Even with Prime Reading, an Amazon Kindle is a tough sell for its price

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I love to read and do a lot on Amazon’s Kindle Oasis that TechRadar lent for review in 2019 when the latest version of this high-end gadget debuted. In this Kindle review, and ever since, I have consistently recommended Kindles or other e-readers to literature and reading fans.

I have to return the e-reader to TechRadar’s office, and my first thought was “well, I’m going to have to buy my own Kindle now, aren’t I?” – however, after analyzing the numbers and thinking about my options, I’m not sure this is a good idea.

You see, no matter how good the Amazon Kindle Oasis is (or even the cheaper standard and Paperwhite models), it’s a tough sell in these economic times, and I’m not sure I can justify it over these other reading methods.

The book thing

For me, the Amazon Kindle has two main rivals.

The first is, of course, the book. The physical construction, made of paper and bound by glue, which has existed in one form or another for at least a thousand years, remains a popular method of reading (a phrase that would be an irritating truism if I were not writing for a technical website).

“OG Books,” as some might call them, paper and hardback books remain the primary medium for reading stories. A recent study (opens in a new tab) shows that for every digital book sold, four physical books are sold, with 37% of respondents saying they would only consider reading a “real” book (compared to 7% who would only read an ebook, 28% who would consider both and a worrying 27% who do not actively read).

What attracts me to physical books rather than digital is the price. Where I live in the UK, a new physical book will cost around £10-£20, but at a charity store (popular retailers who sell second-hand items and donations, with all profits going to charity ), you rarely see them going for more than £5.

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite 2021

(Image credit: TechRadar)

In fact, one of my hobbies is going to charity shops with just a clean five cents and seeing how far it will take me. In general, I can buy a surprising number of books, and I often see the ones I wanted to buy anyway – it’s less risky than expected.

Sure, you’ll often see Jeremy Clarkson’s entire library, a totally random assortment of 1970s Terry Pratchett novels and travel guides, but I almost always find a classic I haven’t had time to read, or a gem to discover. .

On a good day, I can buy five books for that money, but sometimes I can only manage to buy one, usually a newer book or a book in very good condition (for environmental as well as financial reasons, I try to avoid buying new books).

Now compare that figure to the price of a Kindle e-reader. The most affordable, an entry-level Amazon Kindle with ads, costs £69.99 / $89.99 / AU$139, but you can pay up to $279.99 / £259.99 / AU$449 for a higher storage Kindle Oasis if desired.

For the base Kindle, I could buy between 14 and 70 books for that amount (at previously shared prices). And for the Oasis, it’s between 52 and 260. But keep in mind that we’re only looking at how much you’re paying for the gadget itself, not the books.

ebooks cost money. Often it’s less than the physical price, but rarely by much – and sometimes you can see novels that, for some inexplicable reason, cost more than they do in their flesh-and-blood (and paper). There are no digital charity shops either, mind you.

If you’re a Prime member, you can get Prime Reading, which has quite a few classics as well as a lot of “airport bookstore” type books, and quite a few popular novels that are the first in their series (for you encourage to buy more). It’s a decent service, but I only have one since I use Prime Video and Prime Gaming a lot, and I’m not sure I’ll pay for it on my own.

Amazon Kindle Oasis

(Image credit: Amazon)

There’s also Kindle Unlimited, which for $9.99 / £7.99 / AU$13.99 a month gives you access to a huge library of books. Compared to buying them individually, power readers will almost certainly save money on this service, though it’s still an added expense that can quickly add up.

Using a Kindle e-reader is therefore an expensive undertaking – more so than reading physical books, at least according to my habits. In today’s cost of living crisis, that’s a pretty tough pill to swallow.

A defense of e-readers?

E-reader fans – myself included – will defend them by pointing to their biggest selling point, and that’s their size. A novel-sized device can store hundreds of books and thousands of pages.

But the Kindle is not alone in this distinction. Remember when I said gadgets had two rivals? Now let’s move on to the second – smartphones and tablets – which are basically big smartphones.

Phones and tablets retain the basic functionality of Kindles in a very simple way – the Kindle app allows you to read and download books on your mobile device. In fact, they’re often easier to shop for new titles because of the slow Kindle Store on Kindles.

These devices typically have a lot more storage than Kindles, and have color screens, which is useful for comics, magazines, and picture books. However, the main appeal of these gadgets is that you probably already own a smartphone, and possibly a tablet as well depending on your level of tech usage.

Kindle Unlimited library on a smartphone

(Image credit: TechRadar)

This means that in terms of hardware (although, as we discussed, not the books themselves) you don’t have to pay anything upfront to read digitally this way, which makes a phone or tablet a better financial decision than a Switch.

Plus, at least for smartphones, they’re also smaller than a Kindle – most tablets are larger, but that means you have more screen real estate.

To buy or not to buy

Of course, phones don’t have E Ink screens, and using this book-like display technology is still a real draw for e-readers – while you can change display settings on modern phones to make it paper-esque, E Ink is still much better at reducing eye strain.

But what price would you pay to reduce eye strain (an arguably dystopian question that’s fair to ask on a consumer tech website)? Given how much more Kindles cost than used books, or smartphones and the Kindle app, paying top dollar (or the pound, in my case) for a few extra features is a tough one.

Granted, Kindles are frequently discounted, which changes the situation slightly, but I’m not sure I can justify the high cost of an e-reader gadget just for these benefits.

So once the Kindle Oasis I tested gets returned to TechRadar’s office, I think I’ll probably stick with my combination of the Kindle app and the used books I pick up from my bookstore. Local Oxfam. That is, unless the new Kindle Oasis comes with a feature I just can’t miss.

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