Last year, Amazon introduced the ultra-thin and expensive Kindle Oasis. It re-imagined the Kindle E-reader design, wrapping an unusual cantilever chassis around the 6-inch electronic paper screen.
On one side, it was 0.13 inches thick. On the other 0.33 inches. This fatter area housed the battery but also gave the Kindle a defined grip area. It also married with a special case that slipped into the space left by the thin part of the screen and connected both magnetically and electrically to the Kindle Oasis to add another four weeks of battery life.
It was stunning, different and another step closer to the dream: e-readers that feel like you’re reading off a single sheet of paper.
The combination of the design, ergonomics and excellent screen almost made the Oasis worth $349. Aside from the price, I had trouble seeing how Amazon could make a better Kindle. And with less than a third of Americans choosing to read ebooks (the number jumps to over 40 percent when you look at college-educated and affluent readers), I wondered if they should even bother. But Amazon did it anyway.
Viewed from a distance, the all-new Amazon Kindle Oasis is virtually unchanged from the first one. That impression changes quickly as you get closer. To start with, this is a much bigger e-reader. At 7 inches diagonally, the screen is a full inch larger than the previous Oasis, my Kindle Paperwhite, and the Kindle Voyage.
The back is different, too. Instead of a black composite material, it’s now a shiny, smooth aluminum body. There’s still a thick 0.32-inch grip and a 0.13-inch thin side, but unlike the original Oasis, this model’s back is one, continuous piece of metal molded around the battery (there is a 5.5-inch by 0.25 inch composite cutout for the LTE antenna on the LTE model, only) that tightly hugs the screen and control area (home for the two, physical navigation buttons) on the other side.
There is no connector on the back because, even though the 7-inch Oasis can marry with an optional case in the same fashion as the first Oasis, it no longer electronically connects to it and gains no extra battery life. Fortunately, that larger Oasis chassis accommodates a lot more battery. Amazon promises 6 weeks of battery life on a charge.
The new unibody design is also why this is Amazon’s first essentially waterproof Kindle (2 meters of fresh water for 60 minutes).
It’s all good news, right? So why don’t I love the new Kindle Oasis?
Amazon’s product packaging is remarkable only for its laudable simplicity. Unboxing the new Kindle Oasis takes just a few moments and the device walks you through connecting it to your Wi-Fi network and Amazon account. Even at $249 (at the low end, my test model with Wi-Fi, LTE and 32 GB costs $349), the package does not include a charger, just the micro-USB cable. Also, am I the only one surprised that Amazon hasn’t switched these devices to USB-C?
I placed the Oasis on my desk and charged it overnight. The next day I picked it and started reading. Strike that, I tried to pick it up. The wider and somewhat sleeker body simply isn’t as grip-able as the smaller Oasis or my own 6-inch Paperwhite. I used two hands to grab the Oasis, flipped the reader over and tried to grip it again. In both cases, I was spreading my fingers to the sides of the device; I had four fingers on one side and my thumb on the thin side. I couldn’t pick it up. The best way to grip the Oasis is to slide your fingers under the fat side and let your thumb rest on top of the screen. Then it’s easy to pick up.
Don’t get me wrong, the Oasis, which weighs just 7 ounces, is light and — thanks to the wide navigation area and the curve on the bottom between the thick and thin sides of the device — comfortable to hold.
It’s not, though, as comfortable to hold as my Paperwhite, which weighs just 5.7 ounces. But, hey, I do get that big screen.
A pretty face
The New Kindle Oasis screen is not only the biggest e-reader since the Kindle DX, it’s also the best. While sharing the same 300 ppi resolution as the last few Kindle devices, it’s faster, offers the best contrast (more like ink on white paper) and, thanks to a couple more LED lights, brighter.
Amazon also added more reading experience customization. Instead of eight different font size choices, the Oasis has 14 and the labels now reflect the real on-screen font size. I can also change the screen, through accessibility options, to reverse text: all white text on a black screen.
A larger device also means you can put more technology inside. The all-new Oasis includes Bluetooth connectivity, so you can play Audible’s audio books on your speaker of choice. The Audible experience, which Amazon owns, is also included for the first time in the Kindle Oasis. You do not need to be an Audible member to use it, but audio books will be cheaper if you are.
