Kindle eReader Buying/Upgrading Guide

The Kindle Oasis is currently the most expensive eReader Amazon offers. But is it the best? Of that, we’re much less certain.

Do you have a Kindle eReader?  If you do, is it time to get a newer one with extra features?  If you don’t, should you get one, or can you get by with the Kindle App on phones and software on computers?  If you are getting a(nother) Kindle, which model should you choose?

The quick answer to these questions is that if you already have a Kindle that doesn’t have a screen light feature, you should definitely upgrade it to a new unit with a screen light.  If you already have a Kindle with screen light, maybe upgrade it if you need more storage or possibly if the unit has only the 167 pixel per inch screen resolution and you like reading your books with the type size set small rather than large.

And the longer answer?  Well, you’ve come to the right place for that, for sure!  Please keep reading.

Kindle History

Since coming out with the first Kindle eReader in November 2007, Amazon has regularly revised the unit, to the point that today, 12 years later, we are on what Amazon terms the tenth generation of Kindle devices.

Not only has the price dropped from the original $399 (which, remember, was a lot of money in 2007 to hazard on what was, for most people, a new type of device for a new type of service and with, then, relatively few books available in electronic format), but the units themselves are simultaneously more richly featured and also much simpler to use.

The original Kindle eReader that was released in Nov 2007.

Out of interest, we searched the back of our cupboard and found our original Kindle.  After some charging, it started up, with six inch screen, strange silver vertical selection bar, and four levels of grey smiling at us.  The unit had 250MB of built in storage, but it would also accept full-size SD cards, and had a removable battery too.  Astonishingly, the original battery, now 12 years old, still seems to be working fine.

Of interest is that while the screen resolution and grey-scale capability has improved over the years, the basic 6″ diagonal 4:3 aspect ratio eInk screen has stayed the same all the way since, albeit with occasional experimentation for larger sized screens.

The Kindle 3 in 2010 saw a huge change.  The price plunged down to $140, and subsequently even further when Amazon started offering a “Kindle with special offers” version.  In 2011, the Kindle 4 with special offers sold for a mere $79, and marked the first unit without a keyboard.

In 2011, with the Kindle Touch, saw the Kindle’s evolution move another step forward.  Instead of a not very convenient cursor control pad, the unit now had a touch screen, which marked a huge improvement in usability.  It had a lead price of $99.

In 2012, Amazon finally responded to a feature that other readers had been offering.  Unlike most computer/phone/tablet screens, the eInk screen is not self-illuminating.  It needs some external light to shine onto the screen to make its display visible; indeed, and also unlike most other electronic device screens, the more light, the more readable it is.  Reading an eInk screen in low light, such as a darkened airplane cabin, was a miserable or impossible experience.  So in 2012, with the introduction of the Paperwhite Kindle, Amazon now started offering screens with adjustable illumination, to light up the screen and make the text clearly readable in lower light conditions.  Amazon also improved the pixel resolution on the 6″ screen, going from 167 to 212 ppi.  It sold for $120 and up, and at the same time, a non-illuminated screen standard Kindle (and with 167 ppi) was offered for $70.

A new model Kindle appeared in November 2014, the Kindle Voyage.  It was distinguished by a still higher screen resolution, 300 ppi, and a lovely flush screen front.  It was also a bit smaller than a Paperwhite in all three dimensions.  Its thinness, 0.305″ instead of 0.355″, was particularly noticeable.

In addition to a touch screen, it had sensors on the left and right hand bezels that you could tap to turn the book pages.  This marked a return to a concept that had been lost many years before – the earliest Kindles had physical buttons/levers to command page turning (this was moderately essential when the screens were not touch screens).  But instead of fairly large tabs on the side of the unit, the Voyage had sensors marked by a metallic strip and dot on each side.  Touching the sensor would create a small vibration to signify your touch was detected, and move the book one page forward or backward.  You could adjust the unit’s touch sensitivity.

We love(d) this feature.  We find it awkward and sometimes slow to turn pages via touch screen commands, the buttons made it easy and simple and always worked.

The Voyage had added cleverness with its backlight, too.  It would automatically adjust its intensity to match the ambient light around it.  The Voyage commanded a premium price to go with its premium appearance – $200 compared to $120 for a Paperwhite.

