The first thing Amazon.com announced at its Thursday press event was the new Kindle Paperwhite e-book readers, but that was just the beginning. Although Amazon.com noted that its Kindle Fire had achieved 22 percent market share in U.S. tablet sales in its first year, the company faces many challenges with its new tablets, including the current Google Nexus 7 and the upcoming iPad mini.
First off was the 7-inch Kindle Fire model, but upgraded from the 2011 version. The new Kindle Fire has an upgraded (40-percent faster) dual-core 1.2GHz TI OMAP 4430 processor, 1GB of RAM (twice as much as before), and stereo speakers as opposed to the original's mono. It has the same 1024 x 600 screen, with two-finger gestures (only).
You might expect Amazon.com to keep the price the same as last year's model, given those upgrades. Nope. The company is well aware of the challenges of a rumored $249 7.85-inch iPad mini, and has lowered the price, from $199 to $159.
Slotted in at the old $199 price point is the new Kindle Fire HD 7-inch tablet. It has 16GB of internal storage for $199, or 32GB for $249. It has a 1280 x 800 (up to 720p HD video) screen, Dolby Audio dual-driver stereo speakers, an upgraded dual-core 1.2GHz OMAP 4460 processor (vs. the 4430 in the Kindle Fire), and a front-facing camera for Skype. In addition, it has dual-band, dual-antenna wi-fi, so it can connect to both bands of 802.11n, along with 10-finger multi-touch gestures.
That was just the start of things at Amazon.com's presentation. Founder and CEO Jeff Bezos then introduced the top-of-the-line Kindle Fire HD tablets. These two 8.9-inch tablets have a resolution 1920 x 1200, display 1280p HD video, and has everything else the 7-inch Kindle Fire HD has, except that it includes a dual-core 1.5GHz OMAP 4470 processor instead of the 4460.
The Kindle Fire HD 8.9" tablet is priced at $299 with 16GB of internal storage, while the Kindle Fire HD 8.9" 4G LTE Wireless tablet is priced at $499 and comes with 32GB of internal storage. Both models have upscaled versions ($369 for 32GB and $599 for 64GB, respectively).
Here, though, is the biggie: the LTE plan for the 4G-enabled version. One of the challenges of selling any Android tablets vs. the iPad has been the two-year contracts that people get stuck with. While giving them a subsidized price, it also means Android tablet users are stuck with the device for two years.
Enter Amazon.com's LTE plan. Using AT&T, the same carrier that it uses on its 3G-capable Kindles, a user of the Kindle Fire HD 8.9" 4G LTE Wireless tablet can, if they don't think they will use much 4G, opt for a $50 - for an entire year - plan that gives them 250MB of data monthly. Compare that to AT&T's similar data plan, which costs $15 a month. That is an amazing annual savings of $129.89 (($14.99 x 12) - $49.99).
Don't worry data hogs: those of you who need more cellular data can opt for AT&T's standard 3GB and 5GB data plans, all accessible on the device.
One thing though, for those who don't like advertising on their devices. All four of the new tablets will display Amazon.com's "Special Offers" promotions and ads on their lock screens. Unlike the ad-supported Kindle, though, Amazon.com isn't offering the devices in more expensive, ad-free models.
It also hasn't mentioned any way to opt out for a "convenience" fee.
Frankly, we'd rather Amazon.com keep the prices low; something as prosaic as unobtrusive lock-screen ads won't bug us. On the other hand, the forked version of Android that Amazon.com uses on its devices does tend to bug us, but that is only because we are so used to regular Android.
The new 7-inch models will be available on Sept. 14, and the 8.9-inch models on Nov. 20. They are all now available for pre-order, though the site took some time to update after the presentation.