Kindle Oasis

I saw this morning that Amazon is launching a new Kindle – the Oasis.
I’ve been a Kindle user since the first one came out, so I figure I may as well do a hot take on the release, having just read through the product release page. So, without further ado:
The Oasis is Amazon’s new top-of-the-line Kindle ebook device.1 But, based on the features in the thing, it looks like Amazon might have finally noticed what people actually liked about the original Kindle. (Not entirely, of course, because they’re categorically incapable of doing things entirely right, but they’re getting closer.) The Oasis has the optional Free 3G tier, though it defaults to WiFi-only. (Upgrading to ‘Free 3G’ adds an additional $70 to the price of the device, which I’d guess is less about the hardware difference and more about paying in advance for that ‘free’ 3G connectivity.) So, not exactly free per se, but having that connectivity links it back to how we all felt about the original Kindle.2
Where it’s really clear that Amazon paid attention to what people want for once is in the interaction model. It’s still a touchscreen device, but they finally put back the physical page turn buttons! Based on the images3 I’ve seen, they’re small little buttons, which is a bummer, but I can sort of understand why they went with the interchangeably-sized ones. The original Kindle had lovely and big page-turn buttons, with a full-screen ‘next page’ button on the right and a 2/3-1/3 split on the left, going to ‘previous page’ and ‘next page’, respectively. The Oasis has two small page turn buttons, placed at the vertical center of the screen on the right-side bezel. The sensical reason for making them small, I couldn’t tell you, but making them the same size is because the Oasis has (presumably) on onboard gyroscope that allows it to tell which way you’re holding it. If you’re a southpaw, it’ll rotate the screen and have the buttons make sense that way, while the marketing-default right-handed layout will do the same if you switch hands again. Which is a very nice feature to have, though I’d still be happier if those page turn buttons were bigger – there was something wonderfully tactile about the buttons on the original Kindle.4
All that said, the Oasis has some solid differentiation from the original – no physical keyboard, no SD expansion,5 and it doesn’t look like it’s got audio support.6 And I’m still occasionally sad about the loss of the little scroll-wheel setup the original had – it was a terrible interaction model, but it was so aesthetically pleasing.

All that said, I’m not going to be getting an Oasis. Sure, it looks like a great device, and the whole ‘smart cover is a backup battery’ thing looks nice, but it’s nearly $300 and I am a broke college student. Still, nice to see Amazon making some progress.7

  1. A specification that I didn’t actually need to make – it’s pricier than their largest Fire tablet is at the moment. 
  2. While it’d be nice to have a 4G modem built in, rather than 3G, I don’t think it’s actually a necessity – the average file size you’re loading on this thing is minuscule, since it’s a black-and-white device intended for reading text. Though I’d argue that it could do well with it now that we’ve got stuff like Project Gutenberg and Archive of Our Own, putting huge amounts of text online to read for free. 
  3. Of which there are not very many – a lot of the “sell people on a Kindle” material down the page hasn’t been updated from the Paperwhite/Voyage line of stuff, so they’re all showing old Kindles and not the new one. Interesting marketing oversight on Amazon’s part. 
  4. For reference, I no longer have that Kindle: after years and years of working perfectly, it took a hard hit in my backpack at school and the screen shattered. I was heartbroken, especially after finding out that the whole ‘physical buttons’ thing didn’t exist anymore. I’m now using what I think is a first-generation Paperwhite, which I like, but I still miss my original. 
  5. Which is sorta understandable, considering that Amazon is the absolute leader in cloud storage, except… Amazon sucks at building cloud services. They’re awesome at running servers and powering the cloud, it’s just using it that they can’t do well. 
  6. That was one of the greatest hidden features of the original – you could pop in an SD card with documents on it, but if there was any music, plugging in headphones and pressing a keyboard shortcut would start playing music. A different shortcut would skip songs. God that was an incredible device. 
  7. Not mentioned: the onboard software, which appears to be the same stuff running the Paperwhite and Voyage devices. As I use this software all the time, let me tell you that it is painfully clunky. The OS on the original Kindle was bad, which was fine because it was a first-generation device and had a weird way of interacting with it. Unfortunately, Amazon decided that they were going to reuse almost all of the code from that one when they made the rest of the Kindles, and it’s been dragging down the entire product line for years. 

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