Amazon Fire Phone hits shelves – what do the reviews say?

November 11, 2014 : TECHFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditlinkedinmail

Amazon Fire Phone hits shelves what do the reviews say

Last week, Amazon finally unleashed its long-awaited first smartphone onto the world, as its Fire Phone hit shelves in the US. First announced last month, the device promises innovative 3D features, impressive specs and close integration with the online retailer's vast collection of movies, music and ebooks.

But what's it actually like to use? Well, reviewers in the US have had a chance to explore the features of the device hands-on and a few key themes have emerged. So we've rounded up some of what the experts are saying to help you decide if the Amazon Fire Phone is the right choice for your next smartphone.

Not a budget option

Given that Amazon's tablet, the Kindle Fire, is a very affordable bit of kit – fitting neatly into the niche between low-spec budget devices and more powerful premium offerings – you might have expected the company's first phone to aim for the same market. But you'd be wrong. Because whatever else the Fire Phone is, budget it ain't.

Currently, buying the handset itself without a contract will set US buyers back around $650 (£382), a cost which CNet noted "doesn't work" when up against comparable iOS and Android devices, as its performance falls slightly short of what you'd expect in this price range.

Strong design

However, it certainly has the design to go with the price tag, with several reviewers praising the look of the device. VentureBeat highlighted the high-quality components and weighty feel of the handset that give it a professional appearance.

"The edges are nicely rounded and covered with a material that's softer than the edges of an iPhone. When you set the Fire down on the table, there's a soft gripping feel, not a loud clacking sound," the publication noted.

Great for shoppers, film buffs

The integration with Amazon's online offerings is also a positive if you're a heavy user of media or do a lot of online shopping. For the moment, US buyers also get a year's free subscription to Amazon Prime with their device, including free shipping on physical goods, access to films and TV shows on Prime Instant Video and unlimited music streaming.

SlashGear described the Fire Phone as the "shopper's smartphone", with features such as its Firefly product finder serving as an effective virtual shopping assistant. It noted: "Everything, from the user interface through Firefly to the clean integration of payment systems and cloud backup, is designed to make consuming easier."

Too many gimmicks?

One issue that several reviewers had with the Fire Phone, however, was its reliance on a series of features described as 'gimmicks' instead of focusing on the basics. The Wall Street Journal, for instance, observed its multitude of "technological bells and whistles … seem clever, for about a day".

For instance, it noted that the ability to control the display via head-tracking movements never feels as natural as just touching the screen with your fingers, while Engadget noted the 'Dynamic Perspective' 3D functionality occasionally suffers from choppiness, while a large number of apps currently seem to treat the option as an afterthought.

Not everyone was down on these features though, with CNet noting parts of it "look really cool". The publication also said: "Amazon deserves credit for trying to spark a new hardware trend and for extending it into multiple aspects of the operating system."

Intuitive to use

The interface – which is based on a heavily-modified version of Android – did come in for praise from some reviewers. Ars Technica noted that the initial interactive tutorial that introduces you to the system is a much better first impression than you get on either iOS or standard Android.

Although there are some differences, Android users should feel right at home with the Fire Phone, as it allows users to see their notifications by swiping from the top of the screen. Meanwhile, swiping in from the left side of the screen will bring up a settings page in supported apps and a right-swipe brings up a panel that can help you with commonly-used tasks.

And if you do ever get stuck, you can always call on the Mayday offering. This was introduced in the Kindle Fire HD tablet and is described by Engadget as "one of Amazon's most brilliant features". Hitting the button will connect a user with a knowledgeable Amazon rep in just a few seconds, who will be able to provide answers to any question you might have about the device.

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