Amazon: The Fire Phone

On Wednesday, Amazon made its first foray into the smartphone market with the release of the Fire Phone, a device that handily matches the best efforts of well-established players in the smartphone market such as Samsung, Google, and Apple, and packs a few more punches in for good measure. But do these standout features, which include an adaptable 3-D display and RedLaser-like environmental capabilities, justify its price, and more importantly, do they justify the switch from another top-tier smartphone?
The Fire Phone isn’t a budget smartphone for the masses, but it’s nonetheless priced competitively (on contract) with comparable phones such as the Galaxy S5 and iPhone 5S. It is available for $199 on AT&T exclusively, which may ultimately prove to be a hindrance in terms of units sold, as it means that many current smartphone users will also have to make the decision to switch carriers if on Verizon, T-Mobile, or Virgin.
The Fire Phone runs on a modified Android platform (akin to the much-maligned operating systems running on the Kindle line of devices), comes equipped with a 2.2 Ghz Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor, 2GB of RAM, and two cameras–a 13 MP rear camera that can shoot video in full HD as well as a 2.1 MP front-facing camera. Externally, the minimalist Fire Phone possesses a rubbery polyurethane grip like the Kindle Fire and aluminum/stainless steel buttons. A single elliptical button borders the bottom of the screen, and will likely serve a purpose similar to Apple’s Home Button. Volume buttons and a Firefly button (A novel Amazon service whose uses will be later explained) line the side of the slate-colored device, which is 8.9 mm thin.
Perhaps the most distinguishing features of Amazon’s newest brainchild, and the ones that will ultimately make-it-or-break-it for the fledgling phone, are Firefly and Dynamic Perspective.

Firefly’s tagline is “Illuminate Your World”, and Amazon hopes to achieve this by putting to use its vast archives of commercial data and digital content. The premise is this: A user holds the Fire Phone up to a source of audio or points its camera at an object, and Amazon searches online for the media currently playing, for contact information associated with an image of a business, and–perhaps most crucial to the internet commerce giant–the option to buy said object through Amazon in a fashion similar to their 1-Click-Purchase option on capable Kindles. Firefly even has a dedicated button on the side of the phone allowing for instant access, as mentioned earlier.

Dynamic Perspective is the other much-touted feature on the Fire Phone–it makes use of four “ultra-low power” cameras on its front that track users’ head and face movements, which render effects onscreen based not only on the orientation of the phone, but the orientation of the users themselves with respect to the phone. Unfortunately, this means only one person can view the 3-D effects of the phone at a time, since they are rendered relative to a single user’s position. Dynamic Perspective showed great promise when viewed on Amazon’s maps services, rendering a pop-up Empire State Building, but unfortunately did not immediately seem to offer any benefits to the users in terms of tangible usefulness. Amazon has already released a Dynamic Perspective SDK to developers.
Other gesture-based features include Auto-Scroll (which proved to be a gimmick on the Galaxy phones) and, in line with the interfaces of the Kindle Fires, a “Carousel” home screen which can be scrolled by tilting the phone left and right. Finally, Amazon’s new (free!) Mayday service promises to connect a user to a live Amazon employee (similar to iPhone’s Genius Bar) within 15 seconds. Currently, average response time stands at 9.75 seconds. Predictive services such as ASAP cache media such as TV shows and movies so they are ready for playback anytime.
Amazon is also promoting free, unlimited cloud services for Fire Phone users allowing access to a user’s media across any of their other Amazon devices.
The Fire Phone is indubitably an excellent device, and what it may lack in terms of quality applications is made up for by an outstanding array of services, some of which may feel gimmicky (see Auto-Scroll), but others that offer significant potential, such as Dynamic Perspective. Its barriers include a very limited carrier offering (presently “exclusively” on AT&T) and its status as a newcomer into the smartphone market, but Amazon certainly has the capability to advertise its phone extensively, and that may be what ultimately gives it credibility in the public eye as a competent, cool, phone.
Phone Amazon Fire Phone Apple iPhone 5s Samsung Galaxy S5 (CDMA)
Carriers AT&T AT&T Boost Mobile
Boost Mobile Sprint
Cricket Verizon Wireless
Sprint Virgin Mobile
U.S. Cellular
Verizon Wireless
Boost Mobile
Weight 160 g 112 g 145 g
Display Size 4.7″ 4″ 5.1″
OS Android-based Fire OS 3.5.0 iOS Android
Processor 2.2 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 Apple A7 2.5 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 801
Here are the remainder of the Fire Phone’s specs:
Weight: 160g
4.7-inch IPS LCD HD (1280 x 720 resolution) display with 315 pixel per inch (ppi) density, 590 nits of brightness and Gorilla Glass 3
2.2GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor with Adreno 330 GPU
2GB of RAM
32/64GB of storage
free cloud storage for all Amazon content
13-megapixel rear-facing camera with f/2.0, optical image stabilization (OIS), dedicated hardware key and unlimited photo storage
2.1-megapixel front-facing camera
3D Dynamic Perspective technology (four corner cameras)
dual stereo speakers with Dolby Digital Plus surround sound
Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
Wi-Fi channel bonding
Bluetooth 3.0
global LTE support (9 bands)
2400mAh battery
Android-based Fire OS 3.5.0 with Amazon services integration including Amazon Cloud Drive, Amazon Music, Mayday, Firefly (with dedicated button), Silk Browser
premium headphones with remote and mic

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