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Amazon's new Fire smartphone has limited potential

Associated Press

The basics:

It's a 4.7-inch, Android-based smartphone with a high-definition display, a quad-core 2.2 GHz processor and a 13-megapixel camera. The price starts at $199 with a two-year contract through AT&T, which will be the exclusive carrier. It's available for preorder on Amazon.com and is scheduled to be released July 25. The phone will come with one free year of Amazon Prime, which normally costs $99. If you're already a Prime member, you get the next year free.

The reviews

Will Oremus, Slate: The real headliner is a feature called Dynamic Perspective that can alter the perspective of whatever's on the screen based on the angle at which you're viewing it. So if you're looking at a 3-D map that shows the Empire State Building from above, the building not only appears to protrude from the screen, but its angle of protrusion shifts based on the position of your head relative to the display. If the building is blocking your view of what's behind it, you can virtually peer around it.

You can also use it to do things like scroll through a carousel of Amazon product images or scroll down a Web page or e-book by tilting your phone. And it has the potential to add a new dimension to games, figuratively as well as literally.

In the best case, the 3D-like feature could represent a permanent leap forward from static screens and touchscreen-reliant controls that force you to hold your phone in one hand while operating it with the other. In the worst case, it could amount to a dizzying gimmick, with your phone's display changing on you all the time, even when you don't want it to.

All of the devices are set up to encourage you to buy content from Amazon, whether it's e-books, music, TV shows or movies. And they're meant to integrate with the company's cloud services and Amazon Prime features, including recently announced music-streaming service Amazon Prime Music. The Fire Phone will offer free unlimited photo storage and on-demand videos through Amazon Prime Instant Video.

The Fire Phone will also come with Amazon's slick tech support service, Mayday, which connects you with a real person via video chat whenever you need it.

Ryan Nakashima and Anick Jesdanun, Associated Press: The Fire Phone doesn't differ much from other smartphones. Many of the new features have been available elsewhere as separate apps. Sony, for instance, has a tool for getting information over the Internet by snapping a bar code or a landmark.

Amazon is also arriving late to a tightly contested marketplace. Samsung and Apple dominate worldwide smartphone sales with a combined 46 percent share, according to the International Data Corporation. And in the United States, Apple leads with more than 37 percent, with Samsung at nearly 29 percent.

David Streitfeld, New York Times: The introduction of the Fire Phone comes as leading tech companies are increasingly trying to develop an array of services and products to keep consumers on their own platforms. Microsoft brought out a tablet; Facebook tried a phone; Google is experimenting with a shopping and delivery service.

Against such a frenzy of competition, an Amazon phone was inevitable.

"This is the next big battleground in the ecosystem war," said Ben Schachter, an analyst with Macquarie. "Amazon is not going to turn the tide decisively in its favor with this but just needs to establish a beachhead."

Ashleigh Allsopp, Macworld UK, comparing the Fire Phone to the iPhone 5S:

Amazon has come up with some very cool features … and it's a pretty impressive new arrival in the market that we're sure is going to be attractive to many potential smartphone buyers.

Many of the Fire Phone's features seem quite gimmicky, but we take our hats off to the company for trying something new and being innovative and inventive.

It falls down against Apple when it comes to the variety of apps available, the design, and the storage options available, though, and of course, availability overall is a huge issue – until it's available in more markets, it's not going to be a huge threat to the iPhone 5S.

Farhad Manjoo, New York Times: For Amazon, a company whose previous devices have had innovative pricing plans that often involved selling devices at cost, the Fire Phone's uninspired price tag is a surprising disappointment. The world needed a great, cheap smartphone.

But instead of a cheap phone, Amazon delivered a device packed with many high-end, whiz-bang features. Some of those features might be attractive to people who already love Amazon, but for people who aren't, it's hard to see what this phone offers over … any other top-of-the-line smartphone on the market.

Amazon's new Fire smartphone has limited potential 06/27/14 [Last modified: Friday, June 27, 2014 10:28pm]
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