Jeff Bezos probably wasn’t pleased to see his surprise spoiled this week, but e-book fans still have reason to get pumped. Amazon just pulled back the curtain on its new premium reader, the Kindle Oasis, and it’s the slimmest and sleekest model the company has ever cooked up. Of course, with a price tag starting at $289.99 (£269.99), it’s also one of the most expensive. To hear Amazon tell the tale, all the decisions were made with one goal in mind: to let the hardware itself almost disappear from view and readers lose themselves in their stories. “We’re not going to be happy until we’ve got this magic sheet of paper that contains all the books in the world, ” quipped Chris Green, VP of industrial design at Amazon’s Lab126. “Edge-to-edge, all content, no device. And when we get there, I might be out of a job.” Realizing that ideal is going to take a while, but the Oasis is a fascinating step in that direction. To get the Oasis as light and sturdy as it is, Amazon took a plastic chassis and electroplated with a special metal alloy. I’m told it’s a pricey process, which no doubt reflects in the Oasis’s steep asking price, but the end result weighs in at a paltry 4.6 ounces. The company also used a startlingly thin Paperwhite display and fitted even more LEDs along one side for brighter, more consistent lighting. Amazon let me toss a few books onto their demo Oasis, and Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World looked fantastically crisp on it. That said, don’t expect the Oasis to be any sharper than current models: it runs at the same 300PPI resolution as the Kindle Voyage and new Paperwhite . So, the screen is still pretty great. The Oasis’s design, on the other hand, is… pretty divisive. Most of it is incredibly thin — think 3.4mm — with a flared edge meant to nestle into your palm. The asymmetric look takes a little getting used to, certainly, but let’s not forget that Amazon is no stranger to asymmetry. Remember how kooky the original Kindle looked ? Anyway, after using it for about a half hour, I’m down with Amazon’s deign decision. I’ve always gripped (or tried to grip) my e-readers with one hand, and the Oasis’s odd look is perfect for it. Its hump has a nice angle to it that’s easy to hang onto, and the larger bezel — where two physical page-turn buttons also live — is spacious enough to accommodate by fat thumb without letting meat spill over onto the screen. The Oasis is also the first Kindle with an accelerometer, so lefties can turn the thing over and use it just fine. Alas, it’s still not waterproof. Amazon wouldn’t comment on future plans when I asked, but one of the Kindle’s designers seemed very well versed on what it takes to waterproof a gadget — make of that what you will. That slimness comes with a price — the Oasis by itself has a battery that’ll last about two weeks on a single charge, down from the nearly six weeks the Voyage gets. To help, Amazon crafted a leather-backed case that houses an additional battery that adds about seven weeks to the Oasis’s modest battery life. Don’t worry: it’s free and comes in the Oasis’s box. Slap the cover onto the Oasis and it automatically starts charging, and if you charge the Kindle while the case is connected, both charge at the same time. Throw a new hibernation mode into the mix and the combined Kindle-and-case can sit untouched for even longer without needing a charge — perfect for when the pull of paper books is too hard to resist. You’ll be able to pre-order an Oasis of your very own starting today, with your choice of black, merlot or walnut leather cover. What remains to be seen is whether anyone but full-tilt e-reading fanatics should invest in an Oasis — stay tuned for a full verdict in the weeks to come.
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Amazon’s high-end Kindle Oasis is sleek, sharp and pricey