Reviewed: The New Kindle Oasis
All my life I’ve sprouted books like hostels have fleas. They appear about me, falling from pockets, trailing behind me, stuffed into pockets and bags, in my hands, on beer-sticky bar counters, in bathrooms and kitchens, left on trains, propped against lamps and bottles and pillows. One to read, one spare in case I finish the one I’m reading, one extra back-up in case I lose the first two.
At some point, though, I became a Kindle junkie. It was probably after we had to get steel reinforced bookshelves to support my paper habit, as books blossomed like fractals in every corner. Something had to give. Also, I was starting to travel a lot more, and by the time I went to Bangkok with an extra suitcase of books as if Bangkok itself wasn’t endlessly entertaining, I knew I had to deal with the problem.
First I tried the ticky-tacky Kobo, and something by Sony that looked cool and was useless because you had to buy the books from a site that simply didn’t work. Kindles were suddenly everywhere, ugly little mothers but because they ran from Amazon they were child’s play to use.
Then I started destroying them. One was left on a flight heading to Russia, thieved before I had time to breath out. Another fell off a balcony and exploded. A third died in a beach shower (it was still in the back pocket of my shorts, d’oh). Cracked, bent, dropped, lost. Friends thought I was being extravagant – but hell, my brother changes his car more often than he buys a pair of jeans so no, reading is a comparatively inexpensive habit, a compulsion I can deal with and, crucial point for me, this – a legitimate and claimable work expense.
The Kindle Voyage was fugly and plasticky but the user interface was better, and finally a decent cover appeared – that origami-ish one you can use to stand the thing up on a coffee table. Downside; my outdoor table is steel and the mag-cover stuck to it, plus it deactivates hotel room swipecards if you keep them close by. But Paperwhite was a leap forward – the first reading experience that was really comparable to a book. But, loving books, I know it’s not an either/or thing – often it’s an edition of each, one virtual, one paper.
TheVoyage was the first upgrade I didn’t screw up. It felt tougher, although it was still a bugger to hold. And so to the Oasis, a real leap forward, although I’m mystified as to why it still looks plasticky. The first thing to note is the squarer size; while it retains the 6″ screen the surround has been reduced and the tapering thickness is down to almost nothing. But here’s the real trick; a right (or left) margin that sits on the palm of your hand like a spine, making holding it so much easier. Then the case, which it comes with, has an extra battery (not that you’d know it was there) that bumps up its life dramatically – and you’ll need it too, because the 20% smaller, lighter device loses power a little faster; it’s hard to measure just how fast as estimates vary.
As for the screen, it’s sharper, smoother and by far the best on the market – but the Oasis also feels more fragile. With a stiff price tag (it’s the highest-end product of its type) you’d think twice before chucking it in your hand-luggage. Also, the Oasis has lost its adaptive light, which raised and lowered ambience according to your surrounding environment. It has simplified the controls to the minimum – a bonus after the Voyage’s unnecessary back-and-forth buttons (four in all). And it has Goodreads built in – a good thing – but I really don’t want to ‘share’ my tastes with Twitter and Facebook. Books are the last private pleasure.
Turn off the highlighted notes from other readers or you’ll be driven mad by realising how banal people can be (‘Ooh – the word ‘vegan’ has 750 highlights!’) and you’ll find yourself constantly using the dictionary and saved-words feature, a great way to increase your vocabulary, especially if you’re reading David Foster Wallace as I was. Fabulous writer but demanding in the rare word stakes.
So, is the Oasis worth it, when an iPad Air is not much more expensive? Yes, if you’re an absolute book freak, no for everyone else. The Oasis is like a toaster – it only does one thing but does it beautifully. I have a number of Kindles because I’m terminally peripatetic and every single one of my books, inc. all my research volumes, is in storage for the rest of the year, meaning that my Kindles constitute my entire fiction library but for the books which aren’t available and large format non-fiction esoteric stuff. I don’t want colour or sound, just clear bright words.
The Oasis suddenly makes the Voyage feel clunky, but the Voyage’s ergo-foldy cover is a wondrous thing and a sad loss. Plus, I can’t foresee a situation whereby I take the mag-cover of the Oasis off just to make it a tad smaller. And did it really need a frickin’ great Amazon logo embedded in the front? (The Voyage’s is on the back). Well it’s American therefore comes with a corporate name blasted over everything, but hey, I don’t see a better UK product on the market. At least you have a choice of models – Amazon don’t seem to phase them out as Apple does. Amazon is suggesting orders will take a month (it usually delivers ahead) but airports have them in stock right now.
Verdict? On balance I’d stick with the Voyage…and yet. Sexy. Never thought I’d finally say that about a Kindle. PS I bought my own for this review (more’s the pity).