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It has some cool features (Dynamic Perspective, Firefly), but they're not super useful

Amazon has been talking about releasing a smartphone since 2012, but the official launch finally came last month when the e-commerce company took a deeper dive into hardware with its "Fire" smartphone.

The reviews are in, and some of the top tech reviewers -- including The Verge, Gizmodo, Engadget and The New York Times --  have weighed in on each and every detail of the new Amazon Fire smartphone. A quick preview: the camera quality is good and it brings new ideas to the table, but has a boring design, confusing interface and acts like a store more than anything else.

Lets dive right in.


Specs
  • Processor: Qualcomm 2.2GHz quad-core Qualcom Snapdragon 800
  • Graphics: Adreno 330 GPU
  • Memory: 2GB
  • Display: 4.7” IPS LCD, 720p
  • Storage: 32GB or 64GB
  • Operating System: Fire OS 3.5.0
  • Rear Camera: 13MP rear-facing, f/2.0 lens with OIS, dedicated shutter button
  • Front Camera: 2.1MP
  • Wireless: 802.11ac, Bluetooth 3.0
  • Battery Size: 2400 mAh
  • Weight: 5.64 ounces
Pricing & Availability

The Fire phone will be available exclusively on AT&T’s network for $199 USD (32GB) or $299 USD (64GB) with a two-year contract. Each phone will come with a free one-year subscription to Amazon Prime, and the phone is expected to ship by July 25.

Hardware

The Verge:

It's a study in ruthless efficiency, without regard for anything so immeasurably subjective as "beauty." It's a dense black slab, a beveled rectangle with glass panels connected by plastic sides whose edges curl ever so slightly beyond the front and back, creating a tiny lip that my fingers can't help but constantly rub against. It gives the impression in my hand that the Fire Phone was well-conceived but never quite perfected.

Gizmodo:

The rounded sides of the Fire Phone are rubberized for grippiness, but considering the back is glass it's still a bit prone to sliding on tables, just not out of your hand. It's kind of a disappointed step back from the fun, weird, but ergonomic and cool-looking angles of the Kindle Fire HDX line. Instead, the Fire Phone is a lot more nondescript. The buttons are nice and solid, way less cheap feeling than the ones on my Nexus 5, and it's kind of fun to have a devoted camera button (and Firefly button, if you hold it down) though, I kept accidentally activating the camera and taking mistaken creepshots of strangers on the train while I fumbled around to stop it...All of which is to say that the Fire Phone is fine-looking, if also kind of boring. Some of my coworkers disagree though, and at least a handful find the thing to be down right ugly.
 

Engadget:

Amazon appears to have put so much effort on the Fire phone's unique features that it didn't focus on making the device attractive. It looks more like a prototype than a phone that's supposed to compete against well-designed beauts like the iPhone 5s, LG G3 and HTC One M8. The use of glass on the front and back is a throwback to the Nexus 4 and iPhone 4/4s, which means it's a fingerprint magnet and more susceptible to breaks than polycarbonate. The sides are protected with a rubberized polyurethane material, however, which should improve the phone's chances of survival if dropped.


Software

The Verge:

If nothing else, Amazon’s first smartphone is a constant reminder of how incredibly vast the company has become. The Fire Phone – which currently comes with a year of Prime benefits — is all about access to an ecosystem of items and content, making buying, renting, and streaming impossibly easy. Make no mistake: this isn't just a smartphone. It's also a store. Take the home screen, the first thing you'll see after swiping away your phone's crazy lock screen. This ugly, drop-shadow-laden, gray-on-gray page is based on the same carousel of content as Amazon's other devices, showing the apps and content on your device in the order in which you opened them. Underneath each item are related items: flip to the email client and you'll see a few recent emails; the Silk web browser shows your most-visited pages. But most of the time, all you get is a list of other apps you might like.

