The Amazon Fire Phone – What is it?

Amazon, one of the largest online retailers in the world shook things up a bit with the release of the Kindle a few years back. The Seattle based company again disrupted the market with the debut of the Kindle Fire tablet.  At launch, it was the least expensive tablet available, by a fairly considerable margin, and now… a phone?


Amazon has been known to innovate, from the attempted droid deliveries (shot down by the FAA, at least for the time being) to reinventing online shipping with one click and recommendations, a feature that uses product reviews and previous purchases to suggest items. They’re a company that transforms. Here we will examine the Fire Phone and see – are they legitimate future contenders or just trying to cash in on an already saturated market?


amazon's fire phone


The kindle Phone has some pretty impressive specs, with a quad-core 2.2Ghz Snapdragon processor, 32/64 GB of storage, 2 GB of Ram, and 4.7 inch display with a pixel density of 315 ppi (definitely on the high side). The battery is (unfortunately) not removable, but is 2400mAh. The main camera is 13 MP with a 2.1 MP front, but the other cameras have a unique feature. Well, more specifically, four unique features, and collectively, they make the first major differentiator.


The Dynamic Perspective definitely brings something new to the table. It senses your facial movements and acts accordingly. Imagine, instead of swiping side to side with your finger, you simply tilt your head to the left and your phone screen moves. Tilt down and it scrolls. It also makes objects appear 3D by “floating” the images in front of the screen using the four cameras to detect your movement. The major question here is: Is this technology the future of smartphones, or will this go the way of the HTC EVO 3D, with most customers disabling the 3D aspect? Overall, it’s certainly respectable hardware, and the Dynamic Perspective is a brilliant development.


amazon's fire phone


The Fire Phone runs on Fire OS version 3.5. (a quasi-Android release developed exclusively for Amazon and based on the 4.2 Jellybean, despite the numeric differences.) We were hoping for 4.4 release, but alas, we saw what the Kindle Fire’s OS looked like, so our hopes were unjustified. Moreover, it won’t be running Chrome or Google Play – both very disconcerting.


While Amazon has its own variety of apps, to the tune of 240,000 – this is still only a fraction of the standard Android and Apple markets.  At present, the Fire Phone is still missing some common favorites, like Instagram, Whatsapp, Google-owned YouTube  and Uber. It does, however, have most of the major apps one would expect to find on the Android market.


Bearing this in mind, there are still a few advantages to this software. The most innovative feature is Firefly, which turns your camera into your own personal retailer, complete with a dedicated button. With Firefly, you can take a picture of almost anything – including barcodes or pictures of products – and the phone will display purchasing options, including Amazon’s offering. Amazon has claimed this isn’t to drive sales, but we know better…


On the whole, the software detracts from everything the hardware adds, even with Firefly. It’s an even wash at this point.


amazon's fire phone


Mayday is a unique feature that allows 24/7 video chat with Amazon customer service. It has been a “source of pride” for Amazon, and received fantastic reviews with the Kindle Fire. With the push of a button (or, more specifically, the tap of an icon) customers are chatting with a live service rep within 15 seconds, CEO Jeff Bezos claims. The service representative can then remote access the device and show users how to complete a task by doing it for them, or walk them through how to do it. This service is a very adaptive and innovative blend of remote access and mobile technology.


The purchase of a Fire Phone also includes a free year-long membership to Amazon Prime, which is not to be discounted. This nifty membership includes free two day shipping on Amazon purchases, instant streaming videos/TV and music to 40,000 movies and shows and over a million jams, access to Prime Pantry, and a free eBook each month, among other benefits. Just for good measure, Amazon will toss in $10 Amazon coins to boot.


The price. It carries a $199 price tag for the 32GB model, which puts it on par with Samsung’s S5,HTC One M8, and presumably, Apple’s next device. With iOS 8, Apple has thrown down the gauntlet in the business arena (even though a few of the iOS’s “new features” aren’t new to Android.) The problem with this is that Amazon, the retailing titan and Fire Phone owner isn’t known for charging the “going price.” Generally speaking, the same consumers who are willing to pay $200 for a sleek new phone aren’t buying it for Dynamic Perspective and Firefly. That’s not to say that in the future, they won’t – but this is a big gamble for what amounts to a high-powered prototype.


Oh, and one other thing: This will be exclusively offered on AT&T. This is definitely going to hurt sales.



Amazon’s design demands attention. This is their first, and like any prototype, it’s anyone’s guess how well it will do. Because it doesn’t offer much in the way of businesses use, it won’t be picked up by the corporate world, but it does have some innovations for the consumer niche– especially for those who shop heavily on Amazon. These, however, can easily become a feature Amazon may do better offering as an app on the app market, rather than one of the primary selling points for an entire phone.


The biggest drawback Amazon will face is their price. Unlike the Kindle Fire, which was a solid tablet at a fraction of the usual price, the Fire Phone is trying to compete directly with premium smartphones. Many consumers might be willing to forgo the unusual software build and certain Google Play apps, if it was at a more affordable option. For some, however, the Dynamic Perspective , in all its R&D glory, may outweigh the price. If nothing else, we’d like to see more of this percolate into the mainstream market.


All things considered, Amazon has definitely carved out a future in the smartphone market – although it will likely fizzle on their first run here. The mobile market is already heavily saturated, and while this was a well executed plan and legitimate contender down the road, they don’t have the tenure or expertise in HTC, Samsung and Apple has amassed, and Firefly/Mayday doesn’t make up for it. The sales will likely depend on more customers having hands on experience and how well they can generate a buzz around the 3D screen technology.


amazon's fire phone


Finally, to answer the question we initially posed: Is this an attempt to cash in or a legitimate turning point: Neither. Not yet, anyway. Or maybe both. But one thing is for (near) certain: There will be a second phone. We just hope it’s on the “real” Android; that would definitely level the playing field.