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Kindle Fire HD review: A better Kindle, but not a better tablet

Preston Gralla | Sept. 17, 2012
Amazon's newest Kindle, the 7-in. Kindle Fire HD, is a great buy if you're an Amazon customer, but it falls short as a general-purpose tablet.

X-Ray for Movies

Apart from the upgraded hardware, the biggest news about the Kindle Fire HD is its new features for watching movies and reading books.

X-Ray for Movies is particularly welcome. It integrates content from the IMDb website into the movies you play on the Kindle. As you're watching, you can tap the screen, then tap the X-Ray for Movies icon that appears to see a list of all the actors in the current scene. You can then tap any of the actors' names for more details about them, including their biographies, other movies in which they've appeared and more. And by tapping "See Full Cast," you can see a list of the entire cast and get more information about anyone in that list.

That's useful, but not as useful as it could be. The feature lists only the film's actors and doesn't offer access to IMDb's vast amount of other information, such as the director, writer, producer, cinematographer and other details.

In addition, X-Ray for Movies isn't available for every movie, and while it works with most new movies, it tends to be a hit-or-miss affair with older and foreign movies. So you'll find it's available for Casablanca, Citizen Kane and The Maltese Falcon, but not for one of the greatest musicals of all time, Swing Time with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. As for foreign movies, Francois Truffaut's 400 Blows has it, for example, but his Jules and Jim doesn't.

New features for e-books

The original Kindle was first launched as an e-book-reading device, so it's no surprise that this newest member of the Kindle family includes several new features for enjoying books.

The first is called "immersion reading," in which an audiobook is essentially fused with a traditional book. As you're reading, you can tap the screen and have the book read to you. As the reading proceeds, the text being read is highlighted. According to Amazon, the feature is currently available for about 15,000 books.

I find the act of reading thoroughly immersive on its own, and so the benefits of this feature are lost on me. It took away from my reading experience, rather than adding to it -- I can read to myself far faster than someone can read to me, and so I found myself reading ahead in a book while listening to a narrator read passages that I had already read, making for a confusing, dizzying, distracting experience. But as the saying goes, your mileage might vary. (For example, it could be handy if you're learning another language.)

The new Kindle also has a version of X-Ray for Movies for books, called (fittingly) X-Ray for Books. Tap the screen and then tap the X-Ray button, and you'll get a great deal of information about the characters, historical figures, ideas and other details mentioned in the book. There are also links to every page where a specific character is mentioned. Information for this is pulled in from Wikipedia and from Amazon's Shelfari community book site.


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