I'm not terribly fussy about how I read. I used an old Kindle Keyboard until a stray pen in my backpack broke its display, and I've long happily used a Paperwhite without so much as considering the fancier Kindles Amazon has released since I got it back in 2013. Hell, half the time I'm just reading on the Kindle smartphone app for a few minutes here and there between glances at my email. So the new Kindle Oasis, the company's most advanced reading gadget yet, is not designed for me. But goddamn, it's great.
When the Kindle Oasis came out last year, we were justifiably awestruck by how clever, if weird, it was, with its physical page-turn buttons, and a reversible design that worked for both right-handed and left-handed people. It was teeny tiny and light, loveable -- and very expensive. We were floored by the price tag. $389!
The new Kindle Oasis is better in almost every way than its predecessor, and that includes in price. It now starts at $389 -- and in the back of your mind as you read this review, you should be asking yourself how much extra you are willing to pay to get the very best ereader experience, compared to the very good and totally sufficient experience you get from a $179 Kindle Paperwhite. How can this thing be worth more than twice the price of a satisfactory gadget?
For starters, the new Kindle's display is now a full-inch larger, and while at first I didn't think that was going to make a difference, it definitely does, and it's not just because the new Kindle fits more words on the screen. As an object, the new Kindle just feels more substantial without feeling at all bulky or heavy. It's still compact enough to slip into my jacket pocket, but the larger device feels more secure in my medium-sized hands.
The new device's broad design points are mostly inherited from the older model, though its design has been refined here and there. For example, new page turn buttons are wider for easier thumb-stabbing, and where the old Oasis needed an additional battery case to get decent life, the new model's chassis is plenty large for all the battery you should need. (More on battery in a minute.)
The new Oasis also comes with a bevy of new features. It's waterproof, which I submit is not a feature I'll find too useful. I've spent weeks on the beach with my Paperwhite without ever worrying it might end up in the drink, and I don't find myself in the bath with an ereader too often. (I only bathe with large format magazines, thank you very much.) That said, it's comforting to know that the $389 device I bought for the single function of reading will not die when one of my friends' kids throws it in the pool.
The device also now has the ability to connect to Bluetooth headphones so you can listen to Audible audio books. So in theory, you can toggle between listening to and reading a book from a single device. The whole experience isn't quite as seamless as an optimist might imagine. You need to separately download both the text and audio. Once you've got your headphones set up, switching between the text and the audio should be as simple as pushing the little headphones button, and it usually is, but I definitely experienced some sync hiccups in the few times I tried it.
As someone who does not frequently listen to audiobooks, I think it's pretty cool! I might actually use this more if it's baked into a Kindle that's always in my backpack. It's certainly safer than trying read the final gripping pages of a chapter while crossing two avenues on foot for the last seven minutes of my commute.
But be warned, as with other devices, running a Bluetooth radio non-stop will affect battery life. I've only been using the Oasis for a weekend, and while I haven't managed to kill it, I have noticed the battery level draw down to less than half already. Of course, I haven't had enough days to properly test the battery, but be circumspect when the company claims multiple weeks of battery life even when you're using Bluetooth.
In the end, though, what makes the new Kindle Oasis great is what's always made the Kindle great -- the reading experience. It's worth returning to the larger display here. It's a little more real estate to feast your eyes on when you're riding on the subway or at a cafe, thus better guarding the corners of your eye from distraction. It's more than the size. Every detail of the new Oasis' design seems almost tailor-made to envelop you in words, from the display which is flush with the device's bezels to the fatter buttons you can push without a thought to the well-balanced weight that makes the ereader easy to hold with one hand. Amazon even added a new inverted, white-on-black reading mode, which I prefer for reading in places like a dark bar. These touches are all thoughtfully orchestrated to suck you into the e-ink page so that instead of feeling like you're using a gadget, it feels like you're, well, reading.
Which brings us back to the central question I opened this review with: Are all the perks of the new Oasis -- its ability to make reading on a screen feel fully satisfying -- enough to make the device worth $389, when $179 buys you a device that gets the job done? For most people, I would venture it's not, but I can't say it definitely isn't. If you're ready to splurge, you won't be disappointed.
- The best reading experience at a price you probably can't afford.
- I didn't think the larger display would make much of a difference, but it really does.
- Audiobooks are more fun than I remember.
- For $179, you can get the very good Kindle Paperwhite.