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Early impressions: Amazon Fire Phone

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July 24, 2014

Gizmag takes an early look at the Amazon Fire Phone

Gizmag takes an early look at the Amazon Fire Phone

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Apple launched the iPhone seven years ago. The first flagship Android phones hit the scene four and a half years ago. Hell, even Windows Phone has been around for over three years. But now Amazon is launching its first smartphone in mid-2014. Though we aren't yet ready to publish our full review, we have the Amazon Fire Phone in house and have some early thoughts.

Physically, the Fire Phone looks like the iPhone 4s and Nexus 4 spent a lonely evening together, downed a bottle of whiskey and – oops – made a baby. Like those two flagships of yesteryear, the Fire Phone has a glass back. Borrowing more from the Nexus 4, it also has a plastic band wrapping around its edge. But more like the iPhone, it has a physical home button below its screen. Amazon's first smartphone is partying like it's 2012.

The Fire Phone has a glass back, and looks more than a little like 2012's Nexus 4

So how does Amazon try to differentiate its flagship smartphone when it's this late in the game? Well, the answer appears to be with gimmicks.

Dynamic Perspective is Amazon's name for a 3D-ish technology that simulates the experience of seeing objects on the screen from different angles when you tilt your face or the phone (it uses a series of front-facing cameras to track your gaze).

So far Dynamic Perspective is kinda neat, but also doesn't really add much to the experience of using a smartphone. Sure, it will open the door to some interesting new games (a clay sculpting game that's bundled with the phone, for example, shows this potential). But, so far, I'm wondering if Amazon, an innovative company, is trying a bit too hard to innovate in a product category where that well is running dry.

Dynamic Perspective is a 3D-ish technology that lets you tilt your head (or phone) to see ...

FireFly is another gimmicky feature, but it has more of a practical side to it as well (even if it's as much for Amazon's benefit as it is yours). When you long-press on the Fire Phone's dedicated camera button, you can hold the phone up to objects in your environment and it will try to identify them. It can scan things like physical products, songs, TV shows, movies, email addresses, web page URLs and QR codes.

FireFly appears to be building on the same technology from Amazon's Flow app, which can identify products on store shelves, so you can save a few bucks and convert your local brick & mortar store into an Amazon showroom. Only now it's expanded to include digital content as well.

FireFly is a part gimmicky, part practical feature that lets you identify products (and ot...

So far, FireFly seems to be working fairly well, accurately identifying most products that I've scanned. The dedicated FireFly button can have you identifying a product within a few seconds of pulling out your phone. And of course anything you scan is just a tap or two away from being added to your Amazon shopping cart. It's great for Amazon's bottom line, but I can see this being handy for more than a few loyal customers as well.

The Fire Phone's UI is a lot like a shrunken-down version of the Kindle Fires' recent interface. That means lots of dark mesh backgrounds with white and gray text. There's also some gesture control, as you can tilt the phone in different directions to bring up various menus. Fire OS covers most of the standard smartphone bases (apart from any Google apps), but I also don't see anything about Fire OS so far that would make me recommend this software over iOS, Android or Windows Phone.

The Fire Phone's UI will look very familiar to Kindle Fire owners

That ties into my overall first impressions of the Fire Phone. It's a solid enough handset, but I don't see enough compelling reasons to buy it over any of the current – more mature – flagships out there. Lately I've been using the LG G3, and it's a bit jarring to switch from it to the Fire Phone. The G3's display size and resolution, robust software and camera quality are all better.

Granted, I cover smartphones for a living and am always using one of the latest high-end flagships. I suspect the Fire Phone is aimed more at people who haven't upgraded their phones in three or four years. But even if you're one of those folks, it's hard to see me recommending the Fire Phone to you.

