Amazon Fire Phone: 3D effects, gesture controls and a buy-anything button

The first smartphone from the retailer is very much catered to dedicated Amazon customers - but can it win over users from Apple and Google?
  • @jjvincent

Amazon has unveiled its first mobile handset, the Fire Phone, with 3D effects, gesture controls, and Firefly – a feature that uses the device’s cameras and microphones to recognize objects and digital media purchasable (preferably) from Amazon’s online stores.

The device also includes long-rumoured 3D effects created by using four infrared cameras located at the corner of the screen to track the user’s head. This means that individuals can look ‘around’ objects on the display – for example, peering behind a marker or piece of text on a map app.

Amazon calls the feature ‘Dynamic Perspective’ and although some have already compared it to Apple’s ‘Motion Parallax’, the latter uses sensors in the phone to give a feeling of depth rather than tracking head movements. Apple later introduced an option to disable parallax after customers complained it made them feel sick.

The Fire Phone has a 4.7-inch HD display, a 2.2 GHz quad-core processor, 2GB of RAM and includes a regular 13-megapixel rear facing camera. Amazon claims this will take better pictures than both the iPhone 5S and Samsung Galaxy S5, offering optical image stabilization to counteract hand movement and gather more light in dark environments.

The device’s main selling-point however is its deep integration with Amazon services. The Firefly feature (launched via a dedicated button on the side of the phone) lets users take pictures of anything from books to kitchen products, or use the microphone to listen to songs or movies, which the device will recognize and let them purchase – through Amazon of course.

The Fire Phone also offers access to Amazon Prime – the company’s premium subscription service. This is free for the first 12 months ($99/£79 is the usual yearly rate) and bundles in unlimited photo storage in the cloud; an ad-free streaming music service similar to Spotify; and Mayday – a free 24 hour video helpline which Amazon claims will pick-up customers’ queries about their device in “less than 15 seconds”.

The device is available exclusively from American carrier AT&T and is priced at $199.99 for 32GB of internal storage and $299.99 for 64GB on a two-year contract. The price for just the handset is $649 and $749. Pre-orders start today and the phone will ship from 25 July.

Despite the usual fanfare associated with new hardware launches, market analysts are sceptical that Amazon can win over Apple and Google customers. Although the company has managed to gain 1.9 per cent of the tablet sector with its Fire range, the market for smartphones is even more competitive, and Amazon's premium pricing means it won't be undercutting its rivals.