Sep. 28, 2011 at 9:53 AM ET
Before Amazon's press event even started, the big news slipped out of the bag: The Amazon Kindle Fire will be a 7-inch Android tablet with a $199 price tag. Then Amazon's Jeff Bezos went on stage and unveiled it, showing off its movie playback capability and other media features.
As rumors had suggested, it is very reminiscent of the $499 BlackBerry PlayBook, though the bezel looks a little narrower. It weighs 14.6 ounces, pretty much exactly the same as the PlayBook.
In fact, we managed to get a quick shot of the Kindle Fire alongside a PlayBook. As you can see, at right, the Kindle Fire is a little bit more sleekly styled than RIM's far more expensive tablet, but they are hauntingly similar, hardware-wise.
But unlike the BlackBerry tablet or the many struggling Android tablets on the market, Amazon gives you many many reasons, right up front, as to why this tablet matters. As Amazon puts it: "18 million songs, movies, TV shows, books, magazines, apps and games." Not that you get all of those free with purchase, but the device is purpose-built as a conduit for media, whether you pay for an Amazon Prime streaming subscription, subscribe to periodicals or buy books, music or movies a la carte.
As had been foretold, the Kindle Fire has a dual-core processor and a pretty nice custom interface. It does not look anything like a Google-authorized Android tablet, but the tablet plays Android games fairly well — at least in the canned demonstrations shown today.
Part of the reason that the cost can be kept low is that the tablet has just 8 gigabytes of internal storage, half of the baseline storage of most tablets. Amazon expects people to use the tablet mostly in Wi-Fi hotspots, where they can stream content from Amazon's cloud.
The tablet will be available Nov. 15, but you can pre-order it now.
Bezos unveiled a new kind of Web browser called Amazon Silk, which weds the tablet to Amazon's cloud network. The browser gathers user behavior in order to predict where you'll go next, and caching that Web page in advance. If you always jump from msnbc.com to the tech/sci page, it will start loading it on the back end, so that it's quicker to load for you.
But Amazon engineers say not to worry about a whole new system. "It will seem like a traditional browser, just a lot better and a lot faster."
Our overall impression is that this is what Amazon needs to do, and despite rumors that Amazon had been cutting corners on their design (which may well be the case), the goods on display today look like something Amazon can be proud of.
A 7-inch touch-screen Android tablet for $199 is an incredible value, and a device $300 less than an iPad can manage to avoid direct comparisons. This is about media consumption. There's no camera, no microphone, not much at all in the way of content creation. It's a supplement to your computer, whereas an iPad could well replace your computer, if not now, then in the near future.
The Kindle Fire is squarely aimed at knocking Barnes & Noble off its perch. The $250 Nook Color was a coup and a true value, but a $199 Amazon-media-powered tablet with a fluid interface and more up-to-date hardware is likely to trump it.
That said, we'll have to wait till the product is in our hands, presumably closer to the ship date, before we can pass judgment.
Bloomberg's report regarding the basic details about what is described as a "souped-up version of the Kindle electronic-book reader" matches most of the gossip we've heard so far. (Albeit, it was previously suggested that the device would be priced at $250.)
We now know that the Kindle Fire will indeed offer Wi-Fi connectivity — though no support for 3G — and come with a 30-day trial of Amazon Prime, "the company’s $79-a-year membership service that includes streaming video and free two-day shipping."
More Kindle Fire stories on msnbc.com: