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Amazon’s Fire Phone

Yesterday founder and CEO of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, took the stage at a press event to announce the newest member of their “Fire” line of products, the Fire Phone. Speculation and rumors had been flying around for some time that Amazon would announce a smartphone aimed at the same consumers who purchase Kindle Fire tablets instead of an iPad or Android tablet.

Fire Phone Physical

The Physical

The look and feel of the Fire Phone isn’t really anything to write home about. I say that only because if you were to sit it face-up on a table next to any other Android based device in a similar size class, you might have a hard time picking it out of the lineup. It’s 4.7 inch 720p screen is fairly run-of-the-mill, with the exception of the fact that they’ve worked hard to give you the ability to make the screen extremely bright for viewing in sunlight. One thing that makes the Fire Phone physically different is the number of front facing cameras – there are five. Why in the world would you need five front facing cameras? Dynamic Perspective is a 3D like experience made possible by four of the five cameras watching your face at all times allowing you to turn the phone and experience an enhanced parallax effect. Visually it’s really cool. When it comes to battery life and processor speed, one has to wonder if those resources couldn’t be put to better use. The one thing that Amazon has done with the Fire Phone that I really like is the pricing : storage ratio they’ve chosen, which is 32GB for $199 or 64GB for $299 on contract exclusively through AT&T. I hope more smartphone manufacturers start dropping the 16GB models and make 32GB the base. Check out the full specs list at the bottom of this article if you want the nitty-gritty.

Firefly Fire Phone

The Software

This is a very mixed bag. The “Fire OS” is a phone version of the same operating system that runs on the Kindle Fire, which is a fork of Android. The main difference between Fire OS and current versions of Android is that Amazon has hidden many of the features that Android users really like in an attempt to make the experience simpler and more enjoyable. To most who will read this, it’s not a good experience. Let’s face it, if you’re reading this you’re a geek and you want to see the underpinnings and be able to do stuff that your mom and grandma couldn’t give a crap less about. But that’s also one of the redeeming factors: it’s easy to use and extremely simple. So maybe this phone would be good for someone who doesn’t really know their way around a smartphone. Undoubtedly, this phone will be great for some consumers, just not for anyone I know.

For me the biggest rub is that at the end of the day, Amazon is really in the business of selling you stuff and their devices are basically vending machines for the things they sell. This has never been more evident than when you see one of the Fire Phones features, Firefly, in action. There is a dedicated button on the side of the phone, that if you click it once it will activate the camera app, but if you hold it will activate Firefly. This allows you to hold your phone up to anything around you and it will find that product and it can be ordered right then and there from Amazon. Now, on the one hand, this is really freaking cool. They showed footage of someone watching a movie, used Firefly to analyze the movie – as it was playing – and showed you the title of the movie, IMDB info, and allowed you to order it or stream it from Amazon. Amazing. But the other side of that is that there is a dedicated button built into this phone to make it easy to buy things from Amazon, and easier for Amazon to sell them to you.


The Services

Amazon already boasts a lot of good services, like Amazon Prime, and they are expanding that lineup for customers who purchase the Fire Phone. First is Prime itself: you get a full year for free, which is a $99 value, when you purchase the phone. That by itself is a really good deal. The second feature is unlimited photo backup storage on Amazon’s Cloud Drive. This is huge. Over the past year or so, several photo management solutions have come and gone, and most of them failed because they couldn’t afford to scale the amount of storage needed to handle everyone’s photos. Amazon won’t have that problem. Why? Because they already have the scale to handle just about anything. Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) is already home to tons of data. How much? Ever heard of Dropbox? Yeah, every one of the 200 million+ Dropbox accounts that exist are running on EC2. So Amazon can handle it. No problem. This feature could also be exciting for folks who don’t buy the Fire Phone, as this feature may eventually spread (yeah, I said it) to anyone with a Prime subscription.

The final service worth mentioning is called Mayday, and we’ve all seen in in commercials already. You press the Mayday button and you get connected to a person on the other end who works for Amazon and is there to help you. Whether or not you get the attractive redhead from the promo videos is doubtful, but having a live person to speak to immediately if/when you have a problem could be a lifesaver for the audience Amazon hopes to attract to this phone.


