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The Only Thing You Need To Read About Amazon's New Kindles

There's a bunch of them: a whole new Kindle Fire family, and new ereaders that are better than the current ones.. And they're shockingly cheap.

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Today we met the next generation of Kindle Fires: A Kindle Fire family, more or less.

When Amazon announced its first tablet, the $200 price tag was a complete shocker.

That one's still around – sort of. It's a little faster, the software has been tweaked (multiple user accounts, for example), and the battery lasts a couple hours longer, but this is, in all ways that matter, just like the first Kindle Fire you bought your mom for Christmas last year. Except now it's $40 cheaper — a pretty ok tablet for $160.

But unless you have precisely $160 dollars, and there is just NO WAY you can wait a little longer and scrape together another $40, you shouldn't buy this. Why?

The Kindle Fire HD looks a lot like the Kindle Fire. That is to say, it's a book-sized rectangle with a touchscreen. But there are some differences. Pretty big differences!

For example:

-The screen resolution is higher, but Amazon hasn't yet said how high. It's a fair bet that it'll be the same as the Nexus 7's, at 1280 x 800 pixels versus the original/low-end Fire's 1024 x 600. This makes a real difference on a screen this small; it's alllllmost Retina-quality, or at least close enough that from arm's length you won't be able to make out individual pixels.

- It's got a new processor, which is faster than the old one. Then again, of course it does and of course it is.

- It's got a HIGH DEFINITION web cam so you can Skype with your HIGH DEFINITION friends.

- It's got 16GB of storage compared to the cheapo Fire's 8.

-It's got two antennas, which should, in theory, allow it to more easily switch between the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands used by dual-band routers.What we've got here, then, is a tablet that can hang, spec-wise, with the Nexus 7 for the same price: $200.

But again, mayyyyybe hold off on this one! Because for a hundred bucks more you can get one of these:

The $300 Kindle Fire HD is bigger. iPad size, almost. This is the truly surprising one.

-It's got a 1920 x 1200, 8.9-inch screen, which means it's about as sharp as the new iPad at 254 DPI vs. 264 DPI. If you haven't used a new iPad, it pretty much looks like a glowing piece of paper.

- It's otherwise mostly the same as the smaller one: upgraded TI processor, 16GB of storage, HD front camera, better Wi-Fi.

On a hardware level, you can make the case that this is competitive with the new iPad, which starts at $500. But Amazon's doing a $500 tablet too:

The $500 Kindle HD comes with 32GB of storage and 4G wireless, a combo which would cost you more than $700 from Apple.

The Wi-Fi plan is both extremely cheap and pretty limiting: $50 gets you a year of service, but tops out at 250MB a month. It's not clear what happens if you go past that limit, but it's a low one, particularly over fast 4G. You could burn through that limit in minutes if you tried.

BUT! There is a HUGE but: The last Kindle Fire got mixed reviews, at best. I wrote of it at the time:

I don’t think it’s a good product. I know it’s $300 less than an iPad, and I know it technically does many of the same things, but we’re not talking about laptops here.A $400 laptop that can do most of what a $1000 laptop can do is a good value proposition, because people need laptops. They’re tools. Tablets are for leisure—for goofing around. And $200 isn’t a better deal than $500 if all you end up with is a frustrating device you don’t want to use. It’s just a waste of $200. And I say this as a total nerd. I’ve got a lot of patience for shoddy UIs and software quirks.

Perhaps I was being a bit harsh, but I heard a lot of this as people's orders were delivered: The UI was confusing, the apps were inconsistent, the "magazines" were a mess. You could actually get lost in the original Fire's operating system, trapped in a submenu of a submenu with no clear way out.

It was a pretty solid tablet for $200, to be sure. But if someone was expecting a cheaper verson of an iPad — at the time, that was the only real frame of reference — they were going to be disappointed. If not, they weren't.

It was also HUGELY dependent on Amazon services, essentially requiring you to subscribe to the site's Prime service, at $80 a year.

The point is, Amazon got off to a rough start with its software. Its version of Android needed work, and a lot of work seems to have been done. It allows for multiple user accounts on the same device. It syncs a lot more than it used to, keeping audio books and normal books on the same page, and game progress in the cloud.There are some novel new features like X-Ray, which lets you see IMDB entries for whoever is onscreen at a given time in a movie, and Immersion Reading, where the Fire basically reads to you while you're, um, reading. There are new Facebook and email apps, the latter with Exchange support. There's even a near feature to limit how much time a user — your kid, basically — can spend doing different things. (READ MORE).

But in any case, Matt Novak, our correspondent at the event, said it's the same Kindle Fire at heart: "It's a lot to take in. My grandpa would not navigate this thing very well."

There's a lot of promise here, truly! But Amazon has a lot to prove.

— Amazon says it's the "Kindle we’ve always wanted to build," with 62 percent more pixels (for 212 pixels per inch) and 25 percent higher contrast than previous E-ink Kindles. In other words, text should be way sharper an contrastier, with darker text and whiter whites.

— It's got a built-in GLOW LIGHT thing for reading in the dark or under the covers.

— Time To Read is a new feature that makes you feel bad for not reading fast enough by telling you how long it'll take you to finish a book.

— Whispersync for Voice is pretty cool though: If you listen to part of a book (as like an audiobook), you can pick up right where you left off in the text

— It lasts for 8 weeks on a single charge.

— It's $120 for Wi-Fi-only or $180 for the 3G model to download books over the air.

Does the right side look $50 better to you? Matt Novak, who rubbed it with his eyeballs, says no.

— It's still ad-supported

— It doesn't have the fancy light

— It's basically exactly the same as current cheap Kindle — Amazon says it's a little bit crisper than before, but they look exactly the same in person.

— It comes out Sept. 14

Matt Novak's eyeballs say they look exactly the same.

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