Amazon Fire Phone Review Roundup

firephonetilt-140x259[1]Amazon's first smartphone starts arriving tomorrow, and late last night the gags were removed from all of the early reviews. All of the major tech and business blogs got a Fire Phone, resulting in an excess of reviews. I'm still working my way through the reviews but I don't think very many of the reviewers liked the phone. Here are a few of the choicer excerpts.

Overall, the Fire phone is a solid deal: You get all the smartphone basics, with some added bonuses, for a price that's in line with the market. Neither the gesture controls nor Firefly are life-changing, but they're fun and useful. ... However, if you care about getting the latest apps and services or having a big screen, you might want to consider other options.

This is a phone for folks who only want to live in Amazon's world and don't need access to the latest and greatest apps and services rival devices offer. I suspect most people don't fall into that category though.

Overall I like the concept and the technical ingenuity of these features. But in many cases they seem to be more trouble than they’re worth.

Sometimes I inadvertently activated the gesture-based commands when I was moving the phone around, not intending to activate them. The Amazon shopping app, in particular, kept interpreting my random motions as a “peek” gesture and enlarging the product image to fill the screen, for example. In other situations, the “tilt” commands wouldn’t activate when I was trying to get them to work.

The Amazon Fire phone is perfectly suited for people heavily invested in the company’s ecosystem, and who like to use their smartphones one-handed, as long as they like AT&T. But to top Apple and Samsung, Amazon needs to do better.

Amazon is doing some interesting stuff with the Fire Phone, both in hardware and in software. Dynamic Perspective, while not of a whole lot of practical use, is the kind of showroom feature a brand new phone like this needs to stand out. Firefly is just as impressive, and it's much more useful. FireOS is incorporating motion controls in interesting ways, and it does a better job than any other smartphone of actually showing you how to use it. The camera and battery life are both pretty good, and Amazon's Prime and Cloud services are decent add-ons.

But the bigger question for most people isn't going to be "does this phone do anything useful"; it's "should I buy this phone rather than some other competing phone?" For the time being, the answer is no.

At a $200 on-contract, $650 unlocked price point you'll be better served with just about any other flagship phone, whether it runs iOS, stock Android, skinned Android, or Windows Phone 8.1. Even with a free year of Amazon Prime bundled in, there are still better options. Go pick up a Moto X or something. You can find it for cheap and it's a better phone.

In an alternate universe, it's possible to see how a dirt cheap Fire Phone touting Firefly as its killer feature could have filled some sort of niche need for technology averse Amazon junkies. But as it stands—a premium quality phone with decent but not great software that attempts to hang its hat on a mainly on a gimmick—the Fire Phone isn't something you want in your pocket. Maybe someday, some endeavoring developer will find a truly transcendent use for those four front-facing cameras. But until then, you're better off with just about anything else.

The Fire's defining features are fun, but I can't help but feel as though they're merely gimmicks designed by Amazon to demonstrate the company's brilliance -- and at the expense of battery life, to boot. Dynamic Perspective might be useful in a few cases (games, mainly), but it won't provide the user with functionality they'd sorely miss if they went with an iPhone or flagship Android device.

Not only is the Fire lacking in useful new features, but its high price and exclusivity to AT&T guarantee its irrelevance. The company owes its success to millions of loyal online shoppers and bookworms who use Amazon for its convenience and aggressive pricing, so why come out with a smartphone that isn't particularly convenient, and isn't particularly cheap? By no means is the Fire a horrible phone, but it's a forgettable one. You might want the eventual Fire Phone 2, perhaps, but for now, you're better off sticking with what you know.

The Kindle Paperwhite is what the Fire Phone should be, a device perfectly suited to its task with subtle improvements lurking behind every corner. And who knows? Maybe in seven more years we’ll have the smartphone equivalent. But this Fire Phone is more like that first Kindle: a device with so many features, so many ideas, that it has either forgotten or ignored what it’s supposed to be for. Dynamic Perspective and Firefly are impressive technological achievements with bright futures (if by some miracle Amazon can get its developers on board), and the Fire Phone is a remarkably efficient shopping machine. But it’s not a very good smartphone.

