Hands-on with Kindle Paperwhite and Kindle Fire HD

Amazon Kindle Fire HD tablet

Amazon announced big upgrades to its Kindle family today in Santa Monica, and we were there to try these devices first-hand before they ship later this fall. While improvements to older models and dropped prices were great news to those looking to pinch a few pennies, the real superstar today were the Kindle Paperwhite e-reader and Kindle Fire HD — the latter of which is now complete with a 4G LTE wireless upgrade.

Kindle Paperwhite

Check out our full review of the Amazon Kindle Paperwhite.

With the Kindle Paperwhite, the latest from Amazon’s budget e-book is tiny but powerful. The added feature tools are available by tapping the top of the page, bringing down a menu with options like Home, Search, X-Ray, and Backlight. The graphics are soft, and with a 212 pixels per inch spec, the total visual experience is crisper and easier on the eyes. All this, for eight weeks of battery life per full charge. E-ink has honestly never looked better.

The most buzzed-about feature here is the X-Ray function, which allows you to search through the book for recurring terms or characters, highlighting in a timeline where in the book they appear. Clicking on the names of each character brings up blurbs of where they are mentioned, the pages that accompany that storyline, and tapping takes you to that specific paragraph. You can search either through the entire book, page, or just chapters if you need a reminder of what’s happening in the book.

The illuminated display, sharp text, high contrast and white background take legibility to another level here. You also have the option of several font faces and sizes to fit your reading preference. Like former versions of the Kindle, highlighting a word brings up the definition from the Oxford American Dictionary to help those who may be unfamiliar with particular vernaculars.

If you are wondering how long until a chapter or the book is over, a “Time To Read” feature also estimates how many minutes are left in the chapter or book, so you can decide whether to continue reading to the end of the chapter or take a rest for the moment. Like previous Kindles, it will also display a percentage of where you are in the book to track progress.

At 7.5 ounces, the Kindle Paperwhite is no paperweight; the device is tiny and lightweight, comparable to heaviness of a wallet or cardholder. You can also store books on the Amazon Cloud for backup purposes when switching devices and retrieving books from your library.

The Kindle Paperwhite is available for order today and ships October 1, starting at $120 for Wi-Fi and $180 for Wi-Fi and 3G. 

Kindle Fire HD

Kindle Fire HD hands-on

The biggest waves from today’s announcement undoubtedly came from the new Kindle Fire HD, thanks to its amazing price structure. With the Fire reportedly accounting for 22 percent of tablet sales in the United States, the Fire HD is slated to be a huge competitor to the Google Nexus 7 and the rumored iPad Mini.

Compared to the original Kindle Fire, the Fire HD is slightly bigger — with visible stereo speakers wrapped across its back casing. The weight is unnoticeably different than the old Fire, while the Fire HD is just a tad thinner with more rounded corners and a matte body finish.

Kindle Fire HD v Kindle Fire

The Fire HD’s ultra-vivid graphics are truly impressive for a budget-price device. The 7-inch version has resolution of 1280 by 800 pixels, while the 8.9-inch version boasts a full 1920 by 1200 pixels, giving it density of 254 pixels per inch.

Kindle Fire HD lockpageTI’s OMAP4 processor felt swift, quickly loading content without delay. Amazon’s anti-glare technology has definitely improved; I didn’t find myself having trouble angling the device for the photographs to not get awkward spotlight reflections. 

Of course, X-Ray technology is also available in the Fire HD — this time for movies, textbooks, and e-books. In the movie setting, you can tap the movie as it’s streaming for a list of actors currently on the scene. Tapping again on a particular actor pauses the film and brings up an IMDb summary of the actor’s profile, including movies he or she is recognized for and recent appearances. I’m not sure how many people will actually use this feature, but it’s definitely neat especially for someone like me who likes to IMDb movies after I’ve seen them — if only to read goofs and trivia.

Kindle Fire X-Ray movies

X-Ray for textbook works a bit more like a glossary. You can search recurring terms mentioned in your textbook, and the Fire HD can bring up instances of appearance as well as show relevant photos or links to YouTube videos.

Amazon has tried to drive home that the new Kindle devices are made to be a “service,” a gadget that you don’t just buy, but use for commerce. For example, you can play a video game and pause to see relevant products to the game, such as a toy of the main character. If you have your Amazon account set up, you can one-click buy the item as well as earn power-ups and special add-ons in the game thanks to that purchase. This is one way Amazon is integrating all aspects of what it offers into one remote application, making people more likely to buy — and buy from Amazon. 

Kindle Fire HD v Fire back

The Kindle Fire HD is available in 7-inch and 8.9-inch displays, both with 16GB of storage, priced at $200 and $300, respectively. The Kindle Fire HD with 4G LTE wireless and 32GB of internal storage is Amazon’s top-tier gadget, priced at $499. Customers have the option of purchasing a whopping 250MB of data per month, 20GB of cloud storage, and $10 credit to the Amazon’s Appstore for just $50 a year.

Check out our full review of the Amazon Kindle Fire HD 7.

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