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If you were hoping for a Kindle hardware refresh, today’s your lucky day. Earlier this evening, Amazon unveiled the latest generation Kindle e-book reader, which offers better contrast, improved speeds, lighter weight, and double the storage and battery life compared to the previous model.

This time around, Amazon is offering two Kindle models: A $189 version with 3G and WiFi to replace the Kindle 2, and a cheaper $139 version that only features WiFi. The cheaper model is clearly a response to Barnes and Noble’s $149 WiFi-only Nook, and it brings Amazon one step closer to the magical $99 price point. Amazon also ended up dropping the Kindle’s price to $189 back in June when Barnes and Noble reduced its Nook 3G model to $199.

Both new models are slated for release on August 27th, and are available for pre-order now. The company will also release UK versions of the devices for £109 and £149 respectively on the same date and has announced a new UK e-book store.

The addition of WiFi is new for the more expensive Kindle. Previous Kindle models relied entirely on cellular data networks — first with Sprint’s EVDO, and then AT&T’s 3G network for the newer “international” Kindle 2. The addition will let owners of the new Kindle take advantage of their faster home wireless networks, and it will be particularly useful if they don’t have decent cellular data reception near their home or work.

The new Kindle will come in graphite (like the Kindle DX) and white, is 21 percent smaller, and will feature the same 6-inch E Ink screen as previous models. While not much has changed with the basic screen technology, Amazon promises that page turns will be faster. Battery-wise, it will run for a month with no wireless capabilities turned on, and 10 days with wireless. Since you won’t always need wireless connectivity, real-world battery life will rest somewhere in between those suggested battery times. The Kindle’s on-board storage has also been doubled from 2GB to 4GB, which will let it hold up to 3,500 books.

Both the Kindle’s keyboard and five-way directional rocker have been modified. “The rocker is now more compact and flush with the device, and the side buttons have been modified in length to emphasize the forward paddles, while the back buttons have been downsized,” according to Engadget, which had some hands-on time with the device.

Amazon also added an “experimental” web browser based on Webkit, the browser engine currently used in Safari and Google Chrome. It’s purportedly faster than the previous Kindle web browser, and it now includes an “article mode” that lets users simplify web pages into text-based versions better suited for the Kindle.

While the new Kindle’s upgrades may seem minor, the most important aspect of this release is the cheap $139 model. Only a few months ago, the only available Kindle was $259. Soon, you’ll be able to get one — albeit without 3G internet — for about $100 less. It’s a sign that competition is keeping the e-reader market agile, and that even with the advent of the iPad, it’s far too early to write off these devices.

Check out a video below of Ian Freed, vice president of Kindle at Amazon, showing off the new device to the Seattle Times.

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