The next year (2015) saw the Paperwhite also get a 300 dpi screen.

In 2016 Amazon came up with another high end eReader, the Kindle Oasis, also with a 6″ 300 dpi screen.  It had a wider bezel on one side than the other, ostensibly so it could be used single-handedly, but looked a bit strange and lost the appealing proportions of the Paperwhite and Voyage units.  It was priced still higher than the Voyage, at $290.

A year later, the Oasis 2 came out, and this time, Amazon increased the screen diagonal from 6″ to 7″.  Other than a brief and apparently unsuccessful experimentation with a 9.7″ diagonal screen (the Kindle DX, in 2009) all units had standardized on the 6″ screen, and it is unclear if the extra inch of screen size on the Oasis is a desirable feature or merely a way of justifying a much higher price.

The next year (2018 in case you are losing count!) saw Amazon discontinue its popular Voyage model, slimming its range down to three models – a generic “Kindle”, the Paperwhite, and the Oasis.  The 2018 Paperwhite, which is also known as the Paperwhite Fourth Generation and part of the tenth generation family of devices (are you confused yet) added a flush screen design, like was on the Voyage, and is also featured on the Oasis.  It was slightly slimmed down from the 0.355″ of the previous Paperwhite units to 0.33″ – still slightly thicker than the Voyage, though.

To our way of thinking, the best ever Kindle in terms of price and performance was the Voyage.

Screen Resolution Issues

The original Kindles had a 167 pixel per inch screen resolution.  Then a higher 212 ppi resolution successively started to appear in upgraded models, and now, upgraded models have 300 ppi.  Keep in mind that because this count is in both the width and height dimensions, you actually need to square the pixel count to understand the full pixel count per square inch of screen – or, in more practical terms, what we’re saying is that 300 ppi isn’t “almost twice” the 167 ppi, it is actually almost four times the pixel count of the 167 ppi units.

That sounds like a huge improvement, and invariably, reviews talk about the greatly improved clarity of the higher pixel count screens.  Don’t believe them.  We’ve placed Kindles side by side, with the three different resolutions – 167/212/300 ppi, and we’ve needed to use a high magnification magnifying glass to actually notice any difference in the clarity and readability of the text displayed.  To the naked eye, in normal use, there’s almost no difference at all, and definitely not a “greatly improved clarity” as is mindlessly promised by reviewers who have clearly never looked at the products they are claiming to review.

So, rather to our surprise, we find ourselves advising that there’s no obvious or clear benefit in getting the highest count ppi screen.   You’ll struggle to notice any difference in readability.  In other words, if the only reason for considering upgrading a current Kindle you have with a lower ppi count is to get the improved ppi count on a newer model, there’s not really any reason to do this.

Current Models Compared and Contrasted

This table compares and contrasts Amazon’s three current Kindle models :

 Kindle 10th generation (2019 release)Paperwhite 10th generation (2018 release)Oasis 10th generation (2019 release)
Kindle 10th generation (2019 release)Paperwhite 10th generation (2018 release)Oasis 10th generation (2019 release)
Screen Size6"6"7"
Resolution167 ppi300 ppi300 ppi
Screen LightYes, with 4 LEDs
Manual
Yes with 5 LEDs
Manual
Yes with 25 LEDs
Auto-adjusts
Adjustable light colorNoNoYes
Auto-brightnessNoNoYes
Flush ScreenNoYesYes
Page Turning ButtonsNoNoOn one side only
Storage capacity4 GB8 or 32 GB8 or 32 GB
Battery Life"up to four (4) weeks, based on a half hour of reading per day with wireless off and the light setting at 13.""up to six (6) weeks, based on a half hour of reading per day with wireless off and the light setting at 13.""Up to six (6) weeks, based on a half hour of reading per day with wireless and Bluetooth off and the light setting at 13."
WaterproofNoYes, IPX8Yes, IPX8
Size6.3” x 4.5” x 0.34” (160 x 113 x 8.7 mm)6.6” x 4.6” x 0.3” (167 x 116 x 8.18 mm)6.3” x 5.6” x 0.13-.33” (159 x 141 x 3.4-8.4 mm)
Weight6.1 oz6.4 oz6.6 oz
Warranty1 year1 year1 year
Price, entry level, with ads$90$130$250
Price usually includes a $5 credit for an eBook purchase, even if you've bought Kindles before.
Add for extra storagen/a+ $30+ $30
Add for no "special offers"+ $20+ $20+ $20
Add for wireless downloadsn/an/a+ $50
ColorsBlack or WhiteBlack or Twilight BlueGraphite or Champagne Gold

