After weeks, months, millennia of speculation that Amazon would get into the phone business, the e-tail giant has finally unveiled the smartphone it had been promising (via “leaked” stories and quotes from “people close to the situation”) since the dawn of man. So what is it and is it worth spending your hard-earned (or even your stolen) money on?
“Over the last couple of years… the most frequent question that I’ve been asked is, ‘Is Amazon gonna build a phone?'” teased CEO Jeff Bezos at todays’ press conference in Seattle. “Can we build a better phone for Amazon Prime members?”
Then he holds up the Fire Phone (or fire PHONE, if you go by the logo).
It’s got a 4.7″ iIPS LCD HD display, which Bezos claims is improved for outdoor viewing. A Quad-core 2.2 GHz processor, Adreno 330 graphics processor, 2GB of RAM, a 13 megapixel rear-facing camera with image stabilization.
The camera is also accessible at any time, even when the screen is off.
“We gave you a button you can press that launches the camera wherever you happen to be,” says Jeffy B.
In terms of where your photos will go, users get free unlimited photo storage on the Amazon cloud.
For audio, there are dual stereo speakers built into the phone, which comes with a pair of black earbuds that Amazon claims are tangle-free so you don’t have to constantly un-knot your headset just to listen to music.
The Fire Phone has the same second screen and X-ray functionality that the Kindle Fire tablets have, for people that want to use their phone as an adjunct for the videos they watch.
The phone will also use the Fire TV’s predictive ASAP function that guesses what you’re likely to watch and queues it up so you don’t have to wait for load times.
And of course it will have access to the recently launched Amazon Prime Music streaming service.
For assistance, Amazon is bringing over the Mayday customer service chat functionality that it uses on Kindle Fire, which is supposed to get you to an actual human being in less than 15 seconds.
The new Firefly functionality will recognize items using the phone’s camera and show you Amazon shopping info for items available on the site. So if you’re at a friend’s house and want to remember to buy some book on his shelf, just use Firefly… of course, we have no idea if this actually works until we try it ourselves.
It will also recognize TV shows and movies, bringing up relevant info from Amazon-owned IMDB. Shoot a piece of art and it will bring up the Wikipedia entry.
Firefly can be used to listen for audio. iHeartRadio has the ability to use Firefly to listen to a song playing in the room and not only recognize it but build a playlist from it.
Shoot a handwritten phone number and Amazon will scan it in. Firefly also checks against known information about phone numbers to correct for things like bad handwriting and glare. So it will know that you’re likely trying to scan in a number that says “708” instead of “703” because it knows there is no “703” in that area code.
Amazon claims that Firefly can recognize 100 million different items under real-world circumstances, and that it can learn over time. The company is releasing a developers kit so that third-party developers can integrate Firefly into their apps.
Like the camera, Firefly has a dedicated button on the side of the phone so that it can be used without having to unlock the screen.
BUT WHAT ABOUT THE 3-D?
The biggest problem with glasses-free 3-D thus far is that it requires the user to look at the image from a very specific angle in order to get the full effect. Move just a little and the effect begins to diminish.
But, asked Bezos, “What if there were 1,000 artists standing by to redraw the picture every time you moved your head? What if they could do it 60 times a second?”
That’s the idea behind the Fire Phone’s “dynamic perspective,” which tracks the user’s movements to ensure that the 3-D effect remains intact.
And it’s not just the 3-D effect, the tracking can be used to navigate a screen by moving your head or tilting the screen. Bezos randomly pulled up a Washington Post (which he happens to own) story and showed that you can scroll by tilting the screen up and down. The same can be done on Kindle books read on the phone. The page can also be set to scroll at a predetermined speed.
The dynamic perspective aspect can be built into games for the phone, allowing users to navigate levels with movements of the phone. But while this is cool, a game must have been constructed with dynamic perspective in mind. Merely playing an existing game on the Fire isn’t going to make it cool and 3-D.
As reported earlier, the Fire uses a system of four front-facing cameras to track the user’s distance and angle from the phone. Each camera also uses infrared light so that it can track the user even in a pitch black room.
Yup, the rumors are true. The Fire Phone will be an exclusive for AT&T.
When it launches on July 25, it will start at $199 for the 32 GB model with a 2-year contract. An non-contract version of the phone will sell for $649. For people who need 64 GB, add $100 to those numbers.
However, it does come with a full year of Amazon Prime, whether you’re an existing member or a new user. So if you are already paying for (or thinking about paying for) Prime, this means a savings of $99. Those who are part of the AT&T Next program will pay $27/month for the device.
There was no mention of the rumored subsidized data. We wouldn’t be shocked if any discussion of that was dropped by AT&T after it decided to acquire DirecTV.
Since the Fire Phone is using a customized version of the Android OS, it does not give users access to things like the Google Play app store or the Gmail app or Google calendar app. If you rely on those features on your current device, switching might prove burdensome.
While the Amazon appstore might have hundreds of thousands of apps available, it may not have the same ones you currently use on your Android phone. Additionally, apps you’ve paid for via the Google Play store would have to be re-purchased from Amazon.
The presentation also failed to mention a rather huge elephant in the room — battery life. This is something that smartphone makers have loved to brag about with each new unveiling, but the only real mention during the Fire Phone demonstration was that the four front-facing cameras won’t sap a ton of battery power. On the Amazon.com page for the phone it states, “Fire phone delivers up to 285 hours of standby time, up to 22 hours of talk time, up to 65 hours of audio playback, and up to 11 hours of video playback,” but it’s telling that in today’s bloated unveiling they didn’t find time to talk about this.
We’ll have to wait and see how the device holds up when we get our hands on one later this summer.