Earlier this year, I caught myself complaining to a colleague that I don’t read enough books. I read more than ever, but I’d largely replaced books with magazine features, news stories, and tweets. (Mostly tweets, if I’m being honest.) I read in fits and starts: five minutes in line at Safeway, 20 minutes on the train, 15 minutes when I’m early at the restaurant. This, I whined to my poor colleague, was just not conducive to reading books.
Then I read a story from our friends at GQ called “How to Read a Whole Damn Book Every Week.” The piece is convicting in its simplicity. It says—and I’m paraphrasing here—that the key to reading more books is to stop being so precious about it, you idiot. Do it for five minutes, two minutes, 30 minutes if you’re lucky. You’ll be amazed how much you read. Since then, I’ve tried to take the advice to heart.
Amazon’s updated Kindle Oasis, the company’s latest e-reader, seems to have been designed for just the sort of frenetic reading I’m trying to do. It has a larger battery than the last model, so you’ll never be stuck sans reading material. It’s waterproof, so you can read in the shower. (Try it! It’s fun.) If you fork over an additional $100 over the $249 price, you get always-on LTE coverage, so you can find a new book from anywhere. The Oasis integrates with Audible, Amazon’s audiobook service, allowing you to flip between reading and listening to a book with a single tap. It has a larger screen, lots font options, a more even backlight—you’re kind of out of excuses not to read.
After a couple of weeks with the Oasis, I’ve actually finished a few books. Every feature of the device impresses me: This is the smoothest, fastest, smartest e-book reader Amazon’s ever made. For most people, it’s probably not worth the cost—especially when Amazon already makes a killer reader, the Paperwhite, for about half the price. Even for me, the Oasis comes with one big downside, which in some ways undoes its wonder wherever-whenever-however vibe: It’s just too big.
Virtually every Kindle ever has had a 6-inch screen. Amazon landed on the size early, and seemed to regard it as the perfect balance of screen size and gadget size: It’s big enough that you’re not turning pages every eighth word, small enough to slide into your back pocket. You could hold it with one hand or two, and never tire either way.
The new Oasis has a 7-inch screen, which is a bigger difference than it sounds. The Kindle’s still light, still thin, still a whole lot smaller than a hardback, but somehow I can’t figure out how to hold this new thing. The slick back offers no purchase, so I can’t grab it by its midsection and hold on. If I palm its bottom corner, I can’t quite reach the page-turn buttons, and the device tends to tip out of my hands. Maybe if the buttons weren’t stuck in the direct center of the one wide grip, they’d be easier to reach—but then you wouldn’t be able to flip it around in your hands, so that wouldn’t work. As is, I mostly read with two hands, one holding the Oasis and one flipping the pages.
The new Oasis also doesn’t fit into the back pocket of my Levi’s 511s, the way old Kindles did. It doesn’t fit in my jacket either. Compared to your average book, of course, it’s still a tiny doodad. But that extra inch of screen size (and all the available battery space that came with it) has caused me to leave the Oasis at home when I might have otherwise brought it with me just in case. If Amazon’s ultimate goal is to make Kindles that feel like paper—flexible in their form, infinite in their battery, obvious in their interface—then making the device harder to carry around feels like a step backward.
The size is a shame, too, because the rest of the Oasis is just about perfect. The Audible integration works beautifully: You download books over Wi-Fi until you fill the 8 gigs of internal storage, and then switch between reading and listening with a single touch of a button. There’s no speaker or headphone jack, so you’ll have to connect headphones or a Bluetooth speaker, but connectivity held solid and the process took only a few seconds. I love being able to read in the morning, listen on my walk to the train, and go right back to reading without missing a beat. This is the best case for the LTE model, too, since always-on connectivity means you’re always in sync with the Kindle app and your Alexa speaker as well. I’m totally out of excuses not to read.
Even with lots of listening and Bluetoothing and LTE-shopping, I can’t seem to kill this battery. Amazon says it lasts “weeks,” which is also what it says about every other Kindle, which is a totally useless measure. Here’s what I do know: last year’s Oasis really needed its cover, which included enough battery to keep the device going. This one’s just fine all on its own.
It’s kind of insane that it took this long for Amazon to make a waterproof Kindle. This one’s not suited for reading underwater—the screen tends to go haywire when it’s submerged—but it survives splashes and even a dunk in the hot tub with no problem. I mean, sure, you could do the same with a Ziploc bag… but then you’d be reading through a Ziploc bag. This is better.
Like it does every year, Amazon made lots of little improvements with the Oasis. The backlight’s more even and detailed, pages turn a little faster, the on-screen keyboard responds more quickly. None of these things were bad before, of course, but they’re a little better now. And, of course, all the standard Kindle stuff works great. I’d go through them all, but what’s the point? You know the deal. These are the best e-readers on the planet, have been for years, and probably will be forever. You can’t beat a Kindle.
But do you need this Kindle? For the first time, really, that question involves more than your budget. If waterproofing matters to you, absolutely, yes, you need this one. Having a waterproof Kindle is awesome. Ditto the audiobooks, though that’s coming to the cheapest Kindle soon and presumably others eventually too. This is certainly the most useful Kindle ever, just not the most usable one. That’s the tradeoff, really: Do you want the best and brightest, the greatest reader ever? Or do you want the one that fits in your pocket and only costs $120? For me, on my journey to read big books in small chunks, I gravitate toward the one in my pocket over the one at home on the coffee table. I guess I need a Ziploc bag.