Amazon’s Kindle family has been famously associated with the term “e-book” ever since the company realised that digital sales of novels were going to take off. The original Kindles came with buttons and a QWERTY keypad for note-taking and worked only on Wi-Fi. Later models included 3G for downloading books on the go and also were ad-supported, a move by Amazon to keep the cost of the tablets down so that people could buy them cheaply.
Recent upgrades to the family were touch-capable screens for the regular e-Ink readers and the Kindle Fire, Amazon’s first Android-based tablet that used the same hardware found in the Blackberry Playbook to provide a decent tablet experience in the $200 price range. And now, a new onslaught of e-Readers from the media giant looks set to take on the world again.
Interested? Hit the jump for more info.
The Kindle explosion started not with the e-Ink readers, but with the original Fire. Because no other company had a half-way decent tablet in the $200 range (HP’s webOS-based Touchpad notwithstanding), the Fire enjoyed enourmous sales and set off competitor’s efforts to match it, like the Barnes & Noble Nook e-Reader. The Kindle app on various online app stores helped cement the name even further in the tablet world and its rather telling that the number two reason why people buy a tablet is to read e-books off the Amazon service.
As you may well have guessed by now, the only way that the new Kindle falls under the price of the old one is through advertising that is present in the user interface and sold by Amazon to third-party clients. These adverts either pop up on the lockscreen in place of the default screensaver or in a smaller bar-shaped advert on the lower-right hand side of the tablet when you’re scrolling through the home page. Within applications and books, menus and sub-menus the advertising falls into the background and doesn’t intrude into the general user experience. So, what of the improvements to the Kindle family? We’ll start off with the Fire.
On the outset, the 2012 Fire (shown above) is almost exactly identical to the older one. It re-uses the same Texas Instruments OMAP 4430, this time clocked a little higher to 1.2GHz with an extra 512MB of RAM tacked on. In videos taken of the Fire, the user experience is hugely improved thanks to the fact that the tablets now run Ice Cream Sandwich underneath everything, although you’d be hard-pressed to tell. User-accessible storage has fallen down but this isn’t Amazon being cheap or under-handed – it simply saw that many Kindle Fire owners didn’t use up that much drive space and so it partitioned things with extra space for updates to the operating system and for the adverts that are downloaded, leaving the user files and folders completely separate. The $159 suggested price allows it to massively undercut the $250 Google Nexus 7, but the closed-off OS and lack of access to the Google Play market might drive you towards the Nexus device instead. For its price, though, nothing comes close.
The Fire HD will come in two sizes, the 7″ and 8.9″ form factors. The HD 7″ is a little larger than the regular Fire but comes with a 1280 x 800 resolution IPS panel, putting it, at the $199 price point for the 16GB model, well within the sights of Google Nexus buyers looking to do some serious high-definition content consumption. The 32GB model matches the pricing of the Nexus 7, giving buyers reason to step back and consider their options. The 1.2GHz TI OMAP 4460 is a slight upgrade from the OMAP 4430 found in the Fire, but isn’t that much faster. In real life, the HD resolution introduces some lag and the older Cortex A9 dual-core chip struggles to keep up. From a performance perspective, this might drive you to consider the Nexus 7, even with its lowered user storage and likewise lack of SD card support. With Jelly Bean updates on the way as well, its the better overall platform for someone who wanted a tablet and not a media consumption device.
The 8.9″ HD model also splashes in a 1920 x 1200 IPS panel to match the one currently seen on the ASUS Transformer Infinity. The better screen will come in handy in the light of Amazon’s signing-on of the Epix movie network to bring even more HD movies to the platform. The $299 starting price ensures that the 16GB model undercuts the iPad 16GB by $100, even if the new iPad offers a superlatively better screen and hardware feature set. Both HD tablets include 3G support and LTE compatibility for the 8.9″ models if you live in the few countries that have it rolled out in initial stages, with an optional data plan for the 8.9″ models on the AT&T network. No mention has been made of how 3G works on the original Fire in our sunny utopia, but it looks like Amazon may cover data charges for 2G and 3G browsing, just like the older Kindle e-Ink tablets.
Speaking of which, the humble e-Reader just got better. The baseline Kindle has had half the storage space cut and weighs less, but now comes with slightly upgraded hardware inside that makes the interface a little more zippy than before. That battery life is also no joke and neither is the price, a whole $10 cheaper than the original. While it is a touch-screen, it doesn’t seem to have detracted from the Kindle experience. Amazon has said they’ll continue making the 3G Keyboard version for those of you who miss the keys. What’s really going to pique your interest is the new Paperwhite version.
Barnes & Noble’s Glowlight-packing Nook is essentially a LED-backlit e-Ink reader and lent itself to better reading and less eyestrain in low-light environment where a reading light wasn’t used. The Paperwhite technology in the new Kindle achieves much the same thing, but now packs a higher resolution panel to boot. The extra pixels help to render web pages properly and the better hardware makes things less of a slide-show than it was before on the web browser of much older Kindles.
While many users may decry the halving of the available storage space, Amazon’s reason behind this is not only for the lower costs associated with manufacture, but again with the adverts that the device supports (pictured on the first image at the bottom of the screen) and also with the service’s use of cloud storage. Amazon’s data suggested that users never really used 3GB of space in the original Kindle e-Readers, with most merely packing in a few titles before leaving Wi-Fi reception on an extended trip, deleting books as they finished them.
In a nutshell, the new Kindles set Fire to the tablet market and will be especially strong competitors for other tablet makers who benefit from Nvidia’s Kai tablet program. I didn’t want a Kindle enough before this announcement, I definitely want one now!
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