Amazon sets off on a Voyage with new Kindles

Are we really at the 7th generation of Kindles already? That seems to be the case, with Amazon introducing two new Kindles and a new operating system that ties users firmly into the Amazon empire.

The Kindle Voyage is claimed to be Amazon’s most advanced e-reader ever and is the thinnest Kindle at 7.6mm thin and weighing in at under 6.4 ounces, while the new $79 Kindle e-reader has a 20% faster processor, twice the storage, and a touch interface.

The Voyage features a six-inch display and has 4Gb of storage. It will be available from October 21 from $199 for wi-fi only with ‘Special Offers’, which basically amount to allowing Amazon to send you their own advertising.

They refer to Special Offers & Sponsored Screensavers and give examples of special offers including Kindle Daily Deals for upcoming titles, deals on digital content, for example: $5 to spend in the Amazon MP3 Store, deals on clothing and other items, such as Amazon Denim Shop discounts. Amazon say this content displays on the Voyage’s screensaver and on the bottom of the home screen and it doesn’t interrupt reading.

If you don’t want the advertising, then the price for wi-fi-only goes up to $219. If you want wi-fi and 3G with the advertising, the price is $269, while without ads and with free 3G and wi-fi, it’s $289, a hefty 40% higher than the base price.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos says, “Our mission with Kindle is to make the device disappear, so you can lose yourself in the author’s world. Kindle Voyage is the next big step in this mission. With the thinnest design, highest resolution and highest contrast display, reimagined page turns, Kindle Voyage is crafted from the ground up for readers.”

Amazon only has one competitor in the e-reader market since Barnes & Noble pulled out of the Nook hardware business. That rival is Kobo, which recently launched the highly rated Kobo Aura H20, which is a water-resistant device suitable for reading in the bath or at the beach.

There’s no information in the Amazon launch details about waterproofing, but the company promo picture for the Voyage shows the introduction to Twenty Thousand League Under The Sea by Jules Verne, which really would be quite some underwater test for an e-reader, but I expect they are just referring to the Voyage analogy.

The Voyage uses a new 300ppi Paperwhite display which is said to deliver laser-quality text and images. The exclusive flush-front display stack uses strengthened glass, designed to resist scratches. As regular glass would create glare, the cover glass on the Kindle Voyage is micro-etched to diffuse light, so you can read in bright light without glare. The etching pattern on the glass is also claimed to match the feel of paper.

Its front light automatically adjusts the brightness of the display based on surrounding light and can be fine-tuned to personal preference. Also, since the human eye adjusts to darkness over time, the adaptive front light slowly lowers the display’s brightness over time to match the way the eye responds to darkness.

There is also a new way to turn pages on the Voyage with PagePress which uses a custom-designed force sensor directly under the bezel. You rest your thumb on the bezel and turn the page by lightly pressing.

When you turn the page, the Voyage delivers tactile feedback from a haptic actuator, just enough vibration to let you know you turned the page, but subtle enough that you won’t be distracted. The pressure level needed to trigger a page turn and the haptic feedback level can be personalized..

The new origami-style cover design is inspired by the origami covers for Fire tablets, and provides a stand for portrait and landscape positions. Origami covers attach magnetically and automatically turn the Kindle Voyage on and off when you open and close the cover. The cover is available from $44.99.

The Voyage is definitely the star of the show but, almost as an afterthought, there is also the all-new Kindle e-reader which includes a 20% faster processor, twice the storage, and adds a touch interface. It has a six-inch 167ppi display and is available at $79 with the ‘special offer’ advertising or $99 without.

The Kindle Paperwhite will still be available from $119, positioned slightly above the Kindle and well below the Kindle Voyage.

The new Fire tablet family (Photo: Business Wire)Probably the best value is the updated Kindle Fire HD 6 tablet, with a six-inch HD screen and front and rear-facing cameras from just $99 for the 8Gb model with ‘special offers” and $119 for 16Gb. That device will be available from October 2.

The Amazon hardware launches are rounded off with the Fire HD Kids Edition, with a replacement guarantee if it gets broken, and the Fire HDX 8.9 starting at $379.

Amazon’s new operating system is called Fire OS 4 Sangria, the next generation of software and services that powers Amazon’s Fire devices, including the new Fire tablets.

It appears to be taking a similar approach to Apple’s new iOS 8 update being launched this week, in integrating the company’s own services even more firmly into devices.

Dave Limp, Senior Vice President, Amazon Devices, says, “Fire OS 4 deeply integrates software, content, and the Cloud to deliver services that are only available from Amazon, including Family Library, Firefly, and free cloud storage for photos.”

It includes ASAP (Advanced Streaming and Prediction) which predicts the movies and TV episodes you’ll want to watch and starts them instantly, and Smart Suspend develops a device-specific profile for when the tablet is typically not in use and  turns wireless off and on to deliver up to 25% more standby battery life.

Fire OS 4 will be available on all fourth-generation Fire tablets and will be available for all third-generation Fire tablets via a free, over-the-air software update.

Only four of the new Amazon devices will be launched in the UK, with the Fire HD Kids Edition missing out. UK prices are: Fire HD 6 from £79 (available October 2), Fire HDX 8.9 starting at £329, which is a very expensive exchange rate (available November 4), new Kindle from £59 (October 2), and the Kindle Voyage start from £169 (November 4).