The Amazon Kindle Oasis is unlike any eReader I’ve seen before. The new top-of-the-line premium reading gadget from Amazon (with a price tag to match) eschews the regular slate-like format for a super-slim asymmetrical design that’s so light it feels like you’re barely holding anything at all. Going up for pre-order today (ahead of a late April release) bundled with a unique charging case for a wallet-whipping £269.99, I had a brief fumble with the Oasis, and it’s left me truly intrigued.
The Kindle Oasis is the most drastic change to the industrial design of Amazon’s eReader line since it dropped a physical keyboard in favour of a touchscreen. For starters, its weight is not distributed evenly – nor is its screen positioned centrally to the gadget as a whole. Instead, the super-thin 3.4mm illuminated e-ink touchscreen extends out to a chunkier grip on one side that holds the majority of the electronics and the battery component.
It’s this part that houses the charging port and power button, while the front sees the return of two evenly-spaced, equally-sized page turn buttons. These can be configured as you see fit, with either the top or bottom handling forward or back page turns as you find comfortable, while the inclusion of an accelerometer lets you flip the screen so that this handle (of sorts) is comfortable held in either a left or right hand.
Despite this unusual design, the Oasis (at least during the few minutes I played with it) feels comfortable to hold. That’s for two reasons. Firstly, the Oasis as a whole is ridiculously light – just 131 grams overall, making even smaller paperbacks seem like a brick by comparison. Secondly, with most of the innards sitting in the grip area, what weight there is here is balanced right where you’re holding it, with the lopsided screen area barely registering as a load in your hands. That’s a remarkable feat that the engineers have pulled off, if a bit of a mindfuck, too.
Something, inevitably, has to give to make this possible, and it’s battery life that suffers as a result of this slimmed-down frame. The Kindle Oasis has a two week battery life, compared to the Voyage and Paperwhite’s six weeks. Even if two week’s isn’t to be sniffed at compared to the few days you’d get from a tablet on average, that’s a notable step down given the heritage. BUT – Amazon’s got a solution for that too. Each Oasis will come bundled with a leather battery-packed case that balances out the Oasis’s step-like underside and boosts reading time, too. With a pass-through charging option, attaching the magnetic case to the Oasis boosts battery life to a whopping nine weeks, while locking the two pieces together for just ten minutes when the case is charged will resupply the core Oasis unit with a whole week’s worth of power. It’s a well-considered compromise, though I fear that the awkward fold of the case cover and the noticeable join the two pieces make when clamped together may make it less comfortable to hold than previous official cases.
On the software front, anyone that’s played with a Voyage recently will see little has changed – there’s a grid layout to bring your current read to the fore, while also promoting titles you may be interested in on the Kindle store. A new Amazon-created, Kindle-tuned font (Ember) is also making its debut, while the Goodreads book-based social social networking / review / recommendation service is integrated too. The screen (the same 300ppi sharpness and 6-inch size as the previous Kindle Voyage) also sports a new lighting system that’s said to be more even than that of the Voyage, using 60 per cent more LEDs and a “cylindrical diffractive pattern” which is said to help disperse illumination uniformly. Under the harsh lighting of the demo area, it was difficult to test this claim, however.
I’ve not tried a tablet or eReader anything like the Amazon Kindle Oasis before – it’s genuinely an “out-of-the-box” approach to the eReader format, and it’s bold of Amazon to make such a risky design. Having only held it for a few minutes, it’s genuinely hard to tell whether Amazon has nailed it with a novel new style, or whether we’ll be reaching back for our Paperwhites and Voyages. But, having upgraded personally through three generations of Kindles, each successively better than the last, I’m inclined to trust Amazon’s judgement here.
The whole story will only be told once we’ve spent a novel’s worth of time with the Oasis. I’ll give you further impressions once I’ve curled up with a sample in the coming weeks, but any ready to take the plunge can pre-order the device from today.