We’ve been hearing the rumours for weeks (months? years?), and the day has finally come. Amazon’s phone is here. It’s called the Fire Phone, and it’s got some fancy new tricks.
Dynamic Perspective (3D Display)
As rumoured, the Fire phone will have a unique 3D interface called Dynamic Perspective. It can shift the image on the display to add a depth effect, making it appear as if you’re looking through a window into another world. Will this work well? Will it explode if you and a friend are looking at it at the same time? Maybe! We don’t know yet.
Dynamic Perspective was demoed on the phone’s lock screen at Amazon’s event today and it looked cool, but it seemed much more effective in the Maps app. Not only did it make the Empire State Building look like it was popping out, but when you’re looking at layers on a map (say, nearby restaurants) you can tilt the phone one way to remove the layers, and tilt the other way to display them again.
It also looks pretty awesome for games. In a game called Tofu Fury, you can look around the world by moving the phone so that you can really see where you are and where you need to go. It’s still not clear whether it will be a go-to feature or a gimmicky eyesore, but it’s definitely different.
There’s a layer of gesture control here. Autoscroll seems to the be the big one, which is basically where you can tilt the phone to scroll down, or to zoom in (on certain web page pages, like Amazon dot com). This is something Samsung tried with the Galaxy S4 a year or so ago, and it was a gigantic flop (the gestures, not the phone), so we’re going to need some convincing on this front. That said, it looked like Amazon has figured out a better implementation, at least from the demo. You can lock in the scroll speed for a teleprompter-like effect.
The Carousel UI will be familiar to any Fire tablet owners, with the added benefit that you can now see little previews of data within apps. For example, you can see your first few emails (and even delete or manage them in some ways right from there). Or you can use it to see your nearest appointments in your Calendar. There’s also a handy Android-like app grid, if you’re more into structure. You can pin not only apps there, but also content.
So, how does Amazon’s Dynamic Perspective work? Basically, there’s a matrix of front-facing cameras. Not just two, so they can see the X and Y axis for your face, but four front-facing camera, one on each corner of your phone. This gives them accurate Z axis (depth), which gives you the full perspective feel.
Not only that, but because people use their phone in all kids of lighting conditions (including no light at all), Amazon added an infrared light for each individual camera camera. The lights are invisible to our naked eyes, but they work great for camera. This should mean your face is always in focus, and its positioning should always be accurate. It should also mean that you have infrared light being blasted at your face most of the time? OK then!
Under the hood there’s a quad-core 2.2GHz processor, which is probably Qualcomm’s beefy Snapdragon 800. It’s not quite as robust as the new 801 we’re seeing in phones like the Galaxy S5 and the HTC One (M8), but it’s where the Nexus 5 gets its super speed, so hopefully that will come through here as well. The Fire phone has 2GB of RAM, which is competitive with other high-end smartphones. It boasts Gorilla Glass 3 on its 4.7-inch, 720p display, and rubberised edges for extra grippiness. It will start at 32GB of built-in storage, but you can step up to 64GB as well. You can also check out a fuller spec comparison chart here.
It rocks a 13MP f/2.0 rear camera with image stabilisation and a hardware camera button. There’s also unlimited cloud storage for all of your pictures. Above you can see Amazon’s camera comparison, but take it with a grain of salt because every company makes a comparison where theirs looks the best.
It uses Qualcomm’s RF360 front-end solution, which basically means it’s a world phone, and will support worldwide 4G LTE data. It has nine bands of LTE, four bands of GSM, five bands of UMTS so you should be set pretty much wherever you go. It also has 802.11ac Wi-Fi support which is good and fast, plus NFC and Bluetooth.
Maybe the most underrated feature of the day? The Fire phone comes with headphones that have flat, magnetized cables, which means they stick together to help keep them from tangling in your pocket. Good idea.
It will also work with a lot of our favourite Kindle features like Immersive Reading, and X-Ray for second-screen goodness while you’re watching video. Like the Kindle Fire HDX and the HDX 8.9, the phone will support Mayday video. Basically you just push a button and you’re connected to a customer support specialist via video call. Amazon recently claimed that the average time to connect is just under 10 seconds, which is pretty damn impressive. It means your grandpa will be able to ask someone (other than you) what an app is that much faster.
There’s also something called Firefly, which is basically an app version of Amazon’s magic Dash hardware (or Flow app on iOS). Essentially it lets you use your phone to scan everyday items. Run around your house and scan stuff as it runs out (or stores if you see a product you want to price compare), it will add them to a list. It can also listen to music that’s playing, identify it, and link to it in the Amazon store. It can recognise TV shows and works of art, too. Basically it makes it easier for you to buy stuff from Amazon, and it was pretty damn fast in the onstage demo.
Firefly is so important to Amazon that it has its own dedicated hardware button on the Fire Phone. Has some really impressive optical character recognition algorithms, so it’s not limited to flat sheets of paper. It has its own SDK, so apps like MyFitnessPal and can leverage it to make their apps better (and give you reasons to use it beyond just draining your bank account). Pretty dang slick. You can read more about Firefly here.
There are some neat small touches, too. For example, rather than simply put your phone on silent, you can put a timer on it (if say, you’re going to a movie). When it expires, it will go back to normal.
Amazon’s also made it easier to add photos to the messaging app (Jeff Bezos claims you can do it with fewer clicks than on any other phone OS, but it didn’t look like it’d save you thaaat much time). The lock screens are cool 3D environments, but Amazon knows people want to customise their home screens with photos, so they make your favourite photo album one flick away. May please some, may not please others.
There’s also ASAP (Advanced Streaming and Prediction) which predicts which movies and TV episodes you’ll want to watch and prepares them for instant playback before you even hit play. It’s a feature that was already found on Amazon Fire TV, although it was hit or miss when we tried it out soon after the set-top box launched.
The Fire Phone will be available exclusively from AT&T for $US200 on contract, or $US650 off-contract for the 32GB version. The good news is that it comes with a year of Amazon Prime for free. So basically it’s $US100 bucks (or $US550 bucks), if Prime is something you were wanting anyway. That goes for people who already have Prime, too, by the way. There will also be a 64GB version for $US300 on contract.
Pre-orders start today at att.com and Amazon. It ships starting June 25, although you might want to hold off. While a lot of these features certainly intrigue, we’ve been burned by gimmicky features before. We’ll have hands on in just a bit, so check back soon for a more complete take.
The Fire Phone is only available in the US at this time.