Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos introduces the new Amazon Fire smartphone, Wednesday, June 18, 2014, in Seattle.
PHOTO: AP PHOTO/TED S. WARREN
On Wednesday during a keynote presentation, Amazon finally revealed its long-rumoured phone, the Fire Phone, a new 3D capable flagship smartphone. In terms of notable features setting Amazon’s Fire Phone apart from other smartphones on the market, it comes equipped with a three-dimensional menu and a new real-world item scanning system called Firefly, that has the ability to identify up to 100 million objects through direct Amazon marketplace integration. During the Fire Phone presentation, Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos showed off a 3D map application and 3D lock screens. Unlike previous 3D smartphones and handheld gaming devices like Nintendo’s 3DS, Amazon says users won’t need to maintain a direct line of sight with the Fire Phone to view 3D images, accomplished through a feature the company describes as “dynamic perspective.” Early prototypes of the technology required users to wear special glasses allowing the phone to track where the user’s head was positioned.
The new Amazon Fire Phone showing the front screen is held for cameras after the official launch event, Wednesday, June 18, 2014, in Seattle. AP Photo/Ted S. Warren
“It’s how objects behave in the real world,” said Bezos during the presentation, describing how the Fire Phone’s unique 3D technology works. The phone features a 4.7 inch IPS LCD HD display, Guerrilla Glass 3 construction and a rubber frame. The Fire Phone’s connectors are also made of steel, which means it will be difficult to break them if you happen to incorrectly insert a USB cable or other accessory into the smartphone. In terms of processing power, the Fire Phone features a 2.2 GHZ Quad-core processor and a 330 Adreno Graphics processor, as well as 2 GBs of RAM. Surprisingly, Amazon’s new smartphone isn’t a budget device and falls on the higher-end of the smartphone spectrum, rivaling powerful devices like the iPhone 5s and HTC M8 One when it comes to hardware and features.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos introduces the new Amazon Fire Phone, Wednesday, June 18, 2014, in Seattle. AP Photo/Ted S. Warren
The smartphone’s rear camera has 13 megapixels and special image stabilization capabilities accomplished through tiny motors that automatically counteract hand tremors. The camera’s shutter is also designed to stay open four times longer than most smartphones, allowing users to capture better images in low lighting conditions. During the keynote, a comparison between the iPhone 5s, a high-end Android phone and the Fire Phone was shown off. Amazon’s new smartphone produced the least noisy and highest quality image. Avid photographers will also get unlimited photo storage via Amazon’s Cloud Drive storage service. In terms of sound, the phone is set to feature dual stereo speakers and virtual surround sound courtesy of Dolby. It’s also going to come with magnetic, tangle-free earbuds described as “comfortable and ergonomic.”
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos stands on stage just before unveiling the new Amazon Fire Phone at a launch event, Wednesday, June 18, 2014, in Seattle. AP Photo/Ted S. Warren
The Fire Phone features a 24/7 customer service feature called Mayday, designed to give users a response to any technical issues they might encounter with the device in 15 seconds or less via WiFi and 3G/4G. Firefly, perhaps the Fire Phone’s most interesting feature, allows users scan objects, QR codes and barcodes, connecting them instantly with the product on Amazon’s online store. This is set to be yet another blow to traditional big box retailers. Firefly also has the ability to listen to music and recognize audio tracks, similar to apps like SoundHoundand Shazam. The service can recognize art, linking users to a Wikipedia entry featuring info about the artist. The same process works for television shows and movies, giving users specific detail about the actors as well as the particular episode and scene you’re watching. Even taking a picture of a phone number, email address, or URL will automatically input the information you’re searching for. On the back-end side of things, Amazon’s Firefly scrapes the image for relevant info and then compresses the larger image into just a few small bits of info. This helps the phone send information to its cloud-based service, processing the image quicker and giving users the appropriate information in a timely manner. Developers will also have open SDK access to Firefly, allowing them to add the platform’s capabilities to their apps.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos talks about the camera on the new Amazon Fire Phone at a launch event, Wednesday, June 18, 2014, in Seattle. AP Photo/Ted S. Warren
Firefly is set to get a dedicated button for easy access on the Fire Phone. Industry analysts have described Firefly as Siri for buying random products from Amazon. Whether or not this features ends up being useful for the average user is still unclear, but Firefly certainly has exciting potential. The Fire Phone also features an interesting auto-scrolling gesture letting users to subtly tilt their phone to scroll up and down a page. Halting this scroll is performed by touching the smartphone’s screen. In the U.S. the Fire Phone is exclusive to AT&T and will be sold for $199.99 on a two-year contract for the 32 GB model and $299.99 for the 64 GB version. When not on a contract, the Fire Phone is set to retail for $649 for the 32 GB and $749 for the 64 GB. It’s still unclear if the smartphone will be sold in Canada at launch. We’ve reached out to Amazon to find out if the Fire Phone is coming north of the border. In the past select Amazon products, like the Kindle for example, have made their way to Canada but this always happens a few months after the device launches in the U.S. The Canadian market often seems to be seen as an afterthought by Amazon.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos shows off the app grid on the new Amazon Fire Phone at a launch event, Wednesday, June 18, 2014, in Seattle. AP Photo/Ted S. Warren
During the keynote Amazon also spent time touting its new music service, Amazon Prime Music, a new music streaming platform launched by the company a few weeks ago. The Fire Phone also runs on a heavily modified version of Google’s Android operating system called Fire OS. The Amazon Fire is available for pre-order today in the U.S. and is set for a July 25, 2015 release date. The Fire Phone also comes with a free year of Amazon Prime, the company’s preferred shipping discount and video streaming service. Over the last few years Amazon has expanded its services beyond being just an online retailer at an aggressive rate, releasing products like the Kindle and Fire TV. More to come…