When is Amazon coming out with a phone? That question has been answered, but after having tested the phone, I have a new one: Why? The Fire phone has some clever innovations and a nice design, but at the moment, there's not much that would compel me to switch from either Android or iOS. The year of free Prime service is great, as is the unlimited storage for photos, but the Fire's two distinguishing features -- Dynamic Perspective and Firefly -- don't add enough value, even for compulsive shoppers.

On a more basic level, the Fire's short battery life and lower display resolution makes it less compelling than similarly priced flagship phones such as the Galaxy S5. Ultimately, Amazon's phone has a lot of good ideas, but they're more novel than practical.

Instead, it's left to features like Dynamic Perspective and Firefly to sell the Fire Phone, and while they're clever, they're not yet convincing must-haves. In a way, it feels like Amazon tried to make its smartphone too many things: both a smaller gateway to its virtual aisles for your pocket, and a feature-pushing flagship differentiated on more than just software and services. The Amazon Fire Phone is good, but it's neither the home-run nor the game-changer that many were expecting.

Amazon is asking a lot of customers who switch to the Fire Phone -- learning a new phone operating system, and giving up familiar Google products and access to huge app stores. That's a tough sell. People are fiercely loyal to their operating systems. According to a survey by 451 Research/Yankee Group, 93 percent of current iPhone owners intend to stay with Apple, and 79 percent of Android owners intend to stay with Android.

I doubt that Firefly, Dynamic Perspective and easy shopping on Amazon is going to seriously test that loyalty.

My wife is the perfect candidate, however. She’s always owned an iPhone but generally uses it for the basics: Email, phone calls, messaging, Facebook, photos, ebooks, videos and some light gaming. ... It’s not the Dynamic Perspective or one-hand gestures that appeal to my wife, although she did start to like the auto-scrolling for web pages after a while. It’s the Apple-like simplicity of the Fire Phone in an ecosystem that she’s already embedded in. The photo storage is a bonus for her as she keeps bumping into an iCloud storage limit and her husband is too cheap to pay for more. (

There's that word again--potential. The Fire phone is full of it, and laudable though that might be, it's not an argument for buying the phone right now.

Most people who are currently happy with an iPhone or an Android phone won't find anything in the Fire phone to make a switch tempting. Even if you're a die-hard Amazon addict, I'd wait for the first major software update; with any luck, it'll iron out some of the kinks I encountered and fill in features such as Firefly's art identification. Biding your time will also give third-party developers some time to explore the possibilities of Dynamic Perspective and Firefly, and might improve the selection in Amazon's Appstore.

About Nate Hoffelder (11481 Articles)
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader: "I've been into reading ebooks since forever, but I only got my first ereader in July 2007. Everything quickly spiraled out of control from there. Before I started this blog in January 2010 I covered ebooks, ebook readers, and digital publishing for about 2 years as a part of MobileRead Forums. It's a great community, and being a member is a joy. But I thought I could make something out of how I covered the news for MobileRead, so I started this blog."

6 Comments on Amazon Fire Phone Review Roundup

  1. Wish I had a gif of Corbin Bernsen in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang:


  2. It seems most of the blogs felt obligated to compliment the “innovative” features. Hey, they’re totally useless but they’re fun!

    Gizmodo’s seemed the most honest review.

    • Before the launch, I got into a debate on Twitter about the Fire Phone. Most of us agreed that we would use the 3d features for about 5 minutes and then turn them off because they’re simply not that useful for a phone.

      One of the reviews pointed out that a phone is a utility tool, and not an entertainment device (like a tablet, for example). I think that was the point which Amazon most misunderstood.

  3. I couldn’t even bring myself to do a roundup. No idea who would buy one of these. I’m a Prime household, but even my wife and mom who love and swear by Amazon would never trade in their similarly priced iPhones. As for me, someone highly technical and tech opinionated, I can’t imagine a brand new entrant in mobile would provide the experience I’m used to or desire. Will revisit after a few OS updates I suppose.

  4. I think I recall a similar roundup of reviews when the first Kindle Fire was released. While it’s never taken over the tablet space, it’s done well enough to be respectable. I think the Fire Phone will perform similarly.

    Which still doesn’t mean I’ll buy one. I swore after my Nook Color experience to never again tolerate a limited app selection.

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