It’s the first smartphone designed by Amazon, and it marks a day that many of us said would never come. The Fire Phone has landed, and you can buy it now!
It’s got this cool new pseudo-3D tilty thing called “dynamic perspective” (which actually sounds kind of cool), and some fairly decent specifications. The CPU powering the Fire Phone is a 2.2 GHz quad-core Snapdragon 800 processor, and it’s loaded with 2GB of RAM. Both of those are good, but neither are top-of-the-line. If anything, those are last year’s specs. On the graphics side, there’s an Adreno 330 GPU, but it’s only powering a 4.7″ HD display — which is nowhere near what we’ve come to expect in a “flagship” device.
Then there is price. For US$649 you can get a 32GB version of the phone, and for a hundred bucks more you can double that. For a phone with non-flagship specs, that price is ridiculous.
“Hold on there, Joe! It’s only $199 with a contract, and with the right contract it’s ‘free’!”
Uh huh. Terms and conditions apply. Not available in all States or all situations. Early termination fees and cancellation costs apply. Call your doctor if it lasts more than three hours. Blah blah blah.
Look, we’ve had this discussion before, and “free, with contract” isn’t “free”, it’s indentured servitude. We fought a Civil War over that a while ago, and now you’re willing to give up two years of your life for a “free” (or worse: “reduced cost”) phone? Okay, maybe it’s not the same as what we fought the War over, but it’s the same concept. The “on contract” argument just doesn’t hold water. Moving on.
Fire OS 3.5
Fire OS? Really? “Fire Skin” is more like it (but I can see why someone in Marketing rejected that one). The OS (operating system) is Android. You could even make the argument that it’s Linux. “Fire OS” is essentially a shell that’s running on top of Android.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s cool that Android is so adaptable that an OEM can take the source and manipulate the look, feel, and functionality enough to call it a completely separate operating system. Similarly, you can buy a ’69 Volkswagen Beetle and get a body kit to make it look like a Lamborghini — or vice versa depending on which side of the analogy you like better.
Fire OS has some advantages and disadvantages over stock Android. First, if you’ve got a Prime membership (that’s another hundred bucks a year, just in case you’re keeping track), you can play some videos and music for “free” (there’s that word again, I do not think it means what they think it means). Other items cost money to rent or buy.
Follow the money
I can see why Amazon wants you to use its “OS”, it bypasses all of Google’s services. Yup, that’s right, you don’t have the Play Store on your Fire Phone (or your Kindle Fire for that matter). So all those apps, music, and movies that you’ve already purchased on your Android, you guessed it, you have to buy them all over again — or carry around two devices. Amazon gets to pocket all the transaction fees when you buy something through its own services on a “Fire” device, compared to Google’s when you’re using the Play Store (or Apple’s when you’re using iOS). That’s really what the hubbub is all about: money.
I have a Netflix subscription and can watch my shows on my smartphone, tablet, gaming console, streaming media player, smart TV, or even on my computer. Netflix doesn’t care where I watch, as long as I’m paying my monthly subscription, Netflix is happy. Why can’t Amazon to the same thing? I’m already paying my yearly subscription to Amazon Prime, but I can only watch my shows on my computer or a few other devices — and not on my smartphone or tablet, well, not unless they’re Amazon’s hardware.
Amazon isn’t content with being “another Netflix”. Amazon wants it all — or so it would seem.
On the other hand, if Amazon really wanted to push its subscription services, sell eBooks, rent TV shows and movies, and deliver other digital content, why wouldn’t the company offer the specialized hardware for free with a two or three year pre-paid subscription to Amazon Prime? (Again, that’s not really free, but you get my point.) We may never know.
In the meantime, a $649 phone that doesn’t work with my apps, eBooks, music, and more, and costs another $100 per year for a Prime subscription, plus another who knows how much for phone service, well, it just isn’t worth it to me. Sorry, Amazon, I’m not buying the Fire Phone.