Using the Fire phone, I could feel the tendrils of Amazon reaching farther into my life than ever before—I have never before bought cereal from Amazon—and that bothers me a little. But I clicked "Add to Cart."
Firefly is a design delight. The user holds down a dedicated button on the side of the phone (pressing it quickly pulls up the camera) and little firefly-like lights appear. Or maybe they're like scrubbing bubbles, or a weird, cute alien life form that recognizes a thing by touching and tasting it. The little lights go to work on whatever you point the phone at, running over the details of a face, rushing to a logo and tasting at corners. In most instances, a bar quickly pops up at the bottom of the screen, with a bing, like the aliens are playing a game show and have come up with an answer.
Tom's of Maine toothpaste. Map of the world.
Amazon then offers to take you to "Shop Amazon" or will let you share the information you've uncovered (via email, Facebook and all the other expected routes), or send Amazon feedback. If it's a food item, it offers to share nutrition information.
Often, when you go to Shop Amazon, Amazon up-sells you a bit. It doesn't show a single product but 12 boxes of the cereal, or eight four-packs of soap. Each time I turned to Amazon, the per-item price was lower. But, often, I'm not keen to make a $50 investment in bar soap or buy 12 boxes of granola bars to enjoy a quantity discount.
Firefly also puts a music note icon at the top of the screen that a user can tap to identify a song that's playing. It recognized "Born to Run" in the first few notes, but insisted it didn't know the dance number to an old Bollywood movie after listening to a long instrumental stretch; when I asked again during the chorus, it got it right away.
It's also helpful with things like business cards. The lights grab on to a phone number or email, and offer to add them to your contacts, or to call or send a message. It's helpful—you can quickly add a number to your contacts and take a person's picture to add to it, instead of carrying around the card and finally throwing it away, not remembering whom it's from.
A drawback, though, is that it can't grab the email and phone numbers at once—you have to grab them separately, just like I had to ask Firefly twice about the saline and toothpaste, even though they were in the same frame each time. I suspect this is something Amazon will address in the next version of the software.
There were several times when the next version of the software came to mind.
For example, when you're using the camera—which loads slowly, despite the dedicated button, but takes very crisp, beautiful photos—there are lots of editing options. Say you hit "Whiten," for example, but then decide you don't want to use that. There's no back button. It's either "Apply," or you have to hit the Home button and gradually make your way back to the photo.
I also bumped into the lack of a back button in Firefly, which holds on to the items you take pictures of (or "Firefly," if I can use that as a verb), but then doesn't let you go back to the Firefly menu after you tap on a photo. It's the Home button or nothing.