deeply tied into the Amazon ecosystem and screen size or waterproofing mean more to you than weight, the Aura One’s a better choice than the Oasis—and it’s $60-$80 cheaper. (Unlike Amazon, Kobo doesn’t make you pay $20 to remove ads—and it does the right thing and shows the cover art of the book you’re currently reading when it’s turned off.)
By Jason Snell
July 15, 2016 1:47 PM PT
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.]
By Dan Moren
June 22, 2016 6:30 AM PT
Amazon releases new base model Kindle
If you were surprised that the base version of the Kindle didn’t get a boost when the new Oasis was announced a couple months back, it was really just a matter of time.
The updates for the model are pretty mild: it has a slightly redesigned form factor that’s thinner and lighter, twice as much memory for faster navigation, and there’s a white option. There are also a few software updates, including the ability to export notes, built-in Bluetooth audio for accessibility, and a personalized home screen.
Other than that, the base Kindle still has the same touchscreen interface, weeks-long battery, and $100 retail price ($80 if you go with the ad-supported option). It does lack the 300-dpi screen of the higher end models, including the Paperwhite (which itself now has a white option as well).
Well, at least that means a couple more things for Scott McNulty to buy.
[Dan Moren is the official Dan of Six Colors. You can find him on Twitter at @dmoren or reach him by email at email@example.com. His latest novel, The Aleph Extraction, is out now and available in fine book stores everywhere, so be sure to pick up a copy.]
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.
By Dan Moren
April 13, 2016 6:49 AM PT
Amazon’s new Kindle Oasis goes for the thick end of the wedge
Have you ever felt that you were thirsting in a desert for something to read? Perhaps you should reach for…an Oasis.
Yep, Amazon’s newest version of the venerable e-reader is–as leaks earlier this week predicted–the Kindle Oasis. The major changes here are in the form factor: instead of the earlier version’s tablet shape, the Oasis is more of a wedge, with a bulge on one side intended to make it more ergonomic to hold. (You can do so with either the left or right hand, and the Kindle’s screen will rotate to accommodate.) Backward and forward page-turning is done either by the touch screen or by actual physical buttons on the side with the larger bezel.
Amazon calls the latest version “the thinnest and lightest Kindle ever”; frankly, I just got a Paperwhite last week, which already feels pretty darn light, but the Wi-Fi-only version of the Oasis is 4.6 oz, compared to the 7.2 oz of the Paperwhite, so there you go.
Granted, you lose out on some of that weight-shedding by attaching the new included battery cover, which plugs into the Oasis and provides battery life on the order of months. (Good thing, too: because of how small the Oasis is, its internal battery lasts only about two weeks, according to Engadget.) It’s a bit Smart Cover like, right down to magnetic closures that snap it closed, automatically putting the Oasis to sleep. But it also weighs 3.8 oz on its own, bringing the whole shebang to 8.4 oz, or heavier than pretty much any of the previous models.
There’s also a new version of the E-Ink screen, though it retains the same 300 dpi as before; it does, however, have 10 redesigned LEDs for the backlight, up from the 6 on the Voyage and the 4 on the Paperwhite. That screen is thin, too: equivalent to a sheet of aluminum foil, but with a “chemically-reinforced” glass cover.
All of this comes at a price, naturally: $290. That’s $90 more than the next highest Kindle, the $199 Voyage, and $170 more than the Paperwhite, which is considered by many the e-reader to beat. Despite the improvements, the Oasis is still a single-function device, and in this day and age it remains to be seen whether consumers will pay a premium for an e-reader, no matter how fancy it is.
Amazon’s major competitor is not really Apple–I don’t think most folks are trying to choose between a Kindle and an iPad–but itself. Sure, it keeps making its e-readers better and better, but is the $290 Oasis really that much superior to the Paperwhite I just bought? I’m not particularly feeling any buyer’s remorse over that one.
[Dan Moren is the official Dan of Six Colors. You can find him on Twitter at @dmoren or reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. His latest novel, The Aleph Extraction, is out now and available in fine book stores everywhere, so be sure to pick up a copy.]
By Jason Snell
February 23, 2016 10:50 AM PT
More about ebook conversions
After my piece about converting ePub books into a Kindle-friendly format Monday, I got some feedback from people who use different methods to move their ebooks around from place to place.
Serenity Caldwell pointed me to Kindle Previewer, an app that’s intended to preview how ebooks look across Kindle devices. This was very useful for her when she was in charge of our ebooks back in the Macworld days, but it does convert epub files to Kindle-friendly formats, something Send to Kindle for Mac won’t do.
Unfortunately, when I tried Kindle Previewer, it just quit (repeatedly) on launch. This did not fill me with enthusiasm, and since I already have a pretty good solution in Calibre, I didn’t spend time trying to figure out why the app wouldn’t launch.1
I also had the command-line app kindlegen recommended to me. If you are someone who is comfortable with running Terminal commands, kindlegen will give you epub-to-kindle conversion power without the ornaments of a graphical interface. However, while it did convert some of the Hugo Award nominee epub files I have on my disk, it failed to convert the MacStories ebook I download yesterday. And Calibre succeeded. So… more points to Calibre.
