The Amazon Kindle has been fairly predictable over the past few years, walking a path from button-laden ebook reader at its 2007 launch, all the way through to the ultra-refined and ultra-simple Paperwhite and Voyage generation.
The Kindle exists for one reason and that's to read books. In a world of jack-of-all-trades devices, it's about the only master of one. Ok, perhaps two if you cynically say that it's there to sell you books from Amazon. But as Kindle owner and user, reading books and having access to more books is the reason you love the Amazon Kindle.
The new Oasis shakes the Kindle status quo, radically rethinking the first position of incremental device updates, but reasserting and reinforcing the second position. For everything that the Kindle Oasis is, the central aim is to continue to deliver the best reading experience there is.
But even before you pick the Kindle Oasis up, there's something that will divide opinion and that's the price. At £269.99 for the Wi-Fi version, and £329.99 for the Wi-Fi and 3G version (that we review here), this is way more expensive than the rest of the Kindle line-up.
Amazon Kindle Oasis review: Refreshing design
- 143 x 122 x 3.4-8.5mm
- Wi-Fi: 131g (Wi-Fi); 133g (Wi-Fi + 3G)
- Cover: 107g
With the aim of creating the best reading device ever, Amazon stripped the Kindle down to its component pieces and built it back up again, taking the chance to remove as many annoyances or distractions as possible along the way. The result is a completely new form factor. It escapes the predictable tablet-like slab, offering a funky, but seriously considered, design.
At first glance, you might think it's just a silly reshaping, but there's something about this new design that really works. It's as light as it can be and that's essential for those who read a lot. Leaving the battery cover to one side, the naked Kindle Oasis feels incredibly light in the hand, making it really nice to hold, even for long periods of time.
The new Kindle weighs 131g without the cover (Wi-Fi version) and 238g with the battery cover. If you opt for the version with 3G, it's 2g heavier. Compare it to the Paperwhite which is 205g (Wi-Fi, 217g 3G) and that's a fairly hefty difference, especially when you add the 150g (approx) for the official Kindle Paperwhite cover into the mix.
Rather than presenting a uniform thickness across the device, there's a bump running down one side. That contains everything, the battery, the brains, all the hardware apart from the E Ink display itself. It even contains the display controller and LEDs.
That bump not only contains the hardware, but provides a natural grip for the Oasis. The bump is large enough for you to softly grip with your fingers. It's also rubber surfaced, so it feels secure. The 6-inch display then extends away from this section, only 3.4mm thick through most of its body.
The display surface is flat on the Oasis as it is on the Voyage, but rather than offering haptic pressure buttons in the bezels, the Oasis has two physical buttons for page turns. When gripping the Oasis, it's really easy to turn pages with the slightest movement of the thumb. It's natural, it's easy and it works in either the left or right hand thanks to the accelerometer onboard.
Kindle Oasis review: The hardware teardown
- 6-inch, 300ppi touchscreen
- 4GB storage
- Wi-Fi or Wi-Fi + 3G
- 2 weeks from internal battery, 8 weeks from cover
To understand how the Kindle Oasis ended up in this position, it's worth taking a look at the parts that make it up. There's surprisingly little to it, but in previous editions - such as the best selling Paperwhite - Amazon wasn't able to optimise the hardware so well. Through advancements in technology, components have become miniaturised so you're only really left with a few pieces.
There's the main board that has all the brains on it - including the accelerometer - the battery and the display. Then you have the display itself. As this is a Kindle, it's an E Ink display, retaining excellent power efficiency and daylight readability. It's an E Ink Carta 1.2 panel, but uses a new backplate that's as thin as kitchen foil. It offers 300ppi across the 6-inch display, the same as the Kindle Voyage.
The front of that display has chemically hardened glass for protection, but it retains some flex to help protection against damage. As we mentioned, the LEDs have moved to the edge, and the front illumination system is now much more efficient as the light only has to spread across two-thirds of the distance it did in the past, so it's much more even.
So let's bring it on down to the actual frame of the Oasis. It's polycarbonate (plastic) but then undergoes structural electroplating for strength. This is painted and the other components fit into it and that's about it. It leaves you with a Kindle that has a cool metal feel through much of the body, but with that rubber section for grip. It's simple, it's novel, but it's still very much a Kindle.
Kindle Oasis software and reading experience
- Seamless Amazon integration, with Whispersync
- X-Ray for more detail
The Kindle Oasis software is the same as the recently-updated software on existing devices, with a refreshed home screen and top navigation banner offering better controls over things like the illumination brightness, although this still takes a couple of taps and could be bubbled up higher. The Kindle Oasis boosts the number of LEDs, increasing the number by about 60 per cent compared to other illuminated Kindles, but it doesn't offer the adaptive front-lighting of the Kindle Voyage. That means you'll have to adjust it manually.
That's not such a hardship, but we're surprised that Amazon couldn't find a way to incorporate a sensor on this, its premium device, to do that for you. In fact it's a silly omission, because the Oasis onboard battery only lasts 2 weeks, and in daylight you can have the illumination on and you'd never know - it's just eating battery for no reason at all.
The illumination does spread nice and evenly across the front of the Kindle Oasis and we're happy to say that we think it's the best looking display we've seen so far. The Voyage is close, but the removal of the bezels compared to the Paperwhite makes quite the difference, as there's one less thing in your way.
The buttons are new and they're fast to turn pages. There's the option to have a complete refresh on each page turn, but this makes things slower, so it's not really worth turning it on, because the fast page turns are one of the great things about the Oasis. The buttons have a distinct action to them, it's light, but there's a positive click so you know what you're doing. This makes things a little more definite than other touchscreen Kindles.
You still have the full range of touch actions too, so a swipe or the tap on the display can also move you through the pages - whichever you prefer, or whatever's convenient at the time.
