POSTED: Saturday, September 8, 2012 - 1:00am
UPDATED: Saturday, September 8, 2012 - 1:04am
CNN — Having established itself as Apple's top tablet competitor by going smaller and cheaper, Amazon will now go head to head with the category-defining iPad on its own turf.
Even as Google's new Nexus 7 challenges the Kindle Fire for dominance in the small-tablet category, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos on Thursday introduced a new, 8.9-inch Kindle Fire HD.
That pits the new device, which will ship in late November, against a device with which Apple has, thus far, squashed all direct competition. No tablet that has tried to match the iPad feature-for-feature has gained more than a token foothold in the market.
So, how do the latest version of the iPad and the Kindle Fire HD stack up? Because only a few people have gotten their hands on the new device, some questions can't be answered yet. But here's a look at what we do know so far.
The Fire comes out way ahead on this one, as is to be expected from Amazon, which has targeted customers looking for the basic features of a tablet but not willing to pay Apple's heftier price tag.
For the cost of the lowest-end iPad (the 16GB, WiFi-only model), a buyer can get a 32GB version of the Fire HD with a 4G LTE connection on an upgraded cellular network. Both devices cost $499.
The 16GB version of the Fire comes in at $299, or $200 less than the comparable iPad.
While Amazon obviously closed the gap significantly, the iPad still has a bigger screen than the Fire.
Apple's iPad screen measures 9.7 inches diagonally, while the Fire is at 8.9 inches. That's less than the difference between the screen sizes on the iPhone 4S and the larger Samsung Galaxy S III smartphones. (There's speculation the iPhone 5 will have a larger screen).
But competition between Apple and Amazon could heat up on another front if rumors that Apple plans to release an "iPad Mini" turn out to be true.
Both tablets feature high-definition screens, although the details vary.
The iPad's "retina display" featured a total of 3.1 million pixels, with a resolution of 2,048 by 1,536. By contrast, the Fire HD measures 1,920 x 1,200 pixels, with custom features designed to reduce glare and improve color saturation.
Both Apple and Amazon boast that the resolution on their tablet is so sharp that it's impossible for the human eye to discern individual pixels.
Until now, the Kindle Fire has been a WiFi-only device, and some of its new models remain that way. But Bezos announced that the top-end version of the Fire HD is available in 4G.
The plan is offered at an attractive price of $50 a year. But that price gets you 250 MB of data per month -- not a lot for a device designed in large part to stream movies and other media.
It was unclear Thursday what the charges will be for going over the allotted data.
The $50 is well under what AT&T and Verizon charge for a year of data on the iPad.
When the first iPad launched, AT&T offered data plans starting at $15 per month, or $180 per year, for 250 megabytes of data.
Currently, Verizon offers a variety of plans, from 1GB of data per month for $20 (or $240 per year) all the way up to a massive 8GB per month for $80 ($960).
AT&T offers a 250MB per month plan (the same as the Fire) for $15, or $180 per year. For $5 more, customers can get up to 2GB per month.
There are obviously lots of permutations of plans customers can seek out for iPads, based on carrier and special offers. It's safe to say Amazon's is going to be less expensive, although it offers a minimal amount of data.
It's hard to compete with Apple's App Store.
There are more than 225,000 apps designed specifically for the iPad. Many work to take advantage of its display and screen size. Add the more than a half-million apps that run on mobile devices and you've got a lot from which to choose.
Amazon, of course, likes to play up the movies and books that make up its universe of content (and the sale of which make Kindle prices possible). Bezos lumped together more than 22 million movies, TV shows, songs, apps, games, books, audiobooks and magazines available from Amazon's store.
He showcased a few, nice-looking new apps. But while the Kindle Fire runs a modified version of Google's Android operating system, it only runs apps available from Amazon. That cuts the number available down to several thousand -- more than enough for many users, but nowhere near what the iPad offers.