Kindles are curious devices. In an age where every person has a reading app on their phone or tablet, a dedicated reading device, in some ways, feels like an indulgence.
Of course a Kindle, much more than a phone or tablet, also feels like an environment for reading. It’s a space that’s distraction-free. Perhaps this makes the name ‘Oasis’ the most fitting of all Kindle editions so far—a reminder that in a world full of technology that does it all, the Kindle is your chance to sit down and get completely and totally lost in a book. On this device there will not be an incoming text message to knock you out of the book you’re reading, or the siren song of Twitter lulling you over to a network full of 140-character bursts of distraction. There will be no calendar notifications and no temptations to browse over to your task list to add a few new notes.
Many people are likely to find this extremely relieving. You open the Kindle, and you read. That’s it.
Of course, that’s how it’s always been, and if you have a Kindle somewhere in your house you might be wondering if the Oasis is a worthwhile upgrade. If an old Kindle is sitting on a shelf collecting dust, the answer is almost certainly ‘no’. There is nothing in this Kindle that is wildly different from past iterations, no ‘killer feature’ that will make you rethink your reading workflow—and unfortunately for us all, the Kindle Oasis can’t make you complete that ‘reading challenge’ you resolved to complete at the beginning of the year, and are already woefully behind on.
If you were already a Kindle owner and found yourself using it a good deal, the question of if the new device is worthwhile might very much be ‘yes’. The Oasis might surprise you with its new features of convenience. If you’ve somehow never owned a Kindle before, and are curious if this is the one to give a try, there are plenty of reasons why you might want to finally dive in with this iteration.
Perhaps the most overtly obvious new feature of the Oasis over previous versions is actually detached from the device itself: the book cover that comes with it. This is not some add-on, each Kindle comes standard with the cover and is clearly intended as a half of the whole. Offered in a variety of colors, Amazon has crafted a cover that gives the Kindle a decidedly old-school and ‘bookish’ feel. Where previous iterations of the device fully embraced a tech aesthetic (remember the Stormtrooper-esque white Kindle, from long ago?), this version feels more like a traditional book than any which preceded it. Indeed, on a table with the cover hiding the screen, one might mistake the Kindle for a small leather-bound tome or notebook.
The cover is quite handsome, coming in Black, ‘Merlot’ (dark red), and ‘Walnut’ (dark brown). What is most striking to me is how the aesthetic is decidedly different from the leather covers of other major tech devices. Take Apple’s leather covers for their tablets and phones as just one example. Where their cases are perfect pieces of uniform material, Amazon’s offering is distressed, wih unique stains and scratches. The leather has a soft, almost suede feel, and even the coloring of the material subtly shifts in places. Every time I pull my Kindle out, its walnut cover has collected another scratch or scuff, and I honestly prefer it this way. While I can’t be sure how well the material will hold up over the years, the battered and worn look benefits it well in the present.
The material used for the cover is thin but incredibly firm, and there’s no bending it. The Amazon logo is embossed on both the outside and the inside, which means that whether the device is flat on the table or flipped open as you read the logo will be clearly displayed to the world. This seems like an advertising tactic taken to an extreme (and naturally, there’s another Amazon logo on the back of the device itself). There will be no confusion about who made this device, but at this point is there any question who reigns supreme in the e-reader world?
The book cover is not just an aesthetic addition. Though it provides protection the screen, it also provides additional battery life to the device itself. Connected to the Oasis with a few magnets (not entirely unlike the iPad Pro’s new Smart Connector technology), the cover automatically provides additional battery life to the Kindle when connected. Charging the Kindle via micro-USB will automatically charge both the device and the cover, with the Kindle itself receiving a full charge first, at which point the cover begins to receive energy. The added battery life which the cover provides means that in my fairly rigorous testing I’ve never once experienced a dead Oasis, where I unfortunately opened up my Voyage several times only to realize that it was dead to the world. That is, undoubabtly, a majorly favorable feature to those who plan on sticking their Kindle in a backpack or bag and pulling it on when the desire strikes them.