Setting this up was a little challenging because, initially, I couldn’t get the Oasis to see my Harman Kardon Invoke speaker. Eventually, after restarting both devices, I got them connected and then it was easy to play an Audible audio book.
Since I don’t think everyone in my home wants to hear what I’m reading, I also paired the Oasis to Apple’s AirPods. This worked on the first try and the audio sounded great.
Ebooks don’t automatically come with their audio versions. You will have to pay for the book twice. Fortunately, Amazon offers steep discounts for anyone who already owns either book format. In my case, I got a book for free from Amazon (Prime members get one free tome — from a preset collection — per month) and paid $1.99 for the audio book.
One of my favorite things about this Kindle update is that the book and audio book remain in perfect sync. I started playing Eliza Maxwell’s The Unremembered Girl through Audible and then switched to the print book. It dropped me right on the page where I left off in Audible. I also really like the simple Audible playback screen.
Reading with the Oasis is a pleasurable experience. I can use taps or swipes on the screen to turn or turn back a page or use the two physical buttons on the face of the device. The buttons are perfectly positioned for my thumb, but I did choose to swap the operation of them from the default. I like Page Forward on top and Go Back on the bottom.
Having those buttons there means I don’t have to move my other hand while reading. I have never felt so lazy.
As for the waterproofing, I tested it by placing the device under some running water. The water didn’t harm the Oasis at all, but it was fun to watch the screen react to it. Water makes an electrical connection, so the capacitive touchscreen, which uses the conductivity of our own fingers to respond, acted like someone was touching the 7-inch screen all over.
I read with the Oasis on the train, in bed, and at work, and started to realize that, while I like the large screen, I miss the lightness and balance of a smaller device. The Amazon Kindle is the only device where I can easily read for hours. One obvious reason for that is the reflective screen needs little battery life to generate a page of text and virtually none to hold it on screen. The other reason is that the previous Kindles have always felt so light and balanced. This Oasis felt a little unwieldy.
I’m not sure what kind of feedback Amazon got from readers that indicated that they wanted a bigger Kindle screen. Yes, it’s closer to a hardcover page size and, no doubt, a hardcover book is much bigger, heavier and more unwieldy than an e-reader, but I never had a complaint about my 6-inch Kindle screen.
Battery life is rated for six weeks with 30 minutes of reading per day, the Wi-Fi and LTE radios off and brightness set to 10, which is a little below half power on the LEDs.
I did not have six weeks to test this, so I decided to see what happens if you push the Kindle Oasis hard on all fronts. I turned up the brightness to 24 and left the radios on. I did not use the device continuously, but by day five, the battery was spent. That surprised me a little, but I think there was another reason for this short lifespan. This is the first Kindle e-reader I’ve ever used that accidentally turns on in my backpack.
I don’t know if this is because the power button is on the top edge of the device (it’s on the bottom edge of my Paperwhite) and I had a habit of putting it into my backpack with the button facing up, or if the button on the Oasis is a little less stiff and therefore more easily pressed on. Whatever the case, on more than one occasion, I opened my backpack and found the Oasis shining brightly in the darkness.
Though expensive ($349 for the 32 GB LTE model, $249 for the 8 GB Wi-Fi-only version), the new Amazon Kindle Oasis is a nicely designed, useful device. I’m still not sure it’s better than the original Kindle Oasis. Even with Bluetooth and a better and bigger screen, this is not the device I want to hold and read with for six hours at the beach. It’s too big. If I really wanted a larger reading screen, I could switch to an iPad mini or Kindle Fire Tablet.
For almost a decade, Amazon has delivered ever smaller and lighter Kindle e-readers that brought them closer and closer to that reading-on-paper ideal. The whole point has been for the technology to fade into the background so we, the avid readers Amazon targets with these devices, could focus on the words. The first Oasis was a bold and welcome leap in that direction. This new Kindle feels like a step backward.
Amazon All-New Kindle Oasis
Beautiful design • Virtually waterproof • Bigger, brighter, faster E Ink screen
Too big • Not as grippy • Expensive
The Bottom Line
I’m sorry, when did we ask for a bigger Kindle screen?