Business

Amazon Kindle Oasis second generation review

The Amazon Kindle undeniably redefined the way people read their books. Backed by Amazon’s terrific online library, it allowed people to carry around hundreds of thousands of books in their bag and read them anywhere. Now ten years old, it is the most popular ebook reader in the world and one of the most influential tech products of our time.


All-new Kindle Oasis official images
All-new Kindle Oasis official images

All-new Kindle Oasis official images

On its tenth anniversary, Amazon launched the new second generation Kindle Oasis, an update to its flagship Kindle device. The new model brings with it a whole host of changes, including a larger display, waterproof aluminum body, Audible support and a faster processor. Let’s see what it’s like.

Design

The new Oasis looks similar to the original at first glance but there is a lot going on here.

The new Oasis is larger due to the larger 7-inch display up front, which I’ll talk about later. It still has the same asymmetrical design as before, with physical page turn buttons on the side that are just a bit smaller than before.

The back is where the biggest change is. Unlike the plastic back of the Oasis, the new Oasis has an aluminum back that looks and feels a lot more premium.

The new Oasis is also IPX8 rated, which means it is waterproof in up to two meters of freshwater for up to 60 minutes.

I’ll just dive into what I don’t like about the design because there’s quite a lot of that. The asymmetrical design looks clever at first but then you realize you can’t just pass it over to your other hand without rotating it first, something you don’t have to do with other Kindles. Also, while the power button is located at a more convenient location at the top while holding the device in your right hand, it goes into a bit more awkward location when holding the device in your left hand.

The new metal surface looks and feels more premium but it is also very slippery. The grip on the back is really not well thought out as it’s too thin to offer any substantial holding area and it’s too broad for your index finger to reach the curved portion, so you’re mostly holding on with your other three fingers and the thumb.

This is greatly exacerbated while holding the device above you in bed. You are suddenly hyper aware of the fact that your grip on the device is vague at best and that it could slip at any point from your hands, which it does. Your thumb also gets tired of taking the weight of the device and ensuring it doesn’t slip. Also, the buttons on the front become unusable in this position because the thumb is too busy grabbing the device and you simply cannot lift it to use the buttons.

The other nuisance of the metal design are the razor-sharp edges, which dig into your palms.

The only thing I like about the design is the waterproofing. While one isn’t likely to use their Kindle around the water, if you do feel like reading in the bathtub or in the pool you can feel safe in the knowledge that nothing would happen to the Kindle should it fall in the water. It must be noted that the device is not intended to be actually used underwater and the touchscreen becomes unusable.

Display

The new Kindle Oasis has a 7-inch Paperwhite display with E Ink Carta HD technology with 300ppi display density and 16-level grayscale.

E Ink displays have been mainstay of the Kindle line since always (except the Kindle Fire tablets) and the one on the new Oasis is pretty much the best you’ll see. The technology has come quite far in the past ten years and the one on the Oasis looks really good.

The level of grayscale on the display is really wide and makes images in books and especially graphic novels look really good despite just being various shades of gray. The display also doesn’t need to refresh entirely between page turns most of the time. Very rarely does this leave a small residue of the previous page on the new but mostly the transition goes through just fine. You can, however, force the display to refresh fully between page turns through Settings.

The new Oasis also has the largest display on any current Kindle device. This means you can have a lot more text on the screen at once resulting in fewer page turns. Or you can turn up the font size and still have a respectable amount of text on screen.

Where I would have liked the display to improve is in the level of contrast. The whites are still ashy and even the darkest of blacks is still quite gray. A higher contrast should also make it easier on the eyes as now it feels like looking at two shades of gray instead of pure black and white.

The backlighting on the new Oasis has also been improved over the previous model. It now has 12 LED along the sides to illuminate the display over 10 in the previous model. That makes the lighting more even and less splotchy. You can still tell it is coming in from the edge near the thicker bezel but apart from that it is very even. There is an auto brightness feature but I found it to prefer a significantly lower brightness level than I was comfortable with so I just switched it off. There is also the Nightlight feature that gradually turns down the brightness for reading in the dark.

The Oasis also has a touchscreen, which works fine most of the time however I found it rather annoying while reading. A huge portion of the touchscreen is dedicated to page turning, with only a thin portion at the top to bring down the menu and navigation controls. I found it not only unnecessary but also annoying to have page turn enabled on the touchscreen when the device has physical page turn buttons. Quite often I would touch the screen inadvertently or while accessing the menu and the page would turn. I really wish there was an option to disable the page turn and keep it physical button only.

Lastly, the display can also rotate orientation so you can hold the device in either hand. Again, there is no way to lock the orientation and the sensor flips the screen even if the top of the screen tilts down slightly. Many times the display would flip even as I am just keeping the device down on a surface. It’s quick to tilt back when you hold it up straight but I wish it wasn’t so trigger happy in the first place. Or better yet, had an orientation lock.

