Talking tech since 2003

Today at a press event in Seattle, Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos took to the stage to introduce the company’s newest consumer product: the Fire Phone, the realization of months of rumors and speculation.

Let’s dive right into the details, shall we?

Carrier, Pricing, & Specs

feature-techspecs__V349352853_As we’d heard just yesterday, AT&T will be the exclusive carrier of the Fire Phone, which is capable of providing 4G LTE data service. It’s available for pre-order starting today, and it’ll cost $199 for the standard 32 GB model, while the 64 GB model costs $299. Interestingly – and surprisingly – you can also buy one without a contract for the not-too-cheap $649. It also includes a free year of Amazon Prime subscription, offering a nice bonus in return for buying the phone. No mention of Prime Data, though.

Many of the specs we’d heard about leading up to the event have proven to be accurate. The Fire Phone (or Phire Phone, which I much prefer) has a 4.7-inch Gorilla Glass display, packaged in a rubberized frame. Inside that frame, the Fire Phone packs a Quad-core, 2.2 GHz CPU, Adreno 330 graphics, and 2 GB of RAM, giving the smartphone some definite speed. It’s also packing a 13 megapixel rear camera with image stabilization.

But more interesting than the quality of the camera is the strength of the Amazon service package. Bezos said that users will be able to enjoy unlimited photo save-space via Amazon Cloud Storage, all for free. That’s a great value add, and shows the strength of Amazon as a consumer products platform.

Sadly, the phone still seems to make use of the forked version of Android that’s found on Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablets. It’ll be interesting to see if the UI translates well to a smartphone. I’m predicting that it won’t…but maybe Amazon will prove me wrong.

Features

Building on some of the features found in Fire TV, the Fire Phone also allows users to zap video content to set-top boxes utilizing “predictive caching.” So in addition to being able to move your viewing selection from phone to TV, the phone will also predict what you’ll want to watch and have it ready to go. Prime Music, likewise, will get a starring role on the Fire Phone, but the handset will also provide access to Spotify, Pandora, and iHeartRadio.

The phone also boasts an Immersion Reading feature, which seems to let users switch between Audible audio books and their Kindle app. If that’s the case, it’ll be a huge boost to readers who wish they could keep their stories going while in the car. If that’s an exclusive Fire Phone feature, that alone may have sold me.

Other Amazon-exclusive features are also on the Fire Phone, specifically the Mayday tech support feature that debuted on recent iterations of the Kindle Fire tablet. But that’s not the most interesting part of the handset…

Firefly

There’s a new feature called Firefly. That app, apparently, detects media items like movies, books, games, or CDs simply by pointing the phone’s camera right at them, all so you can instantly find them on Amazon’s storefront and make a quick purchase.

Jeff Bezos, you evil wizard, stop making it easier for me to buy stuff.

Firefly also connects CDs it sees and finds it on Prime Music for instant playback – as long as its on the service, that is. The same happens for scenes in movies or TV shows through Amazon Instant Video, and can even pull up Wikipedia entries for when it sees a piece of art. In short, Firefly sounds like a souped up version of Shazam. It’s like the Star Trek computer, but you get to buy stuff! According to Bezos, the app can recognize “over 100 million items.” And chances are good that as the app’s usage grows, that number will grow exponentially in no time flat.

Firefly isn’t only for buying or playing media, though. It also recognizes phone numbers, so if you need to call someone who’s number is listed on a business card, just scan it and you’re good to go. Hopefully that feature will also allow for quick saving of other important contact information, like email addresses and physical addresses.

A Firefly SDK will be available for developers shortly, giving them access to all of the app’s features. Moreover, Firefly will have one dedicated button on the side of the Fire Phone, giving users the ability to quickly call it up at a moment’s notice. That’s good – because Firefly sounds like one of the most interesting features Amazon could’ve unveiled, and instantly makes the handset much more interesting than we’d thought it was going to be just yesterday.

feature-prime__V351093559_Dynamic Perspective

As we’d been hearing in the weeks leading up to this event, the Fire Phone is capable of glasses-free 3D visuals through a process called “Dynamic Perpective.” That means that the phone’s display will “re-draw 3D images at 60 frames per second.”

Aside from being able to look at 3D imagery in maps and looking “under” icons on your screen, however, it’s not entirely clear what this feature’s use will be – aside from looking flashy. Even still, flash counts for a lot in the world of smartphones. As we’d heard, the Dynamic Perspective feature works primarily through the four infrared cameras situated on the phone’s face. That allows it to work in the dark – so that’s neat.

Like Firefly, Dynamic Perspective will also have an SDK available for developers to play with, meaning that we may get some really interesting applications for the feature. Hopefully they’ll find a way to make that happen in such a way as to make it seem less like a gimmick, and more like a real reason to buy the handset.

Final thoughts

So far, Amazon looks like it’s hit a great balance between interesting, unique features and an affordable price. A $200 price tag for a smartphone is very reasonable, and features like Firefly make the handset much more interesting than just 3D visuals. The bonus of 12 months of Amazon Prime service helps too, adding another $90 value into the package.

All together, the Fire Phone might turn more than a few heads. It’ll be interesting to see how well it does when it finally launches in a few months.

What do you think of the Fire Phone? Think you’ll switch to AT&T to get one?

[Pre-order on Amazon]


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