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Amazon overhauls its line of Kindle Fire tablets and adds a killer new feature

As expected, Amazon has announced a new line of Kindle Fire tablets. The changes are pretty substantial too: the “HD” models have been rebranded as “HDX”, and the base Kindle Fire has seen a spec bump that makes it more competitive among cheaper tablets. Let’s pour over all the news.

An entry level refresh

Rumours suggested that the Kindle Fires would see a total redesign, and they were bang on the money. Amazon’s new tablets have a more angular industrial design that’s thinner and lighter, as well as back mounted controls that should be easier to find with your fingers.

The Kindle Fire isn’t anywhere near as impressive as the new HDX models, but it still looks like a solid option for the more budget conscious buyer. The 2013 model includes a higher-resolution 7-inch 1280×800 IPS display, along with a dual-core processor clocked at 1.5Ghz and a pair of stereo speakers. Amazon claims that the revised Kindle Fire is 60% faster than the old model.

“Beyond HD”

That’s what Amazon thinks its latest Kindle Fire HDX displays are, anyway. The high-resolution panels on the new 7-inch and 8.9-inch models will probably be the main draw for most people. The 7-inch HDX includes a 1920×1200 display, while the 8.9-inch model makes a dramatic jump to 2560×1600. Amazon says that both displays are 100% sRGB compliant for accurate colour reproduction in videos and photos.

The company has included the latest silicon too. Both tablets include Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 800 SoC, a quad-core chip clocked at 2.2Ghz, and RAM has been bumped up to 2GB. That SoC also brings Adreno 330 graphics along for the ride, which should result in much better performance in more demanding games.

Battery life hasn’t taken a hit either. Amazon says that both tablets should be good for up to 11 hours of “mixed usage”, and up to 17 hours when the slates are being used for reading. Both HDX models will apparently detect when an ebook is being read and automatically ramp down the processor accordingly. We’ll have to see if that claim of 17 hours holds true when review units start going out.

Tech support in your hands

The biggest new feature of the HDX series, though, is Mayday. If you’re trying to troubleshoot an issue, or just want to know how to use a particular feature, you can hit the Mayday button in the Settings menu to bring up a live tech support assistant directly from Amazon. And it isn’t an annoying text box robot either: there’s a live human being on the other end of the camera offering you advice as and when you need it.

Mayday assistants will be able to control your tablet, and highlight you to particular buttons or settings. That combination of live video and remote control assistant is undoubtedly a killer feature for Amazon. You don’t have to travel down to a Genius Bar or call up your geek friend – you just hit a button and talk to someone from Amazon during any time of the day or night. That’s pretty huge.

The company says that your own camera isn’t activated either. That cuts down on bandwidth, and potentially avoids some awkward situations.

Small moves

Amazon’s fork of Android has also been updated. The newest version of Fire OS – called “Mojito” – apparently includes “hundreds” of new features. But the most important one for regular people will probably be the option to change the default layout. Amazon’s tablets have been restricted to a carousel view in the past, but Fire OS now lets you use a more traditional grid view for apps and services. Naturally, all of Amazon’s extra content is bundled.

The money part

Amazon says that the 7-inch HDX will go on sale on October 18th, with the 8.9-inch model becoming available on November 14th. Both tablets will also have options for LTE, but those versions will come several weeks after the initial release.

We don’t have the official UK pricing yet for either tablet, but the tablets will be sold for $229 and $379 respectively in the United States. That works out to around £143 and £237 once you take into account the current exchange rate – not too far off the current pricing, then.

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