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The new Kindles: Which to choose?

Jason Snell | Sept. 30, 2011
Amazon’s Kindle product line, which expanded with three new models Wednesday, has come a long way since it was first introduced in 2007.

Arcade Fire

At the top of the line—and only $10 more than the 3G/Wi-Fi Kindle Touch without Special Offers!—is the $199 Kindle Fire. This is the big one, a seven-inch backlit color touchscreen. (No need for a clip-on Kindle book light!) It’s unlike any other Kindle (and more akin to the archenemy $249 Nook Color).

Though it’s based on Google’s Android operating system, it’s not meant to be Yet Another Android Tablet. Indeed, the Kindle Fire doesn’t contain any Google apps, so far as we can tell. Instead, Amazon’s built its own interface, tied into not just the Kindle Store, but the rest of the Amazon ecosysten: Amazon’s Appstore, MP3 music store, and video store.

The Kindle Fire is a media-consumption device that goes way beyond book reading. Though you can read books on the Kindle Fire, it’s meant for web browsing, videos, music, and apps—especially games. As always, the devil is in the details, but the Kindle Fire looks primed to rapidly become the first successful tablet product not made by Apple.

So is the Kindle Fire an iPad competitor? It certainly seems to fit right between the iPod touch and the iPad. When Apple launched the iPad it made a big deal about it being capable of running iWork apps, about not being just a content-consumption device. The Kindle Fire is unabashedly a content-consumption device. And it looks like it might be a pretty good one. It’s also hard to see how other Android-based tablets will compete with the Kindle Fire, which comes pre-wired with an entire entertainment ecosystem for a remarkably low price.

To get the Kindle Fire to be priced at $199, Amazon has definitely made some compromises. It has no cameras, for instance, and only Wi-Fi networking. I’m not sure if most people will care.

However, let’s also remember that the Kindle Fire is a 1.0 product. It’s Amazon’s very first attempt to build an Android-based backlit color-LCD device. There are bound to be bugs and quirks and, who knows, there are even rumors that this is a stopgap product to get Amazon through the holidays.

So, what to buy?

If you picture a giftwrapped Kindle in your holiday plans, you’ll need to get in line soon. I imagine Amazon will rapidly sell out for the holidays. As always, which device you should buy depends on how you’ll use it.

If you’ve already got an iPad, I’m not sure the Kindle Fire makes sense. The iPad already lets you read Kindle books, visit websites, rent videos, and the rest. If you haven’t bought an iPad, though, it looks compelling, but I’m a little concerned that the first-generation model is going to have some rough edges. Buyer beware.


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