Amazon announced updates to its line of Kindle e-readers yesterday, aiming its new models squarely at Apple. The new Kindle Fire HD is an upgrade from Amazon’s current tablet that is available with either a 7” or 8.9” display. The larger size is almost as large as an Apple iPad but undercuts its price by $200. Innovative features on both models make Amazon’s new hardware impressive buys given their comparatively low prices. Coolest of all, both models now “learn” your average reading speed and calculate how long it will take you to finish a chapter or the rest of the book at that pace. Advances like this are taking e-readers from just trying to render the most book-like experience possible to actually enhancing the way we read.
New features on the Kindle Fire HD inclue an HD display and camera, plus dual-driver Dolby speakers to match its graphic capabilities. As with seemingly every new tablet computer, Amazon’s target with the latest Kindle seems to be the best-selling Apple iPad, but Amazon proved in this release that it’s pushing the envelope and not just playing copycat. From The New York Times:
The Kindle Fire HD challenges the iPad on several fronts. The larger version of the device has an 8.9-inch display, compared with the iPad’s 9.7 inches. The new Amazon device also has a front-facing camera that works with the built-in Skype video conferencing software, competing directly with the front-facing camera on the iPad and Apple’s FaceTime video conferencing features. Like the iPad, the new Kindle Fire offers 16 gigabytes of storage.
The larger version of the Kindle Fire HD costs $300; the baseline iPad costs $500. (Apple sells an older model for $400.) Amazon is also offering a $500 version of the Kindle Fire HD with cellular data connectivity, which is cheaper than Apple’s least expensive iPad with cellular connectivity, which costs $630.
During the presentation, Mr. Bezos continually compared the Kindle Fire HD with Apple’s iPad, talking about both the features of his tablet and its price. In an interview after the event, Mr. Bezos said, “You can’t ignore Apple being a company that is a major player in this arena.”
But he said there was room for both companies to do well. “My view: these are huge, huge markets, with room for lots of winners.” 
Among the Fire HD’s unique features is X-Ray, which allows users to tap on an actor in a movie they’re watching and find out more about him or her using data from IMDB.com, which Amazon owns.
In comparison to the sleek Kindle Fire HD, the new Kindle “Paperwhite,” looks a lot like last year’s Kindle Touch. But its magic lies in the integrated frontlight that now makes the screen, as its name suggests, just as white, bright, and glare-free as paper while managing to give text 25% more contrast. The screen is now 1,024×768 pixels (62% more pixels than the Kindle Touch) at 212 pixels per inch, which allows text and images to be rendered fairly clearly, though not quite to the iPad’s retina threshold of 264. It’s all in the name of easing the eyes.
The Paperwhite also includes a capacitive touch screen rather than the IR-based touch screen found on competing touch-screen models from Barnes & Noble, Sony, and Kobo. This change also makes the device thinner, since the gap between its screens is now 77 percent shorter, which helps reduce the faint shadow caused by a double screen. According to Cnet, Amazon acquired Touchco, a multitouch hardware company back in 2009 in hopes that it would develop this capacitive touch screen for its e-readers: “That investment has finally born fruit over three years later” . Though this is a helpful advance for the overall product, Cnet calls the Paperwhite’s capacitive touch “superior to the IR touch found on competing devices, but not necessarily a night-and-day performance boost,” since the e-ink based screen and processor still feel a little sluggish. “It’s very impressive, but just don’t expect the buttery smoothness of an iPad experience.”
So how much difference can a light make? One Cnet reviewer reports, “When I first saw it in action, my immediate impression was that Amazon was using backlit technology, even though I knew it had to be front-lit.” The new lighting setup does illuminate the screen fairly uniformly for a frontlight display with four tiny LEDs at the bottom.
Another improvement is the Paperwhite’s battery life, which was already high due to its frontlit display. Amazon claims that users can expect to get an impressive eight weeks of battery life from the Paperwhite with the light on at half brightness (based on 30 minutes of use a day with Wi-Fi off). Usable storage stays at 1GB, or about 1,000 e-books, though users can now store their books in Amazon’s Cloud and access them anytime. The Paperwhite 3G comes in at $179, the Paperwhite (Wi-Fi) at $119, and the standard Kindle reduced to $69.
Prices for both the Kindle Fire HD and Paperwhite are quite low by industry standards, especially given that Amazon pays for the 3G service its customers use to download media. Unlike Apple, which makes most of its profit on hardware, Amazon is pushing high volumes of these tablets and e-readers at lower margins in hopes of getting its customers to make more media purchases from its Kindle store, which has now expanded to offer video and mp3 downloads in addition to its classic e-books.