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.
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 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.