An iPhone Veteran Evaluates an Amazon Fire Phone

| In-Depth Review

Page 3 - Features I Liked

 

The Display. This smartphone has a standard high-definition format, 720p, on a pleasing 4.7-inch display with 315 pixels per inch (ppi). The iPhone is a very similar 326 ppi.  After using this size for two weeks, it's really hard to go back to a 4-inch display. Everything was easy to read, and Netflix was a pleasure.

Firefly. The most important thing to know about this smartphone is that it's a good-looking, functional, well-thought-out device. It doesn't try to trick you into buying things, but it does have a nice facility to help you when you're ready, called Firefly.

Firefly has its own dedicated button on the side (press and hold) and it turns the camera into a scanner. It can recognize movies, music, phone numbers, QR codes, bar codes, and so on. It's something like the Walgreens app that allows you to point the smartphone camera at a prescription label to refill it.

I pointed Firefly at a bar code on a dishwasher aid that I use, and it came right up, ready for me to tap it and drop the item in my shopping cart. Any time you can make it easy to purchase an item, without hassle, that's good. However, when I pointed it at text document on my Mac's display with a phone number in a very large font, Firefly interpreted the slashed zero in my phone number as an 8. So it's not perfect.

Sample Firefly process: scan, identify, purchase.

Amazon has millions of items in its warehouse, so the ability to scan, say, a barcode, is a time saver. Scanning a phone number or QR code in a store window with a single button seems eminently sensible.

As a test, I pointed Firefly at a few things on my desk, my iPhone, a Logitech mouse, a Yeti Blue microphone and a keyboard, and it didn't know what to make of them. The same with my TV setup. I asked the Amazon technical representative assigned to me for this review if all that video data is captured even if no specific item is recognized. Amazon said:

We will process and retain Firefly images and audio data in the cloud to provide and improve our services. If Firefly can't recognize the product, Fire customers can send feedback (built in to the application) .... We leverage the cloud for processing, and in order to do so we do send images to the cloud but we don't ever store 'source data' (non-identified images) tied to a customer account."

In other words, as I understand it, everything the camera sees while Firefly is activated is sent back to Amazon whether or not it recognizes an item. But, it seems nothing is done that ties the unidentified video/audio to a user. That's still a mild caution to keep in mind, not as bad as some have feared, but it may dissuade you from using that feature. In any case, it seems sensible to control where you point the camera.

Carousel. Another feature I liked is the Carousel. Swipe down from the top of the display and you get a Carousel (similar to Apple's Cover Flow) that presents each app in a sideways list. Below each app is a list of relevant things done recently with that app. For example, Firefly shows a list of what it scanned. The phone app shows the recent phone numbers. Swipe back up to get back to the home page of icons/apps.

Each app in Carousel shows recent, related items.

This is inventive and handy (and unobtrusive if you don't want to use it) and shows me that other companies besides Apple can indeed be innovative and come up with their own stuff.

Mayday. I tried out Mayday out of curiosity and because I was having a problem with Wi-Fi being turned off every time I rebooted the phone. "James" answered in less than 10 seconds, spoke perfect, understandable English, and we had a very helpful conversation.

As an aside, he explained that he could take control of the Fire Phone if needed, (and look at photos if that's where the problem lie) but he'd have to ask for my explicit permission. He could also draw on the screen in order to instruct or clarify. When I called, the Mayday system put my phone and account info right in front of him on his display.

My Mayday conversation with James as he drew on my display.

This was a unique and helpful experience, and I think customers will like it. I did.

Second Screen . I didn't get a chance to check this feature because I don't have a Fire TV. But, like AirPlay, I think it's a great idea and suggests that Amazon, like Apple, is thinking about how its hardware products can work together.

Next: Features I Didn't Like

Product: Amazon Fire Phone

Company: Amazon

List Price: Varies: See Amazon product page.

Pros:

Includes a year of Amazon Prime, 4.7-inch display, Firefly, Carousel, 13 megapixel camera with OIS, 802.11ac, Mayday, very good documentation, 4G-LTE, easy Amazon shopping, user file system mountable on Mac (with AFT app).

Cons:

Not as technically advanced as iPhone 5s (no fingerprint authentication), restricted to Amazon Appstore (Google maps prohibited), Firefly, no hardware encryption, can get very warm, Gorilla Glass back may concern some.

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