Amazon Fire smartphone announced

Amazon unveiled a smartphone to complement its existing line of e-book readers and tablet PCs at a special event in Seattle, Washington on Wednesday, 18 June 2014.

The e-commerce giant confirmed many of the rumours surrounding the device, such as its 4.7-inch “HD” (720p) display, 13 megapixel camera, and 2GB RAM.

Live-bloggers reporting from Amazon’s event wrote that the Fire Phone has a quad-core 2.2GHz processor and Adreno 330 graphics chip, which means it likely uses a Qualcomm Snapdragon 800-series system-on-chip.

The display has a circular polariser so you can view it from any angle while wearing polarised sunglasses, and is protected by Gorilla Glass 3. There is also glass on the back and a rubber frame.

Talking up the camera, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos showed a side-by-side comparison of a photo taken by the Fire Phone against shots of the same scene taken by a Samsung Galaxy S5 and iPhone 5S.

Bezos pointed out that the other two devices don’t have optical image stabilisation and that the Fire Phone has a better f-number (f/2.0) compared to the other two devices (f/2.2).

Users will get free unlimited photo storage on Amazon Cloud Drive, Bezos said.

Amazon services

As one might expect, the Amazon Fire Phone supports the company’s own media ecosystem, including its app store, and streaming video and music services.

Its “second screen” feature lets you “fling” video to an Amazon TV, while “X-ray” gives more information about the video you’re watching.

The phone also supports a feature Amazon calls ASAP, which predicts what you might want to stream and pre-caches it so it will start instantly.

Third-party video content providers such as Netflix, Hulu Plus, HBO Go, and ESPN are also supported, Bezos said.

For music streaming the Fire Phone will have Amazon’s new music streaming service, Prime Music, as well as support from third-party service such as Pandora and Spotify.

Amazon’s Kindle books app will obviously be included, along with Audible, Kindle Newsstand, and Comixology.

MayDay, Amazon’s video chat support service, is also available on the Fire Phone.

Amazon Fire smartphone showing app grid
Amazon Fire smartphone showing app grid

FireFly

The Amazon Fire Phone will also feature an app called FireFly, which promises to be able to recognise 100-million different items.

It takes a photo of the item, scrapes the image to minimise the data that needs to be uploaded, then sends it to Amazon’s servers for analysis.

FireFly can also listen to sounds (such as music) and try to identify them.

Once FireFly identifies the item it presents information about it along with the option to buy it.

Amazon has promised to make an SDK available for FireFly that developers can use to plug their apps into.

“Dynamic perspective”

A much-rumoured feature of the Amazon Fire Phone was that it would have four additional front-facing cameras, one mounted on each corner in addition to the standard video calling camera.

These rumours proved to be true, as the cameras were not only included on the device but were used in a demonstration to power a kind of 3D user interface.

According to reports from the event, this is not the kind of parallax 3D effect that pops out at you, but instead offers a dynamic perspective and interaction on the Amazon Fire Phone.

Different layers of the user interface move in relation to one another as you move the phone around.

Bezos demonstrated this with a mapping application and a game which let you tilt around to see a little more of the environment.

Tilting can also be used to interact with applications, such as scrolling in the browser. To pause scrolling while reading you then push and hold your finger on the screen.

Bezos spent a bit of time explaining how they developed the technology, adding that the cameras use infrared light so that it is able to “see” your face even in complete darkness.

Availablity

Amazon’s website lists two storage space variants for the Fire smartphone, available on two different contracts with US telecommunications provider AT&T, or no contract at all. Without contract, the Amazon Fire will cost:

  • 32GB: $649; and
  • 64GB: $749.

Pre-orders should open shortly, and according to a media statement issued as the Amazon event ended the Fire smartphone will start shipping from 25 July 2014.

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Amazon Fire smartphone announced