A reader who uses the excellent automation utility Keyboard Maestro suggested building a workflow in that app, which is way beyond my skill level as a user of that utility but points out just how powerful and flexible it can be.
And another reader asked me, as a follow-up, if there’s an easy way to save web pages to the Kindle for later reading. Amazon offers extensions for Chrome and Firefox to do this (alas, not Safari), and you can also email a web page to a send-to-kindle email address tied to your particular device.
As for me, I use Instapaper, which offers an “instant send” feature for paid subscribers, and otherwise bundles up articles you’ve added to Instapaper and ships them to you daily. I do a lot of my “read later” reading by adding articles to Instapaper and then reading them at my leisure when I open my Kindle.
Finally, I heard from a few people who asked about converting ebooks bought from Apple’s iBookstore to other formats. Not all books sold via iBooks are wrapped in copy protection, but most are. These books are protected by Apple’s FairPlay DRM, and it’s beyond Calibre’s powers to unwrap FairPlay. There are some apps out there in the shady parts of the Internet that will do it, but I’m not really comfortable recommending them.
By Jason Snell
February 22, 2016 1:25 PM PT
Calibre: How I put epub books on my Kindle
I like reading books on my Kindle, but one of the drawbacks of the Kindle platform is that it doesn’t support the epub book format. Instead, Kindle supports the Mobipocket format and its Kindle-specific AZW successors. So when I get an epub book I’d like to read, I need to convert that book before I can load it on my Kindle.
For this (and many other ebook related tasks), I use the free tool Calibre. It’s a program that’s hard to love, because it’s a cross-platform open-source project and it really shows in the interface. While Calibre fancies itself a sort of iTunes for ebooks, I don’t use it as a catalog. Instead, I use it to convert books into different formats.
You can add a book to the Calibre library by dragging it in. Converting is a multi-step process: First select the book in the Calibre library window, then click on the Convert Books item in the app’s toolbar, choose a new output format from the pop-up menu in the top right corner (I choose MOBI), and click OK. (From this window, you can also apply changes to the book’s settings—for example, you can force text to be aligned left rather than justified, and the Kindle will honor this choice!)
Calibre will begin converting the book, and you’ll see a spinning circle in the bottom-right corner of the window next to the “Jobs” label. Once that wheel stops spinning, your book has been converted. To open the book in the Finder, right-click on the book in the Library and choose Open Containing Folder.
At this point, I open Amazon’s Send to Kindle app, which lets me add files to any of my registered Kindles and store them in Amazon’s cloud library for future access. For example, the hardcover of Lois McMaster Bujold’s book Cryoburn comes with a CD full of epub versions of past novels in the series. I was able to convert those files and upload them to Amazon, and then download them and read them at my leisure. When I get the voter packet for the Hugo Awards every year, it tends to include some epub versions of nominated novels. Federico Viticci’s Club MacStories offers long articles in epub format as well.
Also, if you’re not a fan of DRM on ebooks, you might be interested to know that there’s a plug-in for Calibre that lets you remove the DRM from books and then convert them to other formats. I maintain a DRM-free backup of most of my Kindle books, so if I ever want to abandon the platform altogether, the books I bought will come with me to wherever is next. Piracy is bad, people, and authors deserve to get paid—but if I buy a book, I’m going to feel free to load it on any device I wish.
Whether you bought something on Kindle that you’d like to have on iBooks or downloaded an epub and wish you could load it on a Kindle, Calibre is the tool for the job. I don’t love it, but I use it, and I’d be sad if I didn’t have it around.
By Jason Snell
November 5, 2014 7:28 AM PT
Kindle Voyage review
I’m a serial Kindle buyer. I bought (and returned) the original model. The second model I kept, and since then I’ve bought at least four more of Amazon’s E-Ink-based reading devices. The latest up is the Kindle Voyage, which I bought immediately upon its announcement. I took receipt of the Kindle Voyage last week and have been using it to read books and newspapers since then.
By Jason Snell
September 18, 2014 2:40 PM PT
Jason’s Umpteenth Kindle
(Photo courtesy Andy Ihnatko.)
I bought a new Kindle last night.
Someone on Twitter mentioned that Amazon had announced new Kindles, and within about five minutes I had ordered the Kindle Voyage, a $199 dedicated ebook reader that’s the spiritual successor to the Kindle Paperwhite (which remains in the ever-growing Kindle product line).
Yes, Amazon announced several new devices (and my pal Andy Ihnatko saw it all). The other devices were new Fires (formerly Kindle Fires, now not part of the family)—Android-based tablets including one for only $99, but I love my iPad and that’s that.
And yet… those E-Ink Kindles? I have a weakness. This is the fourth or fifth I’ve bought. I’ve lost track.
Why do I love Kindles so much? Why does someone with an iPhone, iPad, and MacBook need a Kindle? Am I a crazy person? (Spoilers: I am definitely a madman with a Kindle.)