Amazon unveils new generation of Kindles

The online retailer will ship a smaller, lighter $189 Kindle with new features on August 27. A Wi-Fi-only version will cost only $139.

The new Kindle comes in a 3G/WiFi or Wi-Fi-only version.
The new Kindle comes in a 3G/Wi-Fi or WiFi-only version. Amazon

Yes, the rumors are true.

Amazon on Wednesday officially unveiled a next-generation Kindle that is what many tech pundits thought it would be: smaller and lighter, with a better screen and some Wi-Fi thrown into the mix.

The new e-reader comes in a couple of flavors, one with both Wi-Fi and 3G wireless for $189, and a Wi-Fi-only version that costs $139, some $10 less than Barnes & Noble's Nook Wi-Fi. The new Kindles are available in graphite or white and ship on August 27, with Amazon taking pre-orders for both e-readers now.

On top of the more compact design, some other key additions include more memory--4GB instead of 2GB--and double the battery life (four weeks instead of two weeks with the wireless turned off).

Here's a look at the highlights:

  • 6-inch E-Ink display
  • Wi-Fi and 3G ($189), Wi-Fi only ($139)
  • 21 percent smaller than previous Kindle
  • 15 percent lighter (8.7 ounces)
  • Like the new Kindle DX, screen offers 50 percent better contrast
  • 20 percent faster page turns, according to Amazon
  • 4GB built-in memory
  • Smaller page-turn buttons that are also quieter (clicking noise is nearly silent)
  • Up to four weeks of battery life from sealed-in battery (wireless turned off)
  • New "experimental" WebKit-based browser. Amazon says the updated web browser is "faster, easier to navigate, and provides a new 'article mode' feature that simplifies web pages to just the main text-based content for easier reading."
  • Expanded text-speech options. New text-to-speech enabled menus allow you to navigate the Kindle without having to read menu options. You can not only listen to books aloud (certain ones, anyway) but content listings on the home screen, item descriptions, and all menu options.
  • Amazon says the new Kindle uses an improved built-in PDF reader, with new dictionary lookup, notes and highlights, and support for password protected PDFs.
  • No cover included but Amazon will sell two new covers, one of which has a built-in flip-out light for $59.99.

Recently, the Kindle was listed as "out of stock" on Amazon, fueling speculation that a new Kindle was on the way. Based on a report by Bloomberg, rumor had it that Amazon's next-generation Kindle would lack color and a touch screen, and that it would arrive in August.

For those who ordered an older model within the past 30 days, Amazon says you'll be able to return that Kindle and get a new model when it ships. (For those who ordered a Kindle just outside that 30-day window, you can call Amazon customer support and see what they say).

We got a chance to play around with the new Kindle for a short time, and while Amazon wouldn't immediately let us photograph it side by side with the old Kindle, the new model is clearly smaller and sleeker and the screen definitely pops a little more, much like the new Kindle DX's screen does. The letters appear a little darker and Amazon has tweaked the font options, so they also appear slightly sharper.

Amazon has apparently spent well over a year designing the new model and the resulting product is more evolutionary than revolutionary. But the changes--particularly the size and the addition of Wi-Fi--should tempt current Kindle owners to upgrade and attract a new batch of e-reader buyers who've been sitting on the fence, waiting for the new Kindle to arrive. While not the $99 device some were hoping for, at $139 the Wi-Fi-only version is pretty affordable.

We should get our hands on a review unit fairly soon and will put it through its paces and compare it to the previous Kindle. We'll also want to take a closer look at the Web browser using both 3G and Wi-Fi. In our short look, it works significantly better than the current web browser (particularly on Wi-Fi), though it obviously doesn't support Flash or video.

As always, feel free to comment and let us know what you think about the new Kindle models.

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