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Amazon unveils Kindle Fire HD, Kindle Paperwhite e-reader

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FROM AN AIRPORT HANGER IN SANTA MONICA, Calif. — Amazon today lifted the veil on the newest additions to its lineup of tablet devices and e-readers. Clearly, in an attempt to convince consumers ahead of the holiday shopping season that its hardware can be both cheap and sexy.

Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos took the stage and showed off the brand new Kindle Paperwhite e-reader and the Kindle Fire HD device. He also introduced a refreshed Kindle Fire tablet.

“People don’t want gadgets anymore, they want services,” Jeff Bezos said on stage. “The Kindle Fire is a service.”

The Kindle Paperwhite was the first device to make its official debut. The fancy e-reader is 9.1 mm thick and weighs in at 7.5 ounces. It gets eight weeks of battery life (even with the light on). Unlike previous Kindles, it does have a light in the front, which Amazon says “guides light underneath an anti-glare layer and down toward the display, away from the reader’s eyes.” In other words, it’s not a backlight, but it’s not quite your usual Itty Bitty Booklight either. The new “Paperwhite” display is meant to be exactly like ambient light, perfect for reading in the bedroom or in the sunlight, Bezos said.

The Kindle Paperwhite retails for $119, while its 3G brother retails for $179. Both e-readers will start shipping on October 1.

Amazon also revealed the updated Kindle Fire. The new device is the same form factor as the previous Kindle Fire, but has a faster processor, twice as much as RAM, and is 40 percent faster overall, Amazon claims. The refreshed Kindle Fire retails for $159.

But the biggest news of all is the appearance of the Kindle Fire HD.

The Kindle Fire HD comes in 7-inch or 8.9-inch varieties; the larger one weighs in at 20 ounces. Bezos talked up the device’s audio and Wi-Fi capabilities. The Kindle Fire HD comes with dual stereo speakers and is the first tablet to ship with Dolby Digital Plus. On the Wi-Fi front, the tablet includes two antennas and MIMO technology, which allows the tablet to better hold wireless reception.

The device, as described by Bezos, has been optimized to provide customers with the best-in-class tablet computing features, so everything from games and music to books and apps (and even email) is meant to work smoothly and brilliantly.

Bezos frequently referred to the Kindle Fire HD as stunning, and said it offered consumers the best hardware and best features.

People can start ordering the Kindle Fire HD today, Bezos said. The 7-inch version comes with 16 GB and retails for $199. It will start shipping on September 14. The bigger 8.9-inch Kindle Fire HD costs $299, comes with 16 GB, and starts shipping on November 20.

The company is also offering a pricier 4G LTE model that comes with 32 GB and retails for $499. The data plan for the 4G device is only $49.99 a year, which includes 250 megabytes of wireless data a month, 20 gigabytes of cloud storage, and a $10 Amazon credit.

Bezos explained that Amazon intentionally tried to keep prices low to get the new Fire HDs into consumers’ hands. “We want to make money when people use our device, not when they buy our devices,” he said. “We have just built the best tablet at any price.”

Bezos also spoke on Amazon’s highly successful Direct Publishing program. He announced that the company was updating its Kindle Singles program with Kindle Serials. Serials offer Amazon readers a way to buy once (for $1.99) and continue to get installments as authors’ update and add to their works.

A number of rumors and pre-event leaks hinted at today’s announcements. Amazon was pegged to announce two new tablets, a high-end Kindle Fire model with faster processing power and a low-end, ad-supported model with minor upgrades. The notion of a 10-inch Kindle Fire lost some steam in recent weeks, though some analysts were still hoping to see a larger screen device.

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