For $289, you would expect the Amazon Kindle Oasis to be the champagne supernova of e-readers. And it is, thanks to its bright backlight, physical page-turn buttons, and two months of battery life. You can get all the same great content, parental controls and intuitive interface in a less costly Kindle. The Oasis' epic endurance and funky design is worth the splurge, but only for the most rabid of e-readers.
The oddest-looking Kindle since the original model was released in 2007, the Oasis' squarish design had me saying to myself, What's the story, morning glory? The bezel on one side is a lot thicker than the other side (0.13 inches to 0.33 inches), which makes it easier to hold in one hand — great for those of us who like to read while standing on a bus or subway.
The fat edge also has two physical page-turn buttons. In the settings you can reverse the direction the buttons go, so that the top one goes forward and the bottom one goes back, but for lefties, it does this automatically if you flip the device over. Sure, you can use the touch screen to turn pages, but I do love physical buttons.
The Oasis is the only Kindle to ship with its own case (available in black, merlot or walnut), which does more than just protect the e-reader's screen. Inside the leather cover is a battery, which connects magnetically to metal contacts on the back of the e-reader.
The dimensions for the Kindle Oasis also reveal its squarish look (5.6 x 4.8 x 0.13 to 0.33 inches). With the cover on, it's the heaviest Kindle at 8.4 ounces, but that didn't deter me while reading. The Kindle Voyage weighs just 6.3 ounces, and measures 6.4 x 4.5 x 0.3 inches. The $119 Kindle Paperwhite (6.7 x 4.6 x 0.4 inches; 7.3 ounces) and the $59.99 Kindle 6.7 x 4.7 x 0.4 inches; 6.7 ounces) are both lighter but larger.
Since an e-reader makes such a great device for the poolside and the beach, I really wish the Oasis were waterproof.
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All Amazon Kindle models sport a 6-inch E Ink touch screen. The Oasis, like the Voyage and the Paperwhite, offers 300 pixels per inch, while the base model Kindle is just 167 ppi. The base model also isn't backlit.
The Oasis sports 10 LEDs beneath the touch screen, meant to create a more unified look than the six LEDs on the Voyage and the four on the Paperwhite. Side by side with the Voyage and the Oasis, I could see the difference. And the nits (a measure of brightness) we recorded support this. We recorded 137.4 nits on the Oasis, while the Voyage scored 95 nits and the Paperwhite registered 92.4 nits.
I missed the ambient light sensor on the Voyage that adjusts the light level based on your environment. But you can adjust the level manually in the quick settings. As with other Kindles, I had no problem reading the Oasis in bright sunlight.
The Kindle interface has been refined and more integrated with Goodreads since the Voyage was released, but all Kindles can be upgraded to the new, intuitive look. Goodreads is Amazon's social network for readers, where you can follow other bookworms, comment on and rate books, create wish lists for reading, and tell people what you've read.
The home screen shows the covers of the three most recently read books in your library in a more compact square area. Assuming you have a Goodreads account linked to your Amazon account, to the right of the covers is italicized text highlighting what's on your Reading List. If not, you'll see a plug to sign up for a Goodreads account.
The bottom row of the home page shows recommendations, which change every time you open the device. It may show you books from your Goodreads friends, books similar to other things you're reading or general recommendations from Amazon based on your previous purchases.
The very top of the screen remains the same whether you're on the home page or in a book. It features touch buttons for home, back, quick settings, Goodreads, the store and the search bar. Plus, there's a three-dot button for even more options; that's where you access Kindle FreeTime (parental controls), the vocabulary builder and browser, among other things. This menu changes based on what you're doing. If you're reading, this menu will access your notes or even change the orientation of your book to landscape, instead of the normal portrait.
The Kindle Oasis is definitely standing on the shoulders of giants, with Amazon's strong history of E Ink e-readers. And the Oasis experience was exactly what I expected; sharp, crisp and easily readable. I saw no difference in page-turn times between the Voyage and the Oasis. The page-turn buttons were satisfying to click, but the touch screen worked just as well.
Amazon's interface offers some unique features to enhance your experience. If you press and hold a word, a pop-up window appears with some options. The Oasis will search Wikipedia and the dictionary for a definition. It will also offer translation options. You could also highlight the word, make a note or share it with Facebook or Twitter. The three-button options menu lets you report a formatting error or a typo to Amazon.
For students, a couple of features will be particularly helpful. The Kindle Vocabulary Builder will remember any single word you highlight, so you can test what you've learned later. The X-Ray feature lets you examine a book, CliffsNotes-style. I could quickly see that in Isaac Asimov's The Foundation, Salvor Hardin is mentioned more than any other character. It also breaks down books by notable clips, commonly used terms and images.
If you turn on the Word Wise feature, the Kindle will proactively define difficult words in tiny type above the text, but it's not foolproof. In Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age, Word Wise defined "mod" as "a British youth in the 1960s," even though the word was being used as an adjective, not a noun. However, it did know that "parlor" is "a room to talk and for guests."
