Review: Amazon Kindle Oasis

Electronic books have already delivered a future where we can bring all of our books with us, but the next development will be one of super thin tablets that feel like nothing, a future where Amazon is already beginning to dabble.

Features and thickness

We’ve always thought that the future would have super-thin displays that we’d take around from place to place, almost as if “Star Trek” had come to life, and believe it or not, we’re getting there.

Tablets are getting slimmer, phones are cutting out ports and getting thinner, and it won’t be long before we have devices we can read from that are as thin as paper.

In fact, there are even prototype displays that are super thin and bend like paper, but they are still just prototypes, and near the middle of 2016, you can’t yet buy one.

Maybe next year, but probably closer to 2018 or 2019, just not yet.

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Right now, the closest you can find to that dream is in Amazon’s Kindle Oasis, a curiously thin ebook reader measuring 3.4mm at its thinnest point and 8.5mm at its thickest. This includes a touchscreen panel, if you can believe it, and the smarts to let you browse books with a front-lit screen.

Under the hood, little about the screen has changed from when we last checked out the Amazon Kindle Voyage last year, with the same E-Ink Carta display with front-lighting technology and a 300 pixel per inch screen, providing a clarity much like that of a printed book.

That means it’ll be clear, but Amazon has also made it thin, and that’s because of where this Kindle has put the technology.

While things are a little more spread out in the other Kindle readers, Amazon has pulled back on the battery size for the Oasis, providing a smaller battery and most of the electronics in the spine, which is where the eReader juts out to 8.5mm thick.

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That super slim 3.4mm size is along the section for the screen, and that’s basically all it is: a screen with a touch panel integrated and a few more LEDs, for what is basically a better lit screen.

The rest of the technology needed for the Kindle — the processing, the 4GB storage, the wireless controllers, the smaller battery, the microUSB port — are in the spine, and this is to help you hold the Kindle like a book.

In-use

Holding the Oasis like a book literally comes naturally because of this thick versus thin design, and because Amazon has been kind enough to throw in an accelerometer, able to orient the screen in portrait where the spine is either on the left or the right, meaning you can hold it in whatever hand you prefer.

Want to read it with the spine in your right hand? Do that. Prefer the spine in your left hand? Go do that instead.

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The choice is yours, and the Kindle Oasis will happily switch for you with no problems.

WiFi in the Kindle is also very good, letting you jump onto your home or work WiFi, or even a mobile hotspot if you need to, and as per the previous Kindle devices, surf the Amazon store and purchase books with ease.

If you’re out of range from a wireless network, no worries, because the books are stored on your Kindle and you can read without the net. Really, you only need it if you plan to go online and buy, or even online to use the experimental web browser, though with everyone owning a web-connected phone, we’re not sure why you would still use this feature.

Basically, you just need online access to buy books and to sync them with the Amazon Kindle servers, ideal if you’re jumping between phone and Kindle to read titles.

None of this is new to the way a Kindle works, though. What is new, however, is the design of the Oasis, which orients itself to your hand better than previous models thanks to the spine.

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Holding this section feels like you’re holding a slightly folded over book, but a very light one, making for what is easily the lightest book you’ve ever felt, and the thinnest one at that. And at 131 grams, it is totally believable.

Buying and reading a book is fairly simple, with the store available to you and purchases literally a touch away, with the reading of the book one more touch away.

In the book, you’ll find the text very, very clear, and the controlled front lighting through the sun button means you can control the light on the screen easily. Interestingly, Amazon hasn’t brought over the adaptive lighting sensor from the Voyage, so this is a manually controlled light, much like what appears on the Paperwhite.

Controlling the Oasis is a bit of a mixed bag, though, and that’s partially because you have both touch and physical controls. On the edge of the screen near the spine, you have two buttons for forward or backward, with the top-most button acting as forward and the bottom as backward, meaning you can control the book with one hand.

You can also touch the screen on either side to go forward or backward, or even swipe left and right, so you have a few ways to flip pages.

