Summary and Conclusion
From a design standpoint, it’s a sharp smartphone. It’s understated and classy, with minimal branding and a solid feel. The 4.7-inch display should’ve been a 1080p panel (as it stands, the native resolution is pegged at 1280 x 720), but at least Amazon is including a full 32GB of internal storage on its base model. Unfortunately, the phone is only available through AT&T, which complicates things further. Not only would the phone have to impress, but it would have to impress enough to persuade you to change carriers unless you’re already there. Frankly, we don’t think that the value proposition is strong enough for anyone to pick up and leave for AT&T, as those already on the carrier have plenty of other stellar options in this price range.
Amazon’s hoping to compete by differentiating in the software department. The Dynamic Perspective system enables a new breed of use-case scenarios. You can tilt the phone to bring certain menus to light, as well as to “peek” around corners and see more than you otherwise could. In practice, however, this is little more than a gimmick. While it tends to react quite quickly to changes in position, enabling Dynamic Perspective consumes resources. All you have to do is disable it momentarily to see just how much performance you’re losing out on. In day-to-day use, we never found Dynamic Perspective to be useful enough to pull us away from similarly-priced phones that run purer forms of Android. However, the technology certainly hold promise and it's exciting to think of what developers might be able to do with it.
Speaking of which, it’s worth noting that for general usage purposes, the Fire Phone doesn’t run Android. In other words, you can only access apps that are developed for the Amazon Appstore, meaning that Gmail, Google Chrome, and every other Google-built app will never show up for use on the Fire Phone. That’ll impact everyone differently, but it struck us as big omission. Many marquee Android apps now rely on Google Play Services, which is a little-known asset that is only included with proper Android phones. As more apps lean on Play Services, that could pose a problem for Amazon's Appstore growth. As an example, the ubiquitous ESPN SportsCenter app -- which is already available on iOS, Android, and even Windows Phone -- is still listed as "Coming Soon" for the Fire Phone. However, if you think this through, if any new player in the smartphone arena has the critical mass to bring big media outlets to develop apps for them, it's Amazon.
Truthfully, the Fire Phone is easy to use, with huge, visually appealing icons. It’s easy to find content through Prime, and it’s not as overwhelming as some other Android phones with a laundry list of questionable features. This makes it ideal for the mainstream and those who are new to smartphones in general. If you’re due for a fresh two-year agreement on AT&T, you can get it for as little as $0 to $199 on contract; or $649 unlocked, which would be crazy to justify.
Even if you adore Amazon and its products, we can’t wholeheartedly recommend the Fire Phone without reservations. You can pickup any number of high-end Android phones and download all of Amazon’s apps and get the job done while still having access to Google Play. Instant Video, the shopping app, etc. — all of those Amazon hooks are available on Android and iOS, so why lock yourself into this ecosystem? While nifty and novel, it's harder to justify jumping to a mostly new smartphone ecosystem. True Amazon has been fleshing out their mobile platform for years with the Kindle Fire line-up but consider the Fire Phone in the proper context, and make sure you're okay with Amazon being your one source for software, media and ecosystem support.