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Tablets

Amazon Kindle Fire (2012)

Faster, longer battery life, and less expensive: the Kindle Fire has gotten a subtle tuneup and price drop.

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Last year, Amazon helped set a new low-priced bar for tablets with the Kindle Fire, a $199 7-inch variation on an Android tablet with its own Amazon-based ecosystem. As the price wars have accelerated, thanks to devices like the $199 Google Nexus 7 and Kobo Arc (not to mention the Nook Tablet and rumors of the new iPad Mini), the new Kindle Fire has volleyed back with a faster, slightly enhanced version of the Fire at a new $159 price that seems, at first glance, pretty hard to beat.

The new, lower-priced Kindle Fire -- not to be confused with the 7- and 8.9-inch Kindle Fire HD models -- has improved processor speed (1.2 GHz, but an unspecified processor on Amazon's store page), twice the RAM as the first Kindle Fire (1GB), and a longer battery life (up to nine hours, according to Amazon, thanks to being "re-tuned to optimize power consumption"). It still lacks a camera, Bluetooth, or a new design: this is really a slight spec refresh and a chance to make an already good product even more price-competitive, with the same 7-inch, 1,024x600-pixel, 169 ppi IPS display. Storage capacity is the same as on the previous Kindle Fire: 8GB, which amounts to only 5.5 GB of user storage. There's no SD card slot, either.

It's unclear, too, how many of the new software features detailed on the Kindle Fire HD will make their way to this Kindle Fire, but a few important ones have made the cut: X-Ray for both books and movies, Immersion Reading (simultaneous audible e-book listening synced to e-book pages), and Kindle FreeTime, a kid-oriented way of managing access to the Kindle Fire.

James Martin/CNET

At $159, the new Kindle Fire is only $40 more than the new Kindle Paperwhite e-reader. That could encourage even more Kindle buyers to step up. Then again, the new 7-inch Kindle Fire HD is only $40 more than that, at $199. And it amounts to a $20 price reduction off the previous Kindle Fire, which sold for as low as $179. This is clearly the budget-play color tablet, akin to the Barnes & Noble Nook Color, a 7-inch tablet that costs $149.

As a colleague said to me, the $159 Kindle Fire is for kids. Most serious users will probably talk themselves, quite easily, into the $40 extra for the more amply-featured 7-inch Kindle Fire HD, which has a higher-resolution anti-glare screen, a camera, and double the onboard storage (16GB). This entry-level Kindle Fire has a slower processor, as well as only single-band Wi-Fi. These are all sticking points for serious tablet shoppers, but not so much for kids (or price-conscious parents).

The Kindle Fire will be available and shipping on September 14. Stay tuned for more details, but the price looks like the killer -- and necessary -- feature here. It's connecting the dots between the Kindle and Kindle Fire pricing tiers, but it's the odd tablet out in Amazon's Kindle Fire HD-oriented lineup.

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