Amazon is gearing up for the holiday season with a new, refreshed tablet range, two years after it first launched.
The retail giant debuted on Tuesday its next-generation tablet range, the Kindle Fire HDX, all touted to be smaller, thinner, and lighter than their predecessors.
Landing in two sizes, both the 7-inch and 8.9-inch models include a Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 2.2Ghz quad-core processor and double the memory, with 2GB of RAM.
The new Kindle Fire HDX (7-inch) is available for as low as $229 for the 16GB storage, Wi-Fi-only version, while the 4G version comes in at $329. Meanwhile, the Kindle Fire HDX (8.9-inch) version starts at $379 for the 16GB storage, Wi-Fi version, and $479 for 4G networking.
ZDNet traveled to Amazon's Seattle headquarters for a hands-on look at the new tablets, and to talk with senior executives, including Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.
Zack Whittaker contributed to this report.
The tablets also come with a high-resolution HDX display — the 7-inch model has a 1,920x1,200 resolution display (or 323 pixels per inch), while the pictured 8.9-inch model has a massive 2,560x1,600 resolution (or 339 pixels per inch).
Adding HDX technology gives the device displays' a 100 percent RGB representation, meaning more vivid colors across the board. Amazon also added a "real-time" contrast sensor on top of an ambient light sensor, allowing individual pixels to automatically light up (rather than the whole screen) based on current lighting conditions, either outdoors or indoors.
Both devices land with a built-up version of Android "Jelly Bean" 4.3, developed internally at Amazon, codenamed "Mojito," and officially named Fire OS 3.0.
The updates framed for enterprise use are still rather basic compared to the onslaught crafted for entertainment, but they are likely to satisfy at least some IT departments with BYOD policies in place.
The updates framed for enterprise use are still basic compared to the entertainment features, but they are likely to satisfy at least some IT departments with bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policies in place.
Fire OS 3.0 includes WPA-2 password-controlled Wi-Fi, and support for third-party mobile device management platforms and VPNs from the likes of F5 and Cisco (among others) via Amazon's Appstore. The software also includes support for Microsoft Exchange, and Kerberos support for secure access to corporate intranets.
Amazon's director of product management for Kindle, Jonathan Oakes, noted the addition of second-screen functionality on FireOS 3.0, in which users can send video and audio content to a second screen, such as an HDTV, running an Amazon app, like a PlayStation 3. Meanwhile, users can continue to work on other apps directly on the tablet simultaneously.
"It's not like you have one device for your entertainment and [another for] work," Bezos argued. "The model really is that you have one device that needs to be able to serve both functions."
Move over, Siri
Rather than settling for regular voice recognition and virtual assistance, Amazon's "Mayday" goes one step further — by tapping into one of Amazon's most well-known and prided characteristics: 24/7 customer service.
At a touch, Mayday opens a small pop-up box on the screen, connecting the user directly to a live customer service agent for free at anytime from anywhere with an internet connection. The user can see the customer service agent, but not vice versa. Bezos quipped to reporters that customers won't have to worry about what they're wearing when trying to get answers quickly.
With response times at less than 15 seconds (even during busy periods such as present-opening times on Christmas Day), Kindle Fire users can start Mayday and access customer service agents on the fly, who are able see the user's screen on their end and direct the user step by step.
Agents can offer help for complicated tasks, from configuring VPN access to simpler activities such as adjusting the lock screen. But, Amazon reps assured, the one thing they can't see is sensitive customer data, such as passwords or credit card data.
Amazon is preparing Mayday for international support, but it will initially only be available in the US market.
Amazon, arguably, is more interested in taking on the low-end and emerging mobile market than Apple is, based on the recent (and underwhelming, to some) introduction of the iPhone 5c.
However, despite rumors that Amazon may be working on a smartphone of its own, Bezos remained mum, replying only that he doesn't like to speculate about "future road maps."
Amazon is going toward the bottom even further with a "new" 7-inch Kindle Fire HD. Though it is a new device with familiar parts — the same processor and display technology as last year's high-end Kindle Fire — it's smaller in size and has less storage space, at just 8GB. Lacking a microphone, and therefore Amazon's new Mayday feature, it comes in at just $139.
Amazon is also releasing new accessories for the Kindle Fire, namely some Origami-style magnetic stands available in seven different shades for both form factors.
"It's a productivity machine — a true, full-featured tablet for multitasking and play," Amazon's Jonathan Oakes boasted. He added that Amazon has conducted "a lot of work" to top what is available in the native version of Android.