My thoughts on the Amazon Fire Phone

June 24, 2014

 As expected, Amazon launched its new Amazon Fire Phone last week.  I watched the launch video and have a few thoughts on the device.  Like the Kindle Fire tablets, the Fire phone is geared towards those who are already heavily invested in the Amazon ecosystem.  Bezos made a point of stating that one year of Amazon Prime will be included with the purchase of the phone.  

The two defining features of the Fire phone are Firefly and dynamic perspective.  I understand from various other reviews that the hardware specs are middle of the road for smartphones.

Firefly does actually seem quite useful.  The phone uses its camera to match real life objects with the Amazon (and third parties’) databases to bring up additional information on the object and – naturally – to allow you to purchase it from Amazon.  It can recognise objects, sounds, movies and TV shows.  Examples shown by Bezos include identifying a hard copy book and linking to buy from Amazon, recognising a song playing and matching it to the IheartMusic database for streaming, picking up the X-ray for Movies from an episode of Game of Thrones and bringing up details on a piece of art.  Bezos announced that a developer SDK for Firefly is available, so it will be interesting to see how that takes off in future.  Firefly is something I could see users actually making use of in their daily lives.

The second feature touted by Bezos is the dynamic perspective in which the image on the screen appears to be 3D.  A significant portion of Bezos’ presentation was devoted to this, both demonstrating and explaining how it was achieved.  Now, I’m the first to admit that dynamic perspective looks really cool.  However, I do question what added value it brings to the device.  Admittedly the tilt to scroll feature may be useful.

One thing I felt missing from Bezos’ presentation was a fuller description of how the device would work to achieve everyday tasks.  I did like the three panel system where tilting the device to the left or right brings up additional menu items.  He demonstrated how in the SMS function tilting to the right would bring up the menu to add a picture to the message.  I rewatched Steve Jobs’ presentation of the original iPhone and in it he stated that the killer app of a cellphone is making calls.  That is the one feature that distinguishes the phone from a tablet and I would have liked to have seen a demonstration.  I would also liked to have seen how phone, contacts, email and web browsing work together in the new Fire phone.  I look forward to hearing reviews from real users as to how it functions in daily life once it’s out in the wild.

In summary then;  IF you’re living in the US, IF you’re in the market for a new phone, IF you’re already invested in the Amazon ecosystem and IF voice activated assistance such as Siri or Google Now is not important to you then the Amazon Fire phone may be of interest.  Otherwise, stick with an iPhone or more general Android device.

For me personally, even if it were available to Canadians, there is nothing in the Fire phone that would tempt me away from my iPhone, invested as I am in Apple’s ecosystem.  On the other hand, if Amazon were to introduce Firefly and dynamic perspective to the next generation of Kindle Fires, I would be very happy.

If you’ve ordered the Amazon Fire phone, let me know in the comments.

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