19 June 2014

Amazon launches Fire phone.

At a press event held in Seattle last night, Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos put Apple, Samsung and legions of online retailers on red alert with the launch of its new Fire smartphone, with the promise that the online giant would once again revolutionise shopping.

Measuring nearly 12cm diagonally, the new Fire phone sports a 4.7-inch, 1,280x720 res display and is powered by a quad-core 2.2GHz Snapdragon 800 chip, has 2GB of RAM, 32 or 64GB of storage, and an Adreno 330 graphics chip.  Dolby Digital sound is provided by dual-stereo speakers.

The handset boasts a 3D effect (no glasses needed), made possible with four face-tracking cameras mounted on the front of the device.  This allows the user to change an image's perspective in relation to the display by moving their head, rather than creating "pop-out" effects.

In addition, the device has a 13 MP rear-facing camera with a dedicated shutter button for taking everyday photos, a front camera for selfies (2.1 MP), as well as the four front-facing cameras to track your every move and gesture and act accordingly.  Amazon is also allowing unlimited photo storage for the phone through Amazon Cloud Drive.

Bezos also showed how the "dynamic perspective" effect could be used to help navigate maps by looking around the side of landmarks.  This effect is made possible by the inclusion of the four "ultra-low power" cameras coupled with four infrared LEDs, which permit the device to keep tracking the position of the user's eyes and mouth in the dark.

Bezos gave the example of looking at a dress' design from different angles as an example of how the effect could be used, and showed how a handset could be tilted afterwards to make it move onto another garment.

Another standard feature is the ability to use the phone through gesture controls, for example tilting the phone to scroll through web pages.

In a rare media appearance, Bezos demonstrated Firefly, another innovation that enables the phone to identify any of 100m products within a second and then link to the product on Amazon’s website.

The Fire has a dedicated side-button to activate Firefly, enabling the phone to recognise text, images, and sounds in the smartphone's immediate vicinity.  It can be used to bring up information - for example details of a wine, the name of a song, or information about a painting - and when relevant, the chance to buy the same or a related product online from Amazon.

“The dedicated Firefly button lets you identify printed web and email addresses, phone numbers, QR and bar codes, artwork, and over 100 million items, including songs, movies, TV shows, and products – and take action in seconds”, said Bezos.

The basic version of the Fire will have 32GB of storage and will cost $199 (£117) when taken with a two-year contract.  A 64GB version will also be available for $299 (£175). Both handsets will also come with a free 12 month subscription to Amazon Prime.

Operating System:  the on-board software is broadly based on Android 4.2 Jelly Bean, although the look and feel are only vaguely similar to Google’s stock OS.

Battery:  as with the iPhone, the battery is not ‘user-replaceable’.

Cases:  Amazon is also offering a selection of polyurethane cases for the Fire Phone that come in five different colours.


The handset is expected to launch in the US on 25th July.


Comment: Amazon's killer blow lies in its deep connection to the Prime subscription service.  The Fire phone is rather a gateway into its millions of books, movies and music on-demand, making the device key to a very appealing package.

The phone distills the best of the Amazon user experience in Firefly, where a single button on the device turns your world into a shop window.  You like it, you snap it, and you can buy it.

Looking past the much-hyped '3D' effect, actually there's a decent piece of kit with some nice features.  A quality camera and screen, a reasonable price, free and unlimited photo storage, and a year of Amazon Prime thrown in to boot are enough to shift units on their own.

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