The Fire Phone has a 4.7-in screen with 720p resolution

Amazon's Kindle Fire tablets have always been priced aggressively, helping to justify their limited software (which is basically a virtual Amazon shopping mall) by giving you hardware that would normally sell for much more than Amazon's asking price. But the Fire Phone rings up for about the same price as the iPhone 5s, Galaxy S5, HTC One (M8) and LG G3. I'll be spending more time with the Fire Phone to allow my opinion time to evolve, but right now I'd recommend every single one of those phones ahead of the Fire Phone. Without the slightest bit of hesitation.

The Fire Phone is available now from Amazon, for US$650 off-contract or $200 on-contract (exclusive to AT&T in the US) and includes a full year of Amazon Prime with every purchase. Stay tuned for Gizmag's full review.

Product page: Amazon

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About the Author
Will Shanklin Will Shanklin is Gizmag's Mobile Tech Editor, and has been part of the team since 2012. Will has a Master's degree from U.C. Irvine and a Bachelor's from West Virginia University. He currently lives in New Mexico with his wife, Jessica.
  All articles by Will Shanklin
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6 Comments

I can't see this as anything but bombing. It's got two of the biggest factors against it, price and exclusivity. Trying to go up against other Android flagships that have so much more to offer than just a gimmick for the same price and only available on AT&T, might as well quit now.

ArthurGD3
25th July, 2014 @ 09:43 am PDT

Will's critiques are absolutely wonderfu. They are orderly and beautifully presented. In some ways the very best of Gizmag. It's evident that he puts lots of work into these presentations.

And while I have a 10year old dead samsung pocket PC in the drawer next to my old Post Hemi, I think that an awful lot of credit goes to Steve and what he managed to create. Clearly he understood what was wanted and needed. Yes he was a genius.

So there is a part of me that objects to seeing all of this competition. It almost seems as if the US Patent office is in collusion with others from elsewhere and did not protect Apple. There is no question that the University of Dayton played a role in all this.

To be sure some of the manufacturers have exceeded Apple's specs and are to be commended by that. But Apple went on to create the greatest PC's and everything is integrated so that's a huge plus that Will does not talk about.

And Amazon's recent Pop Ups deceitfully trying to defeat Google Chrome are irritatingly disgusting. I would never use an Amazon app because of them, which see so childishly regressive.

The recent announcement of Apple and IBM working together also greatly strengthens the Case for Apple in the Business world.

Despite the case that Steve Declared the iOS operating system to never have and emulator it has the finest of all if you remember your hand held history. And yes it is programmable.

Will seems not to understand this.

Bill

Island Architect
25th July, 2014 @ 09:48 am PDT

Meh, US$650! No way, even $200 with a god-awful contract with a cell monopoly. There's not enough of a compeling reason to buy it. IN this case, a OnePlus 1 makes more sense at a much better price.

Nicolas Zart
25th July, 2014 @ 09:55 am PDT

I was looking forward to checking out this phone, and had already begun letting people know about it. But I only did that because I thought the price point was $200 without a contract. Maybe that was unrealistic, but i figured Amazon would loose money on the phone to get a foot hold in the market. I agree with Arthur, this isn't going far.

Ross Jenkins
25th July, 2014 @ 10:25 am PDT

Will,

I love your reviews of SmartPhones but you (and no-one else) ever talks about implementation of USB and OTG. Apple of course don't support standards but there is variable implementation of the OTG protocol. My company supply hardware that attaches to smartphones to talk to external instrumentation on 433 and 868 MHz. We love Samsung because they not only implement OTG but they also tell us about it. Others implement it but don't say so in their technical literature. The only way we can find out is by plugging it in and seeing if the LED lights up. Perhaps you can plug in a MicroUSB device that needs power and tell us if it powers up. We can send you one.

Toby

Toby Mottram
25th July, 2014 @ 12:44 pm PDT

I like the FireFly scanning text feature so I don't have to type (phone numbers web addresses).  Fortunately, I can do this on my iPhone already with a Free App that is very accurate ( VisuCaller).

Mona Rgne
26th July, 2014 @ 08:41 am PDT
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