Android apps have been going through a slew of upgrades and retoolings since the debut of Android 5.0 Lollipop, and now it’s the turn of the Amazon Kindle app, which has just updated to version 4.8.0. As per the Google Play Store blur, this brings, for the first time, Amazon’s Kindle X-Ray functionality “for Books and Textbooks to look up places, characters and terms,” as well as “push notifications from Kindle,” “improved library search,” “flashcard sets to review textbook material,” and the usual “experience improvements and bug fixes.”

For those, like me, who haven’t enjoyed this feature so far, X-Ray “lets you explore the ‘bones of a book’,” as well as offering “more detailed information from Wikipedia and from Shelfari, Amazon’s community-powered encyclopedia for book lovers.” But, as Amazon warns, “X-Ray is not available for all Kindle books” – including the kind where you’d hope and expect to see it. Take, for example, my Kindle copy of Christopher Hibbert’s The Marlboroughs: John and Sarah Churchill 1650-1744. As dense and scholarly as you’d imagine from a title like that, and published by Endeavour Press in October 2014. But the X-Ray icon on the Kindle toolbar stays resolutely grayed out. Arthur Herman’s How the Scots Invented the Modern World, though, published in December 2007, does have X-Ray enabled. However, its list of people and terms strikes me as indifferently valuable compared to the basic Search function, which gives the same summary of number of results and scrollable map of chapter appearances.

What the Kindle app does do, though, beautifully, is allow you to highlight a term and immediately search online for it, in Wikipedia or on the web as a whole. And if that’s so, how much is X-Ray really adding? And the density map of references within a book might have some limited value, but very little compared to what book Search already does. Yes, the app does work fast and butter smooth  – albeit after the long loading time typical for Kindle – but I hope all these extra bells and whistles don’t conspire to slow it down. And I’d want to see more consistent implementation of X-Ray by publishers before being really convinced if its worth


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