A New Reading Option – Apps for Tablets, Phones, Computers

When the Kindle first came out in late 2007, it was the only way you could read an eBook.  It stayed the only way until 2009, when Amazon released a free app that allowed Kindle books to be read on a regular PC.  In 2010, Amazon released further apps for Mac computers, and both Android and iOS devices too.  It was no longer necessary to own a dedicated Kindle eReader in order to read Amazon eBooks.

This was a bold move by Amazon, and clearly showed that their main focus is on selling eBooks rather than eBook readers.  But the steady stream of new Kindle readers, and with new designs and features, also clearly shows that Amazon isn’t giving up on its eInk eBook readers, and while, intuitively, it seems likely that the number of Kindle readers being sold is declining, some sources suggest the opposite, and that the total number of Kindles sold each year might be increasing (to as many as 4 million, a year or so back).  Amazon doesn’t reveal actual sales numbers, so we don’t know for sure, but there is certainly no sign of any lessening of their enthusiasm for promoting Kindle eReaders, so perhaps sales remain robust.

Why is the Kindle apparently not going the way of other devices that have been merged into smart phones (and, lesserly, tablets)?  Do you need to spend $70+ on yet another device, or can you simply use the Kindle app on other computing devices you already have?

There’s no right answer to this question, and similarly, no wrong answer either.  The biggest difference in reading experience is the screen that the device uses to display the book to you.

We have compromised and use both a dedicated Kindle reader and also, occasionally, the Kindle app on a tablet (or even phone).  If we’re on a long flight, we’ll use the Kindle, and if we’re somewhere where we never need to worry about running out of charge, we will use whichever device is closest and easiest.

Can You Really Read a Book on a Phone Screen?

It might seem like a phone screen is too small to read a book on.  But that is absolutely not the case at all – indeed, almost ten years ago, I read an entire long novel, in a multi-hour single sitting, on a small 3 1/2″ sized iPhone screen, just to prove to myself it was possible and easy.

With modern phones having much larger screens (nearly four times as large, remember that a doubled diagonal means a four times larger screen) and much better pixel densities, reading on a phone is great and has no compromises at all.  For sure, a larger screen is always nicer than a smaller one, but – and to my surprise – a small screen is not as bad as you might think.

The two main reasons I don’t always read on my phone is because I prefer the eInk type of screen, and I want to keep the battery in my phone in reserve for other tasks.

Synchronizing Across Devices

Amazon cleverly synchronizes each book across all the devices it is loaded onto, so that your “latest page read” setting goes across all devices.

You can start reading on your phone, then switch to your Kindle, and as soon as your Kindle has updated/synched its settings, it “knows” where you were up to on your phone.  Read on your Kindle for a while, then switch to a tablet, and as long as the Kindle was connected via Wi-Fi (or optionally, via wireless data), Amazon will “know” where you got to on the Kindle and then update your tablet so you can continue on from where you were at on the Kindle, and so on.

This is wonderfully convenient.

Have Your Books Loaded On Multiple Devices Simultaneously

Our comment in the previous section about synchronizing a book and where you are up to in reading it across multiple devices includes an assumption – it is usually possible that you can load your eBooks onto multiple devices simultaneously.

However, most books set a limit on how many devices they can be loaded onto.  This limit varies, depending on the publisher and how “generous” they are feeling.  We commonly see four devices as a limit, sometimes fewer, and occasionally you might even see an “unlimited” ability.

You might think “why would I even need four devices”.  Well, if you have a Kindle, a tablet, and a phone, there is three devices right away.  If you have a “family” account on Amazon, you might wish to allow someone else in your family to have a copy of the book on one or more of their devices, too.  And if you’re like some of us, with multiple phones and tablets and Kindles, you’re for sure struggling to keep within the maximum count!

