Amazon unveils faster and lighter Kindles, cuts price on old models

New models are faster and lighter; lower prices for existing Kindle may give sales bigger boost

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 26 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 26 September, 2013, 11:42am

Amazon is refreshing its line-up of tablet computers with new devices called Kindle Fire HDX, which are much faster and lighter than the previous generation.

The 7-inch and 8.9-inch versions also have sharper, more colourful displays than older models, and both have more pixels per centimetre than the latest iPad.

To help those who are unfamiliar with tablets, the new Kindles come with a feature called "Mayday", which allows users to summon a live customer service representative in a tiny video window. The helpers can explain new features or troubleshoot problems while guiding users with on-screen hand scribbles. They can even take control of the device from afar.

Video: How Kindle Fire HDX featuring Mayday button works

CEO Jeff Bezos introduced the feature to reporters on Tuesday, saying it was "completely unique" and takes advantage of Amazon's massive cloud computing and customer service infrastructure. It also builds on's reputation for customer service.

"You shouldn't have to be afraid of your device," Bezos said.

In a demo, Bezos asked an on-screen customer service representative to recommend a hot app. The rep mentioned "Angry Birds: Star Wars II". Bezos also received instructions on how to set time limits on various activities for children.

While the new Kindles are upgraded in several ways, Amazon also cut the US price on what will be its entry-level 7-inch tablet, the Kindle Fire HD with 8 gigabytes of memory, to US$139 from a US$199 version that had 16GB of memory. That makes the tablet just US$20 more than Amazon's latest dedicated e-reader, the Kindle Paperwhite. The Kindle Fire HD is sheathed in a new magnesium alloy body like the HDX models, but has the same screen resolution and processing power of the older model.

Stephen Baker, a consumer technology analyst with research firm NPD Group, said the price cut to the Kindle Fire HD will do more to help Amazon compete in the tablet market than the added features on the newer models.

"That's where that model needs to be priced," Baker said, explaining that there are numerous manufacturers with tablets with screens that measure 7 inches diagonally - all priced around US$150. "A big focus in that 7-inch category is just price."

Globally, Kindle shipments in the April-June quarter were down 59 per cent from a year earlier at 470,000, NPD said. That compared to 14.6 million for Apple's iPad, down 17 per cent from a year ago, and 10.8 million for Samsung's Galaxy line, up 539 per cent. Amazon sells most of its Kindles heading up to Christmas.

Beyond the improved specifications, Amazon also unveiled more features that incorporate data from its IMDb movie database subsidiary. With the newer tablets, users who turn on the "X-ray" feature can see a small window that lists the name of a song that is playing in some TV shows and movies. One tap brings up the option to buy the song.