After finding success with e-readers and tablets, Amazon is now digging its claws into smartphones. Are the Fire Phone's unique features enough to make it worth a look next to today's most popular handsets? Let's compare its features and specs to those of the iPhone 5s, and see if we can lend a hand.
Like most high-end flagship smartphones, the Fire Phone is bigger than the iPhone. To be exact, it's 12 percent longer and 12 percent wider than the 5s. The iPhone, though, is 15 percent thinner than Amazon's new handset.
You'd expect a bigger phone to be heavier, but maybe not by this wide a margin. The Fire Phone is a whopping 43 percent heavier than Apple's feathery iPhone.
Well this helps to explain the Fire's heft. Just when it looked like smartphone makers were moving away from glass backs, Amazon is revisiting the trend that we saw in the iPhone 4/4s, LG Optimus G and Nexus 4.
Amazon is going to sell some colorful cases for the Fire Phone, but, much like the Kindle Fire tablets, the phone itself will only be sold in black.
The Fire Phone's display isn't nearly as big as some recent Android flagship phones, but its screen is still 38 percent bigger than the iPhone's.
The Fire Phone's 720p resolution should look pretty sharp, but with 1080p and even 2K screens popping up in modern flagships, this is another area where the Fire is lagging behind much of its competition.
The Fire Phone has a glasses-free 3D screen, though it's a little different than the stereoscopic displays you might have seen on the Nintendo 3DS or, if you can remember that far back, the HTC Evo 3D. Amazon calls the technology "Dynamic Perspective," and it's like a 3D effect that appears to sink into the phone, rather than popping out of it. It should be interesting to see what developers do with it.
I'd say Apple's Touch ID is easily the best smarpthone fingerprint sensor in the business right now (though it really doesn't have many rivals yet). Amazon didn't try to compete with it in the Fire Phone.
Amazon's Kindle Fire tablets have always been like virtual Amazon shopping malls, nudging you to buy and consume Amazon content every chance they get. The Fire Phone is taking this to a new level with Firefly. Hold down the dedicated Firefly button, aim your phone's camera at something like an email address, web URL or, you know, a product, and Amazon will take care of the rest. In the case of products, that means plopping said item into your Amazon shopping cart.
On-device tech support
One of the coolest features in the latest batch of Kindle Fires was Mayday, Amazon's on-device customer support chat. It shows up on the Fire Phone as well. Tap the Mayday button, and an Amazon rep will pop up on your screen, via one-way video chat (you can see and hear the rep, but he or she can only hear you).
Amazon didn't skimp in the performance department, as Jeff Bezos and Co. opted for the zippy Snapdragon 800 processor.
We have two storage options (and no microSD) for the Fire Phone. Though it's worth noting that Amazon skipped the industry-standard 16 GB base model, leaping straight to 32 GB.
The Fire Phone's 2 GB of RAM is pretty standard for recent high-end flagship smartphones. Well, at least it is for those that aren't the iPhone.
Battery capacities don't necessarily tell us much about actual battery life, but, for what it's worth, the Fire Phone does hold 53 percent more juice than the iPhone does.
Technically the Fire Phone has five front-facing cameras, but four of them are there just to track your face and eyes (to achieve the 3D effect). Megapixels aren't everything, but with a 13 MP rear shooter, it's good to see Amazon didn't skimp in the resolution department. The camera also has optimal image stabilization and f/2.0 aperture.
This is probably the biggest reason to balk at the Fire Phone. While it technically runs Android, this isn't the Android you'd find on something like a Nexus, Galaxy or HTC handset. Amazon took Android's open source core, forked it for its own benefit and skipped all the Google goodies. That means no Google apps – including Gmail, Maps and, most importantly, the Play Store. All of the Fire's apps are instead going to come from the Amazon Appstore. It has a solid enough selection, but it's going to be a big downgrade from both Google Play and the iPhone's App Store.
If you order the Fire Phone today, you can expect your package on your doorstep on July 25. The iPhone launched about nine months ago, so we're likely hitting the home stretch of its initial life cycle.
Starting price (off-contract)
This was what surprised me the most about the Fire Phone. Amazon's tablets sell for around what it costs Amazon to make them, as the company bets that it will profit off of you for digital content. But the Fire Phone is selling for the same US$650 off-contract price as premium rivals like the iPhone 5s, Galaxy S5 and HTC One (M8). Of course US customers can also opt for a new two-year agreement (with AT&T), but that price is also toe-to-toe with those more established rivals. This should be interesting.
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