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Everything you need to know about Amazon’s new tablets

September 17, 2015

Amazon announced an update to its tablets Thursday, signaling the e-commerce giant’s continued bet on creating low-cost devices for consumers. The question is whether it will be enough to help turn around Amazon’s tablet business, which has so far failed to gain much traction.

According to recent IDC data, Amazon wasn’t even a top five worldwide tablet vendor in the second quarter. Apple, Samsung and Lenovo led the list.

Ahead of the holiday shopping season, Amazon (AMZN) unveiled four new versions of its tablets, all powered by an upgraded version of its operating system, the Fire OS 5 “Bellini.”

Fire HD Tablets

The Fire HD 8, which has an eight inch screen, that costs $150. It’s similar in size to the iPad Mini 4, Apple’s latest version of its smaller iPad.

Amazon is also debuting a larger 10 inch tablet that costs $230.

At 7.7 mm, these tablets are the thinnest devices the company has sold. In contrast, the iPad Air is slightly thinner, at just under 7 mm. Amazon said that the goal for HD 8 and 10 tablets are to be the ideal companion for watching a movie or reading a book. Both tablet screens are brighter than in the past. The tablet’s stereo speakers are equipped with Dolby Audio.

The home screen is organized by dedicated pages for each category of content. In the books category, for example, users can see all the books they have downloaded, suggested books based on their past reading, and a list of the top downloaded books by others during a given time period.

Also baked into the new software is Amazon Underground, a new app that lets users download over $10,000 worth of premium apps for free. Amazon pays certain developers to make their apps available without charge as an incentive for consumers to buy Amazon’s devices.

As David Limp, senior vice president of devices at Amazon, explained, “we know customers will love Amazon Underground and will want to use our tablets more and the investment will eventually pay back to Amazon.”

Another way Amazon wants to make it easier for people to watch media is through a new feature called OnDeck that will automatically download movies and TV shows for Prime members. So instead of having to physically click download of certain shows, Amazon will download them for you based on what you had downloaded in the past. Amazon prime members can get downloads from a larger library of videos. Amazon subscription service Prime costs $99 annually, and includes free two-day shipping on more than 20 million items on Amazon’s marketplace, same-day delivery on some items, and access to streamed songs, movies and TV shows. Non Prime members’ On Deck feature will automatically download only Amazon’s originally produced content and shows.

The new (smaller) Fire tablet and the Kids version

Amazon also introduced its smallest, lightweight and cheapest tablet yet, called simply the Fire, costing $50 with a seven inch screen. If customers buy five tablets, they get a sixth Fire tablet for free, Amazon said. The battery life is around seven hours.

Amazon is also updating the kids edition of Fire (costs $100, down from the previous version’s price of $150), which comes preloaded with kids games, videos and movies. The company said that it has doubled the amount of video content to 10,000 apps and movies, and has created a curated area where kids can access child-focused websites and YouTube videos.

These new devices and software represent the ongoing shift we’ve seen with Amazon. The company is no longer just the “everything store,” but has now become an entertainment hub where people can buy and stream movies, TV shows, books, games and music.

But as smartphones continue to get bigger screens and powerful chips, many consumers are opting to watch movies, or play games on their iPhones or Android phones.

It’s also an interesting move considering Amazon’s own lackluster sales of tablets and data showing that Apple’s rival tablet, the iPad, has seen a softening of sales. And the new version of the iPad, announced last week, isn’t aimed at the media hungry consumer, but rather at the enterprise and business world. Apple, which is traditionally focused on consumers, is trying to make headway inside corporations. Amazon, meanwhile, is still just trying to make headway.

Nevertheless, Amazon executives claimed that the company is “on pace to have a record year in hardware business” without giving any concrete numbers. In fact, it’s clear that the company has stumbled. Amazon killed off its first phone, the Fire phone, and has laid off workers in its hardware division.

Don’t hold your breath for any indication on whether these bets will pay off. Although the holidays tend to are a time of massive sales time for Amazon’s hardware devices, we will almost certainly never know how the company actually did.

For more on Amazon’s ambitions in entertainment, watch this video: