Amazon's Kindle Oasis: Lightness of Being at an Unbearable Price?

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Amazon on Wednesday launched the Kindle Oasis -- the latest upgrade to its popular line of e-readers. Along with features that are arguably revolutionary, it comes with a price point that may shock more than a few customers.

The Oasis is the thinnest and lightest e-reader it has ever produced, Amazon said. Without the cover, it weighs in at just 4.6 ounces and is only 3.4 mm at its thinnest point, making it 30 percent thinner on average and 20 percent lighter than any other Kindle.

It has a featherweight polymer frame, thanks to structural electroplating, which makes it both extremely light and tough enough to operate in any environment. It's available in WiFi-only and 3G models.

The Oasis is designed for extended reading, with a dual battery charging system that provides months of battery life. Its reimagined form factor allows users to hold it in one hand while reading and turn the page with either a touchscreen or buttons.

It has a built in accelerometer that automatically detects whether users are reading with their right or left hands, and automatically rotates the page and page turn buttons to accommodate.

"To lean back and read for hours, you need a sanctuary from distraction," said Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. "We want Kindle to disappear, and Kindle Oasis is the next step in that mission."

Bezos last week tweeted that the "all-new, top-of-the-line Kindle" was almost ready, and promised further details would be forthcoming this week, which set off a frenzied amount of speculation, including numerous reports carrying images leaked in Asia and Canada.

What is really revolutionary about the Oasis is the dual-charging system, which has a battery inside the leather charging cover. It begins recharging as soon as the cover touches the Kindle. The cover comes in black, merlot or walnut, and has 12 magnets that make sure it remains closed when not in use.

The Oasis has a 300 ppi Paperwhite display that includes 60 percent more LEDs, for the brightest light display ever on a Kindle. The display uses a 200-micron display backplane that is as thin as a sheet of foil, Amazon noted.

The e-reader is available for pre-order at a hefty US$289.99, and will begin shipping on April 27th. Due to popular demand, some configurations of the device will not ship until later, according to Amazon.

The market for tablet sales has been slowing in recent years, especially for pure e-readers. Many consumers are content to use smartphones, which have grown in size and versatility. However, there remains a hardcore following for pure e-readers. Thanks to their low prices, relatively long-lived batteries, and easy-on-the-eyes displays, many dedicated book readers consider them indispensable.

Those are the consumers Amazon is appealing to with the Oasis.

"Amazon is taking a clear, new tack on the Kindle, in terms of both ergonomic design and energy efficiency," said Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT.

Keeping the category fresh is important, he told the E-Commerce Times, as dedicated e-readers still face significant competition from 7-inch tablets such as Google's Nexus, as well as the smaller iPads and even Amazon's own line of Fire tablets.

Widening and thickening the bezel and extending the battery life will help consumers see that they can still get additional features from the e-reader category, King noted.

However, the price point could hinder wider adoption, he said.

The $290 price tag will take it out of the "impulse buy" category, Tirias Research analyst Kevin Krewell told the E-Commerce Times.

"I'm not sure they hit the right mix here," said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.

The ePaper products typically have been toward the bottom of the price range -- not toward the top, he pointed out.

With the Oasis' $290 price point, a screen larger than the standard 6 inches would be in order, Enderle told the E-Commerce Times. He considered the Kindle Voyage, priced at $199, a better deal.

David Jones is a freelance writer based in Essex County, New Jersey. He has written for Reuters, Bloomberg, Crain's New York Business and The New York Times.

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