Original story (published: 19 June): Amazon has unveiled its first-ever smartphone; the Amazon Fire, a device that is tightly integrated with its online shopping, video and music services.
The handset comes with a glass panel on its front and back – built with Gorilla Glass 3 – a 4.7 inch IPS LCD HD display (so lightly bigger than an iPhone 5S), the smartphone itself is black and surrounded by a rubberised frame – which looks a lot like a thin outer case.
The Fire Phone supports 4G LTE and runs on a quad-core 2.2 GHz processor, as well as an Adreno 330 graphics processor and 2GB of RAM.
Amazon claims that the 13MP camera on the device is better than the one found on the Galaxy S5 and iPhone 5S. The rear snapper also comes with Optical Image Stabilisation (IOS) and an f/2.0 five-element lens. There’s also a dedicated camera shutter button that launches the Fire Phone’s camera app.
In the run-up to the launch of the Fire Phone, the main talking point was its 3D visual feature and, as expected, that was also shown off at the event.
To summarise, the display elements on the device move as you tilt the phone from side-to-side. This can give the impression of depth to a 3D rendered map (Amazon uses Nokia’s Here map as an example). The motion control can also be used to scroll through web pages or through an ebook.
To create this sensation, Amazon added four front-facing cameras to the device, each with a unique 120-degree field of view (comparatively, most front-facing snappers only offer a 72-degree field of view).
With all of this technology combined, Amazon can accurately identify where your face is in relation to the smartphone.
In terms of audio, the device boasts dual-stereo speakers with Dolby Digital Plus and comes with its own set of “tangle-free” in-ear headphones. which feature flat caves and magnetic earbuds. like the handset, they are also black.
The Fire OS on the smartphone will feel familiar to those who have used any of the company’s Kindle Fire Tablets, with a conventional grid of apps (the icons, however, are new).
Finally, one of the brand spanking new features on the handset is a software function called Firefly. The online retail giant has used its shopping know-how to create the feature, which uses the rear-facing camera to identify up to 100 million items.
That could be a number, a DVD, a QR code or a video game, and will store all of your previous searches in a handy list. As you might expect, from here it’s then possible to purchase the object from Amazon, Audible and the Kindle Bookstore.
Similar to Shazam, Firefly can also identify music. Wait for a moment and the Fire Phone will tell you the track name and artist, before giving you a shortcut for its product page on Amazon. The same also applies for TV shows, which it can identify based on audio alone.
A great tool for shopaholics then, and one that Amazon will be hoping brings consumers running back to its online store again and again.
Another unique Amazon feature available on the device, but not exclusive to it, is the Mayday tech support function – which was first seen on the Kindle Fire HDX tablets. This is basically a video chat option with an Amazon customer service representative through a pop-up window, which starts up within 15 seconds of you asking for help. Just like on the tablets, a Mayday rep can control your phone remotely if you authorise them to do so.
An added incentive for Fire Phone buyers is unlimited photo storage in Amazon’s Cloud Drive at least for those photos that were shot with the Fire phone.
Arguably, the two biggest flaws in the phone pointed out by commentators is the lack of a Google Play app store – as the device runs Amazon’s forked version of Android – and therefore none of Google’s services. Additionally, with a lack of Bluetooth 4.0 LE (the device comes with built-in Bluetooth 3.0), it cannot support the current generation of wearables. Consequently, if you own a Fitbit Flex or Jawbone UP24, you may want to hold off from purchasing the Fire Phone until Amazon adds the tech to its device – which it says is coming soon.
In terms of pricing and availability, the device is currently only available in the US and is exclusive to mobile network operator AT&T. if you happen to be a State-side resident, it will cost you $199 (32GB) or $299 (64GB) on a two-year contract. On its site, the company is also listing the device for $649 (32GB) and $749 (64GB) without a service plan. Pre-orders start today and it’ll launch on 25 July.
UPDATE: Amazon today revealed that its Fire smartphone is now available to pre-order in the UK, exclusively through O2. The Amazon Fire will officially hit shelves on 30 September.
The device comes with all the premium features listed above and for a limited time also includes a year’s membership of Amazon Prime for free.
The 32GB and 64GB Fire are available for free through the O2 Refresh tariff, which is billed at a monthly rate of £33.