Thursday, December 24, 2015

Catching up on some Amazon changes during late 2015: OS v5.1.1 update for current Amazon tablets ... an alternate blue-shade-type app for earlier tablets ... ShowTime & Starz subscription availability for Prime members, with Amazon X-ray and voice-search features ... Unlimited Photos storage for Prime members now shareable with another adult household member... The Beatles, on Amazon Prime Music now ... Find the tune you heard in a movie or tv show. Updated 12/27 to add some details.

A few changes in Amazon features over the last few months, not often mentioned.

(The photo at left of what looks like snow in winter is actually of the marble mountains of Carrara, Italy.  The 'snow' is marble; this is where Michelangelo chose his marble for his sculptures, living there for a few months at a time -- there is marble dust in the air of course.  I took this photo in 2006, and it's from a photo set at PBase.).

Amazon has emailed everyone almost daily about their favorite products being on sale, so there was no need for this blog to call attention to those each day.  But I'll list today some of the minor changes that have been occurring, for any who might be interested in those.

Amazon's slowed down on hardware news, and their many books specials are sent to all regular customers directly on a daily basis.  If there is anything you'd like to see covered here, let me know at andrys [at] panix dot com.

General Tips - for Kindle tablet owners who are distracted by all that's available in movies and TV shows and, of course, many of us use Amazon Prime Music quite a bit ... When I see items that I haven't known about and think they'd interest others, I'll start including more generalized tips.
  Today's: I came across a "What tune was that?" website for finding music used in movies and TV, which currently includes 581 TV shows.  I saw this in a discussion of an episode of the totally amoral "How to Get Away with Murder," and -- as an example -- for Season 1 there are 15 episodes, with a total of 46 songs, and for Season 2, 9 episodes with 30 songs.

Amazon's "Blue Shade" feature was added to Yr 2015 Fire tablets in an update (v5.1.1)
Amazon has been slowly distributing, "over the air," software update v5.1.1 to its Fire OS 5 ("Bellini") operating system used on the current Year 2015 tablets.

The "Blue Shade" mode added is an option for those who like to read at night before sleeping, because studies have indicated that the blue light from current tablets and smartphones can affect melatonin production and therefore the quality of sleep. Amazon's e-Ink eReaders, back-lit, don't emit blue light.  For the most recent Fire tablets using OS 5, the new mode uses filters (adjustable in Settings) to limit the amount of emitted blue light from the screen, which some feel makes these devices more comfortable to read at night.

  The settings that control the color warmth and brightness level of the resulting light is fully adjustable by the user, and they've included an “ultra low” brightness level (which would also help any partners nearby trying to sleep).

  In connection with this, Amazon has featured the Fire HD 8 Reader's Edition, normally priced at $149.99, but bundled with one year of the $119.80 Kindle Unlimited subscription and with their $79.99 "rustic leather case" ($349.86 total if purchased separately) for $249.99.

  Other features in the recent "OS 5.1.1 update to the Yr 2015 Fire tablets are described by Androidheadlines:
' There is a new browser designed for children that users could activate on the FreeTime section, parents can choose a list of websites that would be appropriate for their children. Amazon and Common Sense Media chose over 40,000 YouTube videos dedicated for children, which they can view on the FreeTime browser. There’s also a new Activity Center for parents outside of FreeTime, which allows them to know how their kids are using the tablet and how much time have they spent on specific apps or games as well as seeing their browser history and everything they have accessed. The update should be now available now for the Fire HD 8, Fire HD 10 and other Fire tablets, although the process might take up to two weeks to complete. '

  A fix noted in update v5.1.1
Reader Irv Fullerton had reported to Amazon some problems in the original OS 5 functioning.  He followed up today with the following:
' Amazon fixed the error within the WPS office software - which now allows a user to actually access the icons at the top of each page of an open document.  For me - this was a huge fix as it now allowed me to work with spreadsheets I have saved within the Amazon Cloud...'

  What about older tablets? Some had thought that earlier Kindle Fire tablets would get the Blue Shade feature and other OS 5 additions via an update later on.  Pocket-link had stated, "The Amazon Fire OS 5 Bellini will come with the latest tablets from Amazon and will be available for older tablets via an over the air update in the coming months" -- but the development community hasn't reported seeing an indication of that yet.

  The "Twilight App" (Android) offers a similar blue-light-filter feature, and earlier-Kindle Fire owners can download this app by using the normal android-device app-install setting that allows using apps from "unknown sources" and getting apps from places like 1mobile and slideme.

  This alternate-apps-source method is called "side loading" (getting apps from a secondary apps store) and it involves no changes to the operating system, is NOT a 'rooting' method nor a 'hack' but a mere enabling of a setting to allow an alternate source for android apps while being careful to use only appstores that Amazon's Kindle Community forum members have tried and recommend.
  See this blog's guide for sideloading non-Amazon store and non-GooglePlay store apps.

  I've tried that 'Twilight app' on my Yr 2013 Kindle Fire HDX 8.9" tablet, and while it's very flexible and works well, I prefer to use the basic old, built-in "Aa" option setting of "Sepia" or 'White' with the brightness turned down, probably because I have no trouble sleeping well after using it this way.  As most will have noticed, there's also an option to read white text against black, on all the Amazon tablets, which bed parters trying to sleep during your late-hour reading sessions will appreciate.

Amazon Prime members can now subscribe to ShowTime, Starz, and more
Sacred Heart Spectrum alerts us to new offerings for Prime members looking to cut cable tv costs or to view series they've missed. (In fact their HBO Prime INstant videos allow people to catch up on earlier or initial episodes of very popular series, without needing the usual cable TV add-on subscriptions.
 For those of us cutting our cable TV use because it's so expensive, companies like Hulu have added separate subscriptions (not needing a cable TV subscription) for premium offerings like Showtime, for ~$9.  I cut my cable TV/Internet/Phone bill by $70/mo. by taking only the basic+extended cable (which includes the nation-wide news like CNN + and "edutainment" stations like Discovery Channel, etc.), and I cut any premium features, but I then subscribed to Showtime on Hulu for $9/mo.

  Now I'll probably change over to Amazon for the Showtime because, via Amazon, that'll include my favorite video feature, X-Ray for movies and for TV shows, which gives you added info, OnDemand, from Amazon's IMDB subsdiary, such as: What actors are in the current scene? (if you pause it).  The links are to fuller descriptions of what this version of X-Ray does for each.

  Amazon calls their new offering the "Streaming Partners Program," which includes 30 or more different streaming services which are 'paid' features on cable TV and would be available for Amazon Prime members for whatever extra monthly fee.  Showtime is $8.99/mo.

  The Streaming Partner subscriptions will also include a "unified voice search" when you watch it on Fire Tv (SO much better than pressing alpha-characters on those alphabetically-sorted keyboard forms).  Also, the Sacred Heart article reports that Amazon will be "making partners' newest episodes simultaneous with the broadcast."

  They add that 'Showtime produces such acclaimed programming as "Homeland" and "The Affair" while Starz is the home of shows like "Outlander" and "Flesh and Bone."  Viewers can watch them through Internet-enabled TVs and Blu-ray players, streaming media players, gaming consoles and mobile devices.  Amazon Prime keeps it all on the web and on any device with the Amazon Video app.'

  SIDENOTE: One advantage of the Amazon Fire TV is that you can mirror your tablet (though not the new $50 tablet) or smartphone display to the Fire TV to share the content with others more easily.  Most Android tablets and the Amazon-specific tablets, as well as recent Windows laptops come with 'Miracast' or "mirroring" capability.  I Was able to mirror my Windows laptop to it, along with my Windows phone (Nokia 1020) attached to the laptop -- this allowed me to view all my phone contents mirror'd on the Fire TV, even though the phone, itself, has no mirroring capability, since the laptop did.

Amazon's Unlimited Photo Storage Now Shareable by Prime Subscribers
PetaPixel reports that in addition to Prime members getting unlimited photo storage (including RAW files), this feature is now shareable with one other adult in the household.

  NON-Prime members can get this subscription feature for $11.99/year, with a 3-month free trial.
  There is NO limitation on the size or resolution of a photo file (as there are with other free-photo-storage sites) and Amazon promises not to change the file in anyway.

Amazon's Unlimited Everything Cloud-storage/backup plan
  That's for ALL files you want to have saved in the Cloud as backup - not just photos.  This includes videos, which are usually the most space-grabbing files. Normally $59.99/year (essentially $5/month), with a 3-month free trial.

  During Black Friday week, this was offered that weekfor $5/year.  Paul Thurrott explains why he found that special a no-brainer.  Even for the normal $60/year, "Unlimited" file backup is still considered good for people who need or would feel more comfortable with knowing their files are accessible in case of hard drive (or worse) catastrophes.  I haven't heard how fast or easy recovery of a file or file-set would be when needed, with Amazon's plan. But you can try that yourself with the that 3-month Free trial.

  Some sites say that if an Android tablet owner downloads the Amazon Underground app (free paid-apps) currently, s/he will receive an offer for a free-year of Unlimited Everything, within a day.  Unfortunately, Kindle Fire and Fire tablets have Underground built in .

  I do know that a friend received the following special offer yesterday based on a purchase within the last year:
  "Your purchase in the past 12 months of the "Canon PowerShot SX60 HS Digital Camera - Wi-Fi Enabled..." comes with a 1 FREE year of Unlimited Everything cloud storage from Amazon Cloud Drive (a $59.99 value)."

  She was not sure how she'd use it or if she would need such a thing, but it's a safety measure in case your hard drive dies, and most of us know this normally happens within 5 years.  I use another online backup service and it is really comforting to know everything I need is up there and I can recover any file (or version of a file) at any time.  While their pricing is similar, I'm limited to 1 Terabyte on the Non-Amazon cloud-backup I use.  Updated backups for the folders we choose are usually done automatically either daily or at any intervals you choose by any of these online backup sites.

AndroidHeadlines website announces "Best Android App 2015" and names three
#1 - the increasingly popular "Periscope" app (the broadcasting app that requires Compatibility "with Android SDK level 19),"
#2 - the Amazon Underground app
      (built into the Amazon Kindle Fire and Fire tablets
#3 - the new Google Photos app

The Beatles on Amazon Prime Music
You've probably read about The Beatles (complete music) being available online and featured on Spotify (and IheartRadio) for free, the last couple of days.  Today Amazon announced that the full Beatles catalog is also available for free on Amazon's Prime Music feature -- free streaming for Amazon Prime members.

That should do for now, as we go about celebrating, holidaying, or having some good quiet time while remembering those for whom it may not be an easy time of year for all the reasons we know.

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  1. The major benefit of Amazon kindle is there service Amazon Prime. Ahead of that there are more attractive choices in the tablet market. But with Amazon prime it worth buying.

  2. I have used Amazon prime for many years now and have saved unbelievable amounts of dollars because of free shipping. This is my second fire (third generation). However, I have been trying to delete their new "update" of having a password now every time I shut my tablet case flap. I guess it's because the parental controls were not working and they did not want to correct the parental control program which would cost a bundle. I find it a real pain. I was also informed that there would be quick way to connect my fire to my printer in a few months. Anyone know about any of these problems?

    1. Have you tried going into Settings, Security & Privacy and toggling off Lock Screen Password? that should take care of this. Of course if you have set up the device for parental controls, turning of the password sort of defeats the purpose of parental controls.

  3. It is amusing to see how this 'blue filter' craze has taken off (Apple jumping on the bandwagon by adding such a feature to iOS 9.3). There is not what I would consider significant evidence that the blue light emitted by mobile devices is a significant contributor to sleep disturbances for anyone. The only references presented that I have encountered are poorly designed and statistically insignificant. Is blue filter more effective than existing common sense approaches (appropriately dimming screen, using Night theme for reading, etc.)? And we are about to have the last season of Mythbusters, so it's likely to remain essentially unstudied and unchallenged. In my case, my sleep is disturbed because I don't get to bed early enough, or something I've eaten disagrees with me. If there's a contribution from 'blue light' it is considerably more subtle than these other factors.

    That said, I've installed f.lux on my computers and look forward to playing with the feature on my Fire and iPad when the respective updates arrive. I find f.lux is helpful just for notifying me that it is getting late; I tend to lose track of time.

    I got a letter on my Fire HD6 informing me of an impending update 'in the coming weeks', but it makes no mention of Blue Shade. So will have to wait and see.

    It looks like there is a Fire OS 5 update in the works for 1st gen Fire TV as well. lists both of my Fire TV devices as eligible for Fire OS 5 beta, and the Alexa app shows them as devices one can switch to (but so far I cannot do anything new with them after that). The 'unified search' is a big deal. Here at LG we have something like that for our latest generation WebOS Smart TV's, but Roku/Apple/Google make you drill down into each app. It would be nice if you could subscribe to Netflix and Hulu and HBO through Amazon as well, though I don't see that happening (surely Amazon asked).

