Amazon’s New Kindle Oasis Is the Fanciest-Pantsiest E-Reader Ever

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AMAZON TRYING TO BUILD a better Kindle is kind of like Superman joining a gym: Nice idea, knock yourself out, but it’s not like you need it.

By any measure, Amazon won the ebook war. According to one report, it makes three of every four ebook sales in the US. Not everyone who buys ebooks buys a Kindle, of course. And since Amazon is famously stingy with its numbers, you can’t say for sure, but it’s not like Jeff Bezos wakes up sweating in the middle of the night worrying about the Kobo Aura H2O.

Really, Amazon won fair and square. From the $801 Kindle on up to the $199 Kindle Voyage, its e-readers are attractive and easy to use, their batteries effectively last forever, and they’re the closest thing you’ll find to a paperback this side of the center aisle in your local Safeway. But Amazon seems to think people want more. Or, rather, less. And so everyone there works toward a singular goal: Make Kindles that feel like paper. Which is to say, Kindles that feel like nothing. Kindles you never think about, you just read.

Which brings me to the new Kindle launching today, the Kindle Oasis. Before you assume anything from the name, no, it’s not waterproof. Yes, that’s dumb. Anyway! At $289, the Oasis is the most expensive Kindle in years, four times the price of the entry-level Kindle, which does all the same things. But damn is it tiny. The smallest Kindle yet at less than five ounces and just 3.4mm thick at its smallest point. Got two quarters? Stack them. That’s how thick the Oasis is. It makes an iPhone 6 look porcine.

The svelte design makes one thing abundantly clear: Every Kindle is basically a screen and a battery. The Oasis shoves the components and circuitry to one (slightly thicker) side, creating a nice grip for a device that finally brings back the glorious page-turn buttons. You can hold it in either hand, because user studies revealed that people tend to constantly fidget when they read. Everything else carries over from the Voyage, including the 6-inch E Ink screen flush with the edge of the device, and all the software that arrived in February. It’s not different, it’s just smaller. So much smaller.

For all the things the Kindle does, there are so many more it doesn’t. Amazon continues paring down the Kindle, even as it introduces so many features—Audible audiobooks, the Alexa voice assistant, and, I don’t know, Dash buttons—that might make perfect sense on its e-reader. Amazon all but insists such things are not the point of Kindle. Kindle is for reading. Nothing more. Everything about its performance, its design, its software, reflects that. You want to do other stuff? Buy other stuff. Now, you could argue that some added features would be nice, like waterproofing (there better be no water in your Oasis), but Amazon lives by the mantra less is more. Because less is paper.

The astronomical price includes one cool new accessory: a flip-cover case that includes a battery that extends the battery life from weeks to months. Months, plural. (Apparently as many as 20.) That’s Around The World In 80 Days and Only One Charge kind of battery life. The extra battery eliminates the grippy bulge, and the front cover comes in any of three attractive colors and materials. It feels like it’s meant to be part of the device, and doesn’t make it big or unwieldy at all.

This is the closest Kindle to paper yet, no question. Sure, the price might make the Oasis enticing only to people who love to read and run multinational oil conglomerates, but it really is remarkable to see Amazon continuing to grind on its e-reader business even as it sits uncontested atop the world. And it’s definitely another step closer to paper.

1UPDATE: An earlier version of this piece said the entry-level Kindle is $70. It’s actually $80. Unfortunately.

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