Fire phone review: all Smoke, no Flame.

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It’s here at last! Amazon’s phone on fire! It has features like “dynamic perspective” and “firefly”. I got the chance to use the once $650 device, so let’s see if it can stand up to the heat. By now, it’s free on contract, but I’d consider it a massive flop. Better luck next time, Amazon.

Design

When you pick you pick up the phone and look at it, the first things you see are the 5 front-facing cameras, part of Amazon’s “dynamic perspective”. They don’t actually look that good, and I don’t really like them. The phone itself looks like an iPhone 4 with rubber replacing the metal. The rubber curves in toward the back, giving the phone a pleasant texture. It has some heft (5.6-ounces), making it feel sturdy. On the front, there are the aforementioned cameras, phone speaker, and on the bottom, an elongated home button. Tap it twice for recent apps, long press for barebones voice commands. On the back, there’s the 13 MP camera with the LED flash and microphone hole. Emblazoned underneath is the Amazon logo. On the bottom sits the micro USB port, speakers, and two Torx T6 screws. On top is the lock button, headphone jack, and another speaker. On the button side, there’s the “firefly” button (which launches the camera with a press, and “firefly” – I’ll talk about this later), and the volume rocker. The 5 front-facing cameras make the phone look like an unfinished prototype. The phone seems kind of unimaginative – the iPhone 4 inspired design, and is only available in black.

 

 

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Hardware

The Fire Phone features mid range specs: a 2.2Ghz Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 System-on-a-chip with 2GB of LPDDR3 SDRAM. There are selectable storage options, 16GB and 32GB, respectively. The phone has a 4.7″ IPS LCD display – the “Goldilocks” size (not too big, not too small), with 1280 x 720 resolution at 315 pixels per inch: not as good as other flagship phones.The phone’s rear-facing camera is 13 MP, auto focus, with optical image stabilization and LED flash. The front-facing camera is 2.1 MP and features the usual grey, washed out results. It seems like the world just doesn’t want us to take selfies! The phone supports 2G Wireless, 3G, and blazing fast 4G LTE. There is also WiFi a/b/g/n/ac, NFC, and Bluetooth 3.0. The sensors consist of the Dynamic Perspective sensor system with invisible infrared illumination, gyroscope, accelerometer, magnetometer, barometer, proximity sensor, and ambient light sensor. The phone also comes with bundled anti-tangle ear buds. That about wraps it up. Here are some test shots.

Results are iffy at best. You need to really try to get good quality. Sometimes it just  blows out the whites, and in difficult lighting situations,the phone struggles.

Software

The fire phone runs “Fire OS” – an android skin. It is heavily customized and seems to be trapped in Amazon’s retail world. Click this – you’re at amazon store. Click that – you’re at the Amazon store. A carousel replaces traditional home screens, cycling through apps. Amazon’s “dynamic perspective” is kind of cool, but more gimmick than anything else. Dynamic perspective uses the four IR front-facing cameras to track your face, giving certain elements a 3D effect, and giving the OS tilt-effects, like auto scrolling by tilting up and down, even though it’s plenty choppy. Although the phone is an Android skin, all Android apps need to be ported to the phone: an annoying, time-consuming process. The native selection isn’t that good either, only 175,000 apps. Firefly is another feature on the phone, using the camera to detect phone numbers, eMail addresses, magazine covers, and bar codes, then importing them into the phone. However, the phone then searches the Amazon store for products to sell you. Simply put sometimes this is useful, but mostly, it’s a complete gimmick to make Amazon more money. However, the phone has a lot of perks (The perks, the perks!) like a free year of Amazon prime. The basics, like phone call quality and texting are great, but sometimes the phone just lags for a second. Simply put, with the phone, and its ecosystem, you’re either all in, or all out. iu-5

Performance

I tested the phone’s speed with benchmarks and real world tests. Passmark’s diagnostic test features a score of 3,644, lower than other phones – the Samsung GS5 got 4,355. This is attributed to its slightly older chipset. Not only is it the fire phone, but it feels like it’s on fire. Which I worry about. The phone also burns through battery, surprising, because of its 2,400 MaH capacity. I think the drain is in part due to the dynamic perspective, but things like streaming music and movies may also be culprits. In day-to-day activities, the phone struggled, in things like booting, loading the lock screen, and launching the camera.

The Bottom Line

Sporting mid-range specs and some gimmicky features, there’s not much incentive to buy this phone. Even worse, every step, the phone brings you to Amazon’s online store. The wireless speeds are blazing fast, but the phone sure is a scorcher, and burns through battery. Call quality is great, but the camera stinks. I like the low-key, low contrast design, but wish the back wasn’t delicate glass. I love the fresh OS design, but hate the marketing. The last straw is that the phone is an AT&T exclusive. It is locked to AT&T, even when bought off contract for about $600. It is not available internationally without an expensive unlock code. Ultimately, there’s not too much incentive to switch. The phone is excellent for Amazon shopping, but ultimately not a good smartphone.

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