Last week, Amazon announced a bunch of new hardware all at once. Pretty much their whole Kindle line got refreshed, e-readers and tablets both. Rumors of a Kindle phone proved false, for now, but the sheer number of new gadgets kind of made up for that.
First off, the most basic Kindle with no touchscreen or nothin’ got its price reduced to $69. It displays ads when it’s idle; turning that functionality off costs another sawbuck. Then there’s the Kindle Paperwhite, with a higher-contrast display and a light you can turn on for reading in the dark, for $119. Again, turning off the ads (or “special offers” as Amazon euphemistically calls them) adds $20 to the price.
Both of those tablets connect to the Internet with Wi-Fi. For a 3G connection on the Paperwhite, you can pay $179 with special offers or $199 without. That’ll enable you to download books pretty much wherever you are.
Here’s where the real fun is. The original Amazon tablet, the 7-inch Kindle Fire, mysteriously sold out at the end of August. What they’re now calling just Kindle Fire has twice the memory and costs $159. The new kid is called Kindle Fire HD, sports a 7-inch touchscreen with 1280x800 resolution and 16GB of storage, and costs $199. A 32GB version is $249.
Want a bigger screen? No problem. There’s now an 8.9-inch version for $299. And for $499, you can add 4G mobile Internet connectivity. That’s not free, but pretty cheap: $49.99 gets you 12 months of 250MB worth of data per month.
All the tablets display special offers when idle. Actual good features include X-Ray, which displays extra information about books and movies, and FreeTime, a mode that lets kids use the device for customizable amounts of time and without access to purchase anything.
There are a million different tablets out there, but few are targeted so directly at media consumers as the Kindle Fire. It’s possible that Amazon makes little or no money on hardware sales and makes it up with purchases of books, magazines, movies, and other media. The new 8.9-inch Kindle Fire HD models are clearly going after Apple’s iPad, absolutely the tablet to beat in the marketplace. If Apple comes out with a 7.85-inch iPad Mini as rumored, the battle will be fierce.
Google, the driving force behind the Android operating system, announced its own tablet earlier this summer. Called the Nexus 7, it runs the latest version of Android (codenamed Jelly Bean) and will presumably be updated much more quickly than tablets from third parties.
Barnes & Noble is still in the fight as well. Its Nook Tablet still undercuts the Kindle Fire HD a bit on price, at $179 for an 8GB version; the 16GB model is the same price, $199. B&N did beat Amazon to market with a frontlit e-reader, the Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight, but its $139 price tag doesn’t seem like such a bargain anymore.
Then there’s Kobo. This company wants desperately to be Amazon, and announced new hardware a day before Amazon did. There’s the $79 Kobo Mini, with a 5-inch touchscreen; the $99 Kobo Touch at 6 inches; the $129 Kobo Glo, in direct competition with the Kindle Paperwhite and Barnes & Noble’s Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight; and the Kobo Arc, their answer to the Fire line. The Arc is a 7-inch tablet, and comes in $199 8GB and $249 16GB versions, just like Google’s Nexus 7 tablet.
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