Amazon Kindle Oasis review: The best e-reader ever, but the sky-high price hurts its appeal

The Oasis, the first Kindle to include a protective cover — a swanky leather one that integrates a backup battery no less — costs a whopping $290 in the US, £270 in the UK or AU$449 in Australia. Meanwhile, the Wi-Fi+3G version, which bundles in free 3G data for the life of the product, takes you up to $359 or £330.

Geez, who does Amazon think it is? Apple? That’s an awful lot to pay for a monochrome e-reader. In fact, for a bit less than the price as the Wi-Fi Oasis, you can snag an iPad Mini 2. Or five entry-level Amazon Fire tablets. And they do a lot more than just display black and white text.

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The Kindle Voyage (left) and Kindle Oasis (right) actually have the same size 6-inch screen.

Sarah Tew/HDOT

That said, the Oasis is the first Kindle in a while that looks and feels like a brand new Kindle. It’s been completely redesigned: the device is more square in shape than previous Kindles, weighs a mere 131 grams (4.6 ounces) and measures 3.4 mm (0.13 inches) at its slimmest point.

That makes it 20 percent lighter and 30 percent thinner on average than the Kindle Voyage ($200, £170, AU$299), which remains in the line along with the Paperwhite ($120, £110, AU$179) and entry-level Kindle ($80, £60, AU$109). (Those prices, at least for the Paperwhite and entry-level Kindles, are frequently discounted by Amazon. And with all Kindles, you’ll need to pay a bit more — at time of purchase or anytime thereafter — if you want to remove Amazon’s mostly subtle advertisements from the lock screen and the main menu.)

Thanks to the new shape, a lot of people initially think the screen is smaller than the screen found on other Kindles. But it’s an optical illusion; the screen in fact is the same 6-inch size but simply has a smaller bezel around it.

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The Oasis is 3.4 mm at its thinnest point.

David Carnoy/HDOT

To get lighter, Amazon’s engineers equipped the new e-reader with a “featherweight” polymer frame plated with metal structural electroplating that adds rigidity. Also, the internal battery and electronics have been scrunched into an ergonomic hump on the backside of the device that allows you to hold the e-reader comfortably in your hand. The hump shifts the weight of the device so it’s better balanced and feels more like you’re holding a book with a spine.

It does feel really light. And while 20 percent doesn’t sound like a huge weight reduction, when you’re reading in bed at night and holding your e-reader in front of your face, that 20 percent does make a difference. You can read longer without taking a break.

The other significant change is to the lighting scheme. The built-in front light has 60 percent more LEDs (10 LEDs vs. 6 on the Voyage and 4 on the Paperwhite) and they’re embedded in the side of the display, not the bottom. The result is the light does appear a little brighter — and whiter — and splays across the screen a touch more uniformly. It really isn’t much of an upgrade, but it is an upgrade nonetheless.

Amazon says the Oasis’ new 6-inch Paperwhite display is the first in a Kindle to use a 200-micron backplane that is “as thin as a single sheet of aluminum foil.” It’s been combined with a custom cover glass engineered from “chemically reinforced” glass for added toughness.

The text on the touchscreen e-ink display looks very close to what you get with the Kindle Paperwhite and Voyage. There’s the same sharp 300 ppi resolution and similar contrast. You can turn pages by touching the screen or press the physical page turn buttons on the side of the device.

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You can choose between three case color options.

David Carnoy/HDOT

It’s also worth noting that you can hold the device in your left or right hand while reading. Thanks to a built-in accelerometer, the screen automatically rotates the page and page turn buttons to match the hand you have the device in. Alas, the case isn’t waterproof, which isn’t a major issue, but with a name like Oasis and its high price, some people may expect to include waterproofing — especially those who like to read in the bathtub or by the pool.

The battery cover, which comes in three color options, is pretty slim but obviously adds some weight to the device. It adheres magnetically and is easy to remove and slip back on, so you can easily take it off when you don’t need the extra protection. Amazon says the Oasis gets over two weeks of battery life on its own, and over nine weeks when combined with the cover. That’s with the Wi-Fi or 3G off (Wi-Fi is a huge battery suck).

Performance plateau

From a design standpoint the Oasis is clearly the nicest e-ink e-reader that Amazon’s ever produced, and it’s easy to be impressed by how light and slim it is. I also like its new shape and the design of the case.

Where I think some people may be a little disappointed is that while the design is a clear step forward, performance has plateaued. E-ink is inherently a sluggish technology compared to LCD, so while Apple, Samsung and other smartphone and tablets makers, including Amazon, have been able to improve the performance of their LCD-based devices, e-ink e-readers haven’t become any zippier over the years. Even having a faster processor would not speed it up (this one runs on a 1GHz processor that’s presumably similar to the one found in the Voyage). Also, e-ink remains a monochrome platform. There is no color.

For most people, today’s Kindles are fast enough, but you’d hope that a superpremium model such as the Oasis would offer lightning-quick performance or even a modest speed bump. However, aside from the slightly improved lighting scheme, performance is similar to what you get from the Voyage or even the Paperwhite.

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Like all Kindle devices, this e-reader is meant for books.

Sarah Tew/HDOT

But let’s face facts. This device is for folks who prefer the nighttime-friendly, self-illuminated black-and-white matte screen over that of a smartphone or tablet. And reading sessions that are free from from the distractions of email, social media and news alerts on those other devices. Amazon’s e-book ecosystem remains the best out there, and the few competitors in the e-reader space — Barnes & Noble (in the U.S.) and Kobo — have nothing that competes with the Oasis. The Oasis is for longtime Amazon customers who are die-hard readers.

It’s that crowd who may well pay for the superior, best-in-class design of the Oasis. For most people the extra cost won’t seem worth it, but I guarantee that if you’re a Kindle devotee you’ll want an Oasis when you see and hold it. It may be out of your price range today, but perhaps someday Amazon will run one of its flash sales and the price will seem right.

Kindle Oasis’ key specs:

  • 4.6 ounces and 3.4 mm at its thinnest point
  • Latest-generation high-resolution 300 ppi Paperwhite 6-inch touch-screen display
  • Redesigned front light features 60 percent more LEDs and better uniformity
  • 4GB of built-in storage (stores thousands of e-books)
  • Included leather charging cover sticks magnetically to Kindle
  • 1GHz processor
  • Two weeks of battery life on its own, over nine weeks when combined with cover
  • Read with either hand
  • Battery cover comes in three color options
  • 3G + Wi-Fi option is more expensive at $360, £330 or AU$500

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