Last week, Amazon unveiled a whole new line of Kindles just begging to be Christmas presents. Three E Ink models and one full-fledged tablet, all priced below $200, provide ample enticement to embrace the world of electronic books.
First, and cheapest, is the Kindle. Every time they upgrade this thing the newest model gets the basic Kindle moniker and older models have to be referred to by their release year. And this is quite the redesign, because the one thing really distinguishing Amazon’s e-reader from others at first glance has always been its keyboard. Now, no more keyboard. The only controls are a five-way rocker switch and four buttons at the bottom, giving it rather a generic look.
You can get this most basic of Kindles for $79, but that’s with “special offers” that serve as the device’s screensaver while you’re not reading. They’re ads. For a pristine, commercial-free Kindle, you’ll pay $109. That gets you Wi-Fi, a 6-inch screen, and 2GB of storage for up to 1,400 books.
That’s the only new Kindle available now; you can still buy the keyboarded ones too. The others have been announced and can be pre-ordered, but won’t ship until November.
The next model up is the Kindle Touch, which, as you might suspect, is controlled by a touch screen. Instead of navigating with buttons, you tap the screen to turn pages and access menus. There’s an on-screen keyboard for taking notes and searching content. You also get double the storage of the base Kindle, with 4GB to hold up to 3,000 books.
With special offers, the Kindle Touch will run you $99; without, it’s $139. To add 3G connectivity in addition to the Wi-Fi, you pay $149 with special offers or $189 without. You might notice the no-ad, Wi-Fi-only version is exactly the same price as Barnes & Noble’s nook Simple Touch Reader. It’s the most directly comparable, with a virtually identical feature set, so a similar price makes sense.
Curious, then, that the Kindle Fire, Amazon’s new 7-inch tablet, is so much cheaper and has more to offer than the nook color.
The two tablets have similar wide-format touchscreens. They both have 8GB of storage and both run customized Android operating systems. Yet at $199, the Kindle Fire undercuts Barnes & Noble’s color offering by $50, or 20 percent. It also contains a dual-core processor, a significant upgrade from the nook color’s single core. Integration with Amazon Prime streaming video doesn’t hurt either.
The nook color has been a popular device for hackers, because while it’s marketed (and subsidized) as an e-reader, it’s easy to modify, is perfectly capable for Web browsing and can run most Android apps without problems. Whether the Kindle Fire will be as hackable remains to be seen, but given its positioning as a tablet with a particular ken for e-books, it might not matter as much. Tablet prices have been falling and Barnes & Noble hasn’t kept up.
There’s plenty of time, of course. Pre-orders for the Kindle Fire won’t be fulfilled until Nov. 15. Barnes & Noble could even release an upgraded nook by then; there were spurious rumors of a color E Ink model last month that probably won’t come to fruition any time soon, but a jazzed-up tablet is perfectly doable.
As Amazon has just proven.
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