Amazon lights a Fire - but UK gets a single sparkler

Amazon Kindle Fire: what you need to know
Kindle tablet release date, specs, features and more

Next week will be all about Apple, but this week it's Amazon's turn to shine: the firm has unveiled three new bits of Kindle kit that should delight customers and annoy rivals - or at least, they should in the US. For the time being, it seems, the best kit is US-only.

When Amazon boss Jeff Bezos took the stage, the word "tablet" was on everyone's lips - but instead of showing off the rumoured Kindleslab, he showed us a brand new Kindle instead.

The Kindle Touch keeps the e-ink display that makes e-readers special, but replaces the keyboard with a primitive touchscreen. It's no iPad, but it's perfectly capable of spotting finger taps to turn pages and bring up menus including the new X-Ray feature, which downloads relevant content such as explanations of places, terms or events. It's cheap, too: just $99 (£63) for the Wi-Fi version, and $150 (£96) for the 3G model.

That's not the cheapest new Kindle, though. That honour goes to the Kindle - there's no suffix - which is just $79 in the US.

Unfortunately crossing the Atlantic puts the price up to £89, although as Amazon told us that's because the $79 version is ad-supported, which is a service that isn't an option over here. When you compare the UK and US prices of the ad-free Kindles, things don't look so bad: the US price is $109, which works out at around £84.

Once again this Kindle does without a keyboard, although this time there's no touchscreen: instead, there are a couple of buttons and a four-way joystick.

There's good news and bad news about release dates: while the basic Kindle will arrive on UK doorsteps from the 12th of October, there's no sign of a release date for the Kindle Touch or the new Kindle tablet, the Kindle Fire.

Did we say Kindle tablet?

Breathing new Fire into Kindle

As Marc Chacksfield explains, "It's a 7-inch device that comes with Android, albeit a version that has been heavily altered by Amazon to make the best use of the company's e-shopping spine." Specs are reasonable - dual-core processor, IPS screen with gorilla glass, just 413g in weight - but the real secret is the software, which looks rather like Apple's Cover Flow.

It's the Amazon Kindle Fire.

The excitement moved our columnist Gary Marshall to channel Noddy Holder and burst into song. "So here it is, Merry Christmas / Everybody's having fun / Apart from all the Android firms / Who are probably chucking themselves off bridges right now," he sang.

"The original was a bit catchier, but you get the gist: unless Amazon's playing a great big joke and the Kindle Fire is as slow as a snail, then as far as the oh-so-lucrative Christmas shopping period in America is concerned Motorola, RIM, HP and the rest might as well pack up and go home."

Marshall predicts a two-horse tablet race this Christmas, with Amazon and Apple taking the lion's share of sales. Can tablets such as the PlayBook compete? Er, perhaps not, writes Chris Smith. RIM's Android app support looks disappointing, and "it's difficult to see how the PlayBook... can compete with the Kindle Fire even if the price points were similar."

The Fire is half the price of RIM's tablet. As Marshall puts it: "The Kindle Fire's going to fly off the shelves in the same way BlackBerry PlayBooks don't."

Kindle Fire owners will get two cool things: free cloud-based backup, and WhisperSync for movies and music. WhisperSync is the service that knows where you are in a book and lets you start from where you left off on other devices.

Unfortunately, we're not sure whether UK customers will get these services, as some of Amazon's US products aren't available over here: its cloud music service hasn't launched here yet, and while we can sign up for Amazon's premium delivery service Prime, we don't get the free streaming video US prime customers get - even though Amazon owns Lovefilm, which offers a UK video-on-demand service.

Will we get the Kindle Fire with the full complement of goodies - and if so, when? Amazon won't say, and we're not holding our breath: the original Kindle came out in 2007, and it didn't hit the UK for another two years.


Liked this? Then check out 14 best Android tablets in the world

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