Amazon has reinvented the e-reader/tablet and the Web browser with its $199 Kindle Fire, an Android-based e-reader/tablet with a 7-inch touch LCD screen and running its own special version of Android, and re-asserted itself in the e-ink e-reader market with three new QWERTY keyboard-less Kindles, two Touch models ($149 with 3G and $99 for a Wi-Fi only) and a non-touch priced at $79.
All are available for pre-order now. The Amazon Fire will ship on November 15th and the new Kindle Touch models will ship on November 21st; the $79 Kindle is shipping today.
All the new Kindle tablets easily allow Amazon to reclaim ground lost in the e-reader wars to Barnes & Noble’s Nook Color and Nook Touch, which now appear to be over-priced and under-spec’d by comparison.
However, whether or not Fire is a viable alternative to iPad remains to be seen. Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos presented Fire as a multimedia device, able to slickly access Amazon’s growing movie, TV, magazine and music stores, as well as an e-book reader.
However, no mention was made of e-mail, address book, calendar or any other personal information apps, although these functions may be available via apps. We’ll have a more hands-on report later.
FIRE LOOK & FEEL
Fire – either a thoughtless or clever name for something to do with books (is the model number F451?) bears a cosmetic similarity to the BlackBerry Playbook, unsurprising since both are built by the same Chinese manufacturer. It weighs just 14.6 ounces – 1.2 less than the Nook Color, and sports a dual core processor compared to Nook Color’s often clunky 800 MHz engine.
Fire’s interface resembles Apple’s iBook app. Across the top are menu items for Newsstand, Books, Music, Video, Docs, Apps and Web. Under this is a large carousel featuring the most recently accessed or acquired content. Below the carousel is a shorter shelf containing frequently accessed “pinned” items.
This interface is vastly simpler and superior to that on the Nook Color, and gets you to your content far faster than on any tablet, including the iPad.
Like its e-ink Kindles, Fire content can be acquired through its free Whispernet network, and all your content is stored in Amazon’s cloud.
Amazon also unveiled a new concept in Web browsers called Amazon Silk. The so-called “split” browser uses the power and intelligence of Amazon’s cloud servers to process the more processing heavy elements of Web pages, caching photos and templates in the cloud to more speedily display pages.
NEW TOUCH KINDLES
Amazon has not only smashed the magic $100 price point on e-ink readers, but realigned the touch experience.
Instead of tapping the right side of the screen to turn the page forward, tap on the left side to go back a page and touch the middle to access menu items – the arrangement on most touch e-ink e-readers; Kindle now has a large center area to touch to move forward, a slim area on the left to go back, and a slim horizontal area across the top to access menu items.
These menu items include the usual type, font and dictionary functions as well as a new feature dubbed “X-Ray.” Along with a book, Amazon will now include supplemental contextual information such as historical and character data culled from sources such as Wikipedia and Shelfari.
The $79 Kindle will be subsidized with “special offers,” including Local, and weighs just 5.98 ounces.
All three e-ink models seem to have deeper than the usual e-ink 16-level gray scale.
Actually, Amazon didn’t let anyone other than their product demonstrators handle the fewer than half dozen Fire and Kindle Touch devices on display after Bezos’ ponderous yet filled with wonders presentation.
However, here’s what I gleaned from the demonstrations of the Fire.
Fire is fiery fast. It runs a dual core 1 GHz chip similar to the BlackBerry Playbook (Amazon declined to name the processor). And, as predicted, Web pages using Amazon’s Silk browser filled in literally a blink of an eye, with none of the usual last-elements-to-load lag that usually stalls other browsers, mobile or not.
Fire swiping, as done by the experienced demonstrators, seemed iPad responsive and smooth, with none of the noticeable swiping herky-jerking often found on cheaper tabs (and on the Nook Color).
According to Amazon, Fire will run most Android apps, excluding those designed for cellular connectivity use, naturally, but especially those featured in the vetted Amazon app store.
These apps likely will include an Amazon e-mail client. However, this app is not yet available and spokespeople were unsure if this e-mail client will integrate calendar and address book functions, or what desktop PIM clients from which you’ll be able to import data. Fire seems to be intuitively designed – although I’m anxious to get my fingers on it to get deeper into it – so it’s like the e-mail client will allow you to import from the obvious PIM sources.
Behind most of the primary menu items on the Home page (Newsstand, Books, Music, Video, et al) is another three-shelf book case, each shelf actually a carousel to swipe through, with your content.
Since each previous Kindle has its own e-mail address, it’s likely Fire will also will as well to facilitate transferring your docs to the tablet. Bezos made a point about not needing to physically attach Fire to sync, punctuating the point with a photo of an Apple USB connection icon on the screen behind him, eliciting chuckles from the crowd. (Of course the coming iCloud and iOS 5 will eliminate this advantage, but I digress.)
Wireless synching is fine for your Amazon-acquired content. But sending individual documents to Fire via e-mail seems ponderous. Again, hopefully Amazon will have figured a more elegant and less time-consuming method for transferring your documents to Fire wirelessly. I’ll check this all out when I catch my Fire.