Amazon Fire Phone With Firefly Is Quick and Cool, if a Little Flakey

 
 
By Michelle Maisto  |  Posted 2014-07-25 Email Print this article Print
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

AT&T will exclusively sell the Amazon Fire smartphone beginning July 25. The Fire is unlike anything else on the market. It runs Amazon's Fire OS, which is based on Android, but very much Amazon's design. The user interface is carousel-style, like Amazon's tablets; it's by no means an Android phone. Distinguishing it still further is Firefly, a technology that can identify more than 100 million objects, from peanut butter jars to songs on the radio—and makes it brainlessly simple to buy them from Amazon. It also features Dynamic Perspective, a camera- and sensor-based technology that can be used to great impact by smart developers but feels a little dizzying otherwise; one-handed gestures that let wrist motions do the work of now-unneeded taps (and which can also get a bit out of hand); and Mayday, Amazon's free, 24/7/365 customer care service. It's a brand-new style of phone, about which it's easy to think the next version of the software will be a little more under control; and it's a brand-new idea—the ability to buy with a single click from a faceless, faraway factory—that's worth having discussions about. The bottom line is that the Fire shines brightest where Amazon does.

 
 
 
  • Amazon Fire Phone With Firefly Is Quick and Cool, if a Little Flakey

    by Michelle Maisto
    1 - Amazon Fire Phone With Firefly Is Quick and Cool, if a Little Flakey
  • The Amazon Fire Phone

    AT&T is for now the exclusive provider of the Amazon Fire. The 32GB version is $199 with a two-year contract, or a monthly pricing plan can be had for $27.09 or $32.40 (depending on how quickly you want to be able to upgrade). The Fire comes with a one-year subscription to Amazon Prime (a $99 value) and offers unlimited photo storage on Amazon Cloud Drive.
    2 - The Amazon Fire Phone
  • Pricing and Availability

    The Amazon fire has a 4.7-inch HD LCD display with a resolution of 1,280 by 720 and 315 pixels per inch. It weighs 5.64 ounces—a weight that seems to derive in large part from the back glass-like panel, which mimics the display—and measures 5.5 by 2.6 by 0.35 inches. It has a 1.2Hz quad-core Snapdragon processor and comes in 32- and 64GB options.
    3 - Pricing and Availability
  • Fire OS

    The Fire phone runs Amazon's Fire OS. While, like on all phones, there's a screen that displays the grid of applications, the Home screen is "carousel style." The icons run horizontally, and the most recent information related to each app is displayed below it.
    4 - Fire OS
  • Firefly

    On the phone's right side are the volume buttons and, below them, a button that pulls up the camera if you touch it once and Firefly if you hold it down.
    5 - Firefly
  • Shopping Made (Too?) Easy

    Hold down the Firefly button and little "fireflies"—or scrubbing bubbles, as it's easy to think of them—pop up and go to work, running to edges of something, tasting around logos and text and figuring out what something is. Firefly can identify songs, movies and TV shows, grocery items, toys and more.
    6 - Shopping Made (Too?) Easy
  • Smart Shopper

    Amazon doesn't let Firefly waste an opportunity. Here, an identifier popped up at the bottom, but because Amazon doesn't have the Tom's toothpaste I scanned, it offered me Tom's moisturizer instead. Firefly, and the one-year Prime subscription included with Fire, make it easy to add things to an Amazon cart that one otherwise likely wouldn't. Convenient? Yes. Something worth giving some thought to? Yes, again.
    7 - Smart Shopper
  • One-Handed Gestures

    Amazon tries to eliminate the amount of tapping users do by offering gestures. A half flick of the wrist to the right opens this drawer.
    8 - One-Handed Gestures
  • One-Handed Gestures

    Half to the left and a drawer on the other side opens, showing information relevant to the moment, such as weather and upcoming appointments—a handy feature on a less wide-open day than this one.
    9 - One-Handed Gestures
  • A New Way to See Things

    The Fire was rumored to be a 3D phone, and it does have an element of that. The Lock screens encourage a user to wobble them around, like a child's hologram card, and sprinkled throughout the phone are bits that have extra motion and depth to them, thanks to a sensor-rich feature called Dynamic Perspective. The technology behind it will be as cool as developers can make it. In some instances, it's already great, and in others, it's nauseating. This game offers the option of using one's head to control the snowboarder.
    10 - A New Way to See Things
  • Amazon Shopping

    My favorite use of Dynamic Perspective—the use that seemed the least gratuitous and most actually helpful—was in the Shop Amazon app. When I tapped on Dresses, a line of models zoomed toward me, at a speed I controlled by the angle at which I held the phone.
    11 - Amazon Shopping
  • Modeling

    After I tapped on a dress, moving the phone subtly left to right shifted through the additional photos of the dress. Maybe practice helps, but sometimes I found it worked perfectly, sometimes it was too quick and sometimes the marching models refused to be still. It can be tricky to figure out what subtle movement yields what results. But, no doubt, there's potential there.
    12 - Modeling
  • Easy Reading

    Dynamic Perspective can also play a part in reading sites in the Silk browser. Tipping the phone more or less dramatically makes the story advance or retreat at different speeds, so you don't have to scroll as you read. The sensors can also watch where your eyes are on the screen if you'd rather not use your wrist so much. In using the Fire, there's a lot of: "Does that neat feature work here? No. How about here? Ah, yes."
    13 - Easy Reading
  • Siri's Cousin

    The Fire has a Siri-like feature. I don't know what her name is. She works well enough, though, but I couldn't help but think each time, with some amusement, that the voice sounds ever-so-slightly Russian, and ever-so-slightly annoyed.
    14 - Siri's Cousin
  • Camera

    Fire's camera isn't quick. Even with the dedicated button, you're likely not going to get that fleeting-moment shot. But on a steadier subject, it captures nice detail. There are also lots and lots of filters to play with (no filter here).
    15 - Camera
  • Mayday

    Amazon's Mayday service—24/7/365 access to a pleasant person you can see but who can't see you—is also included. And it's great. While they can't solve any problem, they can walk users through features on the phone and really work hard to address every issue. They also answer each call in an average of 15 minutes. It sets a new bar for customer service.
    16 - Mayday
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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