Here are the new devices you can pre-order as of tonight (Wednesday, September 17th) at 9 p.m. ET at the Amazon home page:
This seventh-generation eReader is the thinnest, lightest, brightest, and smartest Kindle to date. You press the bezel for silent movement to the next or previous page, and you feel a friendly haptic response as the page turns. The screen is 39 percent brighter. It automatically adjusts to surrounding light. And—get this—it dims gradually after you start reading in the dark, matching how your eyes take time adjust to darkness.
The “wow” that I experienced holding a Voyage at today’s embargoed media briefing in New York City reminded me of the first time that I held a Kindle Keyboard. That was five years ago, at the birth of the third generation of Kindles. The Kindle 2 immediately seemed bigger, clunkier, and old-fashioned. The same thing happened to the beloved Paperwhite that I brought to New York when I placed it on a table next to the new Kindle in town.
Amazon today confirmed that it’s serious about making Kindle technology available to as many book lovers as possible by giving an impressive update to the entry-level dedicated eReader, called simply “Kindle.” It has twice the storage, and its processor is 20 percent faster than the previous basic Kindle.
The most noticeable improvement is a full touch screen that replaces the pain-in-the-neck five-way controller. No more pressing up, down, left, or right to move the cursor across an alphabet grid in order to enter text. Just tap the virtual keyboard. The updated Kindle can do all the new software tricks of the Voyage and Paperwhite, which remains in the lineup as the new middle child.
The new basic Kindle’s screen isn’t as omigod bright and contrasty as the Voyage’s, and there is no built-in light bathing its screen. But it’s going to be great for a kid’s first Kindle or a beach reader you toss in your bag with sunscreen, Frisbee, and goggles.
This new HDX is really thin and light–13.2 ounces or 20 percent lighter than an iPad Air. The tech specs impress, as follows: It’s the first tablet powered by the most advanced quad-core Snapdragon 805 processor, and the graphics engine is 70 percent faster than the previous-generation Fire HDX. At the demo table, the new HDX seemed fast, fluid, brilliantly colorful–and thin.
For book reading, the new HDX has a clever way of taking another step toward the holy grail of parity with paper books. It’s called Dynamic Light Control, which changes the white point of the display based on the ambient lighting. The demo units that we saw gradually adjusted their appearance after you tapped on a book in the carousel. The idea seems to be that a book on the HDX will look different in a soft, yellow light in your den than it will in glaring fluorescent light in an office. You won’t see this on the HDX until later this year, though, because it will arrive as part of a free, over-the-air software update.
The new HDX is the first tablet with Dolby Atmos, Amazon execs told us. We put on headphones to hear how it sounded in an action movie where all sorts of stuff was blowing up and moving around us with eerie effect. Dolby Atmos is rolling out in some movies but not others, and you’ll be able to hear its magic on the HDX 8.9.
The HDX’s Battery life—up to 12 hours for reading, surfing the web, watching video or listening to music—gets a boost from Smart Suspend, which develops a profile specific to your device based on when it is typically not in use. That’s when it will turn the wireless off to conserve power, but it will sneak back onto the net now and then to grab new emails or app notifications while you’re asleep.
The HDX 8.9 can be paired with the coolest Bluetooth keyboard I’ve seen. It costs $59.99, weighs just 7 ounces, and is 4.8 mm thin. It also has a trackpad, so you don’t have to switch from typing to tapping the screen. You can place the keyboard with the HDX inside the new Origami Cover ($54.99), which also serves as a landscape or portrait stand. Everything snaps together with a satisfying magnetic click.
Note: The Fire HDX 7”, which happens to be my favorite Amazon tablet, will receive an update to the Fire OS 4 software, named Sangria and based on Android KitKat. But sadly there are no hardware improvements for the 7-inch HDX.
For the Fire HD, Amazon played a game it loves to play—how much better can we make a device that someone is now selling for too much money? In this case the target was the low end of smaller tablets. Customers have complained to Amazon that these devices, made by other companies, are unreliable, have lousy performance, and sound crummy.
So these new Fire HDs are tough. When you drop an iPad mini and a new Fire HD to a concrete floor from a meter high, the iPad mini breaks apart twice as often as the Fire HD, we were told. Lesser competitors fail 20 times more often than the Fire. We watched a video in which one hapless Brand X tablet literally exploded into pieces when it hit the concrete. The Fire HD bounced like a superball with no harm done.
I was surprised to learn that this new tablet will not have the amazingly great Mayday support offered on the Fire Phone and the HDX tablets. Customers love Mayday, as Amazon likes to say. But it’s obviously very expensive to provide year-round 24/7 video support with hands-on control of the device if desired. So when you are aiming at an ambitious price point, something’s gotta give. You can still get fast, smart, convenient tech support for the Fire HD by chat and phone. But still. I suggested to Dave Limp, Amazon senior vice president for Kindle devices, that customers might be willing to pay for a Mayday premium on the Fire HD, so we’ll see.
Based on the same Fire HD devices, this package for kids includes an impressive two-year, no-questions-asked guarantee. In other words, if Junior feeds his HD to the family basset hound, Amazon will replace it with a new or refurbished unit.
The Kids Edition HD also comes with a year of Amazon FreeTime Unlimited, a $120 value that provides unlimited access to 5,000 books, movies, TV shows, educational apps, and games.
It doesn’t mention this in the press releases we were given, but during the demo I thought the Amazon rep said the Kids Edition HD comes with a free protective case in pink, green or blue. You could probably drop this one from two meters above concrete and the Fire HD might survive.
Summary and Note
All of these new products are available for pre-order, with shipment in October.
I will update the links for the specific products as soon as possible. For now, please feel free to explore them using this link, which is coded with my Amazon Associates information, so if you use them to make your purchase, it will benefit the podcast.
I am writing this post on the flight from LaGuardia to Denver, which is due to arrive at 9 p.m. ET just as the media embargo comes off. As soon as Frontier 507 touches down at DIA I will fire up a Hot Spot on the Fire Phone and do my best to get this information faster than a speeding quad-core Snapdragon 805 processor.
And of course, this week’s episode of the Kindle Chronicles will be chock full of interviews, color commentary, and more analysis of today’s gaggle of great new Kindles and Fires.