If you find yourself running out of the number of instances of a book you can have simultaneously loaded, it is easy to unload it from one device and then load it onto another – go to the device that you no longer want the book on and remove it from that device.  If you’ve lost the device, you can use the “nuclear” option and simply disconnect the device from your account and so all books on it will now be released and available to be reloaded elsewhere.

The Pluses and Minuses of eInk Screens

The eInk screen has two major benefits.  It can be viewed in strong light without “washing out” – indeed, the brighter the light, the better the display.  The flipside of this is that in the dark, it can’t be seen at all, unless there is a screen backlight option.  The first few Kindle models did not offer this, but now all three current models of Kindle offer a backlight.

The other benefit of the eInk screen is that it requires very little power when in use.  This allows for long battery life, typically in the order of about 15 – 25 hours of reading (Amazon expresses this awkwardly in terms of “half an hour of reading a day for 4/6 weeks).  You only use power when turning pages, not while displaying them; it would be interesting to know how many page turns one could get out of a single battery charge.

But the eInk has one disadvantage too – something that might be not a problem, but which might also be quite impactful to your book reading.

This is its inability to display color.  It only shows black and white pictures with a limited number (16) of grey-scale steps.  If you’re reading a novel, this doesn’t matter at all, because for black type on a white page, the eInk is perfect.  But if you’re reading something that includes color pictures and illustrations, and uses color to lay out text and pages (for example, text books), then you will find the eInk to be a great disappointment.  The color changes to coarse shades of grey.

Which Kindle eReader Should You Choose?

We suggest that the small difference in price between the regular Kindle ($90) and the Paperwhite ($130) is money well spent.  There is clearly $40 of extra value in the lovely Paperwhite.

But the extra $120 between the Paperwhite ($130) and the Oasis ($250) strikes us as not worth spending.  The Oasis is larger and clumsier because of its size, and for travelers, size is an ever-present consideration where smaller is usually better than bigger.

The only really valuable extra feature for most of us are the two page turning buttons.  These are nice, but not worth paying $120 for.

There is one other possible reason for choosing the Oasis, and that is its ability to connect to the internet not just through Wi-Fi but also through wireless data.  We don’t see this as an essential feature, and have never felt the lack of it with our Paperwhites.

With the Paperwhite, you have two options to consider.  The first is whether you want the 8GB or 32GB capacity.  It seems that about 1.5GB is used by the device’s operating system.  The remaining 6.5GB on the 8GB model is probably sufficient to store the best part of 3000 books, or even more if you have only text/novels rather than books full of color pictures.

So for most of us, there is no reason to pay the extra $30 for the added storage capacity.

The other option is whether to get the unit with “special offers” or not.  The special offers are simply ads for books that appear on the home screen, but which do not appear while you are reading a book.  As such, they are of no bother at all, and we sometimes even find they contain discount deals on books we’d like to buy, so we always accept the “with special offers” option, rather than pay an extra $20 to get a model without them.

Another Purchase Option – a Used Voyage

If you should come across a fairly priced used Kindle Voyage for sale, we’d suggest buying that as a great alternative approach.  Make sure all four buttons work, and that the screen is not cracked or malfunctioning in any way.  As long as the screen is good and the buttons work, then it should give you many years of excellent life.  If you feel the battery isn’t holding as much charge as it used to do, it is relatively easy to replace the battery, and a new model 305070 battery costs about $23.

You might find a Voyage for sale on Craigslist or eBay, and often on Amazon too (you sometimes need to scroll down this page a bit to find them listed – currently we see one for sale for $70 which we consider to be a good price).

Summary

A Kindle with its distinctive eInk screen offers a different type of reading experience to that with a normal screen such as offered by a phone or tablet.  Kindles are affordable, lightweight, and compact.  As such, there remains good reason to consider adding a Kindle to your collection of electronic gadgets, especially when traveling.

In our opinion, the best ever Kindle was the now discontinued Kindle Voyage.  These can usually still be found used.  If you wanted a new Kindle, then the Paperwhite is your best choice.

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