At $200, It May Be Time to Rethink the Amazon Fire Phone

At $200, It May Be Time to Rethink the Amazon Fire Phone

If only this had been the launch price

Now that Amazon has right-priced the unlocked version of the Fire Phone to $200—an incredible reduction of $450—is it time to reconsider the handset? I purchased one to find out, and while I do think you should be a bit leery of the Fire Phone for a variety of reasons, it's hard to argue with such a high-end phone being sold for such a reasonable price.

And the Fire Phone is pretty much a high-end phone, though there are a few cost-saving features in there too. It packs a 2.2GHz quad-core Snapdragon 800 CPU with Adreno 330 GPU, 2GB of RAM and 32 GB of internal storage into its thin and light frame. But there's no microSD expansion. The display 1280 x 720 (720p) and is very close to the sweet spot at 4.7 inches, same as iPhone 6 (which offers a comparable if slightly higher 1334 x 750 resolution).

The rear camera is 13 megapixels with optical image stabilization (which the iPhone 6 lacks) and multi-frame HDR. It's loaded with sensors, including a Dynamic Perspective sensor system with invisible infrared illumination, gyroscope, accelerometer, magnetometer, barometer, proximity sensor, and ambient light sensor. And it even comes with a pair of tangle-free headphones with remote and microphone.

On the downside, Fire Phone of course utilizes Amazon's Fire OS, which is a fork of "real" Android. This means two things to you: A different user experience, which some will like and some won't. And you can't take advantage of the voluminous Google Play app store, nor use any Google apps at all. Instead, you're locked into Amazon's much smaller AppStore for Android.

The good news is that it's easy for developers to port their Android apps to Fire OS, and some—including Microsoft—are doing so. The bad news is that Fire Phone got off to such a terrible start this past summer that many developers might not bother.

Fire OS is also used by Amazon's Fire tablets, of course, but it's come under more criticism with the Fire Phone because of the overt ways in which this handset promotes digital and physical goods buying experiences. There's actually a physical button on the device that triggers a feature called Firefly that makes it easy for the user to identify items in the real world, using Fire Phone's camera, so they can purchase them online at Amazon.com. Firefly does more than that—it has some useful functionality around translating text on posters, business cards and other items, for example—but this gross and somewhat perverted focus on commerce turns off a lot of people.

Indeed, in my Amazon Fire Phone Preview, I noted that Fire Phone "is not a phone. It's a portable doorway into Amazon.com. And I'm sorry, but that is not OK."

But here's the thing. When Amazon introduced this phone back in June, I argued that it was years-late to a market in which Windows Phone—which was announced over four years earlier, in 2010—was considered late to market, and as such it needed to really prod users into considering it. But the Fire Phone was introduced with a lackluster—some might say patently clueless—starting price of $200 on contract, or $650 off contract. And it was AT&T-only, which will always turn off some part of the US population, not to mention the rest of the planet.

Today, you can get a (GSM) unlocked version of Fire Phone for just $200. It offers LTE speeds if you got 'em, and while it will work just fine on AT&T, it will also work virtually anywhere else there's a GSM signal, which now includes much of the planet. So the value proposition has changed. And while I'm not happy, conceptually, with some of the overt commerce stuff on this device, it's $200. It's unlocked. I can take it to Europe and use it with one of those cheap data SIMs you can get. This is a solution now.

My Amazon Fire Phone is arriving today, so I can finally review it. (Amazon promised me a review unit in June, by the way, and never followed up on that.) I will be fair to the device despite a growing resentment towards Amazon and its policies.

But again. It's just $200. That's a pretty amazing price for a device like this.

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