Gizmodo:

At its core, the Fire is a perfectly usable—if not fantastic—phone. Fire OS, Amazon's unrecognizable fork of Android, has moved past the awkward teen years. But Fire OS 3.5 often feels better-suited to the tablets it was originally meant for than it does a phone. There's a difference between idly swiping through apps and movies and books on your tablet, and pulling out your phone to glance at what's next on the agenda before you duck into the subway, and Fire OS still leans a little bit to the wrong side.

The New York Times:

The Fire Phone, which runs a heavily customized version of Google’s Android operating system, isn’t as powerful as other high-end phones. It doesn’t have as many apps as those for Android and Apple’s iOS, and it does not plug as neatly into Apple’s and Google’s content and services ecosystems. Consider the phone’s main app-launching interface, the “carousel,” which should be familiar to people who’ve used Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablets. The interface constantly sorts your apps according to how recently you’ve used them. This let me navigate my phone very efficiently, often saving me from getting lost in a sea of apps — a common occurrence on most other phones.


Firefly

Gizmodo:

It should come as no surprise that Firefly can't identify everything you throw at it; objects sans packaging are generally a no-go, so you won't be able to index your buddy's entire apartment when he's not looking. But that's not what Firefly is for. When I waltzed through a local bodega and stood awkwardly, holding my phone expectantly in front of a variety of foodstuffs, Firefly hit the nail on the head 13 out of 15 times. The two misses included a bag of chips with a big ol' "$2 OFF" sticker on the front (Firefly misread the flavor but got the brand right), and a box of tea from some obscure brand that for all I know is hand-boxed in the back for this specific shop. Between that hit rate and the track record Firefly had identifying still-boxed gadgets and toys laying around the office, the feature makes a strong case for the Fire Phone as a "I want to buy that thing right now, but from Amazon" machine. It seems to aim for the small niche of impulse-buying price-matchers. Or people keen on putting local shops out of business out of spite. Firefly doesn't just identify physical objects, though. It also does music, movies, and TV by using Shazam-like super powers. It nailed everything from my favorite Streetlight Manifesto songs to random episodes of Scandal I loaded up on Hulu. The catch is, it (naturally) directs you to Amazon once it identifies. Not exclusively; identified movies also include links to IMDB, and there's a shortcut to look for tickets to identified bands on Stubhub, or start stations on IHeartRadio.

Engadget:

Much like Dynamic Perspective, my experience with Firefly was hit-or-miss. It scanned music and shows with near-perfect accuracy. It could easily pick up a large number of products within a couple seconds -- even something as basic as an office telephone popped up immediately as I waved the phone in front of it -- but this happened roughly 75 percent of the time. The other 25 percent was an exercise in frustration: Either it'd take too long to find anything, or it wouldn't pick anything up at all. It had a hard time looking through sun glare and shrink wrap, and Firefly couldn't grab information from an angle or at a distance (read: more than 10 feet away). Even when phone numbers and websites were nearby, it'd sometimes take two or three tries before giving me an accurate read. On one occasion, I scanned an "888" number and Firefly thought it started with "408." At times, it'd scan an object and present me with a similar item, but not the actual product itself. When I scanned a Super Mario game's instruction book, for instance, it showed me a Mario backpack. Doing the same for a bottle of Coke, I was prompted to buy a soundtrack of every Coke commercial from 1962 to 1989. (A $22 value -- what a steal!) This might make sense if the products I scanned weren't available in Amazon's store, but they were.


Camera/Dynamic Perspective

Engadget:

Amazon didn't skimp on imaging performance: The camera here has a 13-megapixel sensor with a five-element lens, f/2.0 aperture and optical image stabilization (OIS). These specs sound great on paper, and we were hopeful when Bezos showed photos where the Fire's shooter clearly beat out the iPhone 5s and Galaxy S5. And though the camera takes perfectly acceptable shots with the appropriate amount of detail, my own image comparisons with the same three phones didn't always come out in the Fire's favor. Many lackluster cameras can at least earn a few brownie points by adding manual controls to let you take matters into your own hands, but the Fire has a minimal interface that features a toggle for HDR and flash, as well as the option to take pictures in lenticular mode (aka, GIF-making mode) and panoramic mode. It's also capable of taking 1080p video at 30fps, recording at a bit rate of 20 Mbps. Again, it sounds great on paper, but I wasn't impressed. On a positive note, it didn't have a problem keeping motion smooth; however, it did so at the expense of detail -- and it re-focused more than it should have in broad daylight.

