Amazon Fire Phone Deep-Dive Review: Two Weeks With a Weird Device

You can now buy almost anything from Amazon -- including a phone made by the retailer itself.

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To its credit, Amazon's Appstore does have a reasonable number of apps, including many big-name titles. You'll have no problem finding programs like Facebook, Netflix, Twitter and Pandora, for example. But even beyond the Google services, there are a lot of gaps -- things you might be used to relying on that simply aren't available.

Many of the apps that are present are also woefully out of date -- even those by relatively big developers. Some apps I looked at were several versions behind their Google Play equivalents, like the popular news-reading app Feedly -- which was on version 22.0 in Google Play but still on 20.1 in the Amazon Appstore. I can't help but wonder how many of them have been abandoned.

At a Glance

Amazon Fire Phone

Amazon

Price: $200 (32GB) or $300 (64GB) with a new two-year contract from AT&T

Pros: Decent display; good camera; comfortable to hold; includes on-demand live video support; makes it easy to order products from Amazon; currently comes with free year of Amazon Prime service

Cons: Uninspired design; fragile body; heavy for its size; confusing software; unattractive UI with little room for customization; counterproductive 3-D effects; limited app selection with no Google services; heavily integrated Amazon purchasing suggestions; choppy performance; no Bluetooth 4.0 support; limited only to AT&T

On the plus side, the Fire Phone is built to work seamlessly with Amazon's impressive array of books, movies, TV shows and music (though if you've already purchased or stored multimedia content in Google Play, keep in mind that you won't be able to access any of that from this device). The phone also currently comes with a free year of Amazon Prime service -- an offer that Amazon says will be available for an unspecified "limited" time.

One more thing...

The Fire Phone has one final quirk that warrants mentioning: It doesn't presently support Bluetooth 4.0 (LE). That means it either won't work well or won't work at all with wearables and other devices that require an ongoing low-power connection.

Amazon has said the functionality will be added into the phone at some point in the future, but that doesn't do much good for anyone attempting to use it today.

Bottom line

I could go on and talk about all the standard smartphone measures -- the Fire Phone's performance is somewhat choppy, its battery life is on the lower end of average, its call quality is fine and its camera is pretty decent -- but at this point, all of that seems rather inconsequential. There are just so many fundamental things wrong with this device that, for most people, it's impossible to recommend.

The Fire Phone is ultimately a collection of random ideas that don't come together to create any type of cohesive or compelling user experience. Its operating system is confusing and difficult to use, its Dynamic Perspective feature is gimmicky and counterproductive and its prominent integration with Amazon makes it feel more like a pushy salesperson than a user-focused tool.

Even if all of those factors weren't present, Amazon's limited app selection would be a deal-breaker for most consumers -- as would the fact that phone is available only on a single carrier.

If you're fully committed to Amazon's ecosystem and want a phone that makes it easy to find and order stuff online -- from Amazon and only Amazon -- then maybe the Fire Phone is worth a glance. But if you're looking for a phone that does anything else particularly well, you're better off going with a more versatile device on a more mature platform.

This story, "Amazon Fire Phone Deep-Dive Review: Two Weeks With a Weird Device" was originally published by Computerworld.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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