After what seems like years of rumors, Amazon has announced its first foray into the competitive smartphone space, in the form of the Fire Phone. The largely high-end device packs in some interesting features, chief among which is its Dynamic Perspective display tech and product scanning Firefly app.
The handset sports an industrial design with Gorilla Glass on both sides, and packs a 590-nit 4.7-inch 1280 x 720 display. That comes out to 315 pixels per inch, which should be sharp, but still a ways off the bar set by recent 1080p and 2K handsets. The Fire Phone runs on a quad core 2.2 GHz Snapdragon 800 CPU backed up by an Adreno 339 graphics processor and 2 GB RAM. The handset features dual stereo speakers, LTE connectivity and a 13 MP rear camera. Buying the device will provide access to unlimited Amazon Cloud Drive storage for photos.
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The smartphone features four front-facing cameras, which track your gaze to provide stereo vision no matter how you hold the handset. It’s not immediately clear how the feature will be used, but the company has made the developer kit available, so we’re sure to see some interesting applications as time goes on.
During the announcement event in Seattle, the company didn’t spend long dwelling on specs, but moved on to the software and unique features that the handset offers. Like other Amazon devices, the Fire Phone runs Amazon's heavily customized version of Android known as Fire OS. The UI features a content carousel (as seen on Fire tablets), as well as a more traditional app grid.
One of the most interesting things about the Fire Phone is its Dynamic Perspective feature, which projects a 3D image inwards rather than outwards. The company demoed the feature on maps and images, with impressive results, and users will be able to use it when playing games or browsing (on Amazon of course), where tilting the device will move to the next product.
Another unique selling point for the phone is Firefly, a feature that lets users scan physical products, music and even TV shows, and have them automatically added to their Amazon shopping carts. The Fire Phone even has a physical button dedicated to the service: users will simply hold down the button to begin scanning (and sending Amazon more of their money).
Being an Amazon device, much of the software serves as a portal to the company’s wide selection of media content, including its ubiquitous Kindle eBooks, Instant Video streaming service and the recently launched Prime Music.
However, also like other Amazon hardware, the device won’t have access to the Google Play Store, but makes do with the company’s own app store. The selection in the Amazon Appstore is solid and rapidly growing, but can’t yet compete with Google's and Apple’s offerings. Amazon’s on-device Mayday customer support service, which pops up a one-way video chat box on your device, has made the jump from Kindle Fire tablets to the new phone. Like on the Fire, the Mayday tech support will be free of charge.
Lastly, the handset is compatible with Second Screen, allowing users to beam the phone's TV shows and movies to a bigger screen. It will require a Fire TV, PlayStation or other Miracast-enabled device.
Amazon was keen to point out how much love has gone into the device’s software, highlighting a few clever features of the handset’s OS.
On the calendar, for example, users can send quick messages to invited contacts by swiping to a panel on the right – a useful feature if you’re running late. Users will also be able to set a timer telling the device to turn off the ringer when they’re in a meeting, and can even set a particular photo album to appear when they swipe to the right of the lock screen. This sounds like a great feature for those keen on showing off their kids.
From where we stand now, the Fire Phone looks like a very solid looking handset, and is a little more high-end than we were expecting from the company’s first offering in the space. While the ecosystem’s app selection may be a little lacking in comparison to its rivals, the device’s unique features should make it an intriguing new entry to an extremely competitive market.
Perhaps the biggest surprise is the Fire Phone's pricing. Amazon's Fire tablets have historically had rock-bottom prices, as they're subsidized by their virtual Amazon shopping mall software. But the Fire Phone is, somewhat surprisingly, ringing up for the same starting price as rival flagships like the iPhone 5s and Galaxy S5.
The Fire Phone is exclusive to AT&T in the US, where pre-orders will ship on July 25. You can reserve yours on-contract for US$199 for the 32 GB model and $299 for the 64 GB version. The handset will cost $650 unlocked. All of those prices, for a limited time, include a year of Amazon Prime membership.
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