Flipping open the cover after the Kindle has sat long dormant automatically turns the screen on (with the bottom of the screen flashing the brief message ‘WAKING UP’), taking you directly to the page where you last left off. However, after the Kindle has become active, opening the cover often still requires a swipe to unlock before it takes you to the book. This means that if you have a Kindle with ‘special offers’ you will also in this moment be subjected to an advertisement before you are taken back to what you were reading. This behavior seemed strange, as I can’t imagine a scenario in which I would be opening the cover and not interested in going straight to a book, but alas, such an additional step might be the downside of Amazon’s advertising strategies.
I’ll talked so much about the cover because detaching it from the Kindle itself makes the entire device feels less than whole. The set of five small magnetic attachments are exposed, and ‘uncovered’ the Kindle’s unique asymmetrical design feels incredibly noticeable and slightly strange. When the two are attached, the cover’s battery fills in the space and one would never be the wiser, but alone the Kindle lays at an odd angle that some might find rather displeasing. There is one major benefit to removing the cover while reading, though: it feels incredibly light. Compared to a traditional tablet the Kindle Oasis is almost non-existent in weight, while still having enough surface area to feel substantial in the hand. One can read in bed, or at the park, and never tire of holding it in the air.
The page-turn buttons have also received a major overhaul since the last model. Amazon’s past iteration, the Voyage, featured two ‘not-quite-buttons’ called ‘PagePress touch areas’ which many found to be a step backward. I myself found them less than ideal (as it was slightly confusing where to push) and Amazon seems to agree, having gone back to entirely physical buttons at this point.
The return of buttons just makes sense—the Kindle is a device that requires the user to page forward through a book, again and again. Being unsure where to push (or how hard to press) was a decision ripe for frustration. The Oasis has corrected this, and has also in the process made the entire affair one-handed. The device’s screen is weighted to one side making room for two (very physical) buttons on the opposite end. The device can be used in either the left or right hand; simply flip the screen upside down to watch the page flip over and the buttons shift to recognize the new orientation and accommodate those who prefer to hold the device (and turn pages) with their left or right. The process is simple and intuitive, and I never have to guess whether or not I’m doing the right thing.
Beyond the buttons, the Kindle Oasis also utilizes its touch screen well, leading to one of my favorite simple features of the device. Because of the way that the touchscreen is perfectly flat against the device’s bezel, one can swipe from bezel to screen in order to swipe a page. Previous Kindle touchscreens have felt far too finicky for my taste (and in truth, the touch features could still feel snappier, especially when pulling up the top menu), but now I find myself making large sweeping gestures as I read a book, a gesture not unlike a page turn for a physical edition. Between the buttons and this touch mechanism, I find myself enjoying moving through a book more than ever before.
The user interface for the Kindle has not received an Oasis-specific update, but the ecosystem did recently receive a refresh. The home page for the Kindle features an almost magazine-like layout, with four different spaces each given unique purpose. The top left section features the covers of the last three books you’ve read along with a text-button to send you deeper into your library. To the right of the recently read books is a column of ‘reading lists’ which features samples you’ve downloaded, your ‘wish list’, and Goodreads integration. Below both of these sections is a ‘recommended for you’ list, featuring five book covers that Amazon thinks you might take an interest in, and another text-button to let you see even more.
Even further below these home page sections, across the entire length of the Kindle, is another of Amazon’s advertisements, the equivalent of a web banner ad slapped onto the home screen. Though some might find this particular addition annoying (and truth be told the device would certainly be better without it), the lack of movement and color makes these ads about as palatable as possible. If you’re using the Kindle as intended it matters little, as the home screen is nothing more than a way to get you reading—it’s not meant to be looked at for long.
