Amazon shook up the tablet computing industry by entering a new device into the category: a glossy Kindle Fire HD that comes in a familiar 7-inch model or a supersized 8.9-inch variety. Amazon also introduced a fifth generation Kindle e-reader called the Kindle Paperwhite.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos featured the devices in a press event held in Santa Monica, Calif. today. Bezos also showed off a refreshed Kindle Fire tablet, but the clear star of the show was the all-new Fire HD.
The $199 7-inch Kinde Fire HD will feel familiar to existing Fire owners when it comes to its size, but the device packs a faster, louder punch with an HD display, faster processor, Dolby audio, and 11 hours of battery life.
The 8.9-inch Kindle Fire HD is bigger and brighter, though it’s not quite as ready for production as its smaller kin (it won’t ship until November 20). The $299 device has a 1,920 by 1,200 HD display and an OMAP4 4470 processor to speed things up. Both models come with front-facing cameras, Bluetooth support, HDMI out, and 16GB of storage.
Big spenders can plunk down an additional $200 to get 4G LTE connectivity, courtesy of AT&T, on the Kindle Fire HD 8.9-inch. This $499 model includes 32 GB of storage.
I chatted up Dave Limp (pictured above), the vice president of Amazon Kindle, after the event to get a better idea of the company’s intentions behind its expanded lineup of devices.
“Customers are smart, and Amazon is founded on selection,” Limp said. “I think we’re hitting some key price points that consumers have told us … are important to them.”
Limp, of course, didn’t directly answer my question on whether the company priced its Kindle Fire HD to compete with the Google Nexus 7 or an Apple device — “$199 for what’s in this product — I hope somebody comes and tries to do it. It’s incredible. It’s the best value you’re going to see.”
But as to whether Amazon can successfully sell a $499 tablet to consumers, Limp really couldn’t say.
“It’s been proven that it’s a very large market,” he said. “I think we’re going to give it a shot and see how we can do with customers in that very big market. Now, we’re new and we probably have lots to learn … but having used this for the past month in and around Amazon, I think it’s a great product.”
So Amazon is extremely proud of its newest machinations, but what should you think of them?
Here’s my advice for you: Don’t order a Kindle Fire HD until you can spend more than a few minutes playing with one. It’s not that the 7-inch Fire HD (the 8.9-inch wasn’t out for display) was underwhelming, it’s just that I didn’t get enough time playing with it to say that it’s any better (or worse) than the Google Nexus 7, which I find to be a fantastic little device. Overall, the touchscreen was pretty responsive, but the browsing speed over Wi-Fi wasn’t all that impressive (maybe two antennae aren’t enough?), and the virtual keyboard felt pretty sticky.
The Kindle Fire HD is also different enough from the iPad and the Nexus 7 in how it operates, largely because of the Android fork that Amazon employs, that you’ll want to find the device that perfectly fits your fingers’ mojo.
The Kindle Paperwhite is a far easier sell. Amazon knows e-readers (it’s number one in the category), and this one’s design has serious readers in mind. Considering that the cheapest Paperwhite version (sans 3G connectivity) sells for a why-wouldn’t-you-buy-it? price of $119, any book lover will find the Paperwhite almost impossible to say no to.
Anyway, why don’t you have a look for yourself.