Before I get things kicked off here, let me first throw in this disclaimer: I love Amazon. I’m constantly amazed at the things Jeff Bezos and co. are cooking up and I believe that Amazon will continue to succeed in expanding its ecosystem and give its customers solid products. But their most recent announcement is something I’m not all that impressed with: the Amazon Fire Phone.
There was a big announcement yesterday and the tech world was all topsy turvy. Amazon, known by and large by their monstrous online e-commerce marketplace, has now directly challenged Apple and Samsung on the smartphone front (nice try, Microsoft, but you’re not even getting an honorable mention here).
But as exciting as all that is, the phone itself isn’t worth your time. And here’s why:
As surprising as some of the new phone’s features are, the biggest surprise I got from the announcement is that they will be selling it for $199 with a two-year contract with AT&T. But $199 sounds like what you’d pay for an iPhone 5S or a Samsung Galaxy S5 isn’t it? That’s right. The thing is that when you buy the iPhone or the Galaxy, not only do you get all the greatness involved with the software and features, but you also have access to over a million apps on the iOS and Android platforms.
On the other hand, Amazon has altered their version of the Android operating system so much that they aren’t allowed to access Android apps, leaving customers with just 240,000ish Amazon apps that are all designed for tablets. So while the price per se isn’t disappointing, what you get is.
Then of course you have the AT&T contract. If you don’t have AT&T in the first place, not only do you have to lock yourself into a 2-year contract with them, but you’re also going to have to pay to get out of your current one. Silly contracts.
I was converted to Republic Wireless about 6 months ago and I can’t tell you how glorious it feels to pay less than $15/month for my phone bill. That combined with the Moto X, a pretty slick phone in its own rights, and a month-to-month plan in lieu of a contract makes Republic Wireless the place to be. Period.
Cool, But Not Compelling
Probably the most exciting feature of the Fire phone is the 3D feature. The phone has little cameras mounted on the front of the phone that tracks the user’s head movements, and gives the images on the phone a dynamic perspective. But in the end, what’s the point? If anything, Amazon should have learned from the epic failure formerly known as 3D TV that people really aren’t willing to spend the money for a gimmick.
One feature that I really like that deserves more praise that it gets is the Firefly feature. Imagine you’re at the store buying whatever you people buy and you’re wondering if you can’t find a certain product at a cheaper price. Or you’re listening to a song on the radio and wish you knew who sang it. Boom. Whip out the Amazon Fire phone and Firefly can detect the product and direct you to where you can check a price/buy it on Amazon. Pretty nifty, right? But I question whether it’s enough to convince people to switch. Honestly, I doubt it.
Another cool feature is the camera shutter, which offers a crisp picture of your cute little kids rather than a blurry one because they won’t freaking stop moving. But even better than that is unlimited free photo storage on the Amazon cloud. Very cool, but I’ll admit I’m a little biased here. I rarely take pictures on my phone. When I do, it’s usually to take weird pictures of myself to send to my wife’s little sisters…like this gem I took just the other day →
Maybe that will change once we have kids, but even so, my memories don’t need to be pristine in order for me to enjoy them.
It’s Not About the Phone
Honestly, when it comes to Amazon, it’s never about the hardware. All they are doing is building as big a moat around their services as they can, making it harder for competitors to attack them at their core. That’s why the Kindle is priced so much lower than an iPad. They’re willing to break even (or even take a loss) on their hardware because they’re banking on customers using the hardware to use their services, whether it’s Prime (did you know you get one year free if you buy the phone?), the Amazon music store, the app store, or the general marketplace.
So if you’re picking up what I’m putting down here, they’re not actually trying to make a huge breakthrough as a smartphone company. Sure, they have to deck the thing out with some cool gizmos to make it marketable, but the real purpose of the phone is to make it ridiculously easy for you to buy more stuff…from Amazon. In fact, the Firefly feature is practically worthless if you don’t actually buy any of the stuff you find through it.
So when all is said and done, if any of you end up buying the phone, I’d definitely enjoy taking it for a joy ride. But I hope you don’t do it in the first place–that is, unless you’re interested in helping them make it easier to spend more of your money.