    I think I've mentioned this before but you can get AirPlay and DLNA support via third party apps. I use one called "AirPlay/DLNA Receiver (PRO)" and use that to play on Fire TV from my iPad. The app is not so good, but at least it does support AirPlay.

    1. Tom, I agree with you about the blue filter thing since I have no problem getting good sleep after too much time on the tablet. And I personally don't like the effect on the color.

      I got the letter from Amazon in my Carousel describing the new Fire OS 5 that would be put on my Yr 2013 Kindle Fire HDX 8.9" tablet soon. THEN I got a normal email from them days later that said, Whoops Sorry, we didn't mean to send that letter about updating your tablet.

      So I guess it's not included but that's fine with me. I don't need the improvements listed.

      On the Fire TV, my Echo App says that my Fire TV software version is "516012020" but I can't test any Alexa voice changes since I got the wrong remote when I sent for replacement for the lost one (got the stick one without voice - probably my fault) so I'm exchanging it this week.

      Hulu's been working for the voice search for a long time because they cooperate with Amazon quite a bit. Not so much, evidently Netflix ... and for Netflix to benefit from using that much easier search, I guess Amazon wants something that Netflix isn't too interested in giving.

      I love my basic Hulu direct without any ads. What a pleasure to see any series reruns, with ZERO ads. Worth $4/mo.

      OK. I used the Fire TV app to watch Hulu, and it's just the same as if I'm watching it on subscription via my tablet or via my blu-ray player's menu-offerings. The resume works. The captions also. And, no ads. Also it fills the screen.

      But when I MIRROR my tablet's Hulu app to the HDTV via FireTV box, it's a slightly smaller picture even though I did the FireTV display calibration.

      As with the tablet, SOMEtimes the Fire TV app may start to buffer when it had been fine for half an hour or so. And, as with the tablet, if I just go back to the menu and then tap on the episode, it resumes runs fine after that.

      I'm not sure what the advantage would be to subscribe to Hulu through Amazon since Amazon would want to take a 'cut' of such a deal and it would cost us more. I also like keeping some of these things separate from Amazon so we don't depend on Amazon too much.

      With Hulu I can do a Voice Search (when I had my voice search remote) and it would find both the Amazon Instant Videos that might exist for the search topic ALONG WITH any existing Hulu version of video or film. They got integrated pretty quickly!.

      Good to know about AirPlay, I long ago put on the 4 files that let me have Google Play Services and it's worked since then for and other Google Play apps but I actually prefer to use the Dolphin web browser to enjoy on the HDTV via mirroring, which works. It seems less limited than the app in its display. Let me know what you think if you try it.

    2. I don't have an Android device that will mirror to Fire TV apart from my iPad. In theory my Fire Phone will but it does not work (works with my Stick though) and I have been too busy to troubleshoot it. Surely something to do with network configuration, yet my brother's phone worked just fine. The iPad app is not great (doesn't support headset controls, no PIP), but at least it does the mirroring thing. Did you need Google Play Services before it would run on your Fire?

    3. Oddly, the new $50 does "screen sharing" (the new word combo for 'mirroring') while the HD6 doesn't, but the comparison table still says, "Screen Sharing available in coming months."

      Sounds like an esoteric prob with your Fire Phone.

      Yes, the app is the only one I had an interest in that required Google Play Services. Once I got it and used it, I found that I FAR prefer using the Dolphin Web Browser to view -- much smoother, better resolution even! and I can mirror that to the HDTV fine (a process that doesn't require google play services...

      I got an update tonight. v4.5.5.1 -- but all it says (after taking forever to install !) is:

      "... includes general improvements and performance enhancements."

    4. The Screen Sharing feature referred to is for Customer support only, not 'display mirroring'. CS can take control of your screen and see what is going on. They used to call this Mayday, but as this does not include seeing video of the customer rep on the new tablets, it probably didn't qualify as 'Mayday'. Obviously Mayday's days, in the classic sense, are numbered, since the only devices that support that are the HDX tablets and Fire Phone, which we'll probably never see successors to. My mom just bought an HD8 without any prompting on my part. She's had a 5 year old iPad, and I think she just does email and Words With Friends on that, so this might actually be nicer, except for needing to charge it up more often and more slowly. Zynga finally fixed the Fire version of WWF a few months ago, it was horrible for so very long.