Software and Performance

The Kindle Oasis has a very simple and straightforward software interface that makes it reasonably easy for anyone to use. By default your homescreen shows the books you own, along with a row of suggestions at the bottom from the Amazon store. You can change this from the settings to just show your library. You can sort between having them ordered in recently read, alphabetically or author-wise. You can choose to see all your books or only the ones you have downloaded to the device. You can choose a list or a grid view. There is also a search function that shows local as well as store results. It can also search within the books you have.

Open a book and you have a whole host of viewing options. You can change the font, the font size and the intensity of the boldness setting. You can choose the line spacing, the margin size, the orientation of the page (you have to hold the device sideways then) and the alignment of text (justified or left-alignment).


Reading options
Reading options

Reading options

Then there’s other things like X-ray, which gives additional information about the book by showing you notable clips, the characters, terms in the book, and all the illustrations provided in the book. You can also press and hold on a word and see its definition, Wikipedia entry or translation. You can also share the book you are reading with a particular quote over email, Goodreads, Facebook or Twitter.

The device also includes a web browser, which Amazon calls ‘Experimental Browser’. It really is quite limited in its functionality, not to mention slow, so it’s only really good for casual web browsing.


Experimental browser
Experimental browser

Experimental browser

Of course the Kindle includes the Amazon store, which lets you purchase books quite easily on the device itself. It supports a variety of payment methods and works quite well, as you’d expect.

One thing that did irk me is that there didn’t seem to be a way to hide books in your library. You can delete them from the memory and then switch to only the Downloaded books view but this can’t be done to things like dictionaries, which need to stay installed and still are visible in your library.

In terms of performance, I was a bit underwhelmed. The new model has a dual-core CPU that promises faster performance but it can still be a bit slow at times. Opening downloaded books and page turns are usually quick enough to not be an issue but things like pressing and holding on a word to bring up the dictionary is painfully slow, taking 3-4 seconds every time.


Other options and settings
Other options and settings
Other options and settings
Other options and settings
Other options and settings
Other options and settings
Other options and settings
Other options and settings

Other options and settings

The device also takes a while to start when you leave it idle for some time. Waking up from a long sleep takes considerably longer as the device has shut down its wireless radios and gone into a deeper sleep state. Elsewhere in the UI, the performance is again acceptable but if you’re the type of person to buy this device, you likely have a fast smartphone or a tablet, in which case you will definitely notice how much slower this device feels in comparison.

Audible support

One of the additions to this new Oasis model is support for Audible audiobooks. Once you purchase an Audible book, it shows up in your library just like regular ebooks. If you have both versions of the same book, they show up as one icon and then you can tap on it to open it and then decide which version you want with the tap of a button. Opening the audio version reveals the audio playback interface.

Now, you may have noticed that the device does not have a headphone jack or indeed a built-in speaker. As such, you are limited to using Bluetooth headphones or Bluetooth speakers to playback your audiobooks. While Bluetooth headphones aren’t hard to come by or even particularly expensive these days it is still rather limiting.

Unfortunately, my Indian review unit did not have Audible functionality as Audible is not available in India so I could not test this feature. From what I’ve heard, it works well as long as you don’t want to read and hear the audio at the same time and can only do one at a time.

Battery

Unlike the first generation Oasis, which had its battery split between the device and the bundled cover, the new Oasis has the entire battery within the device itself and doesn’t come with any cover.

Amazon claims six weeks of battery life, provided you read half an hour every day, switch Wi-Fi and Bluetooth off and set the brightness to 10. That’s a rather ridiculous set of requirements. If you are a regular reader, you will likely read two or more hours every day with the Wi-Fi mostly on and the brightness set much higher (10 is unusable and basically off; 20 is more like it). In this scenario the battery lasts about two weeks at best and about a week at worst.

The battery takes a further nosedive if you read a lot of comics or graphic novels, which are a much larger strain on the processor. Audiobooks will also cut down on your usage time considerably.

Don’t get me wrong, the battery life on the Oasis is still fantastic compared to smartphones or even tablets but it doesn’t quite match Amazon’s lofty claims when used normally.

By the way, even at its price, the Oasis does not ship with a power adapter and requires you to use your own. And the aforementioned not-included cover is now $45 for fabric or a whopping $60 for leather.

Verdict

The Kindle Oasis starts at $250 and goes all the way to $350 with 32GB and cellular connection. That’s a lot of money to pay for what is just an ebook reader.

The Kindle is a pretty cool device. In the time I had it, it made me read more than I ever did and I plan on reading a lot more on it. The dedicated nature of it means you have to do the thing it was designed for to get use out of it so in this case you do end up reading a lot, the same way you would end up taking a lot more pictures if you got a camera. Sure, you can do both those things on a smartphone or even a tablet but because of the nature of these devices it’s easy to get distracted by other things they do and then at the end of the day realize you mostly just wasted your time on them.

So yes, a Kindle is a great device to have in your life and I would recommend everyone get one but should you get the Oasis? I don’t think so. It’s significantly more expensive than something like the Paperwhite while not really being significantly better. If you already have a Kindle and want to upgrade or just want to get the best Kindle available, largely because you can and not because you must, then the Oasis makes sense. But if you just want to read then get the Paperwhite and save some money.