How much money do you have to spend on a tablet? Regardless of your budget, Amazon will soon have a tablet to match.
This afternoon, the online retail giant took the wraps off four new Kindle Fire tablets, priced between $159 and $499:
- Kindle Fire HD with 4G/LTE: 8.9-inch display, 32 GB of memory ($499, shipping November 20)
- Kindle Fire HD: 8.9-inch display, 16 GB of memory ($299, shipping November 20); also available with 32GB
- Kindle Fire HD: 7-inch display, 16 GB of memory ($199, shipping September 14); also available with 32GB
- Kindle Fire SD: an updated version of the original 7-inch Kindle Fire ($159 shipping September 14)
All four are available for pre-order now.
The two new 8.9-inch HD models feature displays measuring 1920 x 1200 pixels (your HDTV has a screen of 1920 x 1080 pixels) with a density of 254 pixels per inch, not quite as dense as the iPad 3 but pretty dense, and include Wi-Fi connectivity and a front-facing camera. The 7-inch HD is equipped with a 1280 x 800 pixel display.
Sound-wise, you get two stereo speakers and Dolby Digital Plus, a first for tablets.
There's also a polarizing filter and screen lamination designed to cut glare – hopefully to make the screen easier to read in sunlight – by 25 percent.
To avoid annoying Wi-Fi buffering, Amazon has buffed up Kindle's Wi-Fi reception with two antennas – one with both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz reception, one with just 2.4 GHz. Software will decide which antenna is getting the strongest signal. Also boosting Wi-Fi reception is the inclusion of MIMO (multiple input-multiple-output) technology, found on many high-end routers.
All-in-all, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos claimed the Kindle HDs do Wi-Fi 41 percent faster than the iPad.
The 8.9-inch HD version measures just 8.8mm thin – that's slimmer than many smartphones, and weighs 20 ounces.
It seems the sweet spot is the entry-level HD; a tablet with a larger 8.9-inch screen may not fit as easily in a jacket pocket. But, since I was not at the event (it was in Santa Monica, CA), I haven't handled it. I'll let you know when I get my review sample.
The top-end 4G/LTE model is likely a presumptive strike vs. the pending Apple iPad Mini, due probably around the same time.
But instead of having to deal with a monthly 4G/LTE subscription like you do for iPad's 4G/LTE version, Amazon will charge just $50 a year for 250 MB worth of data downloads a month, 20GB of cloud storage for your Amazon book, movie, music and game content, and a $10 Amazon app store credit.
Amazon did more than introduce new hardware, however.
For parents, the company has provided parental controls including the innovative "FreeTime" – you can define time limits for your kids for each type of content (i.e. games, movies, reading, etc.) So you can tell from across the room what your tyke is up to, the Kindle Fire HD screen turns blue when FreeTime is active.
Amazon also has added 100,000 Audible audiobook titles and an Immersion Reading mode – listen as you read, and the text is highlighted in real time.
Adding to the X-Ray feature that tells you all about the book and characters in the book you're reading, you'll now get X-Ray for Movies – identify and read about the actors as you watch – with actor info provided by the Internet Movie Database (IMDb).
For your school kids there's also X-Ray for Textbooks, which provides a "smart glossary" for terms, as well as Wikipedia entries and YouTube videos.
New Kindle e-ink, too
In addition to the new Fire, Amazon also unexpectedly unveiled the Kindle Paperwhite, a new whiter e-ink e-reader with a front-light similar to Barnes & Noble's Glow. Paperwhite has a higher density screen offering 212 pixels per inch, which means smaller type will be easier to read.
Paperwhite goes a step beyond the Glow with it's higher-contrast white screen, 25 percent more contrast than other e-ink Kindles – in other words, that annoying green-gray background is almost history, thank goodness (or Amazon).
Amazon says the Paperwhite battery with the light on will last eight weeks – I don't know if that's with the light on continually or just for a few hours a day – but that's twice as long as the Glow, whose battery life is rated with the light on just a few hours a day.
In the Paperwhite photos I've seen there don't see to be any visible buttons. You drag your finger to adjust the light brightness (I'm not sure how you turn it on to begin with).
There's also a cool new "Time to Read" feature. The device tracks your reading speed (based on how often you virtually turn the page, I guess), then estimates how much longer it'll take you to reach the end of the chapter or book. That'll come in handy for mass transit readin' & ridin'.
Perhaps more importantly, Paperwhite is $119 for the Wi-Fi version, $20 less than Glow ($179 for the 3G version). It's available for pre-sale now, and will ship October 1.
There'll also be a plain old new Kindle e-ink reader, ad-supported I'd guess, for $69, also now on pre-sale and shipping September 14.
Hopefully I'll soon be getting review samples and can bring you a more hands-on experience.