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REVIEW: Amazon Fire Phone fizzles

The Amazon Fire Phone is full of gimmicks, ho-hum performance and little else.
by Richard Hall Modified: July 29, 2014 at 11:00 am •  Published: July 29, 2014

photo - 
The map app on new Amazon Fire Phone is demonstrated  in Seattle. The map app includes 3D-like renderings of buildings such as the Space Needle. AP Photos
  Ted S. Warren - 
The map app on new Amazon Fire Phone is demonstrated in Seattle. The map app includes 3D-like renderings of buildings such as the Space Needle. AP Photos Ted S. Warren - AP

I love Amazon. So very much. I’ve been a Prime member for years, generally enjoy its tablets and have nothing but praise for its customer service and shopping experience.

But ask me about its first smartphone, the Amazon Fire Phone, and my tune changes: It’s just not a good phone, though it’s a valiant first try that does just enough a smartphone should do to get by.

And even saying that is a stretch. I mean, yeah, the Fire Phone works like any phone should: It makes calls just fine, it’s easy and comfortable to use for texting and Web browsing, but it’s 2014, and customers demand more from their devices.

In a way, the Fire Phone confuses the heck out of me. If you’re used to using a Kindle Fire, then the Fire Phone will feel familiar. The problem is that Amazon cut out the best parts about the Kindle Fire, left in all the junk and has the guts to price it at $650 off-contract at AT&T ($199 on).

The Fire Phone, like its tablet brethren, is using a severely limited version of Android called Fire OS. Unlike Amazon tablets, the Fire Phone has added gimmicks to make the device more enticing, yet it does little to make the user experience more enjoyable, productive or meaningful.

Amazon put all its eggs in the software basket with the Fire Phone, with apps like Firefly. Firefly scans items and then finds those items on Amazon for purchase. It also can listen to songs and audio from movies and identify the artists and movie being played.

Firefly is a fun app to play around with, but it’s inconsistent and takes too long to use for it to be beneficial.

For instance, a coworker of mine uses AmazonBasics cables for his tablet and phone. His attempt to have Firefly identify the cable went nowhere, because the app didn’t recognize the Amazon logo or the shape of the cable.

The same thing happened when I tried using Firefly to find the Amazon Fire Phone by scanning the box the phone came in.

And nada. Like it had some sort of sad existential crisis. And that’s not good for a device that wants to encourage shoppers.

I saw the same kind of inconsistency when I tried to have Firefly recognize music and movies — like a stubborn child, it only responded when it wanted to.

But Firefly isn’t a necessary app. Reason is, the Amazon app has a bar code scanner for items you might want to scan in a store, then there’s Shazam for music identification, and IntoNow that identifies movies and television shows. And all of these work every single time.

Then you have Dynamic Perspective, which is Amazon’s pride and joy of the Fire Phone. It uses four (yes, four) front-facing cameras to track the user’s face so the image on the screen can be altered based on how the phone and user’s face is moving.

But what does that do for anyone? Besides being cool to look at and play around with, it’s completely useless in a practical sense, and is a battery killer (I had an average life of eight hours). I can only hope that, very soon, Amazon will find a much better use for the technology.

It’s worth noting that the front-facing cameras won’t get much use outside of selfies and Dynamic Perspective. Its 13-megapixel rear-facing camera, however, is one of the few good things about the device, and even then it’s still ho-hum when compared to the phone-based cameras that have come out in the last two years.

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by Richard Hall
Digital Media Specialist
Richard Hall is an award-winning newsroom developer, editor and blogger for NewsOK. He was born in Austin, Texas, spent his childhood in southern California and has lived in Norman since 1999. He graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 2008.
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