What if I told you that one of the best ways to fix your smartphone-addicted brain was to buy another gadget?
You didn’t read that wrong. Just bear with me: I’m talking about a much dumber gadget, one that is dedicated to being great at just one thing. It’s an e-book reader.
Think about it. Now that phones are so fast and capable and social media has become inescapable, all we talk about is wanting to unplug from our tech. An e-reader can be a low-tech substitute to your high-tech addiction, similar to how smokers use e-cigarettes to cut down on nicotine.
The best part? While an e-reader is still tech, you get to consume books that provide a respite from the hateful comments on social media and the stress-inducing news articles we consume on the web.
To make my case for this column, I tested Amazon’s newly released Kindle Oasis for about a week. This is the Cadillac of e-readers. It has a 7-inch screen and an aluminum body, and its special feature is an adjustable light to shift the screen’s color tone from cooler in the daytime to warmer at night. It is also waterproof.
For a starting price of $250, the Oasis is overkill. Its cheaper sibling, the $130 Kindle Paperwhite, which has a 6-inch screen with an integrated light for reading in the dark, is perfectly adequate for most people; the only downside is that its color tones are not adjustable. So treat the Oasis as an aspirational example for why you may want an e-book reader.
Here’s more on the product and how owning an e-reader helped curtail my own phone addiction.
Pros and cons
The Oasis is a simple and elegant product but with some downsides.
For one, the device is bulkier than other Kindles. The aluminum back has a wedge-shaped grip, which Amazon said was intended to shift the center of gravity to your palm. It feels reminiscent of gripping the spine of a book. That diminishes one of the main benefits of an e-reader, which is that it’s thinner and lighter than a physical novel.
On the front of the device, there are two physical buttons for page turning. The top button turns pages forward; the bottom one turns pages backward. They work well but feel superfluous: It’s just as easy to reach your thumb over to swipe the screen to flip a page.
The Oasis is, overall, comfortable to hold. But over several hours of reading, the wedge got tiresome to grip, and I found myself switching between hands. Amazon’s cheaper Kindle Paperwhite, with a curved back that lacks the thick grip, is more pleasant to hold over long durations.
Now onto the upsides. The Oasis’ signature feature, the adjustable light, is a delight. The device has 25 LED lights — 12 white and 13 amber — to let you tweak the color tone from cool to warm manually or automatically on a timed schedule. I set the device to adjust its light automatically, and at night, the warmer color tone felt easier on my eyes.
One quick aside: There’s a debate over whether the color tones of screens affect sleep. Some studies have shown that blue light emitted from screens, including smartphones and some e-book readers, can act as a stimulant, disrupting your circadian rhythms and making it harder to sleep. It’s unclear whether screens with warmer color tones help you get better sleep.
As for other benefits, the Oasis works for both lefties and righties. If you’re holding the device in your right hand and rotate it 180 degrees to hold the grip with your left hand, the screen automatically reorients itself so that the book is right side up.
Books look fantastic on the Oasis. Like other e-readers, it uses e-ink technology, which has matured over the last decade to make text look crisper and clearer. As with other e-readers, the battery for the Oasis lasts weeks. (I haven’t had to recharge my test unit since receiving it more than a week ago.)
All things considered, I recommend the cheaper Kindle Paperwhite (which I own) over the Oasis. For roughly half the price, it has most of the same benefits: weekslong battery life and an excellent screen. The lack of color adjustment isn’t a deal breaker.
Rather than degrade the reading experience, the Paperwhite’s smaller screen is a benefit. It’s less cumbersome to hold and fits into most coat pockets, whereas the Oasis does not.
About 10 years ago, Steve Jobs told The New York Times that he felt e-readers would lose against multifunction products like the iPhone. He predicted that people wouldn’t pay to have a device with such limited features.
“I think the general-purpose devices will win the day,” he said. “Because I think people just probably aren’t willing to pay for a dedicated device.”
Jobs’ prediction was correct. But one thing he didn’t foresee was that a decade later, public discourse around tech would center on smartphone addiction. One 2016 study found that 50% of teenagers felt addicted to smartphones, and a separate study last year showed that 60% of adults ages 18 to 34 had acknowledged smartphone overuse.
Count me among those admitting they have a problem. Over the last week, I picked up my phone about 114 times a day, according to my iPhone’s Screen Time statistics. That’s pretty bad — but before I owned a Kindle, my average was about 156. I still have lots of work to do, but this is progress.
I also got to test the social benefits of the Kindle Oasis in an unexpected way. This week, I came down with the flu, and when I was bedridden and alone at home, I got stuck in a feverish loop of incessantly checking Twitter and email on my phone instead of sleeping.
When I realized this, I picked up the e-reader and downloaded a book about dogs. Minutes later, I was out like a light. When my partner returned home, she asked, “What did you do today?”
I replied that I had started reading a book about dog psychology. “Did you know dogs don’t like raincoats?” I asked.