Is it a smartphone? Is it a TV? No, it’s the new Kindle readers and tablets from Amazon

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Amazon has just wrapped up its press event in an aircraft hangar in Los Angeles and though the rumour mill had us expecting something truly disruptive like a smartphone or perhaps even a TV device, the suite of new Kindle devices revealed today doesn’t disappoint.

Amazon’s stock hit an all-time high this morning, according to MarketWatch, in anticipation of good tidings today. As it turns out, the retail giant has decided not to branch out into the smartphone market as was predicted, but instead it has stuck to what it knows: Kindle.

Kindle Paperwhite

The first product unveiled by CEO Jeff Bezos was the Kindle Paperwhite, a new backlit e-book reader with a higher-resolution screen and a ‘paperwhite’ display built by Amazon. This innovative technology aims to provide a reading experience as close to a physical book as possible, with 25pc more contrast and adjustable lighting that remains even across the display.

The text is clearer than ever, with the 212ppi display and there are also extensive options for adjusting text size, font, line spacing and margins. Amazon has also increased the power of what it expects to be an ‘always-on’ device, claiming eight weeks of battery life even with the light on.

Kindle Paperwhite

The Kindle Paperwhite is 9.1mm thick and 7.5 ounces and takes some cues from the Kindle Fire with swipe-through content, and free storage on Amazon Cloud. The device also tells users how much time it will take them to finish a chapter or book.

There will be two versions of the Kindle Paperwhite released in the US on 1 October (though pre-orders may be placed now). The regular version will cost US$119, while a 3G option – with no data plan or contract – will cost US$179.

More for e-readers

Amazon also announced that last year’s Kindle will now retail for the lower price of US$69 (previously US$79) and will come with new fonts, crisper text and 15pc faster page turns.

Kindle

But that’s not all Amazon had in store for e-readers, as it also announced Kindle Serials, which follows Kindle Direct Publishing and Kindle Singles. With Kindle Serials, users will pay once and receive all future instalments of a series automatically. Eight titles are available to start off with and each one will cost just US$1.99 for the whole package.

Kindle Fire HD

Previous editions of the Kindle Fire – the No 1 best-selling item on Amazon.com – have sold out, so it was obvious that Amazon would announce an upgrade today. In fact, three new Kindle Fire devices have been announced in two sizes.

Kindle Fire HD

The new Kindle Fire HD comes with a faster processor, twice the RAM, 40pc faster performance and longer battery life than its predecessor. A 7-inch 16GB model will cost US$159 (shipping 14 September), while two larger models with an 8.9-inch display have also been released: a 16GB device costing US$299 and a 32GB 4G LTE model for US$499. Both these devices will begin shipping on 20 November.

The new Kindle Fire HD comes with a 1,920 x 1,200 IPS display with a resolution of 254ppi, full-spectrum colour at all angles and 25pc less glare. It’s powered by an OMAP 4470 processor, which is 40 pc faster than Tegra 3, if you ask Amazon.

For better sound quality, Amazon has partnered with Dolby for exclusive Dolby Digital Plus dual-stereo speakers.* It also offers dual-band Wi-Fi with two antennas, letting the software select the best one to use. It will also be the first tablet to take advantage of MIMO, which uses multiple antennas as both the transmitter and receiver to improve communication performance.

Immersion Reading, Whispersync, X-ray and FreeTime

Amazon has also improved upon some services already offered with the previous Kindle Fire. Immersion Reading lets users listen to an audio book as they read with synchronised real-time highlighting. Whispersync for Voice has also been added, so even progress in audiobooks will be saved for synchronised reading across other devices. This function has also been added to games, so users’ unlocked levels will be stored and they won’t need to start a game over when playing on a new device.

The X-ray feature, which gives users more information on what they’re reading, has also been added to movies and textbooks. When watching a movie, users can open up X-ray to reveal all the actors in a scene and find out more about them (information powered by IMDB). They can also add films to their watchlist. X-ray for textbooks works like a smart glossary, letting users know where a term is mentioned and offering related content from YouTube, Wikipedia and other sources.

An interesting new feature called Kindle FreeTime addresses how much kids are using tablets these days. This feature lets parents control how much time their child can spend playing games or reading on the Kindle Fire HD, and multiple profiles mean they can select different settings for the whole family.

Kindle Fire HD FreeTime

Low-cost devices, paid-for content

The new Kindle Fire HD also comes with HDMI out, Bluetooth, an improved email application and a custom Facebook application that lets users import photos, share book highlights, and connect with gamer friends on the social network. It also features a HD front-facing camera, plus Skype.

Compared to other tablets on the market, Amazon is offering users a wealth of features for a more-than reasonable price, continuing its policy of relying on the content purchases, not the hardware sales, to be its moneymaker.

* UPDATE: Dolby Laboratories has reached out to us to clarify that the integrated Dolby audio suite, in the form of next-generation Dolby Digital Plus, is the audio platform and not the speaker in the Kindle Fire HD.

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Elaine Burke is managing editor of Siliconrepublic.com

editorial@siliconrepublic.com