The result is that the Kindle Oasis does exactly what it sets out to do. It offers a premium reading experience and stepping back to older versions once you've used the Oasis feels like an awkward regression. You might sniff at the odd design, but you won't once you've relaxed with your favourite thriller, just you and the words and little by the way of distraction.
Seamless integration with the Kindle store, compatibility with a wide range of formats and seamless integration with the Kindle Store and Whispersync services is a given, along with support for Goodreads.
However, there are areas that the Kindle software could be better and this applies to all Kindles, not just the Oasis. Referring to different parts of the book, for example if there's a reference section or a map at the start is still too much of a faff - it's too easy to lose your place. We also think that there should be a better layout to the Kindle store when you're shopping. Although it's easy to buy, we think there should be clearer identification of books you already own or those you've read to help guide your shopping.
There's a lot in the Kindle that's great however, like long pressing to see the definition of a word you aren't familiar with, as well as a wide range of parental options so that you can share with a child but keep your books separate.
Kindle Oasis review: Battery cover
- Comes in the box
- Adds 6 weeks battery
- Premium Leather finish, in black, merlot or walnut
The battery cover comes in the box, as a sweetener perhaps, to offset the hefty price you're being asked to pay for the Oasis. But at the same time, the battery cover is an integral part of the experience. As we just mentioned, the Kindle Oasis' onboard battery lasts about 2 weeks. That's the result of Amazon's redesign and there's an argument that says that perhaps the Oasis should have been a more regular size and packing a big battery instead.
The battery cover, therefore, brings the expansion to 8 weeks of use (all the figures are dependent on how much light you use, how many page turns you make and your wireless network usage). The cover actually works by slowly charging the Oasis internal battery up again, so in theory, if you detach the two parts - perhaps because you want the lightest option to slip into your jacket pocket on a long day trip - then you're walking out with a full battery.
The battery cover magnetically attaches to the Oasis and there's a nice precise action to it. The cover then neatly flaps over, again held in place with magnets. There's a high quality finish to everything, and a seamless precision, although it's currently only available in leather, with a choice of three colours.
To charge the battery cover it needs to be connected to the Oasis and the charge is then passed through one device to the other. There's a battery display accessed via the top navigation bar, where you can see the relative percentages of both batteries.
The downside to this arrangement is that you'll sometimes get a low battery warning when in fact you still have plenty of change in one of the sections of the device. We also think that Amazon should take a leaf out of Fitbit's book and give you an alert when your Kindle's battery is running low - either by email or through an Amazon app on your smartphone.
Yes, it's a quirk offering a separate battery cover when you could have just offered a larger internal battery, but there's some flexibility in that arrangement.
However, we've always used our Kindle Paperwhite in the official leather case. It's a really solid cover, encasing the whole device, meaning we've been less concerned about taking it to the beach or throwing it in a bag, because it's protected on all sides. As nice as the Oasis battery cover is, it doesn't have that same level of ruggedness. The sides remain exposed, so this is perhaps a Kindle that will need a little more kindness than the encased Paperwhite.
Kindle Oasis review: Why don't you just get an iPad?
Normally we wouldn't tackle this sort of question in a review, but it's been asked so many times, it seems appropriate. Many have suggested that getting a tablet is a better option than an ebook reader, because it does so much more. The defence in the most part has been that Kindles are cheaper. Starting at £59, the entry-level Kindle is exceptionally good value for money.
But throw a £300 Kindle in the mix and you're looking at iPad mini prices. The iPad mini 2 is only £219, the mini 4 is £319. So when we first started talking about the Kindle Oasis, many people said you'd just get an iPad instead. As logical as that argument seems based on cash alone, the same logic would dictate that you buy a Ford Fiesta rather than a Harley Davidson motorcycle. Yes, both are vehicles, both even have wheels, but they're entirely different things.
When people ask this question, it only says one thing: they don't read books. Sure, they might read the odd novel, but there is no interchange between a tablet and a Kindle. You might be able to emergency read through the Kindle app, but that's not the Kindle experience. The Kindle experience is losing yourself for hours lying on the beach, it's escaping into your own world on a packed commuter train, it's that profound joy of reading late into the night in the soft glow of that front-lit display, just to finish that book. And then buying the next to guiltily keep going.
If you don't understand that, if you don't feel that thrill, then you'll never really understand the Kindle, and you'll certainly never understand the Oasis.
The Kindle Oasis is easily the best Kindle, offering an experience that outshines its Kindle family. If it wasn't for the omission of an adaptive front light, we'd be able to say it's the most technically accomplished Kindle too. The design is strange, perhaps, and there's an argument that says this should be one piece, not a 2-week device that is dependent on its external battery to be competitive with its cheaper siblings.
At the same time we love the flexibility and hefting a cased Paperwhite to read now feels like holding a brick. The existing Kindles feel dated as a result of the Oasis and that's exciting. It's exciting that something so simple can reinvent itself without really doing anything different.
And therein lies the biggest problem with the Kindle Oasis: it doesn't do anything different. The Paperwhite is £109.99, a full £160 cheaper than the Oasis. Sure, the lighting isn't quite as even, and it's bulkier and heavier, but the feature set is the same. If you asked us which Kindle to buy, we'd point to the Paperwhite and tell you that that's the hero, because the Kindle Paperwhite is just too damn good to ignore.
But cost is relative and if we didn't have expensive things that did the same thing as cheaper things, there would be no Rolls-Royce, no Omega, no Gieves & Hawkes, there would be no Premier Cru and none of that ridiculously moreish vintage Cheddar.
The world would be a boring place without these excesses and in our minds, that's enough to justify the Kindle Oasis' existence.
Originally published on 26 April 2016.