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Hands-on with Kindle Fire HDX, Amazon's next-generation 7 and 9-inch tablets

Andy Ihnatko | Sept. 26, 2013
The new Fire tablets include 'X-Ray' features for second-screen TV viewing and a 'Mayday' button for real-time video tech support.

Many long-desired features are now part of Fire OS 3.0. And, yes, now "Fire" is a formally named OS, not "the operating system formerly known as 'whatever it is that Amazon does to Android'." Its carousel view is backed up by an additional grid view for speeding through apps and content. A future update will allow you to group content into collections. New accessibility features make the Fire's interface and content available to people with impaired vision.

The now-iconic hamburger button has spread to the Fire, revealing a slide-out tray for menus and system settings.

And Fire 3.0 has been enterprise-hardened with new support for VPN services, Kerberos authentication, and remote device management. Keyboards and other input devices are easier to use. Enterprise email and on-device encryption are here in 3.0, and wireless printing is coming soon.

Seeing the content behind the content
The signature ginchiness of the Fire has always been its focus on content. To the Fire design team, the users' focus should be on the books they want to read, the TV shows they want to watch, and the documents that they want to edit. That's why the content items are always presented front-and-center—instead of the apps the user needs to launch in order to use them.

Amazon has upped its already considerable game by introducing big enhancements to the Kindle's X-Ray feature. X-Ray is a collection of tools intended to help users see and appreciate the content behind the content. When it showed up as a feature for the Kindle book reader, it made it easier to follow the many characters in a sprawling novel. For example, if you saw a familiar name in a George R. R. Martin novel and thought "I thought he was dead already," X-Ray could clear everything up for you right then and there.

On the Fire HDX, X-Ray adds canonical song lyrics to the music player. Lyrics scroll in time with playback, and can be searched, and also used as links to scrub to specific spots in the tune.

X-Ray enhancements to the Fire's video player are way more ambitious. But first, let's talk about second screens. Amazon Instant Video now works intimately between the Fire HDX and Amazon Instant connected devices. Instead of just being able to continue watching a movie on your living room TV from the point you left off on your Fire earlier in the day, you can also "throw" the content from the Fire and use the tablet as a dedicated second screen for X-Ray-fueled supplemental content.

Caveat: The feature doesn't work with all TVs and streaming boxes. Amazon announced support for the Xbox 360 and One, PlayStation, and certain Samsung TVs, with other compatible devices to be announced. Nonetheless, once you've managed to get it working, it works the same way: Your TV is now responsible for streaming your program, leaving your tablet's CPU and battery free from anything taxing.

 

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