Swipe from left to right or right to left to change pages.

Swipe from left to right or right to left to change pages.

But you also need to get to the menu, and that happens solely when you touch the top of the screen, with the top bar appearing for home, back button, light control, font size and type, bookmarking, search, and more.

Primarily, touch is how you use the Kindle Oasis, and that’s fine, though it can occasionally feel slow and lag a little. It’s not that it is slow, but that sometimes it can feel that way as the device loses a little momentum.

Fortunately it eventually sorts itself out, and you can get back to reading fairly quickly in whichever orientation you prefer, and for a period of two weeks without the cover.

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With the cover — which is included in the box, by the way — you’ll get several more weeks of battery thanks to the battery built into that cover, or built into the back of it, anyway.

You’ll see this pretty easily with a thin plastic brick that magnetically links up with five metal dots in the middle of the back of the Oasis spine, and when connected, this not only serves as a leather wrap for the Oasis screen, but also a bigger battery, increasing the thickness of the entire device to a little more than the spine itself.

Essentially, the super slim side gets bulked up to the thickness of the spine when the battery is brought back in with the battery cover, and that makes sense when you think of how the small the battery inside the Oasis is, which is partly how Amazon was able to get the eReader so slim in the first place.

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Value

One thing we are critical over is the price, because at $449, this is not a cheap eReader.

Its closest siblings are the Kindle Paperwhite and Kindle Voyager for $179 and $299 respectively, and while neither hold a candle to how thin the Oasis is, the similarity of technology makes the Oasis close to what the $179 Paperwhite offers.

That means you’re paying nearly $300 more for something that is basically just thinner. That’s it, with much the same touch control, no adaptive light sensor, and buttons on each side to change pages.

Forget about the changes to thickness and you have much the same product.

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Amazon is now even doing a bit of advertising with the Oasis, because you’ll find this eReader advertises books to you on a regular basis for a screensaver, different from the standard screen lock images of the past.

It almost feels like you shouldn’t be advertised on the more expensive model, and yet here we are being told we can save up to 85 percent for some reason or another one day, while shown another book another day.

This combination of being advertised to and the difference in price makes the $449 harder to justify unless you have to have the future now. That future is indeed slim, but it’s also quite expensive for what the mid-range Kindle offers in a marginally thicker package.

Hooray! Advertising! And you still have to pay the full $449 price!

Hooray! Advertising! And you still have to pay the full $449 price!

Conclusion

While the Oasis is very expensive, especially for an eReader, it has something no other eReader can currently lay claim to: that beyond the ubiquity that portable screens have already become, this does feel like a piece of the future.

Strangely, you have to remove the cover to get that feeling, but the moment you do, it’s pretty clear how amazing that future will be when it comes to everything.

With that cover removed, the Kindle Oasis is a lovely dream, and a vision that the world will one day be like this, but with the battery and the cover to stop the screen from being ruined, the Oasis is just like every other Kindle, and in some ways worse.

No adaptive light sensor, but you can control the brightness yourself.

No adaptive light sensor, but you can control the brightness yourself.

 

Strangely, it has more in common with the mid-range option, which is just plain odd given there’s nearly $300 between them. That point alone makes the Kindle Oasis had to place, with the target market for people keen to have a bit of the future now or just interested in owning the best of the best.

Let’s get something straight here, because it needs to be said: while the Oasis is superbly thin and light, the average Kindle is already very thin and light, and when you bring in that Oasis battery-equipped cover, the thickness and weight are very, very close to what you get on the Kindle Paperwhite.

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Once you take that into account, it’s hard to recommend the Oasis to anyone but that aforementioned luxury target market, because everyone else should just go with the Paperwhite, or pony up for the adaptive light sensing technology of the Voyage.

Still, it’s a lovely vision of what could be. When the rest of the Kindle have it and Amazon makes it the norm, it will be a lovely time to live in, indeed.

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