News Column

Tech Talk: Amazon should improve its phone

June 22, 2014

By Andrew Fraser, St. Cloud Times, Minn.



June 22--Last week, Web retail giant Amazon announced Fire Phone, a smartphone designed around, among other features, helping users connect items in their world with the Web.

Fire Phone is Amazon's first foray into the world of smartphones. Along with dominating Web retail, Amazon has successfully launched several multimedia devices, such as the Kindle Fire tablet line and the recently released Fire TV.

Specs and features

Fire Phone's appearance and form factor are fairly standard: a black casing covers the device, which has a glass front and back.

The phone has a 4.7-inch display (315 ppi) and is powered by a 2.2 GHz quad-core Snapdragon processor. The screen and rear of the device are covered with Gorilla Glass.

Amazon is giving the base Fire Phone model 32GB of storage, a move that hopefully encourages others (read: Apple) to bump up the base storage of their phones and tablets. 16GB isn't enough storage, especially considering how much top-end smartphones already cost. Amazon also devoted resources to the phone's cameras, arming Fire Phone with a 13 megapixel rear camera and a 2.1 megapixel front camera. The company also is offering free, unlimited online photo storage to Fire Phone users, a great deal for those who use their phone camera often and would like a cloud backup for every photo.

Fire Phone's operating system is Fire OS, an Amazon-modified version of Android that forgoes Google Play access for Amazon's app marketplace.

3-D and Firefly

The biggest features Amazon is pushing for Fire Phone are 3D Dynamic Perspective and Firefly.

Fire Phone uses a series of cameras in the device to track user head positions and eye movement, compiling this data to manipulate the screen and provide the user with a unique view, which Amazon calls "Dynamic Perspective." Instead of jumping out at the user, as most 3-D effects attempt to do, Fire Phone's 3-D allows the user to look deeper into the image. The feature can be used to look around 3-D objects or buildings in maps and provide a deeper look at photos and 3-D imagery.

Firefly is a feature that lets users scan basically anything in the world around them and receive additional information about it. To activate the feature, users can point the phone at the object they want to scan, be it a product, television show or something else and press the Firefly button. Fire Phone will track down the scanned object and present the user with identifying info or related actions. One of the related actions users can perform is to see an Amazon listing for the scanned product and buy it directly from Fire Phone. Amazon is hoping the technology is impressive enough to convert scans into sales. This level of retail store and product integration isn't surprising, as all of Amazon's devices more or less serve as extensions of its online store, but I'm a little surprised that Amazon didn't make its mission a little less transparent. Nevertheless, it's interesting technology in an area that several companies are trying to capitalize on: connecting products that aren't Web-enabled to our mobile, connected society.

Cost and provider

Fire Phone will launch July 25, available exclusively on AT&T. The base 32GB version of Fire Phone will cost $199 with a two-year contract, with a 64GB version available for $299. Both models also are available without a contract, for $649 and $749, respectively.

To be honest, the price is a bit steep. Dynamic Perspective has yet to prove itself and Firefly, while interesting tech, is clearly just a way to keep shoppers within Amazon's confines. Add in the lack of access to Google Play and I'm finding it difficult to see the value.

I expected a more interesting business model and better value from the company that successfully launched online value shipping, reasonably-priced express shipping and several ad-supported discount devices. In an era where top Android phones are attractively priced without a contract and T-Mobile is leading the contract-less mobile future, a carrier-exclusive phone at $600+ or a contract seems lacking.

Though it has faults, Fire Phone does have positives, such as the camera system, free online photo storage and higher base memory value. These features will hopefully drive competition to up their game, lest Amazon gets it together and makes Fire Phone a serious contender.

This is the opinion of Times Digital Products Specialist Andrew Fraser. Follow him on Twitter @andrewfraser.

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(c)2014 the St. Cloud Times (St. Cloud, Minn.)

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Source: St. Cloud Times (MN)


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