"The Kindle Oasis is Amazon's thinnest, lightest and most luxurious e-reader yet"
I’ve been using my 2nd-gen Kindle Paperwhite (review) for almost two years now. I’ve been tempted to upgrade, especially after the Voyage (review), but that’s purely from a vanity standpoint. It’s a little worse for wear, like a well-thumbed book, but it’s good for another couple of years at the very least. Even so, after a meeting with Kathryn Abel, a senior product manager for Kindle, I was surprised to hear that there are still people who use first-gen and older Kindles. At a time where we change our gadgets faster than our reading glasses, it’s funny when you hear about people using ancient tech, but that’s where the Kindles stand out. The Kindle has never been as much about the technology as it has been about the books. As long as you have access to the Kindle Store, and can download and read books comfortably, for many users, there’s no real reason to upgrade. Which is why Amazon’s decision to launch the Kindle Oasis is puzzling, at best. The Voyage was a premium Kindle, but the Oasis is in a whole other league. It’s priced exorbitantly for an e-reader, and while there are justifications for that, even the most seasoned readers, including myself, were sceptical about it. The Kindle Oasis goes on sale in India today, and if you’ve been itching for an upgrade, here’s what you should know.
The first thing that struck me about the Kindle Oasis is how astonishingly tiny it is. It replaces the rectangular shape of the Paperwhite and Voyage for square-ish dimensions. A major new design addition is the hand grip, which results in a tapered back panel that's thicker on one-end and razor-thin on the other. And when I say thin, I mean really thin. At its thinnest point, the Oasis measures just 3.4mm, curving up to 8.4mm at the handgrip. It’s also exceedingly light at 133g for the 3G model, with the Wi-Fi edition weighing a few grams less. Where the Kindle starts to taper, you’ll notice a series of gold connectors, and this is where the included leather case fits in. Up until now, if you’ve wanted a case for your Kindle, it’s always been a separate purchase. Not with the Oasis though.
Amazon is bundling a leather case with the device, which not only protects the Oasis, but charges it too, thanks to an included battery. The case attaches magnetically to the Kindle, and makes for a snug fit that sits evenly with the hand grip. The case is bundled with both the Wi-Fi and 3G variants of the Oasis, which might make you feel better about the price. You can charge the case and the Oasis at the same time via the micro-USB port. When unplugged, the case charges the Oasis intelligently, kicking in when the battery dips to 92 percent or so. At any point, you can view the menu at the top of the Oasis to know the remaining battery levels of both the Oasis and the case, which is handy. Since both the micro-USB port and power button are placed on the edge of the hand grip, Amazon has integrated the LED indicator into the latter, which is a clever design addition.
One of the defining features of the Voyage was its force sensors, which enabled the PagePress feature, letting you press the bezels of the screen to turn the page. I got used to PagePress on the Voyage over time, but it still required a harder press than I preferred. On the Oasis, Amazon's done something even better – it's brought back physical buttons. The buttons are placed on the broad bezel of the hand grip, providing plenty of room to navigate between pages without activating the touchscreen. The buttons are firm, and offer good tactile feedback, making them much more convenient and natural for page turns compared to the Voyage’s sensors. By default, the button at the top goes to the next page, while the button below goes back. If you want to, you can reverse the buttons easily in the settings, which I did. One of the features I really liked in the Oasis was that the display auto-rotates thanks to the included accelerometer, which means that you can use the hand grip with either the left or right hand. I’m right handed, but I often read on my Kindle when I’m drinking a cup of coffee or eating, which makes turning pages difficult. The Oasis tackles that problem effortlessly. Switch hands and turn it around, and the display rotates, letting you use the physical buttons with your left hand. It’s a fast, smooth operation, and something I ended up using a lot. If you prefer to use the touchscreen for page turns, you can do that too.
The other notable feature of the Voyage was adaptive brightness, which was slightly sluggish, but did a decent job of adjusting the brightness of the display to the room’s ambient lighting. So it comes as a big surprise that the Oasis doesn't have this feature. We’ve learned from Amazon that not including auto-brightness on the Oasis was a conscious decision, in order to make it as thin as possible. However, auto-brightness seems like a natural progression after backlit screens, so it feels like the Oasis has taken a step back in this regard.
The hand grip is the Oasis' defining feature, and is designed to make one-handed use easier. In my experience though, it unbalances the Oasis, making it heavier on one side. I found my hand getting tired after longer reading sessions, and ended up using it with the case after a while. Once the battery case snaps on, the Oasis isn't as light, but it's still lighter than the Voyage. The leather material of the case provides a good grip as well, and makes the weight feel well balanced. Of course, this is just my experience, but the advantage of the Oasis is that you have both options.
The screen of the Oasis is the same as the one on the Voyage. The 6-inch display features a 300ppi resolution, with clear, sharp text. Amazon has added some extra flex to the Oasis' display though, to protect it from accidental falls or drops. The LEDs have also been moved around to the edges of the screen, allowing for more even illumination. The Oasis comes pre-loaded with Amazon’s new software interface, which is available to older Kindles via a software update. The UI is now cleaner and well arranged, with your current reads front and centre, plus dedicated sections for your reading lists and recommendations. The shortcuts for the Kindle Store and Goodreads are also on the homescreen, and easy to access. The Oasis also brings a new font called Amazon Ember, which is a sans serif font. Personally, I prefer the serif-style Bookerly that was released last year, which is rounder and softer.
The battery life of the Voyage was poorer in comparison to the Paperwhite, and on it's own, the Oasis fares much worse. Amazon has clearly had to make compromises to the battery to account for the skinny frame, but the case makes up for this. I’ve been reading on the Oasis for the better part of the week, and my usage involves about an hour of reading per day, with the brightness set to 13 on an average. I also browsed the Kindle store and downloaded a bunch of books, plus left the screen on for about half an hour while I snapped some photos of the device. The battery of the case is now at 50 percent, while the Oasis is at 92 percent. At this rate, I think I won’t have to charge the Oasis for another couple of weeks at least. Amazon’s estimate of a two-month battery life with the case is with 30 minutes of reading per day, so you’re going to get different results based on your usage. Either way, you won't need to charge the Oasis for weeks at a stretch, which is good enough.
So, now to answer the question I posed earlier, is the Kindle Oasis deserving of its price? Let’s get some perspective first. In the US, the Oasis retails for $290 for the Wi-Fi only version, and $360 for the 3G version. In India, it costs Rs 23,999 (~$360) for the Wi-Fi version, and Rs 27,999 (~$420) for the 3G model. That’s a huge price difference. Gadgets in the US are traditionally cheaper than those in India, owing to import duties and accounting for currency rate fluctutations, but it’s still a lot to pay for an e-reader. But then, the Kindle Oasis is like the Louis Vuitton of e-readers, and Louis Vuitton isn't for everyone. I know people who'd splurge the equivalent of my entire month's salary on a designer bag, which I find strange, as I would easily settle for one that costs a fraction of that. The point I'm trying to make is that there will be readers who want to spend a premium on a device like the Oasis, just like there are those who will be perfectly happy with a basic Kindle, or a Paperwhite, or even an antiquated first-gen Kindle. But that's the beauty of a Kindle. It puts the books centre stage, and after a while, the device itself ceases to matter.