Every gadget, no matter how carefully prepared, thought-through and well-groomed, has flaws. The iPhone 5s fell short of perfection, Samsung’s Galaxy S5 likewise, and even LG’s G3 is underwhelming in some respects.
The key to success is in most cases to cover a device’s imperfections with a greater number of assets. More important than their count, these have to stick and make you forget all about the obligatory pitfalls.
On that note, we intend to explore in the following lines the sum of the just announced Amazon Fire Phone’s strong and weak points. Clearly, pitting it against other top dogs of the Android market is impractical, since it’s really a unique piece of mobile tech, so in a way, Amazon’s mission to seize the attention of everyday users is that much more difficult. Not to mention risky.
Without further ado therefore, here’s what could make or break the Fire Phone:
- 3D interface, aka Dynamic Perspective – the good and bad of a cutting-edge technology
- Firefly, Mayday, Amazon Prime – the true must-buy features
- AT&T exclusivity – the beginning of the end?
- Specs – not great, not terrible
- Software and design – swing and a miss
- 13 MP OIS camera and stereo speakers – too little, too late?
3D interface, aka Dynamic Perspective – the good and bad of a cutting-edge technology
Before sinking our teeth into the ingenious but somewhat gimmicky 3D effects and their real-life usefulness (or lack thereof), a vital remark: the Fire Phone has nothing to do with the clunkiness and frivolousness of past 3D phones. Remember the LG Optimus 3D? HTC’s Evo 3D? Oh, gawd, they were horrendous.
Meanwhile, the petite (by today’s standards) Fire may not be perfect, but it’s obviously a step forward for 3D tech. What it does is basically track your every move, motion or gesture when near the handheld (scary, huh?), via four front-facing cams (separate of the selfie-dedicated 2.1 MP snapper).
Then, depending on exactly what it detects, it essentially enables touch less interaction at a whole new level compared to Motorola’s Moto X or recent Samsung flagships. Forget buggy, rudimentary Air Gestures, this is like their future, smoother counterpart.
Technically, Dynamic Perspective will work with an array of Amazon-developed apps and third-party titles and game, as well as every tidbit of the pre-loaded UI. But simply flicking through photos or installed apps with no hands is likely to get old soon, so Jeff Bezos & co. need vigorous support from outside devs to keep things diverse and interesting.
Firefly, Mayday, Amazon Prime – the true must-buy features
Look, I realize these might be considered gimmicks too, maybe more so than the 3D effects, but damn, are they neat. A service that can recognize everything you put in front of the phone, from DVDs to books and household appliances, plus that can identify songs and whatnot, and then provide links for online purchasing? Brilliant.
Customer service support accessible every day, every night, via Wi-Fi, 3G or 4G and where operators answer your questions in 15 seconds tops? Where do I sign up? And the icing on the cake may just be the one-year free membership to Amazon Prime, Netflix’s feistiest rival nowadays. Mind you, that’s a $99-worth freebie, so on-contract pricing basically drops to $100 and outright costs to $550. Sweet!
AT&T exclusivity – the beginning of the end?
So far, so good for the Fire Phone (or at least so far, so adequate), but launching the 4.7 incher on just one US network is a big, big mistake. Parallels with AT&T’s latest exclusive flop, the HTC First, aka “Facebook Phone”, are inevitable, and while this thing is clearly better than the First both software and hardware-wise, addressing a target audience of merely 100 million or so is, put simply, amateur hour.
Don’t kid yourselves, no one will migrate from Verizon, Sprint or T-Mobile to Ma Bell for a phone. Especially one that’s got multiple minor weaknesses, which combined, result in pretty major qualms.
Specs – not great, not terrible
Amazon is exposing itself to one more unflattering comparison with this whole “specs aren’t important” marketing strategy. Namely, the semblances with Motorola’s Moto X are striking. Good thing Bezos didn’t order a “customized” homebrewed processor, instead going the safe and smart route with Qualcomm’s aging but bitching quad-core Snapdragon 800 unit.
The 2 gigs of RAM are sizzling hot too (for a device that doesn’t care about specs), but sadly, the 4.7-inch 720p display is simply too small and low-res for most power users. Personally, I dig it and especially appreciate its outdoor visibility performance, but I can understand why you’d be let down. Also, no microSD card slot? That may work for Google, because it’s Google, but you’re no Google, Amazon.
Software and design – swing and a miss
Yeah, yeah, we knew what to expect and got just that – a carbon copy of the Fire OS found inside Amazon tablets, theoretically based on Android, but looking like anything but Big G’s platform. Seriously, it’s probably closer to iOS than vanilla Android.
And so annoyingly connected to Amazon’s Appstore, and its proprietary services. Plus, Here Maps, which I’m actually fine with. The rest? Not so much. I mean, I’m no Play Store addict, and Amazon’s Appstore has its value, but offering the choice between the two would have really been the best of both worlds.
Aesthetically, the Fire Phone is no winner either, although certain build elements will be greatly appreciated. Aluminum buttons, steel connecters, a few extra metallic accents, they all give the 4.7 incher a sense of robustness and durability.
Still, at the end of the day, a bit of elegance would have gone a long way in differentiating the handheld from, say, Google’s Nexus 4. Yeah, the two-year-old N4. Now I’m not accusing anyone of stealing, as the Fire Phone has enough to set itself apart from the crowd. But 9 mm in depth? 160 grams in weight with a skinny 2,400 mAh battery beneath the hood? Someone from the design team is going to get fired.
13 MP OIS camera and stereo speakers – too little, too late?
Aside from the four cams used solely for tracking purposes, the Amazon Fire also features a top-notch rear-facing shooter with 13 megapixel sensor, optical image stabilization, LED Flash, autofocus, HDR and a bunch of other add-ons.
Impressive feat once again for a non-spec-buster, and the dual stereo speakers, as well as the Dolby Digital Plus sound system, also help paint the gadget a much flattering picture than maybe we expected a while ago. Enough to break new ground in the landscape, launch trends and lay the groundwork for a fresh race of high-end smartphones? I think I’m going to go with no, thinking back to the restricted OS, AT&T exclusivity, scanty battery or lackluster design.
How about you, dear readers, are you inclined to play with Fire? Sound off below and tell us why.