Despite an already crowded phone market, Amazon will launch its Fire Phone, with a 4.7-inch HD display, quad core 2.2Ghz processor on 30 September. The Fire Phone is an iPhone and Samsung Galaxy S5 rival that doesn’t cost the earth, with the phone available for no upfront cost on an O2 contract.
Amazon has included some innovative features – such as the Firefly scanner – that it hopes will give it the edge over Samsung, Google and Apple and, for a limited time, the phone comes with a free year’s subscription to Amazon Prime.
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Firefly helps you shop the world – Amazon will tell you different but Firefly is basically a fancy shopping app. The Fire’s camera uses the software to recognise 100 million different everyday items in the world around you, from art and books to bar codes and QR codes. Scan something and Firefly will identify it and link you to information from Amazon about the item and the Amazon store. You can use Firefly via a dedicated button on the side of the phone.
3D screen – well, not really. You can’t blame Amazon for not delivering on buzz drummed up by tech journalists but the 3D technology on the Fire looks underwhelming. Called dynamic perspective it certainly isn’t the holographic projections rumoured. Instead, it’s a 3D-like display without the need for silly glasses. In the demo of the feature Amazon showed the Empire State building bulging out of the map screen.
Prime price – anyone expecting a Kindle Fire budget busting price tag will be disappointed. We only have US pricing so far, where the 32GB version will cost $199 (£117) on a two year contract or $649 (£381) contract free. That’s a bargain against a £629 iPhone and around the same price as the £339 Nexus 5.
Mayday button – Already available on the Kindle Fire tablet, Mayday is made for those who need a hand with their tech. Whether you want to know how to download an app or are having trouble getting the screen settings right, you simply push the Mayday button and in a matter of seconds you’ll be on the line with an Amazon tech expert. Best of all? It’s completely free.
How many apps? – the phone will run on a forked version of Android. That means that while it’s based on the Android operating system it has been customised for Amazon. The major drawback here is that you have to use the Amazon app store, which has a smaller selection than the full Android Google store. There are a lot of apps available through Amazon but they need more.
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Amazon is jealous. You might already be shopping with Amazon and watching films on Amazon Instant Prime, but you aren’t doing it on an Amazon phone. They want to change that.
It’s easy to forget that Amazon started as a company that sold cut price books. Today it’s not only the world’s largest online retailer, but it makes its own tablets and phones, has its own app store lite to deliver content to those tablets and phones and its own movie streaming service to download from that app store. Amazon wants you to use its services on its hardware. That’s where the Fire Phone comes in.
And it’s not only the phone itself. Most of what comes with the Fire Phone is also about getting you more involved with Amazon.
Take Firefly. There is no doubting the brilliance of the technology. It understands shapes, images, text and sound. The phone can recognise thousands of items in the world around you, from the wine you’re drinking and the toothpaste you use to a Rembrandt or a Van Gough in an art gallery. That is incredible.
What isn’t incredible is that Amazon is basically using this to flog you stuff. Sure, scan a book and you’ll get details up about the author, but it will be surrounded by a buy me now from Amazon. It will be handy when you’re in a shop and you want to find out if a product is cheaper on Amazon (more bad news for high street retailers), but it is just a shopping app. At least for now.
As for the 3D technology… I like the Empire State building as much as the next man, but if the technology is as limited as it looks the 3D will be reduced to a party piece when you’re showing the phone off to friends. Amazon need to give us reasons to want to use the 3D display. Can it make shopping easier or games more fun?
Ignoring the headline grabbing features, and I think that’s what most people will do, the phone is well priced. It’s the cheapest flagship phone on the market. But it’s still going to have a hard time. People are familiar with the Apple and Google Play app stores and while the Amazon app store has expanded recently users have little patience when the latest, hottest app isn’t available immediately.
Rory Boland – deputy technology editor