Amazon Fire Phone

David Pierce, The Verge:

The five (yes, five) cameras that peer out from the phone’s front panel are nakedly shown, and they just feel out of place, like exposed screws in luxury furniture. Yet they’re the only distinctive thing about the Fire Phone […]

Maybe Amazon should have made the four corner cameras more like screws. The camera on the back is a 13-megapixel shooter that’s slow, but rewards you with photos as good as any other Android phone.

FIREFLY is a tool that recognizes objects:

Most of the time, as long as you have a package of some kind — a box, a book cover, a barcode, a big logo — Firefly will at least get close, but it’s not nearly as accurate as it needs to be.

But it’s better at identifying songs, movies, TV shows, email addresses, URLs, and phone numbers.

DYNAMIC PERSPECTIVE is a fancy word for Amazon’s take on 3D. The four screw-like cameras in front of the Fire Phone tracks your head and shifts your perspective accordingly. The lock screens are cool, and so is a game called To-Fu Fury, but I’m guessing the real deal is to take a closer 360-degree look at the stuff you want to buy from Amazon.

When I watched Jeff Bezos tilting and flicking the Fire Phone to bring up hidden panes on the left and right I thought that could get tiring really quick. I guess it does:

You’re entirely reliant on gestures and flicks of the phone to access these menus. Most apps have no indicators or helpful icons; you just have to open every app and twist the phone around like a lunatic to find things. You can’t even see the time without tilting your phone just so. An errant buzz is your only indication that you have a notification, prompting you to cock your wrist or swipe down from the top bezel to open the notification windowshade. None of this is explained, none of it is intuitive. Dynamic Perspective makes everything look cleaner, but makes actually using your phone a lot harder. I don’t need my phone to be clever, or spartan. I need it to be obvious. The Fire Phone is anything but.

Another feature I thought could get annoying is Auto Scroll, where you tilt the screen to scroll text. Auto Scroll sets the scrolling speed at the angle at which you opened up the article. You’re probably going to end up scrolling too slow or too fast, and ultimately turning the feature off. Whatever you do don’t put down the Fire Phone in the middle of reading something.

Joshua Topolsky tweeted: “My quick personal take on the Fire Phone: it is functionally and aesthetically awful”

There are some good points: Mayday, a free year of Amazon Prime, and unlimited online storage for your photos taken with the Fire Phone. I’m sure you’ve heard of Mayday, where a real person takes a look at your screen (not you), and helps you figure out answers to your questions. For those who need a real person to help the Fire Phone is the only smartphone option. Let’s hope Mayday agents continue to be fast and friendly.

If you take most of your photos with your smartphone the unlimited photo (not video) storage is great. Unfortunately you might not have too many nice photos to store if you’re trying to take photos of things or people that move.

I’m most interested in how Amazon and third-party developers will use FireFly and Dynamic Perspective to improve the buying experience from Amazon. If FireFly gets faster and more accurate in identifying analog and digital objects, and if more stuff on Amazon makes use of dynamic perspective so potential customers can get a better look, I think the Fire Phone can become a nifty shopping tool.

But today a smartphone is not merely a tool for buying stuff. A smartphone is your portable computer and it needs to do a lot more than make buying stuff quick and simple. For starters, your smartphone is your camera. The camera has to be a good enough so it doesn’t make you want to go out and buy a real camera. (Maybe Amazon wants you to do just that: use your Fire Phone to buy a real camera on Amazon.) Amazon needs to make the Fire Phone camera better by making it faster. A faster more capable camera should improve FireFly too.

Second, your smartphone, especially one you pay US$199 up front, is a fashion statement. The Fire Phone doesn’t get you any points in this department, especially with those screw-like cameras on the front. A case — preferably one with a front cover — would be a must. The Fire Phone is functional, but functional doesn’t have to mean ugly.

I subscribe to Amazon Prime; I depend on Prime for almost everything I buy, including peanuts. I also signed up for a free month of Amazon Kindle Unlimited; I like it so far. If only the Amazon Fire Phone was more like the LG G3 with tie-ins to Amazon’s services. In my world I have the option of carrying only one smartphone, and from what I have seen that one smartphone will not be a Fire Phone.