      Ironically I made my second Mayday call ever this morning. Somehow I damaged my Fire Phone screen, while it was tucked safely in my vest pocket. I have no idea how. Looks like a bullet hit it. It still works, but I called Mayday to get a replacement ($99, still a bargain) as I don't know how long the glass will cohere. For some reason it has a glass back too, Maybe that is to make repairs easier? For the alternate eink screen that was in some early design? Anyway, they want the broken one back, which is cool. Should be simple to set up the new one from cloud backup. Hope so.

      As far as I can tell without actually having one, none of the new Fire tablets support anything other than Second Screen (fling). It is not mentioned in the product details, and the Help page just says if the option doesn't appear, you don't have that capability. I suspect they edited this feature out of Android because it doesn't work reliably (as I have found) and generates support calls. Even Fling stopped working on my Fire HD6 at home (works fine on my Fire Phone).

    5. Re on my Fire Phone one thing it fixed was the last of the Stage Fright security issues as reported by the Stagefright Detector app (from Zimperium labs, original reporters of the issue). Probably another Android patch and not much more than that. I haven't had a chance to check my HD6, but I'm sure it will report 'secure' there as well.

    6. Tom ! Gads, of course. Thanks for the correction re former-MayDay and ScreenSharing. I did get confirmation at one point that mirroring is done by all the Year 2013 HD and HDX models. As for 2015 models, they have somewhat less-costly power and speed capabilities, but they should be able to mirror -- I think that the processing might be somewhat slower with maybe more buffering. I read somewhere that only the $50 Fire model can't mirror, but I have nothing solid on that.

      Sorry to read about your phone prob ! Wow. MayDay is terrific. I watched as a friend, who uses it a LOT, make a long call with a very patient and knowledgeable rep. I had a curiosity happen with my Amazon music app. Everything disappeared. Nothing worked. The normal go-to's did not do the trick. But the reps tried several things and got it all working and it had to do with the order of how you force close before you clear data and then Uninstall. Everything came back.

      I've used MayDay only twice in 2 years but each time I had very good results from reps who seem to know quite a bit more than the average phone reps.

      My Windows laptop runs mirroring much sloweer than my HDX does, and it's a good laptop (the Surface pro 2) but not great for mirroring via the Fire TV, though I was also able to mirror my Windows phone by attaching it to the Surface Pro 2 :-)

      Ah, good to know of one thing that the new Kindle Fire update fixed (the security issues)...

      Thanks for all the info!

  4. Ironically, my HD6 (which is my most active Fire tablet) has still not gotten update, while my 2013 HD7 got it as soon as I turned it on (it had been powered down for months). On the latter, I was able to confirm that there were two (of around 8-9) unpatched Stagefright issues, and afterwards there are none. Most likely these were more difficult to exploit in the first place: the thing that made Stagefright so concerning was that infected video could be delivered by messaging client, which Fire tablets lack.

    Wonder where the heck the Fire OS 5 update is (for HD6)? I suppose I should be running some benchmarks so I can do 'before and after' comparisons. Lollipop is supposed to be a little better about performance (faster launches, better battery management). Looking forward to carousel free experience (not that it ever bothered me much, but it just didn't really add anything).

    1. Mine actually says (even though the previous update on it was v4.5.1
      I never posted it at the time, but I ran across a fairly simple fix for Stagefright. I should try to find that again. It made a lot of sense.

      I kind of like Carousel now that you can move it out of the way easily and never see it for the day again. But when I want, I do like being able to see easily my last activity or two, to get at them easily again. I don't really want pages of apps of this or that kind. I get worn out looking at screens of them

      I imagine they have to optimize everything for the HD 6 in that it has no SD slot, and RAM + storage space is short, and they're going to automate swapping in and out, to make it sort of transparent...

    2. Mine actually says (even though the previous update on it was v4.5.1
      I never posted it at the time, but I ran across a fairly simple fix for Stagefright. I should try to find that again. It made a lot of sense.

      I kind of like Carousel now that you can move it out of the way easily and never see it for the day again. But when I want, I do like being able to see easily my last activity or two, to get at them easily again. I don't really want pages of apps of this or that kind. I get worn out looking at screens of them

      I imagine they have to optimize everything for the HD 6 in that it has no SD slot, and RAM + storage space is short, and they're going to automate swapping in and out, to make it sort of transparent...

    3. I just received the OS 5 update today on my 4th gen HD 7. It is very smooth and seems to be fairly quick from task to task.

    4. Creative-Edge Images - Good to see your experience with this. (I guess that means HD6 is getting it now or soon, Tom Semple.)
      Thanks for for the info, C-E I.


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