Q: What's the quick and dirty version of Amazon's announcement today?
A: Amazon has unveiled a pair of new e-ink readers and three new tablets -- but each one is available in several versions. Here's a breakdown, with pricing and availability.
- Kindle e-reader: A new bare-bones e-ink reader. Slight upgrade from last year's version (improved display, still no touch screen), and a tad cheaper: $69 (ad-supported), $89 without ads. Available now.
- Kindle Paperwhite: Amazon's first self-illuminating e-ink reader, and now its only touch-screen model. It's $119 with Wi-Fi, $179 for 3G (both ad-supported; add $20 for ad-free versions). Ships October 1.
- Kindle Fire: Amazon's new baseline tablet. For just $159, you get a faster CPU and longer battery life than the older model. Ships September 14.
- Kindle Fire HD (7-inch): The cheapest "new" tablet in Amazon's lineup. It's $199 for 16GB, $249 for 32GB. Fully featured tablet with Amazon's customized version of Android, 1,280x800-pixel display, front-facing camera, dual-band MIMO Wi-Fi, ships September 14.
- Kindle Fire HD (8.9-inch): Same as above with bigger, more-high-res screen (1,920x1,200 pixels). The 16GB model costs $299, 32GB is $369. Ships November 20.
- Kindle Fire HD (8.9-inch, 4G LTE wireless): The same big dog as above, but with a built-in LTE connection (on AT&T). It's $499 for 32GB, $599 for 64GB, plus $50 a year for 250MB of data a month. Ships November 20.
All of the above products are available for preorder today from Amazon.com.
Q: OK, so what are the big new features in the Paperwhite?
A: The Paperwhite replaces Amazon's previous flagship e-reader, the Kindle Touch. The new model comes with a higher resolution (1,024x768 with 212 pixels per inch), yielding 62 percent more pixels than the Touch. But the bigger selling point is the embedded fiber optic light circling the display. That means you don't need a separate light source to read. Another cool feature is that the Paperwhite keeps track of your average reading speed, which lets it display an estimate of how long it will take you to finish a chapter or an entire book. Note that the Paperwhite no longer offers the audio support found on the Touch -- but we doubt anyone will miss that.
Q: How does the Paperwhite compare with other e-readers?
A: Pretty well. The $119 Paperwhite costs less than Barnes & Noble's recent Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight . In his brief hands-on with the device, CNET's David Carnoy found that the Paperwhite's light shone more uniformly than the Nook version, and he also liked the higher-resolution screen.
It's harder to compare the Paperwhite with the recently announced Kobo Glo e-reader. The Kobo has LED-based lighting, rather than the Paperwhite's fiber optics. Kobo also claims only a month of battery life for the Glo, versus Amazon's claim of two months. In Kobo's favor, you can expand the local storage via the microSD card slot, whereas the Paperwhite offers no expandable storage (though you can still store up to 1,100 books, and swap more in and out as needed via Amazon's cloud-based library). At $129, the Glo also costs $10 more -- but is ad-free.
Q: How about the Kindle Fire HD?
A: The Kindle Fire HD is a feature-rich tablet available in two screen sizes, 7 and 8.9 inches, and with multiple storage and data plan configurations. The 8.9-inch model has a 1,900x1,200-pixel-resolution screen, the 7-inch version is 1,280x720 pixels. Amazon says the Fire HD screen reflects 25 percent less glare (presumably compared with the original Fire tablet's screen). Amazon has also given the Fire HD Tablet stereo speakers with Dolby Digital Plus support, as well as dual-band MIMO Wi-Fi, a front-facing camera, and a Bluetooth receiver, all of which are improvements to the hardware in the standard Kindle Fire.
For storage, Amazon will offer 16GB and 32GB options for the 7-inch model, and 16GB, 32GB, and 64GB options for the 8.9-inch model, at varying price points. The highest-end model is the $599 64GB version, which also has a $50-a-year 4G LTE data plan. That plan only gets you 250MB of data per month, though, which you can wipe out with one decently sized photo album download. A $499 version of the 8.9-inch unit has the same data plan, but only 32GB of storage.
On the software side, Amazon has given the Fire HD an assortment of new capabilities. Whispersync for Voice lets you pause an audiobook and pick up where you left off in the e-book version. Whispersync for Games lets you transport your in-game progress when you pick it up on a different Amazon device. X-Ray for Movies allows you to pause a movie and look up the actor's onscreen, via a partnership with IMDb. You now also get multi-user support, and Kindle Freetime gives you a way to regulate how much time a particular user, like your kids, can use certain kinds of applications on the device.
Q: Does the Kindle Fire HD compare well with its competition?
A: It depends on the price point. Among the other 7-inch tablets, the Google Nexus 7, Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0, and the Kobo Arc, announced today, all offer 8GB models at or around $199, the same price as the 7-inch Kindle Fire HD with 16GB of memory. The Nook Tablet is the only other 7-incher with 16GB for $199, but it lacks Bluetooth and a camera. And Barnes & Noble cannot match Amazon for its media ecosystem. (We should note, though, that we expect B&N to announce a new product later this fall.)
On the 8.9-inch front, the baseline 16GB Kindle Fire HD doesn't have a lot of competition. The Samsung Galaxy Tab from 2010 had an 8.9-inch variant, and you can find a few other oddball 8.9-inchers, but no serious direct competition comes to mind here. The older, 10-inch iPad 2 with 16GB of memory is the most obvious next option, but at $399 it's $100 more than the $299 big-screen Kindle Fire HD. Of course, the big wildcard here is the rumored iPad Mini. With a possible September or October debut, that model is expected to sport a 7.85-inch screen (pricing is anyone's guess, but somewhere between $249 and $349 seems likely).
Once you start expanding the memory on the 8.9-inch Fire HD and driving the price up, you then might start to weigh storage space vs. screen size in terms of pure hardware comparisons. The 32GB Kindle Fire HD costs $369. If the 10-inch iPad 2 still seems out-of-date, the more recent 10-inch Asus Transformer Pad TF300 could make a better Fire HD competitor. You can find that tablet, which includes a keyboard, 32GB of memory, and an Nvidia Tegra 3 CPU, for $350.
Q: Can I still buy the older Kindle products?
A: For the most part, no. At least not new from Amazon. The Kindle Touch is no longer available, and the older Kindle and Fire tablet have both been replaced by the updated products. The two legacy products still available are the Kindle Keyboard 3G and the Kindle DX.
Q: When will CNET have these new e-readers and tablets reviewed?
A: As soon as we get them in for real, long-term testing. (In the meantime, click though the links above for our first impressions.) Based on the release dates Amazon has provided, look for reviews of the baseline Kindle, the Kindle Fire, and the 7-inch Kindle Fire HD as soon as mid-September. That will be followed by the Paperwhite (by October 1) and then, finally, the 8.9-inch Fire HDs in November.
Have more questions? Let us know in the comments.