Amazon Fire Phone Review: Services Over Specs

After dominating the written word, Amazon has spent the last few years on a crusade to overtake the consumer-market in digital media. Just like it did with e-books, Amazon wants to be the premier destination for digital-video and music, and it is doing so by offering Amazon brand tablets, cable-boxes, desktop applications and websites, and now the company has introduced a smartphone.
It’s safe to say that most consumers already feel that the smartphone market is overcrowded. Giants in the industry like Apple, Samsung and Google make even global competitors like HTC seem like underdogs at the moment. Amazon does have one particular ace up its sleeve, and that’s an amazing connection to a digital marketplace and digital goods; and it’s hoping that Amazon’s ‘Prime’ services will be enough to persuade buyers to jump ship from their current devices.
Amazon has proven that it can identify customer needs that are absent from the current marketplace. Even in the over-saturated tablet market, Amazon found amazing success with the Kindle fire HDX ‘Mayday’ service and the X-ray service for digital content. Now Amazon hopes to bring that same integration and outside the box thinking to a smartphone.
That said, the launch of the Amazon Fire phone still feels like a test. Currently the phone is only available on AT&T and costs $200 even with a contract, a surprisingly high price point considering the uphill battle that the phone will have to fight. You can pay no-money-down if you use AT&T ‘Next’ payments on your plan. Even the design of the phone lacks a certain finished-quality that you would expect from a new smartphone line this late in the game.
This isn’t the lightest phone on the market and it’s not the thinnest phone on the market, two categories that many smartphone manufacturers use to sell products. The phone was designed to be used with one hand and unlike some of the newer phones that are on the market today that are pushing towards larger screens, this screen measures-in at a comfortable 4.7 inches.
Dressed in all black the phone won’t be winning any design awards for its aesthetic appeal, but it’s functional and minimalistic. The bottom of the phone is where you will find your stereo speakers, microphone and micro USB 2.0 charging port. The second half of the stereo speaker system is on the top of the device near the 3.5mm headphone jack and the device power button. On the left is where you’ll find your volume control your camera and Firefly quick access, along with the nano-SIM slot.
With a device that is so entertainment-centric, the 4.7-inch 720p LCD screen left a lot to be desired on paper, but measures better when viewed during testing. The screen itself wont beat-out other flagships, but unless you’re comparing them side-by-side I don’t think most consumers will have an issue with the display’s overall capacity.
It would be impossible to talk about the new Amazon phone without talking about the new “dynamic perspective” that the device introduced. Just like the ‘Mayday’ button was the center of the press-event when the Kindle Fire HDX was introduced, the Dynamic Perspective functions were the center of this year’s Kindle Fire smartphone introduction.
The device uses four ultra-low power specialized cameras and four infrared LEDs built into the front face of Fire for tracking, then using a dedicated custom processor, and real-time computer vision algorithms, it adjusts the screen to your movements.
You move your head to the right, and you can see more to the left and the other way around. Using one hand you can auto-scroll, tilt to reveal menus and other details on a page. You can swivel and “peek for quicker, easier navigation and a better media and entertainment experience,” and of course more functions will most likely open-up down the road.
Amazon’s example statement on the feature has been:
“with auto-scroll, customers can read a long web page or a book without ever having to touch the screen; tilt in Amazon Music shows song lyrics; swivel instantly reveals quick actions; peek in Maps shows layered information like Yelp ratings and reviews.”
It works wonderfully well and it’s just one of those intuitions that Amazon developers had, that played-out well on the device in the end. After testing the Amazon Fire, anytime that I had to use my touchscreen on my iPhone 5s was a reminder that I no longer had the feature.
Two other services that are sure to be popular with the marketing teams at Amazon are “Firefly” and the already launched “Mayday” button, both of which appear on the Amazon Fire phone. Since the “Mayday” service has already been integrated into other Amazon devices, I’m going to focus on Firefly.
To use the feature you simply hold down the camera button, and in just a few moments small, white bubbles appear on the screen ready to capture any information that is in front of them. You can use this feature to capture useful information like addresses or websites, email addresses or telephone numbers from flyers or posters, or even a magazine you have on hand.
As an entertainment identifier the service worked pretty well, as a shopping assistant, it works extremely well. Simply by scanning a barcode while I was out, I could find competitive prices instantly. Of course using the service in the field there were a few kinks, but overall the service was enjoyable.
As I mentioned before the entire purpose of the Amazon Fire smartphone seems to be centered on convenience and entertainment, and in those two departments the phone does remarkably well. Overall Amazon is selling you a device with services not specs, depending on how you feel about that will probably dictate how you feel about the phone.
The overall design of the phone, the 720 P screen, and a few new features that haven’t been exactly field-tested over the long-haul, make the phone still feel like a prototype at this point in my testing.
The phone coming with one year of Amazon Prime, easier navigation techniques and popular services like Mayday and Firefly, make the phone a perfect fit for someone that needs to keep children entertained or may be constantly on the go. It would be perfect for anyone that may enjoy a simpler phone, with more to offer than just bleeding edge tech.
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