Amazon is making a bold attempt to lure us back to e-books.
I will admit I’m impressed with the new Kindle Oasis e-reader, which I’ve been testing for a few days now. It’s light enough to hold easily in one hand, weighing only 4.6 ounces. It’s also about the size of two card decks, which is small enough that it would fit nicely in a laptop bag.
However, you have to make a tough decision if you want to stick with the high-res, super-white screen for book reading. Tablets are much more flexible in terms of the apps you can run, using a physical keyboard, playing games or watching (ahem) Amazon Prime movies.
In my tests, I used the Oasis to read the Nathaniel Philbrick book Valiant Ambition which tells the story of George Washington and Benedict Arnold and how they decided the fate of the American Revolution, flipping easily on pages with a swipe. There are two hardware buttons on the side for turning a digital page, but I rarely used those. The power button on top is easy to find as well.
The device lasts for a good month or more, mostly thanks to the fact that the included cover is also a backup charger. You place the e-reader into the cover and it snaps into place using a magnet. I never used the Kindle Oasis without the cover, but I could see how someone might want to go even lighter and skip the cover, especially for a business trip or reading by the pool.
I liked how much the Oasis screen looks like a printed book. The E-Ink technology hasn’t changed too much, but I’ve relegated my reading of late to actual books. I had forgotten how clear the page looks when you don’t use a tablet like the Apple iPad Pro or a Microsoft Surface Book (which doesn’t exactly have a good ecosystem for books unless you use Kindle app).
There’s something rather amazing about carrying dozens of books with you on a reader, but you can do that on a tablet as well. That puts the pressure on the Oasis to do something extra special to convince us that an e-reader is still viable, and this is a valiant effort.
It falls short, though, mostly because of the price, which runs a ridiculous $290. That’s $110 cheaper than an iPad. Walk into any Verizon store and, with contract, you can purchase an Android tablet for nothing. Walmart sells the RCA Viking tablet with no contract for $80 and it comes with a keyboard. To upsell you from $80 to $290, the e-reader better walk on water or cook up pancake for breakfast.
The truth? I’d pay $50 for the Oasis. In fact, Amazon should go back to business school. Sell me the “razor” for $50 and I’ll start buying more razor blades. If you pay $290 for the razor, how many books can you afford right away? Maybe you’re Bill Gates, but most new e-books still run about $15. Amazon offers a the Kindle Unlimited service for $9.99 per month, but in my research, the titles are mostly those pulpy best sellers on the front rack at Barnes and Noble and classic novels.
Judged by the quality of the device, the Oasis is a winner. It’s small, lasts long enough that you might forget all about charging it, and has a crisp screen. But it needs to cost less. I’ll use an iPad or even my smartphone since it’s already in my laptop bag.
The Oasis? Not so much. It's going back in the review box.
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