With his presentation earlier today, Jeff Bezos wanted consumers to take one thing away from Amazon's Fire Phone: it's different. We've just seen the end result of years of research, most of which seemingly went into the phone's Dynamic Perspective feature, which pulls together multiple front-facing cameras and infrared sensors to implement head-tracking in a way that's different from anything we've seen from a phone. There's also Firefly, the feature that can recognize and identify nearly anything around you, and Mayday, which gives owners a live video connection to Amazon customer support. Bezos even highlighted the Fire Phone's camera, claiming that it outperforms the hardware offered by Apple and Samsung. But beyond these things (and other oddities like a circular polarizer on the screen), the rest of Amazon's phone is pretty average. Let's see how it stacks up compared to what's on the market today.
During his presentation, Jeff Bezos described the Fire Phone's 4.7-inch display as "HD." That's all he had to say on the topic of resolution, and for good reason: it's only 720p. At the screen size Amazon has chosen, that results in a pixel density of 315 ppi — on par with something like the Moto X, but noticeably short of what you'd get from Android flagships like the Samsung Galaxy S5 and HTC One M8. It's also easily outclassed by the quad HD displays that LG and Samsung have begun to embrace. Still, Bezos insisted that the Fire Phone's screen looks fantastic, and it very well might; at least it's not using AMOLED technology. Frequent sunglass wearers will appreciate the novel addition of a polarizer. But in terms of pure sharpness and resolution, it's by no means king. The smaller 4-inch screen on Apple's iPhone 5S puts out 326 ppi.
Amazon oddly chose to go without Bluetooth 4.0
Aside from the wacky camera setup on the Fire Phone's front, the device is your basic slab. There's glass covering the front and back with rubber on the sides; imagine a cross between the iPhone 5 and Nexus 4, and you've got the Fire Phone. So construction is solid, but Amazon has made at least one unfortunate decision on what's inside. The Fire Phone includes Bluetooth 3.0, but not Bluetooth 4.0 LE, a technology that helps ensure the latest smartwatches and fitness trackers won't sap your phone's battery. It's a disappointing sacrifice to see in a device that runs $199 on-contract, especially when nearly any other high-end phone is equipped with Bluetooth 4.0. At least the Wi-Fi is fast, with 802.11ac support built in. We're also not going to complain about a dedicated camera button, even if Amazon calls it the Firefly button. And Jeff Bezos said Amazon put a big focus on how the Fire Phone sounds with the inclusion of dual stereo speakers and Dolby Digital Plus virtual surround. It'll likely sound much better than your iPhone, but we're interested to see how it stacks up against HTC's Boomsound.
Bezos seemed awfully happy with what Amazon has done with the Fire Phone's camera. The 13-megapixel imaging hardware features a five-element f/2.0 lens with integrated optical image stabilization. On stage, Bezos directly compared his company's work against cameras in the iPhone 5S and Samsung Galaxy S5. Thanks in part to that stabilization — which many of its rivals lack — the Fire Phone seemed to do a better job picking up details in the selected dusk scene.
But of course it would handily win Amazon's own staged presentation. We'll need to try it for ourselves before deciding whether the Fire Phone can truly stand up to or even outperform the iPhone, Galaxy S5, and Nokia's best phones. At the very least, it's likely to do better than HTC's latest, though Fire Phone is missing the refocusing gimmick that Android manufacturers have flocked to this year. There's also no laser autofocus system of any sort. But Amazon deserves praise for automatically backing up user photos — every last one of them — for free in the cloud. Apple will charge for similar peace of mind with iOS 8 later this year, though Google+ already offers free backups for its users.
The Fire Phone features a quad-core Snapdragon 800 processor clocked at 2.2GHz. In plain speak, that's a last-generation chipset that doesn't quite match the newer Snapdragon 801 processors Samsung, HTC, LG, and Sony are already putting in their phones. Amazon's phone won't be released for another month, but it'll be slower than its competition right out of the gate. Is that something buyers will notice? It's too early to say; if Amazon's Fire OS breezes along smoothly and games run without any stuttering, the lesser chipset may not be a huge problem. But in terms of future proofing, you're still better off picking from any number of other $199 phones.
Despite using a forked version of Android that doesn't have access to the Google Play Store, Amazon seems to have done a great job checking off the list of must-have apps. The Amazon Appstore already has Facebook, Twitter, and Spotify; but even better, the company is promising it'll have Instagram, WhatsApp, and Uber available on the Fire Phone before long. So Amazon doesn't need to worry about missing out on massively popular apps — a problem that haunted Windows Phone for years — but overall selection is still a concern. It just can't match the vast catalog of the App Store and Google Play. If history is any indication, you can also expect a delay between when apps arrive on Android and when they eventually reach Fire OS.
We shouldn't discount Amazon Prime services, though. You get a full year of Prime with the Fire Phone's $199 asking price, granting you on-demand access to over 40,000 movies / TV shows and more than 1 million songs, along with extras like X-ray and ASAP. But Fire OS also means no Google apps: no Gmail, no Docs, and no Google Maps. This isn't Google's Android, so you don't get Mountain View's software.
Most apps you care about will be there
The "comparison" ends here though, since Fire Phone's flagship features really don't exist anywhere else. Firefly is the company's ultimate tool for converting the entire world around you into some kind of Amazon showroom; Windows Phone 8 offers something similar, but Amazon seems slightly more aggressive in its approach; Bezos said Firefly can identify up to 100 million items. And based on his demonstration, it does so accurately and at impressively quick speeds. Amazon wants you to buy things — oh so many things — with the Fire Phone.
Dynamic Perspective represents an exciting new way of using a phone, assuming it's everything Amazon says it is. The company has spent years investing in its sophisticated sensor system, and Jeff Bezos seemed confident that consumers will love tilting, swiveling, and peeking to navigate menus and look around video game levels. "We got really good at tracking faces, finding heads," he said. We've never seen anything quite like it, but will it help sell phones? Amazon's Mayday customer service is admittedly a super cool and useful feature that you simply can't get elsewhere, but will it, Firefly, and Dynamic Perspective make people choose Amazon's smartphone over iOS, Android, and Windows Phone? Amazon just made a massive bet that they will. We'll find out starting next month when the Fire Phone launches for $199 on-contract, but only from AT&T.