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Apples and Orange: the Kindle Fire HD

A year ago, I compared the new Kindle Fire with the Apple iPad. Fast-forward to last week, when Amazon introduced its new, larger HD model. With low-cost, built-in LTE, and a $50/year data plan that gives users 250 MB of data per month, it provides a budget alternative to the iPad.

I've used the Kindle Fire for a year now. It's fine. The Android-based OS isn't particularly horrible. It runs lots of apps, plays games, offers free Prime video streaming and lets you read books. It's not an iPad, but it's a functional enough tablet for many uses.

Its $200 price tag (now $159, used from $120) made it a good choice for casual purchasers. Its big drawback, however, was its lack of connectivity away from WiFi. Enter the HD.

The new 4G Kindle adds that connectivity in, bumping the price to $500 for a 32 GB model plus $50 for a year of data. In iPad terms that works out to a little over $900 for a cellular 32 GB iPad with 12 months of 250 MB/month service at $15/month. If you're willing to bring the storage down a bit, a 16GB iPad 3 + service is closer to $800.

No matter how you look at it, the Fire is a bargain. Of course, its role with Amazon and users is quite different. Amazon can afford to sell its units for low prices because they're primarily consumptive devices. Amazon's profit is made up by commerce through its store. When users rent movies, buy books or shop for other items, the Fire pays its rent.

Apple's business is its hardware. It focuses on product quality to command a premium price. With high-quality features like Retina displays, long-lasting batteries and a seductive operating system, they offer products to a more particular set of customers, who are willing to weigh cost against intangibles.

The entry-level WiFi-only iPad costs $399, at least for the next week or two. All bets are off as to what Apple has up its sleeve for the September event. Most sites are expecting a mini iPad to debut with unknown pricing and connectivity.

Without knowing what will happen then, I can only say that Amazon seems to have made some smart moves. I love the fixed data pricing (although I wonder how much of a bath they'd take if every purchaser actually uses their allotment) and approve of the larger screen. I do wish they'd add a home button.

For $550, you can buy an Amazon tablet that works for an entire year, allowing your teenager to check her email, surf the Web, post to forums and draw stuff for Deviant Art. With light use, that is the total outlay, dropping to just $50 for the second year. It's like giving your child a larger iPod touch with cellular data service. That's pretty sweet.

Regardless of what Apple delivers, I think the Fire HD is a welcome entry to the tablet world. I'm not personally planning to buy one right now, but it might be an option in October for my girls if I'm not wowed by the September event.

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