10 Years ago this past November Amazon released the first Kindle, which brought e-ink to the mainstream and forever changed the face of reading.
Actually, it didn’t quite happen like that, at least in part because the hardware was sub-par, oh, and a little something called the iPad was released 3 years later. But, even prior to the release of the iPad, the tablet market was rapidly expanding and, much like phones had done the years prior, users and developers alike worked to find as many uses for tablets as possible. This, whether fortunately or unfortunately, included the development of Amazon’s Kindle app which in effect competed with the Kindle. In 2009, Barnes and Noble released the Zune (I mean the Nook) which stole a small segment of the market, but still, the Kindle never really took off except with hard-core readers.
The Kindle has always been a uni-tasker, in spite of Amazon’s attempts to make it something else. Take it from the lineup of Kindle Fire tablets that Amazon released, all very budget friendly and running on a slimmed-down version of Android (watch out, Windows RT). Or, take it from any of the lesser-used features of traditional Kindle tablets like the ability to read PDFs and Word files in addition to standard eBooks, or even incorporating a frustratingly monochrome browser. I think in some ways Amazon’s biggest flaw in releasing the Kindle was trying to make it something it wasn’t, or at least make it do something it wasn’t intended for, just for the sake of doing it.
Enter the Kindle Oasis, which was released in the middle of 2016 at the extremely high price of around $300. This was, at least at the time, everything that the Kindle should have evolved into, probably a handful of years too late. Color screen? Nope. Free 4G? Well, free in the sense that you have to pay extra for it once, sure. Better specs? Barely. Waterproof? Ha!
But, the Kindle Oasis was the very first Kindle product that really caught my attention. It was the epitome of an eReader, the paramount example of a device with one (and only one) purpose. The price tag may have been high, but it was something I wanted to check out nonetheless. But you couldn’t get them. I never once saw one on display in various consumer electronics retail stores, and ordering one would always take weeks to deliver. My dream of owning a Kindle Oasis died, which probably wasn’t all that bad considering I don’t like to read.
Then a year and a half later, I stumbled across the announcement of an updated Oasis, a new and improved version of the product that extended battery life, offered better backlighting, had Audible compatibility and was waterproof. Yes, I said waterproof. Well, IPX8 is the technical term, allowing submersion in 2 meters of water for up to 60 minutes. Regardless, I preordered it immediately.
The unboxing experience for this Kindle was like most other Amazon tablet experiences: simple, dark packaging with one “pack of gum” style strip for breaking the package’s seal. Startup hasn’t changed since the last Kindle I bought (and then returned), and those clever Amazon people—Amazonians, perhaps—already had the device added to my account. One small firmware update and I was off to the races, buying my first eBook. (Side note: I don’t like to read, but I committed to reading one book on this to see how great it was—then give it to my wife who reads eBooks somewhat frequently.)
The design is incredibly simple, dropping a 7” 300ppi touch screen into an aluminum body. One side of the device has a hump, which makes holding it one-handed very comfortable; the onboard gyroscope allows for right-handed or left-handed holding, but in order to place the hump at the bottom of the device and read in “landscape” mode, it requires additional tinkering of the settings. The screen is backlit, has an “auto” backlight function that works well, and otherwise functions as expected. I think the refresh rate of this eInk display is slightly faster than Kindles I’ve used in the past, which is nice. I purchased the 8GB model, which I think is just fine for most (if not all) readers since cloud storage is a thing that exists. I also spent a little extra for the no-ad version.
Battery life was worse than I thought it would be. Any battery performance is going to be variable based upon the backlighting setting, but I only went two or three “sessions” between needing a charge, which puts it about once every 7-8 days. The 1st generation Oasis was criticized for having poor battery life, and I’m finding here there may not have been that much of an increase in battery performance for the second generation.
On to audio books: it’s about damn time. 10 years the Kindle (not the Fire tablet versions) has been out, and this is the first Kindle to allow Audible compatibility. Even better, Amazon drops the Audible-compatible titles right into the search results, so if the book you’re looking for has an audio-book equivalent, you don’t have to look to any extra menus. I found the bluetooth pairing to work well without issue, and the audio book will continue to be read to you even after tapping the power button to “turn off” the screen.
If you’re an avid reader, you likely already have some sort of Kindle in your possession, but less likely that it’s at the cost of Apple’s most recent budget-friendly iPad. Thankfully, the starting price of this device is $250 from Amazon, not $290 like it’s older sibling. The model I bought and reviewed was $325 after tax, which is no small amount of money. And I’m not convinced it’s worth it.
The battery life still leaves something to be desired. Amazon quotes 6 weeks of battery reading 30 minutes per day, but that must be quoted with minimal backlight and bluetooth use—as I’ve gone slightly more than a week on a full charge. The physical design of the device is incredibly solid, feels sturdy and like it can handle a drop or two. It still (for some reason) has a micro-USB port instead of the newer USB Type-C, and charging took a long time for this just like past Kindle tablets and eReaders.
What separates this Kindle from others that Amazon sells now is the design—but hardly enough to justify the price. At only $80, the base model Kindle gets you a touch screen, a lighter overall device, allegedly equal battery life on an eReader with half the storage, half the pixel density and no backlighting—but still gets you in the door. And, at some point, Audible compatibility will be there too.
Design aside, it’s hard to justify the added expense for a device that, although it is waterproof, is never going to leave my house. Now, I’m not an avid reader, but I don’t think avid readers would really see much advantage of the Oasis over any of the other Kindles out now at a fraction of the price. If you’re a big reader and you also like flagship devices for top dollar, this may be the eReader for you. Otherwise, it makes more sense to stick to a cheaper alternative, and use your savings to buy more books and a reading light.