Open a book, and in a quick second a page is presented. The reading experience is what matters, and though it certainly gets the job done many (myself included) lament the lack of display settings for the Kindle at this point in its maturity. The device allows you to pick from a list of nine fonts: Baskerville, Bookerly, Helvetica, Palatino, Amazon Ember, Futura, Caecilia, Caecilia Condensed, and OpenDyslexic. This means that there are five serif fonts, three sans-serifs, and one to help those with dyslexia. Bookerly is Amazon’s default choice, a fairly recent edition commissioned by Amazon for the Kindle, and a decent serif that is incredibly readable if a bit bold for my own tastes. Ember is even more recent, a sans-serif also commissioned by Amazon, which has only been unveiled alongside the Oasis. I find myself going back and forth between these two fonts, as the others are fairly poor options for reading. Helvetica and Futura specifically, the only two sans serif options until Ember’s arrival, have always seemed like like lackluster choices for long-term reading. While I’m happy to see Amazon developing their own fonts just for reading, I’d love to see more.
The device also allows the user to display the font of your choice in eight sizes which, although they are not given actual size descriptions, seem to range from ‘pretty small’ to ‘unbearably large’. These two features—font and size—are the limit of what a user can do to make the device their own. Each book is rendered with the text justified (which many whom I know simply cannot bear, preferring left-aligned text), and of course the monochromatic display means that black text on it’s ‘paperwhite’ display. These choices seem far too Spartan for a device purchased by die-hard readers. It’s a shame that after releasing so many versions of the Kindle, the actual reading experience has changed so little.
Some of the ‘tech specs’ of the Kindle seem, quite frankly, totally unnecessary to dive into. The device has 4 GB of storage space, but I can’t ever imagine running into this limitation with the minuscule size of the typical ebook. The device takes a few hours to charge fully, but you will very likely never find yourself scrambling to get a full charge. The front-lit LED display ‘just works’, and the Oasis automatically tries to determine whether the light is needed. In dark environments the device can provide a remarkably dim and non-distracting source of light that still allows the text to be more than legible. Certainly, the difference between a backlit tablet display, even on it’s lowest setting, and the Kindle’s light is quite clear. If you’re worried that your phone or tablet might be keeping you up at night, you might find yourself pleasantly surprised at the different a Kindle can make. An extra $70 gets you Amazon’s 3G cellular service, which isn’t too high a price to pay but I’ve never found myself in need of anything more than the standard wifi connection.
Speaking of cost, much has been made of the Oasis’ price tag, especially when viewed against last generation’s $199.99 Voyage. Rumors swirled about what wild features could justify the price hike for the Oasis, and there was much confusion when the device came out and the answer was, well, nothing. For some, price will be a barrier for purchasing the Oasis, and if this is true, the past generations will prove more than capable. Truly, Amazon is doing its flagship device no favors by showing it next to a markedly cheaper lineup of the Kindle, Kindle Paperwhite, and Kindle Voyage, with little to differentiate the products to the average consumer. I’ll tell you something though: For many people, I believe the cover alone is an upgrade worth the additional charge.
With the Oasis, Amazon has created their most carefree Kindle yet. I have no problem throwing the Kindle facedown in the overnight bag along with all my other things, and I don’t remember the last time I checked the device’s battery life. Past Kindle’s have not allowed for this sort of ease-of-use, and for many who are trying to get the most out of technology while being as undistracted as possible (which, I imagine, is nearly all e-reader fans), the price will be just right.
The fact that I worry so little about these sorts of details is actually one of the major benefits of a Kindle, in my eyes. In a world where I am constantly monitoring my phone’s battery, settings, and apps, the Kindle Oasis just is. Every time I pick up the Kindle, I know exactly what I’m getting—a chance to read, and nothing more.
Recently I found myself at a coffee shop on a relaxing Saturday morning. I put my bag, phone, and Kindle down at a seat and ordered my coffee. Returning, I looked down at the phone and Kindle, and knew it was time to make a choice. I picked up the Kindle, and got lost in a new world of words. That’s the promise of the Oasis.