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Amazon Abandons Kindle Design Philosophy: New Oasis As Comfortable As A Slippery, Cold Aluminum "Book" Can Be
November 9, 2017
Starting with the first gen Kindle, I've owned every advanced model that Amazon has released. Each generation has been a further refinement of Amazon's design philosophy for Kindle: make the device disappear from the experience of reading. First they did it by trimming size and weight. Then came the illuminated screen, eliminating the need for separate lights. Voyager trimmed size and weight further from the Paperwhite, while adding auto-adjusting illumination. Then came the advances of last year's Oasis, which retained the same 6" screen size, but packaged it in an impossibly light, thin and small case designed to be held with one hand. Some grumbled about the battery being split between the Oasis and its cover, but the 2016 Oasis came the closest yet to disappearing while reading.
Flash forward one year, and Amazon seems to have abandoned this philosophy completely with the 2017 "New" Oasis, a Kindle seemingly designed to uncomfortably remind you that you're holding a reading device in your hands. It does this in several ways. First, with a significantly bulked up size and weight--it looks and feels much bigger than you'd think compared to the 2016 Oasis, and it's just plain heavy to hold in one hand for extended periods of time. Sure, that weight is fairly well-balanced, but that's like hearing, "Oh, but it's dry heat!" when the temp hits 115 degrees.
Second, the added carry-weight of the new Oasis is made worse by the very slippery feel of the new aluminum body, which forces you to grip it more tightly, and that becomes uncomfortable in longer reading sessions. This is definitely not a Kindle that ever disappears in your hands. I've seen some complaints about sharp edges, too, but that was not my experience. I've read that Amazon was going for a more "premium" feeling with this switch to aluminum, but I'm not sure what that means when every cheap tablet out of China has an aluminum body. It's also a foolish design goal for a Kindle, where priority should be given to materials that are comfortable to hold in-hand for hours at a time. And finally, this aluminum body is cold to the touch, about as unbook-like a reading experience as you can have. The ergonomics, in summary, scream to remind you that you're holding a device.
So, is there anything I liked about the New Oasis? Yes, and that's what makes it especially disappointing: the 7" screen is really great, and has the immediate feeling of being the "right" size for a Kindle screen. My old Oasis and Voyager now look cramped by comparison. The larger screen somehow makes the experience of reading feel "roomier" and more relaxing--and perhaps this is just because it's closer to the page size in a real book. My new Oasis did not have the screen lighting issues some have reported but, as I've read elsewhere, the background does appear to be less white than previous Kindles, but that change actually looks more like printing on a paper page to my eye.
My hope for the next gen Kindle is something like a 7" Voyager form-factor, but one that narrows bezels as much as possible for a smaller size, while using materials chosen for light weight and a comfortable feeling in the hand. In the meantime, my new Kindle Oasis will be going back to Amazon, and it's the first next-gen Kindle that I've ever returned. That should tell you a lot. Thanks for taking the time to read my review and I hope you find it helpful in making a buying decision.