The Conclusion

There are always trade offs when it comes to moving to a smaller platform like Amazon and their Fire OS. A positive is that Amazon has the infrastructure to make sure that all of their services are great and always working. On the other hand, you have to get your apps through the Amazon Appstore, which is basically a filtered version of the Google Play store. This may not be a bad thing, but who’s to say what is getting filtered out? At the end of the day, the Fire Phone is very much like the Kindle Fire line: solid, but not remarkable.


Full Specs list for the Amazon Fire Phone

Size 5.5″ x 2.6″ x 0.35″ (139.2mm x 66.5mm x 8.9mm)
Weight 5.64 ounces (160 grams)
Processor 2.2GHz Quad-core Snapdragon 800 CPU, with Adreno 330 GPU and 2GB of RAM
Display 4.7″ HD LCD display, with 1280 x 720 resolution at 315 ppi, 590 cd/m2 brightness (typical), 1000:1 contrast ratio (typical)
Cameras 13 MP rear-facing camera, multi-frame HDR, auto focus, optical image stabilization, f/2.0 5-element wide aperture lens, LED flash
2.1 MP front-facing camera
OS Fire OS 3.5.0
Storage 32 GB or 64 GB
Cloud Storage Free cloud storage for all Amazon content, and photos taken with Fire phone
Battery Battery size: 2400mAh. Talk time: up to 22 hours; standby time: up to 285 hours. Video playback: up to 11 hours; audio playback: up to 65 hours.
Video recording 1080p HD video recording at 30 fps (front- and rear-facing cameras)
Audio playback Dual stereo speakers with Dolby Digital Plus audio processing
TV and Video Supports screen mirroring and Second Screen
Content formats supported Audio: Dolby Digital (AC-3), Dolby Digital Plus (E-AC-3), non-DRM AAC, MP3, MIDI, OGG, PCM/WAVE, AAC LC/ELD, HE-AAC (v1 & v2), AMR-NB, AMR-WB, AMR-WB+, Audible Enhanced format (AAX); Video: MPEG4, VP8, H.264/MPEG4/AVC,MPEG4 SP, H.263,AVI,HDCP2.x, PlayReady DRM; Images: JPG, GIF, PNG, BMP, GIF87a,GIF89a; Viewable docs: PDF, unprotected MOBI, PRC natively, DOC, DOCX, Kindle (AZW), KF8, TXT
Sensors Dynamic Perspective sensor system with invisible infrared illumination, gyroscope, accelerometer, magnetometer, barometer, proximity sensor, ambient light sensor
Location GPS, Assisted GPS, GLONASS, Wi-Fi/Cellular location, and Digital compass
Cellular UMTS/HSPA+/DC-HSDPA (850, 900, 1700/2100, 1900, 2100 MHz), Quad-band GSM/EDGE (850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz), 9 bands of LTE (Bands 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 17, 20), supports carrier aggregation
Connectivity 802.11a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi, up to 300 Mbps with channel bonding; Bluetooth 3.0 wireless technology; NFC enabled
Headphones Premium, tangle-free headphones with remote and mic
Rating for hearing aids M4, T4
SIM Card Pre-installed Nano SIM card
Ports Micro USB 2.0
3.5mm headphone
Warranty and Service 1-year Limited Warranty included. Use of Fire phone is subject to these terms
Included in the Box Amazon Fire Phone with Fire OS 3.5.0
Premium headphones with remote and mic
Micro USB to USB charging cable
USB power adapter (5W)
Quick Start Guide

About Justin North

Justin North
Yeah. 220... 221, whatever it takes.
  • Anon

    Been reading for a long time. You only give a shit if its Apple. Welcome to Engadget Wannabe 2.0.

    • opnsrce

      Pretty long article for someone who “doesn’t give a shit”.

      • Anon

        Anyone can write a book when all they want to do is sound like an elitist. Nothing but a history of “looking down” on anything not Apple, and going absolutely apeshit over Apple stuff that is years behind other offerings. Pure fucking fanboyism.