The New York Times:

Some of the Fire Phone’s headline features feel as if they were born of the same superficial impulse. That’s especially true of Dynamic Perspective, a system of sensors and head-tracking cameras that allows the phone to respond to how users hold or look at it; in some apps, Dynamic Perspective provides a sensation of three-dimensional imagery. While technically impressive, the system rarely makes for a substantive improvement in how you’ll use your phone.


Mayday

The Verge:

I don't need my phone to be clever, or spartan. I need it to be obvious. The Fire Phone is anything but. That's one reason I suppose Mayday, Amazon's one-touch customer support service, is really useful. As with the Fire tablets, you can use Mayday for almost anything, and reps can even take over your device and do things for you. You'll need the help at some point, I guarantee it.

Engadget:

One of Amazon's most brilliant features is Mayday. The service, which debuted on the Kindle Fire HDX tablet, promises to connect users with knowledgeable tech advisors in 15 seconds or less. (If you're a tech enthusiast and you have relatives who aren't as savvy as you are, you understand why Mayday is such a smart idea.) The Fire phone also comes with the feature built in; head to the quick settings to find a dedicated Mayday button. If any good can come out of Amazon's partnership with AT&T, it's this: If you ring up Mayday with a bill concern or carrier-related technical problem, the Amazon rep will "warm transfer" you to AT&T's tech support department. This means the rep will stay on the line with you and answer other questions while you wait. My calls into Mayday connected between 10 and 20 seconds, with my average wait time coming out to the promised 15 seconds. With my permission, each rep was able to view and remotely control my device to answer my questions; one rep even drew on my screen to show me how to get to a desired feature.


Battery

The Verge:

Mostly solid battery life.

Gizmodo:

For running four cameras at you pretty much all the time, the Fire Phone's battery life is surprisingly solid. The Fire Phone can handle a day of pretty intense app-using, email-checking, and web-surfing and make it into the wee hours of the morning with as much as 20 percent power to spare, no doubt thanks in part to a relative of the same battery-saving tech that let the Kindle Fire HDX make it 17 hours in reading mode. More intense activities like using Firefly or Dynamic Perspective-heavy games will chew through the batter faster though. I lost 10 percent in 30 minutes playing To-Fu Fury on the way to work this morning.

Engadget:

The Fire only packs a 2,400mAh battery, which is small compared with the competition. Battery life is average and will last a full day... as long as you don't activate Dynamic Perspective and Firefly. (You know, the phone's two most unique features.) These two things are such a huge drain on the device's battery that I had to charge it up twice in the same day -- once in the early afternoon and again later that night. It wasn't uncommon to lose 10 percent of my charge in a half-hour. So if you plan on using Firefly for comparison shopping, make sure you shop for an external charger first. In my endless-video loop test, meanwhile, the phone lasted nearly nine hours before dying. This is about average for a battery of this size, but then again, Amazon's fancy features weren't running at the time. The audio quality is better than most. Calls were clear; in-call volume was more than adequate; and the stereo speakers were loud, if a little tinny. The phone's GPS also performed admirably, helping me navigate multiple routes without any lost connections.


Display

Gizmodo:

The Fire's 4.7-inch, 720 x 1280 pixel IPS display has a nice, wide viewing angle, which you'll need when you're tilting the phone all over the place. And size-wise it's a sweet spot, atThe sides are rubberized for increased grippiness least for my largish man hands. 4.7 inches is juuuust on the top end of screens that are still small enough that my thumb can touch any corner without struggling.

