Amazon’s long–awaited smartphone is here.
Its Fire phone was mooted for years and comes after the company found success with its Kindle Fire range of tablets.
But with strong competition from key Android rivals and Apple’s now budget–friendly iPhone 5c, can it measure up to high expectations?
And do its unique features really make it worth stumping up for? Read our full Amazon Fire review and find out.
First impressions and design
Put the Amazon Fire next to any of today’s crop of smartphones and you can’t help but notice how dated it looks.
It feels heavy in the hand and chunky compared to the likes of the Sony Xperia Z3, the overall design a far cry from the impressive work of the design teams at the Big S, Samsung and HTC, not to mention Apple.
The rear cover is reminiscent of 2012’s Google Nexus 4 and is likewise a fingerprint magnet.
At a time when phones are getting ever thinner and increasingly better looking, the Fire phone feels like an anachronism, something that would have impressed two or three years ago but now doesn’t match far higher standards.
Like its Kindle Fire stablemates, the Amazon Fire uses the company’s own Fire OS, a forked version of Google Android.
It is relatively easy on the eye, with the standard screen of apps allowing access to the retail giant’s own app store, Silk Browser, Instant Video and music download service.
On the surface, all looks well. But start playing around with it and the Amazon Fire soon gives up some of ugly secrets.
There is no back button here: you swipe up to go back, which is wholly counterintuitive if you’re coming from an Android device.
The home screen’s swipe-able, dynamic apps look sharp, but when you slide through them it’s easy to accidentally open the main menu from the left and the notifications tool from the right.
You can’t escape the idea that Amazon is trying to be clever and in doing so has made its phone unintuitive and at times plain unusable.
This is especially true with the device’s key software features: Firefly and Dynamic Perspective.
The former is perhaps the Amazon Fire’s biggest selling point and was the key focus when CEO Jeff Bezos showed off the handset for the first time in the summer.
The concept is clever, if a little terrifying: open the dedicated app and Firefly can analyse images of products, check out what’s on your TV or listen to music and then offer you links to buy any of these products via Amazon’s services.
Leaving aside the very real concerns about what details Amazon is storing about users of Firefly, the simple fact is that this is still a long way from being perfect.
We held up a string of recognisable products for Firefly to analyse, including a Sony compact camera, Apple wireless mouse and MacBook Air and it failed to match any of them.
We then tried simply scanning a bar code, supposedly a key feature, only to find it couldn’t work out what product it had come from. The barcode was from the Fire phone’s own box.
Dynamic Perspective, too, feels little more than a clever gimmick.
Utilising four front facing cameras, it is supposed to allow a three dimensional view of items on your screen.
This works with app screens and the lock screen, but tilting a phone to get a 3D view is not exactly top of our agenda when it comes to key features.
As Samsung found with its Galaxy S4, just because you can make quirky features doesn’t mean users want or need them.
Despite the issues, the camera delivers solid performance, its 13-megapixel sensor and optical image stabilisation making it a match for mid–rangers from the likes of HTC and Samsung.
However, it doesn’t have the same drill down manual features as other Android phones.
Fire OS is a decent enough platform, but at a time when Android and iOS are evolving beyond the basics, it feels hopelessly outdated and clunky.
The lack of a back button and Amazon’s need for a tutorial to take you through the device’s navigational quirks suggest it’s just trying to be different for the sake of it.
The low–res screen also compares poorly to rival phones and means watching back video and your own images is nowhere near as good as on newer, cheaper smartphones.
It’s hard to escape the idea that the Fire phone is little more than a gimmick for Amazon to sell more stuff via its stores.
But in order to do that, it needs its key features to work and they simply don’t.
Firefly is poor and fails in most regards and Fire OS is a world away from more fully realised operating systems.
Throw in an absurd Pay and Go price of £399 on O2, and you’ve got a phone that is best avoided.
- Screen: 4.7–inch, 1280 x 720 HD
- Dimensions: 139.2mm x 66.5mm x 8.9mm
- Battery: 2400 mAh
- Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 800, 2.2GHz
- Camera: 13 megapixel
- Video: 1080p at 30fps
- Connectivity: 4G LTE, HSDPA, Wi–Fi