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June 18th 2014 4:38 pm

Is Amazon's Fire Phone worth caring about?

Just a few hours ago, Jeff Bezos took the stage to announce Amazon's latest hardware venture: Fire Phone.

It mostly has spec parity with many of today's popular smartphones: large screen (4.7 inches), nice resolution (1280x720), fast processor (2.2GHz), and a seemingly good camera (13MP). However, Amazon is also introducing a few new tidbits: the screen features "Dynamic Perspective" which adjusts the screen's image based on its relation to your head, the phone comes with (free) unlimited cloud photo storage, Amazon's "Mayday" help service, and a new feature called "Firefly" that uses the camera to recognize books, DVDs, barcodes, phone numbers etc.

A lot of this sounds pretty cool - but I'm having a hard time figuring out exactly why I want any of this. Don't get me wrong, innovation is good (head-tracking sounds really cool in theory), but I'm just not sure any of this results in a substantially better experience than an iOS or Android device.

Unfortunately, Amazon was unable to offer innovate with pricing - the phone starts at $199 on contract for 32GB and $299 for 64GB. Its off-contract prices are, like most other phones, miserably high - starting at $649.

Ultimately, despite some of the cool additions like Firefly, it seems too late to substantially break into the smartphone market. What really surprises me is that Amazon is uncharacteristically attempting to use its services to sell devices (free Prime for a year, free photo storage), rather than trying to sell devices to further the sale of services.

Do you care about Amazon's announcement today? If so, what about the phone really entices you?

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7 replies

I have been waiting for this for the primary reason that I have lost any trust I had in Google and am looking to get out of their ecosystem on my devices. I have a clear value-for-value relationship with Amazon and their business model is obvious enough. Granted, I am not naive enough to doubt that Amazon has a huge trove of info on me as much as I shop there and use their services, but they have a real disincentive for sharing that info outside Amazon. I believe Bezos is smart enough to realize that selling that data would be potentially disastrous to their actual business model (selling stuff) if people found out. I feel reasonably secure that Amazon knows its place with customers and is not abusing that relationship. Some say they feel the same way about Apple and its relationship to customers, but there has been a little evidence to the contrary and I don't like the idea of the upcoming "always listening Siri".

Having said all that, I am disappointed that it's AT&T only at this point and that it is priced outside my budget. I understand the pricing, even though I wish it were lower. From the looks of things, they have tons of R&D to recoup. My hope is that this will follow the same pricing curve as the Kindles. Once the next model comes out, they will keep selling the old model, but at a significantly lower price. Hopefully they will have other carrier support by then. Seriously, if my options in life were to have a phone on AT&T or rolling back to the 1990s and not having a phone at all... let's just say it would be time for me to dig the Smashing Pumpkins CDs out.
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Agreed. would have much rather liked to see this on verizon or sprints network
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For me personally this isn't offering much of anything, but I can see it being a hit amongst heavy Amazon customers. I had a friend asking about Amazon Prime Music, so Amazon is doing enough to get people interested in their services. Whether or not they can convince them to buy the device, I'm not so sure. Restricting it to AT&T is a big iffy thing, and even if you can use it on T-Mobile it has no Verizon support which is the largest US carrier.

That aside, I think Amazon has managed to create a good ecosystem with plenty of content. I have reservations about UI and UX of said ecosystem, but I'm not their target audience.
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I think it's going to sell like hotcakes no matter what we think. For we are not the average phone buyers. My mother is, and she looooves her Kindle Fires and the only I can see keeping her away from this is a) price and b) she's a T-Mobile subscriber.
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I agree. Especially, when that phone is slapped all over Amazon's homepage, it's going to be at the forefront of most people's minds. The only thing that's going to stop some people from buying is the AT&T network.
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I'm not surprised that Amazon is using their services to sell the phone rather than the phone to sell their services. As stated, it is dreadfully similar to other phones spec wise so they must differentiate on other things. Thus, powered by Amazon services.

I am more dismayed that the phone is an AT&T exclusive. That fact makes this phone a non starter for me personally. I wasn't in the market for a new phone but, if I was, AT&T exclusivity means that I can not use the phone. I would have rather seen this as a T-Mobile exclusive or unlocked.

I think the Mayday feature will be the greatest selling point for this device besides the Amazon services. The ability to talk to a person when you encounter problems is undeniably a great customer service experience. It is marketed as the Genius Bar at Apple stores only on your device. Very cool.

Ultimately, this phone won't be a huge success and the only thing that will keep this phone on shelves will the the will power of Amazon.
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I had an opportunity to use the Kindle Fire HDX for a while and while the hardware was super nice and it was clear that it was a quality tablet, the software felt a little half baked and limited if you weren't a heavy amazon user and maybe wanted, oh say, the youtube app which wasn't on the Amazon App Store. I eventually sideloaded it, but it was complicated to do.

I suspect the OS on this phone probably isn't too different. And while it is very nice, i can't shake the feeling that this is just another phone that doesn't introduce much new and software wise might actually be inferior. I hope that isn't the case.
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