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Amazon's high-end Kindle Oasis is sleek, sharp and pricey

If the Kindle Voyage is a Rolls-Royce, the Oasis is a Lambo.

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Jeff Bezos probably wasn't pleased to see his surprise spoiled this week, but e-book fans still have reason to get pumped. Amazon just pulled back the curtain on its new premium reader, the Kindle Oasis, and it's the slimmest and sleekest model the company has put out yet. Of course, with a price starting at $290 (£270), it's also one of the most expensive. As Amazon tells it, all the decisions were made with one goal in mind: to let the hardware itself almost disappear from view so that readers can lose themselves in their stories.

Gallery: Hands-on with the Kindle Oasis | 15 Photos

"We're not going to be happy until we've got this magic sheet of paper that contains all the books in the world," said Chris Green, VP of industrial design at Amazon's Lab126. "Edge-to-edge, all content, no device. And when we get there, I might be out of a job."

Realizing that ideal is going to take a while, but the Oasis is a fascinating step in that direction. To get the Oasis as light and sturdy as it is, Amazon took a plastic chassis and electroplated it with a special metal alloy. I'm told it's an expensive process, which no doubt helps explain the Oasis's steep asking price. There's no question, though, that the end result -- a reader weighing a mere 4.6 ounces -- is impressive.

The company also used a startlingly thin Paperwhite display and fitted even more LEDs along one side for brighter, more consistent lighting. Amazon let me load a few books on a demo unit, and Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World looked fantastic on it. That said, don't expect the Oasis to be any sharper than current models: It has the same 300-pixel-per-inch screen density as the Kindle Voyage and new Paperwhite.

So, the screen is still pretty great. The Oasis's design, on the other hand, is sure to be... divisive. For the most part it's incredibly thin (think: 3.4mm) but it has a flared edge designed to fit comfortably in your palm. The asymmetric look takes a little getting used to, certainly, but let's not forget that Amazon is no stranger to asymmetry. Remember how kooky the original Kindle looked?

Anyway, after using it for about half an hour, I'm down with Amazon's design decision. I've always gripped (or tried to grip) my e-readers with one hand, and the Oasis's odd design makes that easy. Its hump is comfortable to hang onto, and the bezel -- also home to two physical page-turn buttons -- is spacious enough to accommodate my fat thumb. The Oasis is also the first Kindle with an accelerometer, so lefties can turn the device over and use it just fine. Alas, though, it's still not waterproof. Amazon wouldn't comment on future plans when I asked, but one of the Kindle's designers seemed very well-versed on what it takes to waterproof a gadget. Make of that what you will.

That slimness comes with a price -- the Oasis by itself has a battery that'll last about two weeks on a single charge, down from the nearly six weeks the Voyage gets. To help, Amazon crafted a leather-backed case that houses an additional battery that adds about seven weeks to the Oasis's modest battery life. Don't worry: it's free and comes in the Oasis's box. Slap the cover onto the Oasis and it automatically starts charging, and if you charge the Kindle while the case is connected, both charge at the same time. Throw a new hibernation mode into the mix and the combined Kindle-and-case can sit untouched for even longer without needing a charge -- perfect for when the pull of paper books is too hard to resist.

You'll be able to pre-order an Oasis of your very own starting today, with your choice of black, merlot or walnut leather cover. What remains to be seen is whether anyone but full-tilt e-reading fanatics should invest in an Oasis -- stay tuned for a full verdict in the weeks to come.

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