Fire Phone Front

Amazon today unveiled the Fire Phone, its first smartphone. The device features a 4.7-inch screen, 2.2 GHz quad-core processor, 2 GB of RAM, 13-megapixel rear-facing camera, Adreno 330 graphics and more. It runs a custom version of Android called Fire OS 3.5. The smartphone also has several other interesting features, including a 3D adaptive perspective mode, Firefly, ASAP predictive caching, MayDay support, screen mirroring and more.

In terms of design, the Fire Phone has a Gorilla Glass 3 screen, rubber frame and glass back. Meanwhile, the handset has aluminum buttons and injection-molded steel connectors to ensure a tight and precise fit and beautiful trim rings. Amazon says it cares deeply about the chamfered edges on its USB connectors. That’s just the tip of the iceberg… 

Amazon says the Fire Phone has a beautiful display, with a 4.7-inch IPS LCD HD screen that is optimized for one-handed use. The screen is optimized for outdoor use, with an industry-leading, ultra-bright display that has 590 nits of brightness, dynamic image contrast and a circular polarizer. The screen can also be viewed with sunglasses on, from any angle.

Fire Phone Camera

The 13-megapixel rear-facing camera has a f/2.0 five element lens and optical image stabilization. Bezos showed a comparison of low-light photos taken with the Fire Phone, Galaxy S5 and iPhone 5s, and it does look like the Amazon smartphone delivered the best results. Of course, that is probably the expected result during an Amazon media event. I’m interested in seeing further side-by-side tests.

Five Features of the Fire Phone

Head Tracking Fire Phone

Dynamic Perspective. Fire Phone has four front-facing cameras, one in each corner, that track the movement of your head. This allows you to access menus, shortcuts, and useful information by tilting, swivelling or peeking at the smartphone. For instance, you can peek to reveal restaurant ratings in the Yelp app, or swivel for access to important notifications and quick actions.

The custom-designed sensor system responds to how you hold and view your Fire Phone, allowing for immersive apps and games, one-handed shortcuts and one-handed reading. There is even an auto-scroll feature that lets you read long documents or entire books without ever having to touch the screen. With a Dynamic Perspective SDK available to developers, the feature should gain further uses.

3D effects. To compliment the functionality of Dynamic Perspective, Amazon has included 60 FPS 3D effects on the Fire Phone. This feature seems to go one step further than parallax on iPhone, with true 3D effects on the Lock screen and throughout several areas of the user interface. On the Home screen, for example, icons appear to be floating above the other layers.

Firefly Fire Phone

Firefly. There is a dedicated Firefly button on the side of the Fire Phone. When pressed, simply point the smartphone’s camera at movies, music, books, games, CDs, food and more, and it will automatically identify the item you’re looking at. Amazon will then point you to buy products where possible, bolstering its online commerce business.

Firefly also recognizes printed text, such as phone numbers, web, and email addresses on things like posters, magazines and business cards. Add recognition of 240,000 movies and TV shows, including 160 live TV channels, on top. IMDb has partnered with Amazon to provide a feature called X-Ray that shows information on actors, plot details and other relevant information.

Mayday. I like to think of this feature as Genius Bar directly on your smartphone. Fire Phone has built-in support for Mayday, Amazon’s award-winning customer service that works over live video. The tech representatives can help you by drawing on your screen or even completing a task for you. You will be able to see the person live on your screen, but they cannot see you.

The best thing about Mayday is that you do not need to wait or book an appointment. Amazon has a response time goal of 15 seconds or less, providing you with instant, convenient access to help when you need it. Mayday is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and 365 days a year. It works over Wi-Fi and the AT&T network, and it’s completely free.

Fire Phone Prime

Prime. In addition to the standard free two-day shipping on Amazon purchases, Fire Phone users get quite a few benefits for being a Prime member: unlimited streaming and downloading of top TV shows and movies with Prime Instant Video, unlimited music streaming with Prime Music and over 500,000 books that can be borrowed for free.

Amazon is currently offering a limited time promotion, including a free 12-month subscription to Prime with the purchase of a Fire Phone. After that point, the program costs $99 per year. While the iPhone has access to movies, music, books and TV shows through iTunes, being a Prime member is a very good alternative.

Amazon is betting big on its media ecosystem on the Fire Phone, emphasizing the availability of its all-new Prime Music streaming music service. Amazon is also including free unlimited photo storage through Amazon Cloud Drive, and Netflix, HBO Go, Hulu Plus, and ESPN will be available through the Amazon App Store.

The handset also has immersion reading and Whispersync for Voice.

Is it worth switching from iPhone to Fire Phone?

Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos called the Fire Phone the smartphone built for Amazon Prime customers. If you are an avid consumer of movies, music, books and other media, and often find yourself turning to Amazon for this content, then the Fire Phone and Fire OS 3.5 provide a content-forward experience tailored for you.

If content consumption isn’t your thing, I don’t see Dynamic Perspective, Firefly or Mayday as strong enough features to truly differentiate the Fire Phone from an iPhone or other leading smartphones. Amazon has found success in a niche market with its Kindle devices, and I think that the Fire Phone will attract that same demographic.

The handset will ship with tangle-free headphones that feature magnetic earbuds, a flat cable and a comfortable, ergonomic fit. Amazon showed a pair of tangled Apple headphones to get the point across, although I’m not sure if tangle-free headphones are a key advantage over purchasing an iPhone.

Fire Phones is $199.99 (32 GB) and $299.99 (64 GB) on AT&T with a new two-year contract. It retails for $649 unlocked. The smartphone ships on June 25th and includes a free 12-month subscription to Prime Music for a limited time.

Are you interested in the Fire Phone?