Amazon has entered the hardware business a long time ago, with their famous Kindle Tablet line and a dedicated app store, web browser and exclusive services such as Prime. Their latest products have all been based on Android, with an added layer on top containing Amazon’s UI and apps all wrapped in a single package. However, while Amazon was always a player on the tablet and e-Reader front, they never had a phone line to compete in as well. That is, until now, with the announcement of their latest hardware device, the Fire Phone. What’s this phone all about, you might wonder? Come with us as we try to find out!
As we said, this Fire Phone is Amazon’s first entry into the smartphones territory, and Amazon seems to be really proud of it. It has been a long time in the making, the rumors have always been around, and now it finally reaches the market. Well, sort of. The Fire Phone is an AT&T exclusive, much like the network versions of the Amazon tablets and e-readers, and is being sold for $199 with a two year contract for the 32GB version, and $299 for the 64GB version. Off contract, it will be available for a whopping $650. This comes as no surprise, considering Amazon’s relationship with AT&T until now, but it’s still a baffling move if the intention is to reach the mass market.
In terms of hardware, the Fire Phone is a unique device in a lot of strange ways. The phone comes with a 4.7″ display with 1280×720 resolution, not a champion by any stretch of the imagination, especially considering the steep off-contract price, but definitely serviceable. Choosing not to go with the big 5+” screens, it lands more in the Moto X size category and is meant to be used with one hand. The screen is also protected by Gorilla Glass 3 and the device itself has a rubberized feel, a far cry from the aluminium that seems to dominate these days. The glass back also adds some very needed style to the phone and should give it a nice tactile feel. It comes with dual-stereo speakers for above average sound quality, and the included earbuds use a magnetic system that should make them tangle-free. Nice details that do matter.
Of course, this isn’t the major point of interest of the device, though. Amazon apparently decided to not step into the market without some sort of advantage or unique feature, and the Fire Phone delivers in the form of hand-free motion controls. The device has 4 cameras in the front that track the user’s head movements and allow for navigation and 3D parallax effects in real-time without the need for a 3D screen, 3D glasses or anything like that. We have seen this before, but not with this level of interactivity or precision. Of course, the point of this addition is to make apps more unique and interactive: not only could the user potentially control the device with their head movements, but by also tilting the phone itself you can interact with the device. For example, by slowly tilting the device, you can auto-scroll through images and text without needing to use your fingers. You can see under certain icons or screen elements. You can quickly twist the phone to invoke the menu bars, things like that. Amazon is also lending the opportunity for 3rd party developers to include this technology in their apps, and you should see a large number of motion-enabled apps in the near future.
When it comes to the rest of the hardware specs, however, the phone is no slouch, containing a Quad Core 2.2GHz Snapdragon SoC solution with an Adreno 330 GPU and 2GB of RAM. These are decidedly high-end specs and the device should have no issue chewing through anything you throw at it. The camera is also pretty good and decidedly won some people over in direct comparison tests with the competition, featuring a 13MP sensor and optical image stabilization. Being that Android has always been a slouch in the camera department in comparison with iOS, we can’t wait to see how the Fire Phone will perform in real-world scenarios, outside of marketing shots and comparisons. The phone also contains built-in product recognition, recognizing QR and bar codes, album covers, pieces of art, even TV shows and books and directly linking you to more information and purchase options (all through Amazon, of course).
One of the things about the Amazon Fire OS is that, of course, you are completely disconnected from Google services by default and instead are directly tied into the Amazon ecosystem. You get direct access to Kindle, Prime services such as Video, Amazon’s MP3 library and much more. What this means is that, of course, this can be a great alternative for people not already tied into Google’s services and should be especially useful if you already use Amazon’s services. If you do not, this will probably be a hindrance and not something you would actually want to deal with on a daily basis. It comes down to what kind of usage you give to your phone, and what kind of services you use. In summation, this device kind of feels like a phone with a gimmick, but there’s a bit more to it than that. The hardware is capable, the services are pretty good, and the constructions seems to be just as high-end as the rest. However, it’s definitely a device tailored for Amazon consumption and not a good fit for everyone. Maybe it’s a good place to start if you actually want to start using Amazon services such as Prime, but for everyone else, it all may just kind of feel like a real-life ad for their services that just also happens to come with a pretty good phone.