Amazon’s Fire Phone innovates with its four-camera configuration. It innovates with its object-identifying Firefly feature. And it innovates with its Mayday feature that provides face-to-tracked-face assistance on the go.
But one way in which it doesn’t innovate may be the way that most people were hoping it would: price. Available for $199 on a two-year AT&T contract or $649 unlocked, the Fire Phone is similar to other premium phones such as the iPhone 5S and Samsung Galaxy S5.
The Fire Phone’s failure to disrupt has led many to question whether it is keeping the Amazon flame. Indeed, the cellular options available to Fire Phone buyers are less creative than the limited free data option Amazon offered with AT&T at the release of the Kindle Fire HD.
The Fire Phone features a 2.2GHz quad-core Snapdragon 800 CPU with an Adreno 330 GPU and 2GB of RAM, comparable to the Galaxy S5's 2.5Ghz quad-core CPU. Its 2,400mAh battery is slightly smaller than the Galaxy S5's 2,800mAh battery, though Amazon claims it can provide up to 22 hours of talk time, 65 hours of audio playback, or 11 hours of video playback.
It runs Amazon's Android-based Fire OS 3.5, with a couple of new tweaks. The carousel of recent items is still foremost on the device, but there are "active widgets" underneath showing recent activity in those apps as you swipe through them. Everywhere else, there's a three-paneled design: one for navigation, one for your primary content, one for what Bezos called "a delighter," things like song lyrics in the music app.
Taking advantage of Amazon's digital content library, the Fire provides "instant access" to over 33 million songs, apps, games, movies, TV shows, books, audiobooks and magazines. Prime members will get unlimited streaming access to movies and TV episodes at no extra chard. The same sort of deal applies to Kindle Owners' Lending Library and Prime Music members.
Amazon also unveiled something called Firefly. By pressing and holding a dedicated button, the Fire Phone can recognize printed phone numbers, email and web addresses, business cards and much more. Firefly even works at a distance, so you can capture a phone number on a sign from across the street, for example.
And that leaves us with the question of carrier. Taking a page from the first iPhone launch, you can get the Fire on any carrier you like -- as long as it's AT&T. In an age when the iPhone and Android phones are available on pretty much any carrier, being locked into AT&T could be a non-starter for many folks.
The Fire has some exciting and innovative features. In many ways, it's the phone Apple fans were hoping the 5s would be last fall. But those innovative features walk a fine line between cool and gimmicky. Perhaps Amazon is banking on its general goodwill being the secret sauce that sways consumers to the Fire.
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