With so many technology companies taking the safe route of incremental change, something utterly new can knock you back on your heels.
The Amazon Kindle Oasis e-reader, which goes on pre-order on Wednesday, is that fresh and different.
Essentially discarding the previous design in favor of a paper-thin display attached to a somewhat thicker side grip, the Oasis is as different from its e-book reader predecessor as the second generation Kindle was from Amazon's first e-reader, which was introduced in 2007.
The Amazon Kindle Oasis is designed for one-handed reading . If you use the buttons, Amazon says you don't have to touch the screen to turn a page. The idea is to let you further disappear into a distraction-free reading experience. (Image: TYLER ESSARY/MASHABLE)
That first e-ink-based paper book replacement had a bizarre and memorable geometric design that would have looked perfectly at home at the Museum of Modern Art, but left much to be desired on the ergonomic front. The second generation Kindle e-reader essentially sent the tone for all that came after it: a centered, portrait-mode rectangle screen and uniform body that tapers subtly at the edges.
Amazon's goals in the ensuing six or so years was to make the device thinner and lighter while constantly increasing screen resolution, brightness and battery life. Along the way, Amazon added features like touchscreen, gestures and screen-lighting. Even so, you could easily recognize a Kindle e-reader of almost any generation at a glance.
Not so with the Amazon Kindle Oasis.
This is different
I saw and tried out the device in person and there are so many design changes, it's hard to know where to begin. First of all, the 6-inch screen is close to square. Second of all, it no longer sits in the center of the device. And thirdly, the screen is now an insane 3.4-mm thick. Yes, that is as thin as you think it is.
The Amazon Kindle Oasis is just 3.4 mm thick at its thinnest point. (Image: TYLER ESSARY/MASHABLE)
The rest of the body, though, where you hold it, is considerably thicker. It houses the e-reader's CPU, storage and battery. Amazon's Oasis e-reader even marks the return of buttons to the design, but more on that later.
The body, which even at its thinnest point feels quite rigid, is made of an electroplated polymer (more accurately, it's plastic, clad in metal, clad in a plastic finish). Polymer is basically a pretty stiff, but still bendable plastic. The electroplating is what adds the strength and considerably stiffens the body. I had trouble bending the chassis of a deconstructed reader.
Inside the Amazon Kindle Oasis is a small motherboard (center) which houses the CPU, memory and storage, the electroplated chassis (left), the screen cover, right, a battery (top center) and an electronic Ink display (not shown). (Image: TYLER ESSARY/MASHABLE)
Even with that metal cladding, the entire reader weighs just 4.6 ounces, the majority of which is in the grip side, making it, ultimately, quite comfortable to hold. Plus, those buttons, which you can use to advance and turn back pages fall nicely under your thumb (you can also reprogram them, if you like). A built-in accelerometer flips the screen so you can switch the grip from your right or left hand.
While the reader looks completely sealed, it, sadly, is not waterproof.
The screen looks both brighter and sharper than what I'd seen before, even on Amazon's high-end Voyager reader. However, that was a bit of an optical illusion. There's still just 300 ppi in the screen (same as you'd find in the Kindle Voyage), but Amazon told me the white gamut is wider and, more importantly, the lighting and screen refraction is brand new.
The Amazon Kindle Oasis has a 300 ppi screen and 60% more LEDs than the last Kindle e-reader. (Image: TYLER ESSARY/MASHABLE)
Because of the placement of the grip, the lighting now flows in through the side and is spread evenly over the screen by something Amazon called a "cylindrical refractive pattern." What I noticed is that, even at its brightest, I could not see the actual LEDs (of which there are now 60 percent more of them) in the edge. In all previous Kindles with built-in lighting, which flows over the top of the E-Ink screen, I could always see the LEDs.
The other reason the screen looks so good is that there is so little distance between the E-ink and the glass surface; it almost feels like you're touching the print ... er ... E-ink.
Amazon also changed up the glass covering and explained to me that they made the decision to chemically strengthen the glass after it was cut down to size. Typically, glass coverings for touch devices are strengthened while they're still part of a huge sheet of glass. The cutting down to size for small devices, Amazon claims, leaves rougher edges and weak spots. Oasis's display is also super responsive. I used standard page turn swipes and noted that the pages changed quickly and without flashing.
Even with all those design changes, the Kindle Oasis can still manage, according to Amazon, two weeks of battery life. However, this Kindle e-reader is the first to ship with its own cover (available in three different colors). In this case, it's more than just protection, the cover includes a backup battery capable of adding a claimed seven additional weeks of battery life to the Oasis. That's 10 weeks of battery life.
The case battery is designed to marry perfectly with the Oasis grip, which has a small set of connectors visible on the inside edge. The Oasis slides into place and stays in place with magnets. Together, the battery, grip and display make one thick slab that encloses neatly behind the leather cover. Even with the case, the package still feels relatively light.
All this cutting edge design comes at a price: $289.99 to be precise. That's for the Wi-Fi-only edition and with advertisements that appear when you wake up the reader. The Oasis will cost $309.99 without offers and $359.99 if you want to add 3G (with ads, $379 without).
The Amazon Kindle Oasis's three color options. (Image: TYLER ESSARY/MASHABLE)
Amazon's commitment to books remains as strong as ever. The company recently marked 4.4 million books in the U.S. bookstore and has a very active self-publishing platform under Kindle Direct Publishing.
Even so, tablets like the iPad and even Amazon's own Kindle Fire long ago stole the e-readers' thunder; fewer and fewer people read exclusively on them (they read on these backlit tablets and their big-screen iPhones), but Amazon's commitment is clear. This new design may reward it.
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