Amazon phone more than meets the eye

SAMANTHA MURPHY KELLY
Last updated 05:00 21/06/2014

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This post was originally published on Mashable.

Amazon unveiled its first smartphone on Wednesday at an event in Seattle near its headquarters, four years after the company started working on the project.

On the surface - and even under the hood - the 4.7-inch Fire phone looks like any other Android phone on the market, but Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and team have baked both big and small touches into the Fire phone to make it stand out in such a crowded market.

The Fire phone boasts a 2.2GHz quad-core Snapdragon 800 processor, an Adreno 330 graphics processor, 2GB of RAM and runs on Amazon's custom version of Android, called Fire OS. While none of the specs are true differentiators, Amazon is taking some risks to get noticed.

Although other phone manufacturers have failed in the 3D-display space before, Amazon is embracing what it calls "Dynamic Perspective," which creates the illusion of depth behind the screen, as opposed to outward. This is noticeable right away on the lock screen, which will ship with 18 options, including slowly moving balloons and jungle or casino scenes.

To create the 3D-like effect, the phone uses four front-facing cameras that detect the head's position. When you move your head slightly to the left or even closer to the screen, the dimension and perspective slightly changes. Amazon confirmed you can turn this function off but, if you're buying this phone, why would you want to? It's one of its biggest draws. (See our earlier coverage for more on how the technology used for Dynamic Perspective works.)

Having a funky lock screen might be fun to show your friends over dinner, but the screen's real potential is within apps, especially games. By tilting your head to one side, you can get a different feel and view that gives you the sense that you're inside the game.

Dynamic Perspective is a cool addition to its maps app too. The feature adds depth perception to landmarks like the Empire State Building or Seattle's Space Needle, but it also shows restaurants and other areas of interest on the map. By clicking on these points of interest, you can see Yelp ratings directly on the screen, which could be very helpful when trying to find a spot to eat nearby without doing a web search.

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Incidentally, Amazon got its mapping data from Nokia HERE, but built its Maps app in-house.

GESTURE-BASED NAVIGATION

After swiping up from the lock screen, users see an app grid that's typical of Android devices. By tapping a physical button on the top of the device, you can switch between this view or a carousel look that lets you tap through maps, the calendar and other features.

The carousel was my preferred way of viewing, allowing the user interface to get out of the way so I could discover the content I wanted.

By swiping (or physically tilting) the phone to the left, a panel pops up with utility-like features like apps, maps and so on. Tilt to the right and you'll see more personalized content, like local weather, upcoming meetings and your most recent text messages. The ability to tilt the device one way or another to reveal this information works seamlessly and adds to Amazon's vision of making it easier for users to get what they want without trying as hard.

The same goes for reading content on the web. While visiting Mashable's website, tilting to the right displayed different sections. When I wanted to read a story, I just tilted the device slightly downward and it started to automatically scroll. When it landed on a paragraph I wanted to read, I held the screen straight up again and it stopped - you can use a finger to stop the scrolling too.

Sure, this isn't a new feature to phones altogether, but Amazon's execution is beautiful and easy to use. It's fun to check out sites like Facebook and Twitter with the infinity scroll function too.

FIREFLY BRINGS OUTSIDE OBJECTS INSIDE YOUR PHONE

But one of Amazon Fire's strongest features is Firefly, which lets you scan any product for more information. And like the popular Shazam app, Firefly scans audio from songs and TV shows.

During our testing, Firefly was able to identify that the Matrix was playing on the TV and that it was nearly 30 minutes into the film. It also offered up information about who was in the specific scene, using the X-Ray feature powered by Amazon-owned IMDb.

Firefly works with restaurant signs, phone numbers and food products. Thanks to a partnership with My Fitness Pal, I discovered that a box of Nilla Wafers has 120 calories in a serving-size of eight cookies.

When it comes to scanning music, Firefly not only detects a song and lets you buy the track from Amazon, you can also create a playlist around the song using iHeartRadio or buy upcoming concert tickets through StubHub.

Amazon wants to make buying the Fire phone an easy decision for its tens of millions of Prime customers. It’s not only putting the Amazon store in its user's pockets, it’s adding its whole range of digital content from music and videos to books. Ultimately, with Firefly, Amazon is making it easy for people to bridge the gap between the physical and virtual world.

HELP WHEN YOU NEED IT

We didn't get a demo of the Mayday function, but Amazon will bring the instant-customer-service app on the Kindle Fire HDX tablets to the smartphone. Amazon told Mashable that the company is prepared for an influx of users of this feature and is willing to help with inquiries about how to add filters to photos to how to get started with the device.

As we noted earlier today, the Fire phone won't ship with Bluetooth LE enabled. That means it won't work with some wearables — such as the Fitbit Flex or Fuelband SE. The good news is that the Fire phone has the hardware needed to support Bluetooth LE and Amazon says it will be adding support sometime in the future.

The Fire phone is exclusive to AT&T for now, which will exclude people outside of the United States. The 32GB version is available in the US on a two-year contract for $199.99 or outright for $649. The 64GB version is $299.99 on a contract or $749 outright.

Mashable is the largest independent news source covering digital culture, social media and technology.

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