Engadget:

Amazon's goal was to make the Fire ideal for one-handed use, and indeed, it succeeded: The screen measures a manageable 4.7 inches and the sides are easy to grip. It's comfortable to hold and my thumb could reach nearly every part of the display, so I rarely felt like I had to use two hands unless I was typing a message. Though it's not horrible by any means, the Fire's display quality is not on par with other flagships. It has a 4.7-inch 720p LCD panel, which offers a relatively unimpressive pixel density of 315 ppi. This is far lower than the GS5, One M8 and G3, and only a few ticks below the iPhone 5s. On a positive note, the viewing angles are good and text is still crisper than I would've expected. Its colors are accurate and the 590-nit display is incredibly bright, which makes a difference when you're trying to read the screen in direct sunlight. The video quality isn't quite as good as other flagships, but otherwise there's very little to complain about aside from the difference in resolution.

Overall

The Verge:

The Kindle Paperwhite is what the Fire Phone should be, a device perfectly suited to its task with subtle improvements lurking behind every corner. And who knows? Maybe in seven more years we’ll have the smartphone equivalent. But this Fire Phone is more like that first Kindle: a device with so many features, so many ideas, that it has either forgotten or ignored what it’s supposed to be for. Dynamic Perspective and Firefly are impressive technological achievements with bright futures (if by some miracle Amazon can get its developers on board), and the Fire Phone is a remarkably efficient shopping machine. But it’s not a very good smartphone. Amazon’s consumption-first approach works on tablets, for watching and reading and shopping. But tablets are for fun. Smartphones are for work, for life. They’re not toys, they’re tools. Amazon doesn’t understand that, and the Fire Phone doesn’t reflect it. Amazon’s first smartphone is a series of interesting ideas in a package that is somehow much less than the sum of its parts.

Gizmodo:

Should you buy it? Nope. Definitely not. None of the Fire Phone's flaws are totally insufferable, but there's just no reason to suffer them at all. Fire OS is workable but mediocre as a smartphone operating system, and the hardware doesn't bring anything to the table that counteracts that. At a $200 on-contract, $650 unlocked price point you'll be better served with just about any other flagship phone, whether it runs iOS, stock Android, skinned Android, or Windows Phone 8.1. Even with a free year of Amazon Prime bundled in, there are still better options. Go pick up a Moto X or something. You can find it for cheap and it's a better phone. In an alternate universe, it's possible to see how a dirt cheap Fire Phone touting Firefly as its killer feature could have filled some sort of niche need for technology averse Amazon junkies. But as it stands—a premium quality phone with decent but not great software that attempts to hang its hat on a mainly on a gimmick—the Fire Phone isn't something you want in your pocket. Maybe someday, some endeavoring developer will find a truly transcendent use for those four front-facing cameras. But until then, you're better off with just about anything else.

Engadget:

The Fire's defining features are fun, but I can't help but feel as though they're merely gimmicks designed by Amazon to demonstrate the company's brilliance -- and at the expense of battery life, to boot. Dynamic Perspective might be useful in a few cases (games, mainly), but it won't provide the user with functionality they'd sorely miss if they went with an iPhone or flagship Android device. Not only is the Fire lacking in useful new features, but its high price and exclusivity to AT&T guarantee its irrelevance. The company owes its success to millions of loyal online shoppers and bookworms who use Amazon for its convenience and aggressive pricing, so why come out with a smartphone that isn't particularly convenient, and isn't particularly cheap? By no means is the Fire a horrible phone, but it's a forgettable one. You might want the eventual Fire Phone 2, perhaps, but for now, you're better off sticking with what you know.

The New York Times:

It suggests that Amazon can’t see its own best innovation: In the Fire Phone, Amazon has built a really nice, solid, plain white house. You’ll love living in it, if you can ignore all the purple.

Sources: The Verge, Gizmodo, Engadget, The New York Times





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