What’s the big deal with Amazon’s Fire Phone?

Chris Davies - Jun 19, 2014, 3:39pm CDT
What’s the big deal with Amazon’s Fire Phone?

Amazon’s Fire Phone is proving divisive, with the 3D smartphone encountering both curiosity and criticism for its unusual interface and underwhelming pricing structure. Rather than shaking up the smartphone industry, Amazon‘s “little bit different” was an even easier way to shop from the company’s own store. Missed the big event? Confused about what makes the Fire Phone special – or worthy of mockery? We’ve got you covered.

The core specs are an interesting mixture of bleeding-edge and old-familiar. The 4.7-inch display, 720p resolution, and Snapdragon 800 processor aren’t exactly groundbreaking, and neither is the Fire Phone’s design.

Fire Phone overview: Part One:

Clearly following in the footsteps of the Kindle Fire HDX, Amazon’s phone – the handiwork of ODM Foxconn – pairs rubberized plastic and toughened glass. It’s not going to offend anybody (well, shiny Amazon logo on the back aside) but neither is it going to distract from more aesthetically appealing devices like the HTC One M8 or iPhone 5s.

Fire Phone overview: Part One:

Yet the relatively mundane hardware and design are paired with a hitherto-unseen quad-camera face tracking array, which Amazon uses for Dynamic Perspective. Rather than a fiddly autostereoscopic display, as on the HTC EVO 3D, Amazon has opted to give the appearance of three dimensions with its software instead: peering around the phone reveals different layers of the interface.

What’s intriguing about Dynamic Perspective is that Amazon didn’t talk at all about 3D content. There’s no attempt to deliver 3D movies to the phone; the system is all about a more immersive interface, paired with tilt gesture controls to help with one-handed use.

Dynamic Perspective hands-on:

The second half of Amazon’s pitch is Firefly, turning the Fire Phone’s 13-megapixel camera into a barcode scanner turned up to eleven. Firefly uses object recognition from the simplest things – like the covers on books, games, and DVDs – through to more complex things like TV channels, household items, text on adverts and business cards, and more.

It’s unlikely to go down well with retailers, who can only expect to see more in-store price comparisons with potential customers checking brick & mortar costs with their online equivalent. For Amazon, though, it turns the Fire Phone into the perfect Prime terminal.

Firefly demo:

If the Fire Phone hasn’t been received glowingly by the tech-obsessed, that may not be such a drawback for Amazon. In fact, the signs point to Jeff Bezos having a completely different audience in mind: one who isn’t so much concerned by having the cutting-edge in phones, but who wants easy shopping, predictable access to their media, and easy support when they’re confused.

That’s why it makes sense to see Amazon Mayday on the Fire Phone, the retailer’s live, on-demand customer services support brought over from the Kindle Fire HDX and slapped into a thumbnail webchat on the smartphone’s screen.

Amazon Mayday on Fire Phone:

Mayday may ostensibly be for mainstream tech support, but Amazon’s assistants have been used for much more: the company has anecdotes of reps being asked for help with Angry Birds levels, cooking advice, and more.

If Amazon can position it as something in the vein of Vertu’s Concierge service, only democratized (and diluted somewhat) for the mass market, it could take a big bite of the lingering hold-outs tempted by the flexibility of a smartphone but scared of the complexity.

I like Amazon’s Fire Phone, but I won’t buy it

What they won’t get is a comparative bargain. Despite the rumors and speculation beforehand, Amazon didn’t do anything to disrupt two-year carrier agreements, data plans, or pricing. There’s a choice of on- or off-contract devices, true, but you’re still looking at an iPhone 5s-matching $199 with agreement, and exclusive carrier AT&T isn’t everybody’s first choice of operator.

Deliveries kick off on July 25th, and only time will tell whether Amazon has taken the temperature of its audience correctly, and if the Fire Phone will catch alight or fizzle out. You can find out more on the Fire Phone in our full hands-on.

Must Read Bits & Bytes