Amazon unveils new Kindles; updates Fire HD, Fire HDX tablets

The retail turned mobile giant unveiled a number of updated products: two new e-readers, a sub-$100 tablet of superb quality, a high-end premium tablet, and even one for kids.
Written by Zack Whittaker, Contributor
Meet Amazon's new Kindle.
Image: ZDNet/CBS Interactive

NEW YORK — Say hello to Amazon's refreshed new line-up of tablets. And there's even a couple of updated e-readers thrown in for good measure.

Amazon on Wednesday announced not just one or two, but six new and improved devices to its tablet selection at an event in New York.

The retail turned cloud and mobile giant touted its new Kindle e-readers as its pride and joy, but left enough wiggle room to show off a bevy of new devices for adults, kids, and the business-minded user.

Amazon's new Kindle arrives in two iterations: the new Kindle, which keeps its name with no frills — just like its design; and the (leaked) Kindle Voyage, which the company boasted as its thinnest and most advanced e-reader to date.

The Kindle stands on its own merit with avid book and document readers. It's faster, has double the storage, and has an all-touch display. The device also comes with new software — notably X-Ray, a feature that adds the ability to look up character profiles and other information.

The new software, including deeper Goodreads integration, enhanced search, and Kindle Unlimited for $9.99 access to over 700,000 books and thousands of audiobooks, will arrive over-the-air later this year.

The new Kindle is available for $99, with Kindle Paperwhite, its larger sibling, available at $119, with an improved two-fold bump in storage.

The Kindle Voyage, which weighs in at a heftier $199, has a remarkably sharp screen, deep contrasts, and a 39 percent brighter screen. Amazon touted its Adapted Front Light technology which dims the screen depending on the lighting conditions. Its matte display also reduces glare considerably, making outdoor reading easier. But the screen will also dim over time when reading in the dark to make it easier on the eyes.

Amazon Kindle Voyage.
Image: ZDNet/CBS Interactive

It also sees the return of haptic feedback-enabled touch buttons to scroll through pages, dubbed PagePress. Amazon is also tossing in free 3G connectivity for on-the-go book downloading.

On all new Kindle devices, battery will last for weeks. Pre-orders are now open, and shipping begins in October.

But the stars of the show were the latest Fire HD, and Fire HDX tablets, which both boast brighter, sharper displays, a bevy of new software features included with the latest Fire OS 4 operating system, and improved hardware.

The Fire HDX comes with an 8.9-inch display, which Amazon claims has one million more pixels than an iPad Air, sporting in at 339 pixels-per-inch (ppi). It's also light, and easy to hold — even with one hand — at 13 ounces.

It runs the latest Snapdragon 805 (2.5Ghz) processor, and a graphics unit with 75 percent faster graphics than its predecessor. It also comes with 802.11ac Wi-Fi for fast networking speeds. Like with the Kindle Voyage, it comes with Dynamic Lighting Control, which makes the pages of an e-book resemble more closely the paper on a book. 

The tablet has a front-facing camera for video calls, and an 8-megapixel rear camera, capable of 1080p video. 

In a short hands-on session with the Fire HDX, there's no doubt it feels like it's made of plastic. But it does feel sturdy in its strong shell. And it's lighter in weight, and thinner — it's noticeably thin. The screen is razor-sharp, bright, and strong color depth. It also boasts Dolby Atmos technology, making it twice as loud as the iPad Air, and with impressive bass tones, crisp vocals, and an overall depth to the sound. 

One of the more interesting notes was the enterprise-focused feature. It comes with WPS Office, an alternative to Microsoft's own Office suite, which is shipping with all new Fire HDX tablets. Integrated with Amazon's Cloud Drive (and nothing more — no Dropbox, no Microsoft OneDrive, or Google Drive), it can be a handy device for on-the-go enterprise workers. The tablet can run Amazon Workspaces, essentially allowing a copy of Windows to be run from the cloud on your tablet. It's particularly useful for business users with custom apps, or proprietary apps that don't work on platforms other than Windows.

You read that right. You can run a copy of Windows 8 on your Fire HDX tablet. Why? Executives said it was in a bid to solve a "pain point," by running apps on your tablet via Windows which you can't on other platforms.

It's a strong contender, but for the price tag of $379, it's cheaper than most tablets for the performance perks it offers, though it may still be out of many people's reach. For the 4G version, it's priced at $479.

The Fire HDX 7 will still be available for sale, and will also be eligible for the Fire OS 4 software upgrade.

But for those wanting a sub-$100 tablet with the power punch of a beefier device, Amazon has now dished out the Fire HD 6 and the Fire HD 7, which land with a 6-inch display at $99 and a 7-inch display at $139.

Chief executive Jeff Bezos said in remarks that it was the "most powerful tablet under $100."

Amazon Fire HD 7.
Image: ZDNet/CBS Interactive

The Fire HD 6 and Fire HD 7 come with a Mediatek 1.5Ghz quad-core processor, a high-definition display (with 252 ppi for the 6-inch tablet, and 216 ppi for the 7-inch tablet), and front and rear-facing cameras.

Both tablets also have a durable Gorilla Glass display, which executives said would be resistant against most knocks, bumps, and drops.

Latest review

Hands-on with the tablet, it was clear that the performance would outrun most other tablets at this price-point. When asked on the profit margin of the tablets, Amazon executives said it was "break even," with a hint that most of the revenue from the device would come from the in-device services and apps it offers with the tablets.

Both tablets come with a preloaded version of Fire OS 4. 

There's a kids version, too. The Amazon Fire HD Kids Edition comes with one difference, a two-year "nearly everything" guarantee. You can all but return the device in physical pieces, and Amazon will replace the tablet with (almost) no questions asked. Water damage? Play-Doh rubbed in the ports? Display smashed (the rubber casing notwithstanding)? Amazon will replace it for free.

"It's gonna be an experiment," one executive said. It's already a highly durable device, but it's "a bit of a wacky idea" to see if it appeals to the parents' market.

It also comes with a special version of the Fire OS 4 platform, which can be locked down to prevent app-store purchases, and additional parental controls. Even photos taken with the device are uploaded to the parent's cloud account.

Pre-orders are now open for the Fire HDX, the Fire HD 6, and the Fire HD 7, and will ship in October.

Also, for both tablets, Amazon touted the productivity punch most business and bring-your-own-device (BYOD) users have wanted: the Fire Keyboard. 

Amazon's Fire Keyboard.
Image: ZDNet/CBS Interactive

The keyboard works with any device, executives said, including Apple, Android, and Windows-based devices. But it "works best" with a Fire device.

It's light, but it's not even close to the durability one might expect from a portable keyboard — many of which are made of light-weight aluminum or a stronger plastic. For want of a better word, it's bendy. And not in a good way. Though, despite its (apparent physical) weakness, the keys feel slightly textured to type, like you're typing on a very fine rubber. The keyboard also comes with a trackpad, making it easier to navigate around the device. 

The keyboard costs $59.99, but truthfully there are better keyboards on the market — even the slightly more pricier devices. It just felt as though it would break far too easily to recommend it.

Editorial standards