Kindle Oasis review: The best e-reader is not worth the price of a high-end tablet

The first fact you’re liable to hear about the Kindle Oasis is that it’s expensive.

The e-reader costs $300 US dollars for the wifi and 3G version, or $500 Canadian. Admittedly, the price feels like a bit of an affront. One could purchase a wifi-only iPad Air 2 for the same price, and it would do a lot more than just display text.

But the Kindle Oasis is not a utilitarian device, it’s a well-designed luxury with a completely revamped form factor. Its elegant design seems to aspire to give users nostalgic memories of a past era, when people had time to sit down, pour a scotch and crack a leather-bound hardback. This e-reader isn’t gunning for other e-readers. It’s gunning for books themselves.

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But even if the Oasis doesn’t draw in readers who are loyal to the physical page, there’s no doubt that current e-reader users will be intrigued. The Oasis is the type of e-reader that attracts interaction with strangers like a ruby red ‘69 Mustang at a car show. In testing this Kindle I’ve had countless encounters with people who wanted to get a closer look, often saying something along the lines of: “I love my Paperwhite, but now that I’ve seen this…”

Only time will tell whether this high-end model will sell, but with Amazon pulling an unusual move and opening up orders to international markets at the same time as the American launch, the company seems to be insinuating it knows something we don’t. Like maybe its target demographic is willing to spend top dollar to flaunt their equivalent of a ’69 Mustang on the subway to work.

Kindle Oasis Specs

  • Display: 6 inch Paperwhite display with E Ink Carta and backlight. 300 ppi. Optimized font technology. 16-level gray scale.
  • Size: 143 mm x 122 mm x 3.4-8.5 mm. Cover: 144 mm x 125 mm x 1.9-4.6 mm
  • Weight: Wifi version: 131 grams. Wifi + 3G version: 133 grams. Cover: 107 grams
  • On-device storage: 4 GB
  • Processor: 1GHz CPU
  • 3G Connectivity: HSDPA modem (3G) with a fallback to EDGE/GPRS; utilizes Amazon Whispernet to provide wireless coverage via Roger’s 3G high-speed data network in Canada and partner networks outside of Canada.
  • Battery life: Up to eight weeks.
  • Price: $399.99 Wifi version, $499.99 Wifi + 3G version

Bringing the e-reader from geek to chic

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The main draw for this e-reader is its design. It’s small and slim with an included case that not only protects the screen but stores a second battery. It pops on magnetically over the indented left half of the device, which leaves the back feeling not quite flush, but fairly in-line. The Oasis has a touch screen but also includes two oblong rectangular buttons on the right-hand side of the device for flipping back and forth, an option I find preferable due to quicker responsiveness.

The Oasis is drastically smaller and lighter than any other e-reader on the market, all without sacrificing the 6-inch screen of its predecessors. It is 0.8 of an inch shorter than its predecessor the Kindle Voyage (which only came to Canada in February this year), an inch or so shorter than Amazon’s popular mid-range Kindle Paperwhite, and 1.4 inches shorter than Kobo’s most high end reader, the waterproof Kobo Aura H2O. It’s also only 3.4 mm at its thinnest point due to the 200 micron display that Amazon describes as “thin as a single sheet of aluminum foil.”

When it comes to weight the actual device is a featherweight 131 grams, which feels somewhat akin to holding a baby bird. Amazon achieved this feat with a mainly polymer frame structured by metal electroplating. Comparatively, the Kobo Aura H2O is 233 grams, the Kindle Paperwhite 205 grams and the Kobo Glo HD and Kindle Voyage are 180 grams each.

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Once the case is attached of course, the Oasis ratchets up to 240 grams, but protective cases increase the heft of the other e-readers as well, while adding no further benefits.

Besides holding a second battery, which I’ll get in to further on in the next portion of the review, the leather case, subtly embossed with the Amazon logo, is an aesthetic treat.

It comes in a choice of three colours: a marbled maroon that gives off the vibe of a hardbound collector’s edition novel, a demure brown, or classic black. Unfortunately, only the black option is currently available in Canada. MobileSyrup has reached out to Amazon for information on when or if the other two options will be available to Canadians.

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While this might all seem fairly superficial, the Oasis does back up its price with additional functionality.

For instance, Ned Flanders will be pleased to know that the Oasis includes an accelerometer that senses which way the book is being held and adapts the screen to make use easier for lefties. Just turn it upside down and the screen flips immediately – hidey ho neighbourino!

Amazon has also highlighted the fact that when the case is removed, the device is more ergonomically balanced. This means it’s weighted in the center by its in-device battery and processor, giving it a feel closer to a physical book with a dense spine.

Not so long-lasting?

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With its new dual battery technology, the Oasis promises to last up to eight weeks. I wasn’t able to thoroughly test the accuracy of that statement, but I can tell you that it came out of the box with approximately half a charge and died after just about nine days with only moderate 30 minute per day use.

My disclaimer is that I can’t be entirely confident what exact percentage the device came out of the box with, but if it wasn’t half, it was exceedingly close. This is nowhere near the battery life promised for a half-charged Oasis, which should be four weeks. Perhaps, though, the battery would have lasted longer if I hadn’t kept the device constantly connected to the case (the battery bar could also be faulty). Regardless, the dual battery system didn’t impress me.

Another frustration I had with the Oasis battery is that when the the case is low, it sends a warning message, even if when you click off the case, the device itself has nearly a full charge. The case also does not charge separately from the device, which would have added further flexibility of use.

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The storage size of the Oasis is standard for the e-reader market at 4GB. This means it can hold approximately 3,000 books. If you’re somehow concerned about maxing out the space, Amazon also offers free cloud storage.

As for processing power, the Oasis has a 1GHz CPU and is noticeably quicker than, for example, the Kindle Paperwhite, but its E-Ink technology is still slow compared to the speeds at which other LCD display mobile technology runs. The screen shares the same 300 ppi resolution as the Voyage and Paperwhite.

Is it worth it?

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After going through all the bells and whistles, it comes down to one simple question. Is this fancy new Kindle really worth spending $500 on?

In my opinion, the appeal of this device is clear: its all about form. The longer lasting battery may or may not be as good as Amazon claims it is, and to many battery life has never been an issue, so why not just stick to your $120 Paperwhite or $300 Voyage?

The Oasis also doesn’t add value by being waterproof like the $200 Kobo Aura H2O, despite its somewhat misleading name. What the Oasis is however, is a compact piece of e-reader eye candy with slightly improved specifications and brilliant, Apple-level user-friendly design.

Pros

  • Unique and beautiful design
  • Included case with second battery
  • Lighter and more compact than any other e-reader

Cons

  • Not a big performance update compared to previous versions
  • Battery life may not be as impressive as claimed
  • Device weight becomes average when case attached

[Update: It’s been brought to our attention that only the black cover is available in Canada. The post has been updated to include that fact.]