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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.

During my hands-on demo, Amazon opened up an episode of "Boardwalk Empire" and threw it from the Fire. The tablet's screen shifted to X-Ray mode, with multiple tabs representing different kinds of content.

Second-screen data in a flash
As I watched, the screen kept pace with the scenes unfolding on the TV. Who are those characters? Thumbnails appeared, properly labeled. No, actually, I meant who are those actors? The character thumbnails were replaced with IMDB headshots. (And now, for the first time, I have seen what Michael Shannon looks like with hair. His head is buzzed when he's Agent Nelson Van Alden or General Zod.)

"Boardwalk Empire" is a music-heavy show. Sure enough, every time a new tune appeared on the soundtrack, the Fire HDX told me what it was, and who composed it.

It also offered me a handy link to where I could buy the track or the album on Amazon, of course. Typically, I would make a testy comment about how Amazon probably wrote the "Always Be Closing" speech from the beginning of "Glengarry Glen Ross." And I probably should. But the fact is that I'm always buying music that I first heard on shows like this.

X-Ray also pulls data from the Trivia section of your movie or TV show's IMDB page. As with the rest of the added content, it also throws it onto the Fire's screen at the appropriate moment. Now, as a lover of film, I'm supposed to write a long screed about how this sort of intrusion is emblematic of how unworthy our species is of the art that's all around us. But again, I must be honest and say that I almost always visit the IMDB page of a movie for more information.

Mayday, mayday!
X-Ray is an interesting feature, even a useful one. But the Kindle HDX's new "Mayday" button is by far its most intriguing.

You'll find it in the main system tray, right next to the Home button. Push it. A little floating window appears above your content. And less than 14 seconds later, the window contains live video chat with an Amazon tech support person, who's now asking you what he or she can help you with today.

There are things I've heard during my various tech briefings that have led me to believe I've misheard something. "Every Kindle HDX comes with free, 24/7 live video support" was one of those things. My live demo took place a month before the HDX even goes on sale. I realize this. But if this is the best that the feature can do, then its best is very, very good.

The helper—yes, a real live person, not an avatar—could hear me but couldn't see me. I could ask him how to connect my Bluetooth keyboard to the Fire HDX. He could see my screen and could draw on it to guide me through the steps. The helper could also (with my approval) take control and operate my device, setting the keyboard up for me as I watch.


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