Amazon's cheap and amazing new Kindles: 5 talking points

Overwhelmed by the bookseller's avalanche of announcements? Rest easy. Here's exactly what you need to know about the new Kindle Fire HD and Kindle Paperwhite

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos
(Image credit: David McNew/Getty Images)

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos gave a Steve Jobsian performance in Santa Monica Thursday when he took the stage to introduce the latest additions to the Kindle family: The new Kindle Fire HD, which comes in two sizes, and the Kindle Paperwhite, the first e-ink reader to use a front-lit white display. Like previous versions, the newest Kindles are characteristically affordable, highlighting Bezos' strategy to leave money on the table in exchange for marketshare — and future sales of digital content. "We want to make money when people use our devices," said Bezos, "not when they buy our devices." Along with the new Kindles came announcements of new data plans and serialization schemes — and the disappointing no-show of yet another rumored device. Here, 5 things you need to know about:

1. New high-def Kindle Fires

Amazon pulled the curtains off two new tablets called the Kindle Fire HD. The 7-inch version replaces its predecessor in the $199 price range (WiFi-only) with a high-definition screen resolution of 1280 x 800, which is "on par with [Google's] Nexus 7," says Donald Melanson at Engadget. After spending 15 minutes with it, I "came away impressed, but a little cautious," says Sasha Segan at PC Mag. It's definitely "faster, slicker, and better looking," but we'll need an extended amount of time with it to determine what HD means for battery life. The company is also offering a larger 8.9-inch Kindle Fire HD, which is just $299 for WiFi-only. A take-anywhere version with 4G LTE is available for $499. The devices are set to ship November 20.

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2. Kindle Paperwhite

Fans who want to enjoy their "Twilight fan fiction in the dark" might want to take a look at the new Kindle Paperwhite, says Jordan Crook at TechCrunch. It features a high-contrast e-ink "Paperwhite" display, which has a front-lit glow that doesn't strain a reader's eyes like a computer or tablet screen. Amazon claims its battery can go a full eight weeks in between charges — even with the light turned on. The Kindle Fire never interested me, says Jim Thompson at the Houston Chronicle, but the Kindle Paperwhite caught my eye. Not only is it "thin, light, and inexpensive," but it has a "laser-tight focus on doing one thing and doing it well." The basic version is $119 and a 3G-equipped model is $179. Both ship October 1.

3. Really cheap data

"Amazon surprised us by announcing a 4G LTE Kindle Fire," says Leslie Horn at Gizmodo. But more surprising is the incredibly affordable AT&T data plan: $50 a year gets you 250MB per month, 20GB of cloud storage, and a $10 app store credit. "On the whole, 250MB is more than enough to send emails and do a little web browsing" — "plenty" for some users. At a dime more than $4 per month, that's a bargain.

4. Kindle Serial

The company already offers subscriptions for newspapers and magazines. Now they plan to do the same for serial novels. Kindle owners can subscribe to a new service called Kindle Serials, which allows readers to buy content up front and have it delivered to their device automatically whenever a new installment is published — much the way Charles Dickens' novels were first experienced by the public, says Josh Lowensohn at CNET. "Along the way, readers can provide feedback about the series, something Amazon hopes will bring a modern approach to the genre."

5. No Kindle phone?

Conspicuously absent from the wave of new devices was a rumored Amazon phone first reported by The Verge. Making a phone would be a huge risk, says Julianne Pepitone at CNN Money. Consumers are finicky with their phones, and entrenched companies like Motorola and RIM are already in serious trouble. Still, Amazon, to its credit, scored big before in the iPad-dominated tablet space with the Kindle Fire. Trying its hand at phones, even if it's risking millions of dollars, might be "at least worth a shot."

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