Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos's key line at the company's long, multi-announcement news event today was the one about wanting last year to have the "best tablet at a certain price," a reference to the $199 Kindle Fire. "This year," he said, "we want the best tablet, period." Amazon's new tablets may be offering both this year.
It remains to be seen precisely how well Amazon's new Kindle Fire HD tablets will perform against the competition; I'll await the expert assessments from Consumer Reports' tablet testers. But the specs are impressive. And my first take on the quality of the Kindle Fire HDs' performance, user interfaces, and more was positive, based on using the 7-inch version after the press event and seeing the 8.9-inch model demonstrated.
But more impressive yet may be the prices of the devices. The 7-inch Kindle Fire HD will cost $199, the same as the older Kindle Fire, but with an upgraded screen and double the storage. Those changes promise to bring the Kindle Fire HDs up to the standard of the best 7-inch tablets, such as the Google Nexus 7.
If that's too expensive, an upgraded version of the original Kindle Fire will sell for $159, promising to make it the best tablet at a certain lower price this year.
The new Amazon tablets, like last year's Kindle Fire, promise to offer stiff competition with Android tablets, few of which have gained much traction in the market. But with pricing that's close to jaw-dropping, the 8.9-inch Kindle Fire HD also promises to provide the most potent alternative yet to the Apple iPad.
At $299 for the Wi-Fi version, the Kindle Fire HD will cost $200 less than the newest version of the iPad, which does have a slightly larger screen (9.7 inches). And the Fire HD version that allows 4G data connections will be $499, or about $130 less than the least expensive iPad with 4G connectivity. And the data plan for the device (albeit with AT&T, which doesn't fare well for data satisfaction in our Ratings of service for smart phones) costs as little as $50 a year, compared with $230 a year for comparable plans for the iPad.
There are other caveats to the Kindle Fire HDs compared with competitors. The devices will, like the original Kindle Fire, have a limited selection of curated apps, rather than the full array that's available with most other tablets—including the iPad's still-unequaled selection.
Also, Amazon says those prices are for so-called "special offers" versions that will have ads and offers on their screensaver, and Amazon offers running in the bottom corner of the home page.
While that's a relatively unobtrusive presence, some consumers may not want any ads. Amazon spokespeople said they expected an upgrade to remove the offers would be available for $20 or $30, either when you order a Kindle Fire HD or after you receive it. But at the time of this writing, that option wasn't evident on the pre-order pages for the devices at Amazon.com.
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