Why You Shouldn’t Spend $290 on Amazon’s Fancy New Kindle

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The Kindle Oasis, the just-announced new model of Amazon’s hugely popular e-reader, carries with it all the superlatives you’d expect from a high-end gadget. It’s the thinnest; it’s the lightest; it has the longest battery life and the brightest display. At 290 bucks, it had better. Sadly, it’s also missing the one upgrade Amazon’s e-readers actually need.

Let’s start with the good, because there’s plenty of it here. There’s that weight, a little less than an iPhone 6S despite being paperback-book-sized. You can go months without recharging the battery, rather than the onerous “several weeks” demanded by previous Kindle e-readers. It has more built-in backlights than previous models, to keep the display from looking splotchy. And it brings back physical buttons, which had gone missing in Kindles these last few years, in favor of touchscreens and slightly off-putting haptic embedded sensors. Yes, buttons are basic. But sometimes basic works.

Then there’s the mileage-may-vary stuff. The Oasis has a great display, but it’s the same one that you’ll find on a Kindle Paperwhite e-reader that costs half the price. Besides which, not to form-factor-shame, but that display is affixed to a mighty weird-looking body. The Oasis comes with a sizeable side-hump, meant for ergonomic grippage. It may ward off wrist ache during marathon Ferrante sessions, but it gives the Oasis a weird tilt when at rest, and also negates that whole “thinnest” thing. Amazon’s new Kindle is astonishingly thin, unless you count the part that’s not.

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Amazon’s new Kindle Oasis is astonishingly thin, unless you count the part that’s not. Photo via Amazon.

The Oasis comes with a leather case and battery pack included, which has a three-quarters-book-cover shape that plugs into the grip-hump. Bundling a case with a device isn’t a new twist for Amazon, but making it mandatory is, and precludes you from buying a potentially cheaper, third-party version somewhere down the line. The included case also contributes to that $290 price tag. Which might be worth it to you! Especially if you love physical buttons and hate strict budgeting. (If just the latter applies, splurge on a $200 Kindle Voyage. If neither does, pick up a $120 Paperwhite.)

That pretty well covers what the Oasis is. But it’s equally notable for what it’s not, which is waterproof. This is, objectively speaking, madness — and the reason that, even though I’ve never touched the thing, I know you shouldn’t buy it. E-readers were sent down to Earth to be used at the beach, or by the pool, or in a tub, or while sloshing around a goblet of cheap red wine. They’re as predictable as Chekhov’s gun, except instead of going off, they get splashed, dunked, or drizzled on.

And yet! The Oasis, like all Kindle e-readers before it, remains water-weak. That’s galling not simply because of the cost, which again is your own personal business, but because it’s at this point the only top-tier e-reader not to offer water protection. Kobo, which you’ve likely never heard of, has had a waterproof e-reader since 2014. Even the Nook, which you just now remembered was a thing, went waterproof last fall. You can even pay a company to waterproof a Kindle Paperwhite for you. For some reason, that company’s name isn’t Amazon.

There’s really no excuse for this, especially not at almost $300. It’s not that all of Amazon’s e-readers should be shunned for their lack of waterproofing. But it’s impossible to justify spending that much on a top-of-the-line model that doesn’t actually compete. You can literally buy six full Amazon Fire tablets for less than the price of the Oasis. Even if waterproofing is a feature you’d never think to seek out, it’s a valuable safety net. It’s a kind of insurance for your e-reader, protection from the elements and your own fumblings. And not to lean on schoolyard rhetoric, but everyone else is doing it. Amazon can (and should) too.

The Oasis certainly seems like the best e-reader you can buy. If only you weren’t just one soak away from owning a goofy-looking plastic paperweight.