Should You Set Your Phone on Fire?
Last week, Amazon unveiled its latest mobile device designed to lure users into buying something from the e-commerce giant by being extraordinarily useful, convenient, and cool (or perhaps hot) to them: the Amazon Fire Phone. Here's what you need to know about the Fire smartphone...
Review: The Amazon Fire Smartphone
Amazon is no stranger to the mobile hardware business, having dominated the ebook reader market with their popular Kindle and Kindle Fire lineup for several years. With the introduction of the Fire smartphone, they're hoping to make inroads into an already-crowded market that includes heavyweights like the iPhone and Samsung's Android-powered Galaxy smartphones.
In the “cool” department are features such as “3D perspectives” which add depth to maps and images; four front-facing cameras that track users’ head movement and shift display perspective; and the “Firefly” image and audio recognition system that identifies objects or songs presented via the phone and practically buys them for you automatically – if they’ve available through Amazon.com, of course.
The 3D and shifting-perspectives stuff is there to give you a much better look at things you may want to buy. You can tilt your head to “walk around” an object, see it from bottom and top, and so on. As you “move around” the object, perspective-sensitive selling point blurbs pop up for you to read. A “Buy” button appears if the item is in Amazon’s cavernous store.
"Instead of clicking a whole bunch of stuff, you hold the phone and it does things for you," said Dave Cotter, chief executive of SquareHub and a former Amazon exec who got his privileged paws on the Fire Phone two months ago. The “things” the Fire Phone does best are things that help Amazon sell more stuff; other things a smartphone does are done well enough by the Fire Phone, but not five-stars well.
The display is a modest 4.7 inches of 720p resolution, although video recording at up to 1080p is possible. The Dolby Surround speakers are described as “tinny, disappointing” by those who’ve heard them, definitely inferior to the Kindle’s speakers. The chassis is reminiscent of the HTC One but blockier and plainer looking. Build quality is solid and the Fire Phone is pretty svelte at 5.5" x 2.6" x 0.35" and 5.64 oz. (139.2mm x 66.5mm x 8.9mm and 160 gms.)
There’s a 13-megapixel rear-facing camera and a 2.1-megapixel one pointing at you. Internal storage is 32 or 64 GB, and cloud storage is free for all Amazon content and photos taken with the Fire Phone.
Fire OS: A Really Hot Operating System?
The operating system has some shortcomings. It’s called “Fire OS v3.5,” and it’s based on a forked version of Android 4.2.2. Support for Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) wasn’t added to Android until v4.3, so Fire OS does not support Fitbit exercise counters, heart rate monitors, and other modern Bluetooth accessories. Amazon says it will update Fire OS to something based on Android 4.4, but doesn’t say when. So don't hold your breath for that to happen any time soon.
The maps application is based on Nokia’s HERE map program with rendering and other UI programming done by Amazon. Maps look cool in 3D and the perspective-shifting Dynamic View. But there is no public transit data; that’s a deal breaker for many people. Again, Amazon says, “We’re working it, dunno when.”
Current users of Androidn smartphones will notice that multi-tasking is missing. There is no easy way to flip back to an app you were using a moment ago; you have to hit the home button and find it again through the Carousel or Grid view.
Pricing, Perks, and a Marketing Mistake
Pricing is $199 with a two-year AT&T contract or $649 with no contract. Oh, you're a Verizon, Sprint or T-Mobile customer? Too bad... no Fire Phone for you. Seriously, Amazon? You don't remember how the AT&T-only thing worked out for the iPhone? Introducing a new smartphone that's tied exclusively to a single carrier is *SO* 2010, guys.
You get a free year of Prime membership with the purchase of a Fire Phone, a $99 value that includes unlimited two-day shipping and Amazon’s relatively limited collections of video and music content. (See Free Amazon Prime Music: Worth It?) If Amazon would partner with T-Mobile, which recently announced that streaming music will no longer burn your mobile data, that would be a big plus.
Overall, the first Fire Phone looks like a beta version. You can be sure that a Fire Phone 2, Fire Phone HD, or something similarly named will follow in time for the 2014 holiday shopping season. It'll probably be bigger, cheaper, more powerful, and if Amazon smartens up, it will be offered on the Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile networks. But for those who can't wait, it can be ordered now, for delivery on or after July 25. I wouldn’t replace an existing smartphone with it. I might buy one if I had a shopping addiction. What about you?
Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 23 Jun 2014
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Should You Set Your Phone on Fire? (Posted: 23 Jun 2014)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved