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The Lowdown: Amazon announces Fire phone with some interesting software features

amazon-fireAmazon CEO Jeff Bezos officially announced the company’s first smartphone named Fire phone last night. The 4.7-inch screen of 1280 x 720 resolution, 2GB of RAM and a 13 mega pixel camera. It also has four front facing cameras of 2.1 mega pixel each. It comes with internal storage of 32GB and 64GB and is powered by a 2.2GHz Quad-core Snapdragon 800 CPU, Adreno 330 GPU. The phone has a 2400mAh battery and comes with a pre-installed AT&T nano SIM card.

The Fire phone runs on Fire OS 3.5.0, which is based on a modified version of Android, though it’s not clear which one. Amazon also announced that a year’s worth of Prime membership will be included with the device for a limited period. Prime members get free two day shipping from Amazon, unlimited streaming of movies and music provided by Amazon and access to over 500,000 free ebooks.

The device specs or looks are not particularly impressive, but Amazon has added some software features that leverage multiple front facing cameras and a deeper connect to its e-commerce service to make it an interesting enough. Fire is available exclusively on AT&T and is priced at $199 with contract and $649 without it.

Dynamic perspective


As you tilt your phone, the visuals on the phone also change perspective to give a 3D perspective. Fire phone pulls this off by using ultra-low power specialized cameras, four infrared LEDs, a dedicated custom processor, real-time computer vision algorithms, and a custom power-efficient graphics rendering engine to track head movements of the user. This is a very interesting feature and very different from 3D displays some manufacturers have tried to put on phones. Unlike those displays that try to create a depth of field, Amazon’s device shows a different visual depending on your viewing angle. This feels more natural than 3D effects. This effect works on the home screen, select games and in apps such as maps as of now. It would be interesting to see how game developers will use this technology in games.


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Apart from changing perspective, you can also surface new information by tilting your phone, like in the visual above. Tilting your phone when in the maps app can surface information of venues around, from Yelp. Similarly, you can tilt your phone forward and backwards to scroll through a webpage. However, this can make reading while lying down an inconvenient experience. We hope there is a way to turn off this feature when not needed.

Do note that Amazon is also offering an SDK for Dynamic Perspectives so that other developers can easily use this feature in their games and apps.



Fire phone has a dedicated button the left side which opens up the camera and lets you take a photo of any object. The phone will then show you several contextual options related to the object. For example, if you take photo of a book you are shows its details along with an option to buy it from Amazon. Similarly if you take the photo of a business card you can extract the relevant information and add it to contacts using Firefly. It looks like Google Goggles on steroids and we hope this feature provokes Google into fixing this app that hasn’t seen big updates for a while.

Amazon claims that Firefly can recognize over 70 million products including household items, books, DVDs, CDs, video games, and more. Firefly also has an SDK for developers who want to integrate this feature into their apps.

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 MayDay: Amazon Fire phone comes with 24×7 chat support called MayDay that is available after pressing Quick Actions button. An Amazon expert will appear to help you via live video and this expert can co-pilot you through any feature by drawing on your screen. This feature should help a lot of people who are new to smartphones.

X-Ray for music, video, and books: With X-Ray for music, you can follow lyrics for tens of thousands of popular songs and get easy-to-access artist information, by tilting the phone to the right. This feature can also display trivia from (Amazon owned) IMDB, actor information, plot synopses, and character backgrounds while watching movies or TV shows. On books, X-Ray lets you trace characters and places, using information from Shelfari, YouTube, and Wikipedia.

Second Screen: This is similar to the continuity feature that Apple recently launched for its devices. If can start a movie while on the move, you can continue watching from the same spot you stopped at after reaching home by flicking your finger. For this feature to work you need to have Fire TV, an Appple TV like device, PS3, PS4 or a recent Samsung TV. Once the content starts playing on the TV, the Fire phone could be used for playback controls or for viewing X-Ray information.

Immersion Reading and ASAP: The phone can synchronize the text of your Kindle eBook to its companion Audible audiobook. It also lets you to highlight the ebook on your Kindle while you listen to the audio book. Advanced Streaming and Prediction (ASAP) learns what movies and shows you like and gets them ready for you to watch. The more you view videos on your Fire phone, the more accurate ASAP becomes, dynamically adapting to your viewing habits. It is not clear if there is a maximum limit on the content that ASAP caches on to the phone.

Free backup and restore: Fire phone can automatically back up device settings, notes, bookmarks, messages, and apps without the need for configuration or connection to a computer. Fire phone comes with free, unlimited cloud storage for photos (in their full resolution) and for all Amazon content. Its customers also get 5GB of free personal cloud storage, to store videos, documents, and other digital content in the cloud.

Overall, Amazon has packed some interesting software features on to an otherwise lacklustre device. Though Android apps can be side-loaded on the the device, there is no guarantee that they will work since a lot of Android apps are now dependent on Google APIs that are unavailable on the device. There is also the issue of having to repurchase all those apps to use on Amazon’s device. A lot of people might be willing to wait around for OEMs like Samsung, LG and HTC to integrate similar immersion mode on their devices. The question is if Google will support such a system with proper SDK and APIs like Amazon has done.

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I'm passionate about technology and gaming. You can follow me <a>@chupchap</a>

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