an oasis

thursday, 24 september 2020

in the time of Covid-19, there has been a lot of time for contemplation and reading. Towards that, e-readers have been indispensable with the closure of public libraries, allowing access to a wealth of digital material from the comfort of our self isolating homes.

from touch

i was not an early adopter of e-readers being a hard cover book snob. While there remains an appreciation for the tactile aspect and smell of a new book, when i finally made the dive with the Kindle Touch in 2011, there was no turning back. The convenience of a device you could slip into your cargo pants without a thought as to what reading material to bring along on the road – no need to when it already packs your current reading list! – is enough to seduce any avid reader.

From that simple device which required external lighting for nighttime reading, i upgraded to the Kindle Paperwhite in 2013 with its backlight introduction for convenient nighttime reading (and more paper like daytime presentation). Enter 2020 and Covid and even more reading: an opportunity to check out latest iteration of the Paperwhite with its inverted dark mode (white text on dark background) for easier nighttime reading.

i probably would have kept that (2018) Paperwhite device had it not been for the very narrow brightness control of that particular unit – the backlight was effectively off in daylight at the 18 (out of 20) mark which made night time adjustment unacceptable. Loved the weight of the unit which was substantially lighter than the 2nd gen Paperwhite (yes, Amazon’s device naming is confusing when it comes to model identification!).

to oasis

so.. i decided on a whim to try out the Kindle Oasis rather than replace the Paperwhite – Amazon customer service indicated that there had been some complaints about the brightness control on the latest Paperwhite (quality control?).

In my mind, the Oasis seemed a bit of an oddity. The Paperwhite was the perfect device, screen size just right. The Oasis on the other hand is more squarish and the increased cost, seemingly difficult to justify for just an extra inch of reading real estate. But upon receipt of the Oasis and a brief usage, all i could say was “wow!”.

There are plenty of web comparisons showing the Oasis side by side with the Paperwhite but it really needs to be seen and held to appreciate the bigger screen in a form factor that is only moderately wider than the Paperwhite (to accommodate the page turn buttons) and is even a touch less tall. And it is just as light.

The screen: crystal clear (not that the Paperwhite is bad) with noticeably more even backlighting, edge to edge – unsurprisingly with 25 LEDs (5x more than the Paperwhite). Finer brightness gradient control across the range. Soothing comfort light for night time reading in the dark. The inverted mode is also bettered with comfort lighting imo (i didn’t like it with the Paperwhite in the brief time i had it but that may also have been partly due to the limited brightness control of that particular unit).

i already read with (side loaded) fonts set to their smallest size . But still, having the 7” screen just makes the whole reading experience more enjoyable.. like reading a real book (i like maximum content on a page), and one that you can theme (with regards to margins and line spacing).

design

the asymmetrical design of the Oasis placing the thicker battery compartment under the page turn buttons countered by a thinner display thickness – hence, weighted towards the hand – is a brilliant execution of function over form whilst still resulting in an elegant device.

The unique industrial design of the Oasis is not without its critics, though, with internet contention centering upon the incorporation of the smooth metal case and the resultant cold slippery surface.

When i first received the Oasis, i found its cool (to touch) polished metal body difficult to grip compared to the rubberized backing of the Paperwhite – which many users are put off by. The smooth metal surface makes you want to clutch it even harder but that just makes it more tiring to hold.

The solution? Relax. After some experimentation, i found i could hold the Oasis easily with one hand using gravity and the Oasis’ unique weight distribution. With the middle, ring and pinkie fingers resting along the back raised ledge of the asymmetrical case, the Oasis balances itself with its corner sitting in the cup of the palm. The thumb floats freely above the page turn buttons and is not even required to rest on them for normal reading. The key being balancing the device in a relaxed fashion versus holding or gripping it. This is where the design, placing the weight of the device towards the button edge, excels. Reading with it naked – coverless for less weight! – then becomes effortless.

fonts

one of the great features of e-readers is the ability to alter the presentation of your e-book with adjustable line height, margin and font settings (along with backlight brightness and dark mode). Side loading custom fonts allows you to add to the default font set already part of the device.

Fonts are a very personal preference and the default Kindle fonts available are satisfactory for most. But using your favourite fonts can add to your e-reading pleasure (and do your eyes a favour), so why not! i currently use the following fonts..

typeface purpose
tiempos text a modern Times serif font for prose
sanchez slab a modern Rockwell egyptian font for poetry
jost* a modern Futura geometric font for dark mode
arsenal a semi-grotesque font for landscape mode

Tiempos Text is a gorgeous serif font for general reading and my most used font. Looks good in dark mode too. Sanchez Slab has a subtle typewriter like look to it which brings back fond memories of the manual typewriters i used to do so much writing on. Jost* is a crisp and exceedingly legible geometric font, good for tired eyes and, hence, also for dark mode. Lastly, Arsenal packs a lot of content in landscape mode, good for presenting technical oriented materials.

The Kindle font size settings are very coarse to accommodate the needs of the general populace. Most will find a size they like and settle on that. To obtain a personally more usable font size range, i created a FONT_RAMP file containing..

6.22 6.46 6.71 6.96 7.21 7.52 7.83 8.14 8.45 8.83 9.20 9.51 9.95 10.32

Place this file in the root directory of your Kindle and reboot the device to provide very granular control of the font sizes. Three smaller font sizes** are defined for those with high visual acuity! This is particularly useful for side loaded fonts to obtain your preferred reading font size. YMMV.

**The Kindle default FONT_RAMP range is 14 values from 6.96 through 29.28. The upper range yields few words per page and is defined for the visually impaired. The numbers are not point sizes so do not necessarily display the same sized font per typeface. This is where a more granular FONT_RAMP range comes in handy, to allow adjusting individual fonts to effectively display equivalent sized fonts (which the coarse default scaling does not provide). This scale is a linear progression with each position increased by a factor of 1.04. It is arbitrarily hand tuned to produce 6.96 as the fourth “size”.

conclusion

everything about the Oasis defines it as a premium device. There is a slight penalty in battery life (unsurprisingly with the larger screen and 5x the LEDs) but it still accommodates several days of heavy reading. To compensate, it recharges very quickly.

The Paperwhite is easily the best bang for buck. But for the avid reader in pursuit of a more refined reading experience, the cost of an Oasis is not all that outrageous when amortized over its life for the daily hours of pleasure it can offer. Only the reader can decide!

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