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Amazon is on Fire, Baby

Brother and sister gadget freaks, by now you've seen the news: Amazon has introduced four new Kindles -- one of them a 7-inch tablet for the low, low price of $199. Is it time for Apple to start crapping itself? Let's take a look.

At the low end you have the new Kindle, much like the old Kindle 3 I love so dearly. The cheap-ass "keyboard" is gone, replaced with a simple-looking row of controls under the screen. You can get it for as low as $79, if you're willing to look at ads instead of book covers on your screen saver. Or you can pay $109 if you aren't.

This one is WiFi only -- and that's fine by me. Melissa has the WiFi-only Kindle 3 and I have the one with 3G, but I've found that for most people, it's probably a convenience not worth the extra fifty bucks. I think 3G connectivity is a must for a tablet -- but we'll get back to that in a bit.

My one complaint about the Kindle 3 is that the page-turning buttons are much too easy to hit by accident, especially if you like to read laying down on your side. The new buttons solve that problem. It's also quite a bit smaller and lighter, more than I'd even hoped.

Amazon is getting wonderfully close, I think, to the time when they'll give out Kindles for free with some kind of "Kindle Prime" book-buying subscription. Two years sounds about right.

For another twenty or thirty bucks -- $99 with ads, $139 without -- you can buy a Kindle Touch. It's not quite as small and light as the new Kindle Untouched, but it's still smaller than your Kindle 3. Bring the price up to $149, and you've got 3G added to the soup.

But the Touch still features an E Ink screen, which is great for reading, but lousy for manipulating. E-Ink can refresh the page only twice each second. To me, adding touch to E-Ink is like adding an aquarium to the dashboard of your car. Sure, it looks pretty -- but what is it really going to do for you? However, if Amazon has given the interface enough Ooh-Pretties, maybe this will be a show-stopper. For me, though, I'd stick with the $99 model.

And what's with charging $20 to get rid of ads on the Untouched, but $30 to get rid of them on the Touch? That silly kind of pricing signal tells me that Amazon has developed the Touch for status-buyers, and not because touch ads anything vital to the user experience.

If you need a keyboard, you can get the "new" Kindle Keyboard for $99 with ads, or $139 without. Near as I can tell, it's last year's Kindle 3 with a new name and a lower price. Nifty, if you can't live without the World's Worst Keyboard™. This is old news -- don't bother.

But the real showstopper is the Kindle Fire. Imagine: A full-color, multitouch, 7-inch Android tablet for just $199. Has the iPad killer finally arrived?