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Kindle Fire HDX 7-inch review: Third time's the charm

Andy Ihnatko | Oct. 3, 2013
Considerable hardware and software improvements make Amazon's third attempt one of the best content-consumption tablets around.

Acquiring content is as easy as you would imagine it to be on a device made by a store and sold at only slightly above cost. FireOS offers blessedly clear organization of content on your device, content you own in Amazon's cloud, and content that you can discover and buy either through a search or because it's related to something you already have.

The advantages of consuming content on the Fire HDX go beyond "buying and then playing/reading." Amazon has come up with an answer to the question "How can we improve the user's enjoyment of books, music, and video?" and the answer is far more impressive than adding storage or throwing in a sharper screen. It's a feature called X-Ray.

A deeper look at your books, movies, and music
In a sense, X-Ray is an attempt to anticipate every question you might have about the content you're enjoying and to answer it on your device, without making you open a Web browser.

X-Ray makes the HDX an ideal medium for watching a movie. Say you're watching the musical 1776 and a familiar face and voice make their first appearance. You wonder if maybe that's Phil Hartman. Tap the screen, and a sidebar opens with thumbnail portraits of every person in that scene, the character names, and the names of the actors. (Nope, that's Donald Madden playing John Dickinson).

If you don't choose to dismiss the sidebar, it will update, scene by scene, as actors enter and leave. They're singing a song? Here's the title (and why, yes, it's available for purchase from you-know-where). What other movies has Donald Madden been in...?

Thousands of movies and TV shows have been marked up with real-time information from IMDb. You can even pull up real-time trivia and goofs, which is probably the only way to get yourself through another viewing of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang with your kids.

Yes, in irresponsible hands, this arrangement could lead to a hideously distracted viewing experience. But I'm often dipping into the Internet to look for exactly this sort of information when I watch movies—including "What song is that, and where can I buy it?"—so I love this feature. I wish it were built into my cable box, provided that I could turn the feature off as easily as I can on the HDX.

When you're reading an X-Ray-enhanced book, the Fire will rebrief you on a character who suddenly turns up again after 11 chapters, and it will also explain that in this particular context "The War of the Roses" refers to the civil wars of Medieval England and not the Michael Douglas—Kathleen Turner movie. Music tracks are embellished with song lyrics; you can follow along as the song plays, search for keywords, and cue to specific lines.

 

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