Amazon has confirmed it’s releasing its own smartphone. It’s not quite the 3D spectacular originally rumored and another of its key features is as much about Amazon’s bottom line as user benefit.
The 32GB edition of the Fire phone is available exclusively on AT&T for $199 with a service plan, or you can buy it without a plan for $649. In both cases a 64GB edition is available for $100 extra. With any purchase you get one year of Amazon Prime included, which is currently a $99 subscription.
The phone runs Fire OS, which is an Android “fork”, meaning that its origins are in Android but it’s been changed beyond simply adding a new user interface.
The basic stats are what you’d call “upper end” rather than “top end”: 2.2GHz quad processor, 2GB RAM, 13 megapixel camera with 1080p recording. The screen is 4.7″ though only has a 720p resolution. The advertised battery life sounds impressive, but as always that remains to be seen in the real world.
What makes this more than just another Android phone that happens to come from a big name is two key features. The first, Dynamic Perspective, is what was originally rumored to be the basis of a 3D display, something that’s not the case.
Instead the hardware — four miniature cameras and four infrared LEDs — is used for tracking the user’s head and hands in three-dimensions. That lets you tilt your head (or the phone) to carry out additional actions, a bit like a mini-Kinect.
How useful that will be may depend on what use app developers make of it. Amazon suggested three possibilities as examples:
- Tilting your wrist to scroll through a document or web page.
- Tilting the phone when using maps to reveal reviews of local businesses from Yelp.
- Moving your head when playing a first-person shooter to peek around a corner.
The other selling-point is Firefly, and “selling” is the operative word. It’s Amazon’s take on visual search tools such as Google Goggles and offers quick recognition of both official identification (such as barcodes or QR codes) and other images such as book or album covers. Once the phone recognizes something, you get a range of options such as sharing with friends or exploring in more detail but, inevitably, buying the product from Amazon with a quick click will be prominent.
The phone also has many of the features found on the Kindle Fire tablet range such as the Mayday video support service and the X-Ray tool for getting more information about actors appearing on screen during a movie.