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Amazon Fire Phone

Editor's rating (1-5): rating starrating starrating starrating star
Carrier: AT&T
Manufacturer: Amazon
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What's Hot: Manageable size, excellent camera, lovely and bright display, fun to use.

What's Not: Its primary point is to sell you Amazon services and goods, only available on AT&T.


Reviewed July 28, 2014 by , Editor in Chief (twitter: @lisagade)

After years of speculation and rumor, Amazon's first phone is here. The Amazon Fire phone isn't just a smaller Kindle Fire HDX tablet, though there are strong resemblances. Like Amazon's tablets, the phone runs Fire OS, a heavily customized version of Android 4.2 with a carousel UI, app drawer and access to Amazon's stores and services. You'll use the Amazon App Store to get apps (many popular titles from Google Play are here, but not all) and the phone is designed to put Amazon Prime video, Kindle Books, Audible audio books, Prime Music and cloud storage at your fingertips. It's also clearly designed to get you to buy more stuff from Amazon. Should a phone do that? Not so much. Where the Fire and Fire HDX tablets felt like an affordable way to consume Kindle books and Prime video, the Fire phone is enhanced to sell, sell, sell. The Fire phone is available in the US and only on AT&T at release. It sells for $199 $99 on contract for the 32 gig model ($650 $550 full retail) and $100 more for the 64 gig version (Amazon dropped the price by $100 not long after launch).

Amazon Fire phone

Dynamic Perspective

Two features stand out: the first is Amazon's 3D dynamic perspective UI that not only changes the angle of an object on screen but allows you to see more of the scene when you move the phone in any direction. It's neat and uses 4 front cameras plus 4 infrared LEDs (one of each at the four corners) to determine your viewing point. Right now, it's mostly a gimmick, but 3D games put the feature to good use, as does the Nokia HERE maps application and the web browser for tilt scrolling. If you turn the phone away from you to share the screen with someone else, the cameras and LEDs might not be able to discern proper viewpoint, so the effect will stop. Likewise, it's best to avoid blocking the corners with your hands. Should you dislike the 3D experience, you can turn it off in settings. Likewise you can individually enable/disable tilt scrolling and motion-based UI navigation.


The other salient feature, Firefly, uses the 13 megapixel rear camera to scan stuff... generally so you can buy that stuff from Amazon. Of course the company would love you to use bricks and mortar stores in your area as a showroom, scan the object of your desire, then click the buy button when you see it's a bit cheaper on Amazon. This isn't just a barcode or QR scanner, it actually uses the camera to see the entire object, be it a book, a bag of potato chips or a music CD jacket, then it recognizes that object and provides a link to the product on You'll see little white dots floating around the viewfinder, and these "fireflies" coalesce around recognized bits, like a book title, author or brand name. It's hit or miss: it did great with Elizabeth Bishop's collected poems (an old hardcover edition, at that) but failed the flavor test with a bag of Kettle potato chips (the bag was original flavor in blue, but for some reason Firefly recognized it as the red Sriracha flavor). Firefly has utility beyond Amazon shopping: aim it at your TV and it can provide info for TV shows and movies, much like Amazon's X-Ray feature, courtesy of IMDB, which Amazon owns. It can scan business cards and call numbers if you point the camera at a printed phone number, be it on a business card or a billboard. Is this easier or quicker than simply dialing? Not so much.

Amazon Fire phone


The Fire phone isn't a specs demon, but it's not wildly far from flagship territory. Amazon's counting on dynamic perspective, Firefly and trust in their brand to drive adoption, but flagship pricing will likely hurt the phone in a world where Amazon's tablets have been more affordable than the competition feature for feature. The phone has a 4.7" 1280 x 720 display, 4G LTE, a 2.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 quad core processor with Adreno 330 graphics, 2 gigs of RAM and 32 or 64 gigs of storage. The 2400 mAh battery is sealed inside and there's no microSD card slot. The Fire has a very capable 2.1MP front camera and a rear 13MP camera (both can shoot 1080p video). Dual band WiFi 802.11ac, Bluetooth 3.0, NFC and a GPS with GLONASS round out the features.


Deals and Shopping:

Amazon Fire Phone Video Review


Design and Ergonomics

The Fire feels a bit heavy for a 4.7" phone, but at 5.64 ounces, it's hardly a lead weight. The sides are rubbery and grippy, while the front and back are clad in Gorilla Glass. The back is black and it has a prominent Amazon logo in white, but no AT&T logo. It's a nice enough looking phone, though it certainly doesn't stand out (other than the bold logo). The upper rear section of the back is often warm to the touch, and it can get very warm when playing demanding games, but not burning hot.

The Fire phone has stereo speakers on the bottom edge that flank a standard micro USB 2.0 port. The 3.5mm audio jack is up top, and Amazon includes a decent set of earbuds. Audio overall is louder than average and full, thanks to a little help from Dolby Digital Plus audio. It's a great phone for listening to music and playing games. The volume controls and dedicated camera/Firefly button are on the left and the power button is up top. Press the camera button to launch the camera app, and press and hold to launch Firefly.


Fire OS 3.5 and User Experience

If you've used a Kindle Fire tablet, the Fire phone's UI will look familiar, though by no means identical to the tablet UI. The carousel is here, this time a bit more cluttered because the phone doesn't just have placeholders for books, music, video and a recent app or two: there are many recent apps, the phone dialer, things you've recognized with Firefly and more. I personally would find it more useful if there were fewer items that were more predicable. I generally made more use of the four bottom shortcuts (phone, messaging, email and Silk web browser) and the app drawer, which you access with a swipe up or a press of the home button (the Fire phone's only navigational button). Gestures replace front buttons, and thankfully they're intuitive enough and few enough that they won't boggle as much as BlackBerry OS 10's myriad gestures. Swipe up to go back a screen. Swipe down from the top, much like any Android handset, to see quick settings and notifications. Swipe from the left to access context sensitive menus and swipe in from the right to see useful stuff like the weather and calendar entries (or images to embed if you're in Amazon's basic IMAP/POP3 email client). Don't like swiping? You can flick your wrist right and left to bring up the left menu system or right menu, which works about 80% of the time. A swivel of the wrist is equivalent to swiping down from the top to see the settings and notification zone.