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Family Library is a fantastic, and relatively new, feature. You can link two adults' accounts and create up to four children's accounts where content can be bought once and enjoyed by everybody. You can filter by whose books you want to select, and you can limit a child's access to certain material; after all, little Timmy doesn't need to read Fifty Shades of Gray.
Amazon extends its FreeTime parental controls to the Kindle Oasis. As a parent, once you set a password, you can add books to one of four child profiles. These can be restricted to block access to the browser or store. Parents can also block access to social sharing, set reading goals and time limits, and track their child's progress.
Kids can also earn badges for reading. For instance, if junior reads for 30 minutes, he'll earn the Book Worm badge. Finishing a title earns him the Read a Book badge.
The interface of a kid's profile looks a little different. Across the very top bar, next to the quick settings, is a little turtle. If you have a Kindle FreeTime Unlimited subscription ($4.99 per month for one child, $9.99 per month for up to four, and Prime members get a discount), this option will take you to a store filled with preapproved, kid-friendly content that the child can download. Next to that is a little pendant, which opens a child's treasury of badges.
Amazon's on-screen keyboard has never been great. The small keys are no longer surrounded by squares, making it feel a little less cramped. But, I still wouldn't use it for anything more than the occasional search or note. There was a noticeable lag between my fingers tapping the screen and the search string filling in. The predictive typing feature helped, but not much.
There's simply no other e-book library that compares with the depth and breadth offered by Amazon. The e-tailer offers millions upon millions of books, newspapers and magazines, including a huge library of exclusive titles (more than 850,000).
However, of the New York Times' best-seller list for e-book fiction, all the major stores (Apple iBooks, Barnes & Noble and Amazon) had the same selection and price. Only Google Play was missing one of the titles. Perhaps the companies have learned from Apple's recent defeat in the courts for price gouging on e-books, because this is the first time I've checked prices and selections and not found Amazon to be the cheapest.
Amazon also boasts more than 1 million titles for $4.99 or less, and millions of out-of-copyright books for free. Plus, through Amazon's Sample feature, you can download and read the first chapters of a book.
You can also send non-Amazon content to your Kindle. In the Settings > Personalize Your Kindle you'll find that device's unique "Send-to-Kindle email" address. The Kindle Oasis supports AZW, AZW3, HTML, MOBI, PDF and PRC e-book formats. Or you can read DOC, DOCX and TXT files. That means you can download out-of-copyright books from such sources as archive.org. The Oasis even supports some image types, including BMP, GIF, JPEG and PNG.
You can also connect your Kindle to your local public library to get e-books for free. More than 10,000 local libraries around the country will even retain the Kindle notes and highlights features.
Kindle Owners Programs
If you are an Amazon Prime member ($99 per year), you can borrow from among hundreds of thousands of e-books (among a ton of other perks). You get access to only one book at a time, but there are no due dates. Or there's Kindle Unlimited, which gives you access to 1 million titles for $9.99 per month. There's a 30-day free trial for either program.
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Personally, I love the Kindle Matchbook feature, which lets you purchase Kindle editions of Amazon print books you purchased as far back as 2007, for $2.99 or less. Also, Amazon offers a Kindle First program that lets you access one e-book per month ahead of its official release date. For Prime members this is free; otherwise, it costs $1.99 per month.
Amazon's Kindle browser has been called "experimental" forever, and it is still not ready for prime time. From the main menu you can select one of the pre-bookmarked sites, such as the mobile New York Times site or Yahoo. Over Wi-Fi, I searched for tomsguide.com, and it took 9 seconds before the browser crashed many times, until I gave up trying. Google.com and ESPN.go.com loaded in about 3 seconds, however. The screen flashes several times before any pages load.
Assuming you read each day for a half hour with the Wi-Fi off and the light set to 10, Amazon believes you'll get up to eight weeks of battery life with the Kindle Oasis. That's about two weeks longer than the Paperwhite and the Voyage. The base Kindle promises four weeks.
In addition to selecting your $289 Kindle Oasis' cover, you can customize your e-reader at checkout. You can opt for a 3G option for an extra $70. Removing ads from the screensaver will cost you an extra $20. A two-year accident protection plan will cost you $69.99. And if you want a wall plug, in addition to the included USB cable, you'll need to spend $19.99 more. So a fully tricked-out Kindle Oasis will cost you $469, which is a lot for a single-use device.
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While it's a solid e-reader, as all Kindles are, the $289 price for the Oasis left me feeling a bit underwhelmed. It does offer a super-bright backlight on an anti-glare screen, which complements the company's best-in-class content and great parental controls. The endurance is also second to none, thanks to the clever case. However, you can get most of what the Oasis offers in the $119 Kindle Paperwhite. While the Oasis lasts longer and has a brighter screen, it doesn't offer quite enough to justify its price.