Amazon launches Fire Phone

The company's first smartphone brings decent specs and some nifty software tricks

Amazon Fire Phone

Following in the footsteps of its Kindle Fire tablets and Fire TV streaming device, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos took to the stage in Seattle to announce the Fire Phone, Amazon’s first smartphone.

All told, what Amazon have produced is something which every major manufacturer should be paying close attention to. On the outside, the new Fire Phone (not the most elegant name, but at least it’s direct) maintains the unassuming nature of its hardware relatives. A simple, black device formed from rubberized plastic with aluminum buttons, its front is a slab of tough Gorilla Glass shielding a 4.7-inch 720p screen, putting it on-par with Motorola’s mid-range wunderkind the Moto X. That screen offers a blinding 590 nits of brightness, while dynamic image contrast and a “circular polarizer” should help improve its clarity and reduce glare — both of which will also help reading, because Amazon hasn’t entirely forgotten its bookish roots. Inside, the Fire Phone is up to date with its competitors, offering a quad-core 2.2GHz processor, Adreno 330 GPU and 2GB of RAM, which should help keep Amazon’s heavily customized Android software moving with some gusto.

Speaking of which, Amazon have introduced some powerful features to differentiate their device from the Samsung and iPhone mainstays. First up, Amazon’s Mayday service will be coming to the Fire Phone. Debuted on the Kindle Fire tablets, it features 24/7, 365-days-a-year live customer support, with Amazon promising all calls will be answered in under 15 seconds. It’ll work over WiFi, 3G and LTE and, best of all, it remains completely free. On top of that, Amazon are premiering something they’re calling Firefly (sadly, nothing to do with the incredible early ’00s show which shares its name). Firefly uses the Fire Phone’s camera to scan phone numbers, QR codes, URLs, bar codes, books, DVDs, CDs, even works of art, while the microphone is used to recognize music. If Firefly is able to successfully detect something, it’ll launch an appropriate action — the Wikipedia page for a successfully scanned work of art, for example, or the option to buy a book which the phone’s camera has identified. Firefly can currently detect over 100 million items, and the Fire Phone features a dedicated Firefly button — a sign that Amazon believes in the usefulness of the new system.

Amazon Fire Phone 2

The Fire Phone’s main selling point — and the one you can expect to see plastered across every billboard and displayed in every advertisement — is its much-rumored 3D interface: ‘Dynamic Perspective’. Utilizing four front-facing cameras, each enjoying a 120-degree field of view and infrared light, the Fire Phone can track a user’s movements and reactions as they handle the device. As a result, Amazon have crafted some interesting software tricks. For instance, the phone can utilize a faux-3D effect which manipulates the image on screen depending on where the user is viewing the screen from — if you look at a map view of the Empire State Building, the phone can trick you into thinking it is coming out of the screen at you, for example. Users can also move the phone to change what’s on screen, tilting to move forwards and backwards through a slideshow, or to scroll up and down through a webpage — something Samsung has had for a while with its Smart Scroll functionality. Amazon expects to find more uses for its 3D cameras, and has apparently worked with app developers and game developers to build the feature into their software, which should make it less of a temporary delight than features on some other devices.

For those who buy a smartphone to take photos and listen to music, it offers the usual features of its rivals. LTE connectivity covers nine bands, which allows for worldwide coverage, while NFC and Bluetooth are both on board. Battery life is promised at 65 hours of audio and 11 hours of video, though reading hasn’t been confirmed. If you use your phone as a replacement camera, you’re in luck: Amazon have included a 13MP camera with f/2.0 lens and optical image stabilization, while video can be captured up to 1080p resolution. The Fire Phone also touts dual stereo speakers with virtual Dolby Digital Plus surround sound, while the bundled earphones are a genius attempt to offer stress-free ownership: tangle-free cables and magnetic earbuds which clasp together should stop them turning into spaghetti in your pocket.

If you’re interested in the Fire Phone, it’s offered exclusively through AT&T — just like the original iPhone — with one year of Prime and unlimited Cloud storage for photos captured on the device. The Fire launches July 25 and is available to pre-order in AT&T stores, online at att.com or, of course, at amazon.com. It’ll go for $199 with contract for 32GB of storage, or $299 for 64GB. AT&T’s Next program will offer it for as little as $27/month for an 18-month plan. Fancy the Fire Phone off contract? It’ll set you back $649 for 32GB and $749 to double that storage.

Rhuaridh Marr is one of Metro Weekly's contributing editors and covers cars, technology, gaming and world news. He is usually found with a game controller in one hand and a smartphone in the other and can be reached at rmarr@metroweekly.com.

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