The phone has a capable quad core CPU in the Snapdragon 800; granted it's a hair slower than the newer Snapdragon 801, but the difference is small and both use Adreno 330 graphics. The Fire phone feels more fluid than most Kindle Fire tablets did at launch, and Amazon has done a great job of making a responsive phone, despite the added weight of the 3D perspective feature. Apps run smoothly and since the screen is 720p rather than 1080p, games aren't as likely to tax the phone.


High end phone lovers will quickly dismiss the 4.7", 1280 x 720 display. Don't: this is a really lovely display with warm, deep and rich color, 1000:1 contrast ratio, superb viewing angles, 590 nits of brightness and pixel density not far from the iPhone 5s' Retina display. Honestly, it's one of the selling points and I suspect that those who see it in stores will be impressed. The phone supports Miracast wireless display, and if you own an Amazon Fire TV, it will work with the Fire phone.

Phone and Data

The calling experience is a bit one-sided: incoming call quality is excellent and louder than average. Outgoing call quality is OK but not great. Our call recipient said volume was very good but clarity didn't rival the flagships on AT&T. Data speeds were par for the course on AT&T's 4G LTE network in Dallas, which is to say excellent (24Mbps down and 15 up). The phone has dual band WiFi 801.22ac for those times you don't want to use up your data bucket's bits and bytes and the mobile hotspot feature for those times when you need fast wireless data for your laptop or tablet.


The front 2.1MP camera is better than average, with relatively natural colors, less unflattering barrel distortion and good detail. It takes selfies that aren't embarrassingly unflattering and works fine in apps like Skype. The rear 13 megapixel camera with optical image stabilization and a fast f/2.0 lens is very good. The UI is simple with HDR on/off, flash control, burst mode and access to the photo gallery, but the image processing software, much as with the iPhone, makes for wonderful photos that are a bit warm, nicely saturated, sharp and natural looking. Images and video neither look oversharpened, nor do they have that telltale watercolor look where noise has been digitally smoothed. It's honestly hard to find fault with the Fire phone as a camera phone unless you're dying for typically mediocre smartphone 4K video recording (and why would you be?).


Like recent Kindle Fire tablets, the Fire phone has Amazon's Mayday service. Having trouble with your phone or one of Amazon's services on that phone? Use Mayday to chat with a support person who'll likely be able to help you. Apple too has very strong customer support, but the rest of the big phone manufacturers fall short, making this a strong selling point for a smartphone novice or as a gift for technologically challenged friends and relatives.

Battery Life

The Amazon Fire phone gets a C grade for battery life. The Snapdragon 800 is a pretty efficient CPU, and the 4.7", 720p display shouldn't be a big power hog, but the phone has just passable battery life. Amazon may well address this with a firmware update. I suspect the dynamic perspective features and the display's default very bright auto-brightness contribute to less than stellar battery life. With the iPhone 5s, LG G3 and Samsung Galaxy S5, I can easily make it to bedtime on a charge with moderate use that includes streaming a few short videos, email, web browsing, some camera use and social networking. With the Fire phone, the battery drained to 20% by 7 or 8pm.


Despite our dislike of the idea of a phone whose primary function at times seems to be selling you things--Amazon things, it's hard to dismiss the Fire Phone. Unlike other newly minted phone operating systems, Fire OS 3.5 is very feature complete. There's no waiting for a future version to get copy and paste, customizable ringtones for each person in your contacts or separate volume levels for alarms, ringer and media playback. The only feature I regularly use on other smartphones that's missing from the Fire phone is scheduled quiet time. The OS is smooth and pleasant to use, and it's clearly geared more toward iPhone converts than Android users who truly adore Android and make great use of its features and services. It's also a solid phone for those finally upgrading from a feature phone thanks to great tech support, a friendly and fun UI, and a strong camera. Most of all, this is a phone for those who consume lots of Amazon services, but even then the hard sell might be a bit much.


Price: $199 with contract, $649.99 retail for 32 gig. $299/$749.99 for 64 gigs. $99 with 2 year contract, $549 full retail for 32 gig model. Add $100 for 64 gig model.

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Display: 4.7" capacitive multi-touch display. Resolution: 1280 x 720. Has ambient light sensor, accelerometer, proximity sensor and Miracast wireless display.

Battery: 2400 mAh Lithium Ion Polymer rechargeable. Battery is not user replaceable.

Performance: 2.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 quad core CPU, Adreno 330 graphics. 2 gigs of RAM, 32 or 64 gigs of storage.

Size: 5.5 x 2.6 x 0.35 inches. Weight: 5.64 ounces.

Phone: GSM quad band world phone. 3G and 4G LTE.

Camera: 2.1MP front camera and 13MP rear camera with OIS, LED flash, HDR and 1080p recording.

Audio: Built in stereo speakers, mic and 3.5mm standard stereo headphone jack.

Networking: Integrated dual band WiFi 802.11b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 3.0 and NFC.

Software: Fire OS 3.5. Calendar, contacts, calculator, email, Silk browser, Kindle, Fire Music, Prime Video, Audible, Amazon App Store, Photos, Firefly, Clock, Newstand Notes, Weather, Maps and Messaging.


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