Amazon late Tuesday unveiled its next line of Kindle Fire tablets, bringing along some impressive technical specifications and further cementing CEO Jeff Bezos’s Apple-like strategy to keep customers engaged with both Amazon hardware and content.
Kindle Fire HD
We’ll start first with the company’s entry-level tablet, the venerable Kindle Fire HD. The new model doesn’t offer any significant improvements in technical specifications, but Amazon has introduced a few key updates:
- A new chassis with a plateaued trapezoidal back frame
- 1.5 GHz Dual-Core Processor
- 10 hours of “mixed use” battery life
The device’s display remains at a resolution of 1280-by-800 along with storage options of either 8 or 16 GB. As you’ll soon see, this year’s Kindle Fire HD is greatly outclassed by its premiere siblings, but at prices of $139 (8 GB) or $169 (16 GB), the device is still a very capable entry-level product.
Kindle Fire HDX
In addition to a new chassis, very similar to this year’s Kindle Fire HD, the new HDX models sport a number of impressive performance improvements:
- High resolution displays that beat Apple’s current generation iPad in terms of pixel density (1920-by-1200 on the 7-inch model and 2560-by-1600 on the 8.9-inch model)
- 2.2 GHz Quad-Core Processors
- Qualcomm Adreno 330 Graphics Processor
- 11 hours of “mixed use” battery life
- 17 hours of “reading mode” battery life
- Ultra-light body (10.7 ounces for the 7-inch model and 13.2 ounces for the 8.9-inch model)
- New high-contrast display mode for easier viewing in direct sunlight
- New LTE mobile data options from both Verizon and AT&T
Even better than the lengthy specification list is the price. The 7-inch Wi-Fi only model is priced at $229 / $269 / $309 for 16 GB / 32 GB / 64 GB, respectively, while the 8.9-inch model lands at $379 / $429 / $479 at the same respective capacities. Optional LTE capability adds $100 to each price point.
While there are many factors to consider beyond pure technical specifications, it’s important to note Amazon’s aggressive pricing compared to Apple’s iPad line. For example, a 64 GB 7-inch Kindle Fire HDX with LTE costs $409, compared to $659 for the current generation iPad mini. Looking bigger, a fully-loaded 8.9-inch Kindle Fire HDX runs $579, compared to $829 for the full-sized fourth-generation iPad. In both cases (and particularly in the case of the iPad mini comparison) the Kindle Fire HDX offers displays and performance on par with, or better than, the iPad.
Fire OS 3.0 ‘Mojito’
Although based on Android, Amazon’s custom-modified Kindle Fire operating system has now reached version 3.0, codenamed “Mojito.” Although very familiar to existing Kindle Fire owners, the new operating system brings a number of key features:
- New optional grid view for content
- “Quick Switch” interface for navigating recently-accessed content
- “Mayday” customer support feature, which gives users the option of sharing their Kindle Fire screen remotely with an Amazon support representative
- “Second Screen” feature that lets users “fling” content from their Kindle Fire to their TV via supported products (which currently includes PlayStation 3, the upcoming PlayStation 4, and select Samsung Smart TVs)
- New Enterprise features such as VPN and Kerberos authentication
- Built-in Goodreads support (not available at launch but coming in mid-November as part of a planned Fire OS 3.1 update)
Of all the new features, “Mayday” is arguably the most important. Amazon cannot provide the support features offered by rivals like Apple with their own ubiquitous retail stores, so the company focused instead on remote support. As explained by Mr. Bezos:
Kindle Fire HDX also introduces the revolutionary new “Mayday” button. With a single tap, an Amazon expert will appear on your Fire HDX and can co-pilot you through any feature by drawing on your screen, walking you through how to do something yourself, or doing it for you—whatever works best. Mayday is available 24×7, 365 days a year, and it’s free.
Customer privacy is protected via the one-way video feature; customers can see the Amazon support rep, but the rep cannot see the customer. Further, if a support session ever reached the point where a customer had to enter a password, the screen sharing can be temporarily paused.
Mayday looks to be a promising feature that may even be preferable to a trip to Apple’s Genius Bar, as long as Amazon can staff appropriately for the demand. The company has a number of videos demonstrating Mayday on its Kindle Fire website.
Fire OS 3.0 will ship on all new Kindle Fire HDX and 2013 HD models. While there’s no official word on support for older models, company representatives hinted to Engadget that Amazon may roll out the update in the future for existing users.
All models are available for pre-order now, but Amazon will stagger the Kindle Fire release over the next two months. The Kindle Fire HD will begin shipping on October 2, followed by the 7-inch Kindle Fire HDX on October 18, and finally wrapping up with the 8.9-inch HDX on November 14.
Left out of Tuesday’s updates was the standard 8.9-inch Kindle Fire HD. That model remains in stock with last generation components for $269.