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Amazon heats up the tablet wars with an all new Kindle Fire line-up

The rather moribund tablet market snapped back into life yesterday with Amazon’s announcement of a new Kindle Fire line-up just in time for the 2013 Holiday buying season. The three new tablets consist of a redesigned – and re-priced – Kindle Fire HD, the Kindle Fire HDX 7, and the Kindle Fire HDX 8.9.

Amazon tablets have been hugely successful since the original Kindle Fire was released in November 2011. Since then, Amazon has sold about 7.5 million units, making it the second-best selling tablet after the iPad. While the significantly cheaper price point continues to be one of the main attractions of the Kindle Fire series, Amazon has improved the feature sets and functionality of its devices, steadily closing the performance gap with its higher-priced rivals. That performance gap is set to narrow even more based on the specs of the soon-to-be-released Kindle Fire HDX.

The Kindle Fire HDX is not so much an upgrade of the existing Kindle Fire HD but more a complete reinvention. Improvements include a higher resolution display (at 339 ppi the pixel density on the HDX 8.9 is almost 30 percent higher than the iPad with Retina display), a better graphics engine, double the memory, and triple the processing power. You also get up to 11 hours of battery life.

The updated Fire OS includes a new e-mail and calendar module, an array of productivity apps, X-Ray for Music (hello karaoke nights!), a Second Screen app for “flinging” videos to a TV, and a revolutionary “Mayday” button, which allows you to contact Amazon tech support 24/7 365 days a year for free! In addition, Prime members will be able to download videos to watch offline, a huge bonus for long distance travelers and parents looking to entertain their kids on the way to grandma’s house!

But the big difference between the Kindle Fire series of tablets and their competitors will continue to be price. The Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 starts at $379 for the 16GB model ($100 extra for a 4G cellular version). Compare that with $499 for the iPad with Retina display ($629 for Wi-Fi + cellular) and $449 for the new Surface 2.

Of course, Amazon can afford to sell its tablets at a discount because it’s more interested in making money on the associated content. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos admitted as much yesterday when he told NBC News that “We make money when people use our devices, not when they buy our devices.” That accounts for the now insanely low price of $139 for the Kindle Fire HD, which itself will benefit from most of the software upgrades incorporated into the HDX.

The newly designed 7-inch Kindle Fire HD starts at $139 and will ship on October 2. The Kindle Fire HDX 7 starts at $229 and will ship on October 18 ($329 for the 4G version, shipping on November 14). The Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 will start at $379 and ship on November 7 ($479 for 4G, shipping on December 10). Pre-ordering is available at Amazon.com.

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