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Missing The Spark

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The Kindle's been around for a while now, and those who own it swear by its capability to …kindle… a reading habit with its ability to download books instantly and carry them everywhere in its travel friendly form-factor. Will the Fire, the latest salvo by Amazon in an ever crowded tablet segment, spell similar success, and quite literally kindle a sales fire? I spent some time with the Kindle Fire and here are my first impressions.
 
The first thing you'll probably want to know is its price - the Fire can be yours for $199 from the US, with local retailers charging a premium to bring it to Indian shores. Even so, it's relatively affordable, and the skeptic in me wondered just how much Amazon could pack in to this tablet at this price point. Remember, the iPad 2 starts at twice the Fire's asking price.
 
The good news is that even at this price, the Fire is a pretty good Android based tablet, with great build quality and decent mid-range hardware (although the Android it runs is heavily modified, and it is practically unrecognizable as an Android tablet). The idea is that with it, you read e-books using Amazon's Kindle software, download Android apps and games using Amazon's Appstore, purchase music using Amazon's MP3 store, and watch videos using Amazon's video on-demand and download services. Sense a common thread here? Amazon's pitching this as a content consumption device, the Trojan horse that will pave the way for greater sales from Amazon's digital storefront, plus this also allows Amazon to offset the costs associated with pricing the Fire so low.
 
In addition, you can browse the web, send email, read document files, view photos and listen to your own non-Amazon music libraries as well (transfer via the USB cable, no memory card). The underlying software may be Google's, but key Android features, such as Maps, Gmail, Calendar Navigation, and the Google App Market, are all absent. And while Amazon's services - such as the music and e-book stores - are pretty good, the trouble is that a lot of them, including the App Store and video content, don't work in India yet and need a US billing address. So really, you're walking in uncharted territory if you pick one up in the near future, and I'd recommend a buy only if you're comfortable messing around with Android to make the app market work. Pick up the Reliance tab instead.
 
Rating: 6/10
Price: Rs 14,999/- on IndiaPlaza
URL: http://amzn.to/ucQQ2M
 
Sharp Appeal
Speaking of kindling, if a big optical zoom, top-notch image stabilisation and advanced manual controls light in a prosumer fixed-lens camera is your thing, the Canon PowerShot SX40 HS may be the only camera you need. From a distance, this baby looks every part a digital SLR camera size, weight and form-factor wise, but it isn't. Blame that on the practically obscene 35x optical zoom (24mm wide-angle to 840mm telephoto) lens, which compares directly with the Nikon Coolpix P500's 36x zoom. Stepping away from the numbers, the camera feels good in the hand, with a largely metal body, and the manual controls are easily reaching during shooting. Pity that the LCD display on such a bulky device is a piddly 2.7 inch version.
 
Taking it through its paces, the SX40 HS takes just a tad too long to switch on and be ready for the first shot, but after that, it dazzles in performance, with an impressive recycle time between shots, and a capable continuous shooting mode at just over 2 frames a second. Images are sharp and rich in color, as is the full-HD video capture (only at 24 frames per second, sadly). What troubles me is that the price breaches dSLR territory, which may make some of you think twice. For most others, the long zoom range makes this a topshot contender.
 
Rating: 7/10
Price: Rs 28,995/-
URL: http://bit.ly/uRpw46
 
Heroes Of Darkness
Fans of the Batman franchise would be familiar with the crime-infested metropolis called Gotham City. In Batman: Arkham City, developers RockSteady have built on the outstanding 2009 Batman: Arkham Asylum game and cast Batman into a strong, atmospheric and fast paced super-prison neighborhood of Gotham called Arkham. As Batman, you start off trying to contain the gore and violence on the streets of Arkham. The attention to detail, especially the 1930's styling, is downright brilliant, and it's this richness that makes the game play and missions that much more believable.
 
Along the way, you get to meet the Joker, the Penguin, Mr. Freeze, and numerous other members of Batman's rogues' gallery. The development is each character is terrific, with plenty of nods to their histories as established in the comic books, and part of the fun of progressing through the story lies in seeing who you might meet next. It's worth mentioning in particular the ensemble of voice actors who never miss a beat in their portrayal of the thugs. In any case, the exhilaration of soaring above the streets of Arkham and the thrill of discovering secrets at every turn stay with you long after you're done playing the game.
 
Rating: 9/10
Price: Rs 2,599/- (PS3 and Xbox)
URL: http://bit.ly/txnAxD

technocool at kanwar dot net
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